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ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wallingford's Gaetano making his mark at Sacred Heart

Phil Gaetano keeps proving the naysayers wrong.
Said to be too small and too slow to play Division I basketball, Gaetano not only landed a D-I scholarship, but the 5-foot-10 freshman is already starting for Sacred Heart.
The Pioneers host Quinnipiac in a crucial Northeast Conference matchup tonight at 7 at the Pitt Center in Fairfield. Both teams are 2-4 in the NEC standings, tied for eighth place. The top eight teams in the conference earn a berth in the postseason tournament.
“I’ve heard it all along that I was too small and I wasn’t athletic enough,” Gaetano said. “But you can’t listen to it. I always had confidence in myself and I knew that I had to prove what I could do.”
Gaetano, from Wallingford, has started the past four games since sophomore guard Evan Kelley injured his ankle. He has quickly adapted to the college game and played 38 minutes for the Pioneers in Saturday’s 70-67 loss at Robert Morris.
The son of Sheehan boys’ basketball coach Joe Gaetano played four years at Sheehan before spending a prep season at Choate. At Sheehan he averaged 16 points and 11 assists to help the Titans win the 2010 Class M State title.
Then at Choate, an important year for his development on the court, he teamed with fellow Wallingford native John Papale to lead the Wild Boars to a 21-3 record and the school’s first New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class A championship.
Choate beat Salisbury in the final, a team which featured current Quinnipiac freshman Zaid Hearst.
Papale signed with Boston University in November. Gaetano had signed with the Pioneers the summer before he headed to Choate.
“All I ever wanted was to get a scholarship,” Gaetano said. “In my senior year at Sheehan I got a lot of Division III offers and then I started to get some Division II ones. Continued...
“For me it was never really about playing Division I over Division II. I would have gone to a good Division II program.”
But playing at Sacred Heart has been a dream come true for the basketball junkie. He got a chance to play at Notre Dame a month ago and then at Boston College.
“I wouldn’t say I was in awe playing there, but it was really cool,” Gaetano said. “It was something just to go into the arena — places you always watched on TV — and look around, but once the game starts you don’t even think about it.”
Since then things have progressed quickly. But on the court Gaetano said the biggest key for his success has actually been how the game has seemed to slow down. Averaging 4.1 points and 4.3 assists a game while committing just 44 turnovers on the season, Gaetano can calmly beat opponents’ pressure defense and set up the Pioneers’ offense.
And the offense revolves around high-scoring junior guard Shane Gibson, who leads the NEC with a 20.3 scoring average.
“I have the green light to shoot, but I’m looking to make the right play,” Gaetano said. “If I’m open and (Gibson) is open, I’m giving it to him.
“He’s one of the best tough-shot makers I’ve ever seen. Even with the defense all over him he can still score.”

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