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‘I can definitely count on him’

YSU’s Magestro shares special bond on, off court with father

Submitted photo Malia and Justin Magestro pose for a photo after Youngstown State’s game at Cleveland State last season.

YOUNGSTOWN — Anytime Youngstown State guard Malia Magestro is feeling down on herself, she knows she can look up a few rows behind the Penguins’ team bench and find her biggest fan for some support.

At every game in the Beeghly Center — and at just about every road game, too — you can find Magestro’s father, Justin, cheering his daughter and the rest of the Penguins on.

The dedication should come as no surprise to those who know the Magestros, though, as basketball is one of the fabrics that keeps the Hermitage, Pa., family so close.

“That’s definitely what we bond over the most,” said Malia, who will enter her junior season this fall. “That brings us together as a family.”

Malia is one of four siblings, all of which graduated from or currently attend Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage. She has an older brother, Drew, who enters his final season as a basketball player at Division II Pitt-Johnstown, as well as a younger brother, Gio, and younger sister, Bella. They each play basketball, too.

It’s busy enough raising four kids, but Justin also fits in serving as the girls basketball coach at Kennedy. Combine that with traveling to watch his kids’ games, and there are plenty of sleepless nights.

He credits his assistants and other coaches he’s served under for helping him to be able to support his children in that way.

“I always had that coaching bond with the coaches to be able to change my schedule,” said Justin, who also served as an assistant for the Kennedy boys team at one point. “I’m not afraid to go 20 hours without sleeping or whatever it takes to see my kids, because I know how special it is to me, how important it is to them and how limited it’s going to be one day when all four of them are done playing.”

He also made sure to credit his wife, Vicki.

“She’s supported me every step along the way. She’s actually a basketball guru herself, and she’s probably my biggest critic after each game I’m coaching in now,” he said.

The family often would watch film together at home, Malia said.

“When my brother (Drew) was in high school, we’d go to the games, my mom would film them, then we’d come home and watch the film as a family,” she said. “When my dad was on the boys’ side at Kennedy, he was the assistant coach to Rick Mancino, and he would come over after the games and he’d say, ‘I wasn’t expecting the whole family to be watching film.’ Our whole family would be out in the living room watching film together. It was really cool.”

Coaching at Kennedy also allowed Justin to coach Malia in high school, who began playing for him in early elementary school in AAU.

She said she enjoyed having her dad as her coach.

“I wasn’t just going to basketball and that’s it. I could come home and my dad could help me, or we could go to the gym on our own and stuff,” she said. “So I really enjoyed always being around the game of basketball.”

But, she admits, she wasn’t entirely committed to basketball early on. Instead, she took part in dance and gymnastics, and spent time as a cheerleader while also playing basketball.

Then, around seventh grade, she made the decision to commit more of her time to the hardwood.

It ended up being a decision that created a lot of success for her and Justin. They won plenty of games as a father-daughter duo, and in 2020 — Malia’s senior year — came within an eyelash of reaching their ultimate goal: making the state championship game.

However, just days before they were to play in the Elite 8, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the tournament.

“That was the furthest we had gone together as part of Kennedy,” Malia said. “So it was definitely tough, because that was our goal we had talked about for so many years was winning a state championship. But that doesn’t take away all the other memories we had my whole life and playing at Kennedy, because there were some great moments.”

“I’ll never forget when we were told the season was going to be over,” Justin said. “I think Malia was more mature than I was. I think I sat in my room for about three days, and I was very emotional because I knew there was going to be something special, and I knew it was going to be the last time I was able to coach her. … But in the back of my mind, I also knew she was going to be playing close to home at YSU and in a great program with a great coaching staff and great teammates. So that eased it a little bit after a little time.”

Now, with Justin serving as Malia’s fan more so than her coach, Malia says he’s not as tough on her, but he’s still always there for guidance and support.

“I can definitely count on him no matter what,” Malia said. “He’s at every single game. I think he missed maybe two games, and those were the ones (at Green Bay and Milwaukee). He tried to come, but my mom wouldn’t let him because the snow was so bad. … He’s so supportive of me.”

Away from the court, Malia says the family is still competitive with each other, whether that’s in a game of cornhole in the backyard or a game of volleyball at the beach. Beyond all that, though, Justin says the group just enjoys being a family together.

“It’s a combination of family time together at the house or being at the gym,” he said. “And then Sunday is a big day for us. We’re practicing Catholics, so we go to church every Sunday and then usually afterward, we’ll go to Dunkin Donuts and grab a coffee or something. There are a lot of small windows with all four of them playing, so any opportunity we have to be together, we try to do that.”

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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