"I've seen you guys can shoot, but there's more to the game than shooting."
Game #9-322: Bryant Bulldogs at Sacred Heart PioneersJanuary 24, 2013 7:00 pm
William Pitt Center
- Norman Dale
FAIRFIELD, Conn. - Michael Carter-Williams, D.J. Cooper, Jason Brickman, Larry Drew II, Phil Gaetano.
As of the writing of this, those are the top five in the nation in assists. If you watch a lot of college basketball, you likely know three of those guys, and Brickman from Long Island has led his team to the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.
But who is Phil Gaetano?
I saw Gaetano play
a few times in high school for Sheehan, he even helped his team win an improbable state championship
with his dad coaching. But a Division I basketball player? A 5-foot-10 kid who wasn't really known for his scoring, even in small-town Connecticut? Not bloody likely.
Thankfully, I have no idea what I'm talking about most of the time, although in my defense I certainly wasn't alone in this assessment. After a year of prep school, Gaetano ended up at Sacred Heart, where he was pressed into duty as a freshman last season due to injuries
, but was expected to come off the bench for the Pioneers this season.
Only projected starting guards Evan Kelley and Chris Evans were injured before the year started (Kelley played two games before being shut down), and so here was Phil Gaetano, starting Division I point guard. And he's averaged 35 minutes per game for Sacred Heart, which moved to 5-2 in the Northeast Conference by beating previously unbeaten Bryant rather comfortably Thursday night.
The Bulldogs, who came in at 13-4 after winning just two games last season, never seemed quite to know what to make of Gaetano, who last weekend played 72 minutes and took exactly two shots from the field, yet recorded 16 assists while committing just three turnovers. How is that possible? Well, that's what I was trying to find out.
It turns out that, shockingly from every highlight tape I see, there is more to the game than shooting. Two possessions into the contest, the Bryant coaching staff was chastising Gaetano's opposite number, Dyami Starks, for trying to fight over screens. "He's not a shooter." Yet by halftime, Gaetano had four assists and zero turnovers (but did have one misguided superhoop attempt) as Sacred Heart led 44-39.
Gaetano was patient, did enough to keep the defense honest, but had good enough court vision to always see a teammate cutting out of the corner of his eye, or being able to hit a shooter in rhythm so they could release the ball just before a defender got in the way.
Bryant is one of the best stories in the nation this season, but a few more wins over the next couple of months and Sacred Heart may not be far behind. They weren't only without Kelley and Evans, but also Justin Swidowski (shoulder), the Pioneers' second-leading scorer last season. They started only one player over 6-foot-4, and are led by 35-year veteran coach Dave Bike, who would love to get to the NCAA Tournament one time before the sun sets on his storied career.
(Fashion note: both Bike and Bryant coach Tim O'Shea went without ties in this game, the benefits of being a veteran, I guess. All their assistants didn't follow the lead.)
Whatever adjustments O'Shea made in the locker room, they didn't work. Gaetano had assists on four of Sacred Heart's first five field goals of the second half, and when no Bryant player came with five feet of him, Gaetano - gasp - lined up a superhoop and drilled it (it was his 12th of the season in 41 attempts), the Pioneers led 62-48, and O'Shea looked to the heavens knowing this probably wasn't going to be his night.
In fact, Gaetano scored seven points in a four-minute span and ended up with nine for the game, only two of his career high. Gaetano's 4.3 points per game currently have him tied for 1,730th in the nation, but with a bullet. He finished with 11 assists against two turnovers. For the season, Gaetano has 136 assists and has attempted 77 shots from the field.
In the end, it was just one of those evenings for the Bulldogs, which were outrebounded 37-23 (despite a size advantage), and other than Dyami Starks' 28 points, never really got going. You kept expecting them to make a run that never came. In fact, while Gaetano had 11 assists, Bryant as a team finished with just eight.
As Gaetano says himself, why would he shoot when he could pass to players in better positions like shooters Shane Gibson (26 points and four #superhoops) and Steve Glowiak (21 pts., five #superhoops). With the help of some nice Gaetano passes, Louis Montes went 8-for-8 from the field for 16 points as well.
We're not supposed to root for teams (at least when teams below the Red Line match up), but full of Connecticut residents overlooked by bigger schools, and with a likable veteran coach who has never been to the NCAA Tournament (at least at Division I, Bike did win a Division II title), it's hard not to be on the Sacred Heart bandwagon the rest of the way.
True to form, Bike shook O'Shea's hand and calmly walked off, thanking the band and cheerleaders. Assistant Anthony Latina, who handles much of the talking during games these days, tried to match Bike's demeanor, but allowed himself a little fist-pump; he knew this was a big win for his team.
Led by a point guard who doesn't like to shoot. Because his team doesn't need him to.