Monday, August 25, 2014

Hastings Native Capuano Under The Radar

Even as a third grader, Tom Capuano's overall basketball package seemed well, well, well beyond his years.

Feasting on meager competition, Capuano was in need of tuning up against the big dogs.

 Discovering the early strides in Capuano's game, the late Tunney Maher introduced Capuano to Riverside and Gauchos AAU programs.

Maher died of cancer in 2010, leaving a legacy which saw him morph Hastings' St. Matthew's CYO program into the Rivertowns area's unrivaled factory for skill development.

During the 2010-11 campaign, Capuano made Hastings' varsity as an eighth grader.

Typically in Section 1, varsity roster spots for eighth graders are reserved for elite company such as Jonathon Mitchell (Mount Vernon/Rutgers), Mike Colburn (Mount Vernon/Rutgers), and Melquan Bolding (Stepinac/Farleigh Dickinson).

Capuano proved he wasn't in over his head, providing an instant impact.

During his first-ever varsity game, the then 13-year-old dropped 14 points and pick-pocketed three steals, operating as a knockdown shooter who took pressure off 6-foot-5, 265-pound man-mountain Ali Marpet.

That summer, Capuano was a staple in Hastings' Open Gym runs, training with program legends such as 6-foot-6 forward George Skrelja and 5-foot-11 point guard Jim Sugrue.

Skrelja was a First Team All-State selection in 2003, authoring one of the best single-seasons in program history as a senior. He prolonged his career at C.W. Post under Tim Cluess.

Sugrue, a Fourth Team All-State selection in 2003, is the all-time 3-point percentage leader at SUNY New Paltz.

Having rarely ever played age-appropriate, Capuano was again the youngest cat in open gym. He plied his trade against grown men, without a morsel of trepidation.

When it came time to transfer, Capuano wasn't exactly sifting through options or torn between potential destinations.

Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo's relentlessness, ability to cater to players' strengths and emphasis on spacing and ball movement would lure Capuano in.

"I knew Iona Prep had a great basketball program and would give me the challenges in competition," said Capuano.

"Coach Vic doesn't let up at all on coaching us and teaching us the game. He also allows us to be free to play to our strengths and help the team the best way that we can."

Capuano formed a radiant troika alongside Notre Dame-commit Matt Ryan and Virginia-commit Ty Jerome.

He of the flair for the end game, Jerome was a hotly-pursued recruit this summer. He had budding interest from Columbia to Virginia to Davidson, his supreme handles and long-range shooting spurring his ascension of the Division-I food chain.

Ryan, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound 3-point marksman, chose Notre Dame over Duke, Michigan and North Carolina. Ryan missed most of the 2013-2014 campaign due to impingement with torn labrums on both sides.

Ryan had a similar beyond-his-years development as Capuano.

Deft, long-range shooting ability torched the nets at the Brewster Sports Center when Ryan was in fifth grade, rendering him a child prodigy. By the time Ryan reached seventh grade, he was the starting point guard on Hen Hud's J.V. team.

Forced to shut it down for the season, Capuano knew a larger role was expected of him.

"Matt going down forced me to be a lot more aggressive offensively and take more control of games," said Capuano, who scored 21 points and ripped six boards in Hudson Valley's end-to-end 103-63 trouncing of Central in the 2014 BCANY championship.

"I was called on to score a lot more and take control of games."

Did the experience make him better?

"I'm always looking to get better, I'm always working on all aspects of my game because I always need to improve. I have really improved shooting the ball off the dribble and finishing at the rim."

Division-I programs are beginning to take note of Capuano, the least acclaimed recruit bordering Ryan and Jerome.

Though he's yet to land a Division-I offer and many project him as a high D-II recruit, Capuano's recent work may have several programs re-evaluating.

Bryant, of the Northeast Conference, has watched him play throughout August. Harvard has also been in steady pursuit, with plans to attend workouts and games during Capuano's senior season.

Against Central in the BCANY Summer Hoops Festival's opener, Capuano used his strength to force George Washington-bound, high-scoring guard Jordan Roland off screens.

He got into Roland's chest, providing little breathing room and rendering him a pin drop-quiet factor during that second half. This helped Hudson Valley run away with it in a 12-point victory.

 Capuano forced Roland, who scored 10 first half points with relative ease, into errant and off-balanced shots.

The game plan was to kill the head, which typically results in the body dying down with it.

 Capuano's straitjacket job on Roland, one of New York State's elite scoring guards, set a loud, overwhelming tone for a Hudson Valley conquest. Hudson Valley won the tournament, shellacking foes by 33-point average margin of victory.

Capuano went on a 3-point shooting spree in the championship game, depositing Rickey McGill's dishes with straight-away and corner sniping.

"Like layups," McGill, another Division-I prospect out of Spring Valley, said.

A basketball bloodline allows Capuano to keep a monstrous work ethic intact.

His father played on Hastings' memorable 1980 squad, as the Yellow Jackets swarmed into the New York State Final Four as a sleeper team.

His cousin, former Hastings assistant coach Pat Capuano, was a deadeye spot-up shooter at Hastings High from 2003-2005. His other cousin, Joe Tino, was a key cog in the paint for the Yellow Jackets several years ago.

"Pat's always pushing me to be better and keep working on my game no matter what," said Capuano.

Nurturing Capuano's production tree has been Westchester basketball instructor Chris Ward, who has churned out a steady wave of local talent and helped form a virtual launchpad for NCAA-bound players.

Ward, who works extensively with Capuano and coaches him throughout the AAU circuit, has spurred his growth.

Capuano walked in as strictly a knockdown shooter.

 Now he's jack of all trades style enforcer, placing staunch emphasis on his defensive energy and ability to get his teammates involved.

Capuano turned in a workmanlike 20-point performance against plenty-tough Bishop Loughlin, then back-boned by Rutgers-commit Mike Williams and Khadeen Harrington. Harrington will join playmaking Isaiah Whitehead and sky-riser Desi Rodriguez at Seton Hall.

Capuano led an injury-smeared Gaels with 21 points during a loss to Stepinac, with Jerome and Ryan each relegated to the role of spectator while draped in street clothes.

Ryan didn't meet Jerome until he was 16. Capuano and Jerome, however, have a tight bond stemming back quite a few years.

"I knew Ty since third grade and he was one of my close friends," Capuano said.

 "It helped having that chemistry on the court with him and we both know how we play, very well."

On the court, Capuano is laser-focused and strictly business. You'd be hard-pressed to find a word or two of trash talk.

Off the court, he's a clown who happened to ditch the make-up and big red shoes for spanking new Nikes and warmup pants. .

"He's one of the funniest kids I've ever been around," said Ryan of Capuano.

Jerome, Ryan, and Capuano will be back next season, with the goals so crystal clear and obvious they nearly fall off the page.

"Winning the championship is our goal," Capuano said.