Thursday, November 21, 2013

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant: White Plains' DeMello Sold on Pace University

 Flanked by his mother Joy, and his father, Lou, Mike DeMello’s mind was finally at ease.

This was last Friday night, inside the calming confines of Campagna Italian Restaurant in Shrub Oak.

The wall of pressure, natural during the process of weighing NCAA options, suddenly whittled into pieces.

The campus-to-campus journey became a blur in the rearview.

The constant communication with coaches, a recent visit to the College of St. Rose in Albany, and a re-evaluation of nearby Pace University had all but devoured the 5-foot-10 White Plains guard.

 All week long, without a stop or a coffee break, the thoughts cycled through DeMello's brain. This was it. Pace University was the logical destination, with the most to offer.

Two weeks ago, DeMello seemed all but 100 percent sure he was headed Southern Connecticut State University.

 Merritt Parkway-bound, way up the line. The budding program in New Haven, Conn., had been in persistent pursuit.

 Southern Connecticut, where former Pearl River guard Luke Houston has discovered his niche as a role player (12.5 points, 3.8 assists) seemed like the enticing, most suitable choice.

An all-Section I backcourt, two coaches sons?

Seemed like a done deal, etched in stone.

Then, DeMello considered the long pedigree of Pace head coach Pat Kennedy.

Kennedy was a head coach at Florida State, Iona, DePaul, Towson, and the University of Montana.

He's a basketball lifer.

 Kennedy's steady commitment to establishing a New York pipeline parallels his burning desire to vault Pace into the upper-crust of Division-II.

There’s Final Four appearances on that resume of Kennedy's.

Numerous berths in the Elite Eight. There is a calming influence of a loyal man, with longevity and a world of experience.

The proximity, the prospect of playing before family and friends... it was all simply too much for DeMello to pass up on.

“Inside (Campagna’s) it got dead silent for  a second. That’s where I said, ‘I think I want to go to Pace.’ Deep down inside, I think (my parents) wanted me to go to Pace. If you would have asked me two months prior to my signing day, there’s no doubt in my mind I was going to Southern Connecticut.”

Why the change of PACE?

“All aspects of the school are great,” DeMello said.

 “Coach Kennedy is the most positive coach and he’s able to sustain success through that method. He doesn’t yell or scream or lose it. It’s all positive reinforcement.”

The idea of meaningful minutes, from the very beginning, helped sell DeMello.

“Pace has six seniors on the roster now,” DeMello said.

 “When I arrive I’ll have an opportunity to play right away, to play big minutes and have an impact on the game as a freshman. Playing right away, that’s something every kid dreams of. I just think that’s a great opportunity."

Earlier this week, the paper work was promptly shipped out. DeMello penned his letter of intent before a sea of supporters at White Plains High School.

He didn't sign on the hardwood of Madison Square Garden, as a young Rick Pitino once did. He didn't have a packed-to-the-gills ceremony rife with high expectations, hype, buzz and blog-triggered rumors leading in, as Lincoln Hall's Isaiah Whitehead did early in the fall.

DeMello was, however, surrounded by a giant support system of coaches, friends, teammates, and family.

When he arrived at Kennedy Catholic in Somers as a freshman, DeMello was bone-thin and a generously-listed 5-foot-6.

What he lacked in height, he made up for with a cerebral game and a deep jumper.

At White Plains High, DeMello has evolved into a double duty player. He can score 20+ and facilitate a running game as effectively as he can apply steady on-the-ball pressure.

All week, DeMello talked about being blessed with immense family support.

Cognizant that being groomed by the right people and coaches has accelerated his production, DeMello said Pace mirrored the family/local support.

“They have a great athletic director. That had a big deal to do with it, the people there,” DeMello explained.

 “Everyone was incredibly helpful. I went to their academic advisor and he’s going to help me major in probably early childhood education. I want to be like my Dad, a physical education teacher. I could go get my masters over there, there are so many possibilities and the right people. Basketball-wise, I just think it was the perfect fit.”