Bill Hass on the ACC: Once Unknown, Eagles' Trapani Shows He Can Compete With ACC'S Best
Feb. 19, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – These days, if a high school player isn’t on the top recruiting lists or doesn’t make an impression on the AAU circuit or dazzle people at high-profile basketball camps, there are doubts if he can really play.
Joe Trapani heard those doubts but never believed them.
“There was always a question whether or not I could play coming out of high school,” said Trapani, a sophomore forward at Boston College, “but I always knew I could hold my own.”
And the rest of the ACC has been finding that out. The transfer from Vermont, wrapped somewhat in a cloak of anonymity when the season began, is averaging 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Eagles, who may be the biggest surprise in the league.
Picked 11th in the preseason poll, Boston College has forged records of 7-5 in the ACC and 19-8 overall. The Eagles have beaten both North Carolina and Duke, impressive wins on their NCAA Tournament resume. Making it to the field of 65 is well within their reach.
While senior point guard Tyrese Rice remains the centerpiece and the engine of the team, much of BC’s success is because of the players around him. Trapani provides the kind of all-around forward that the Eagles always seem to have.
“Basically, he’s given us another good basketball player, a guy that can do a little bit of everything,” said coach Al Skinner. “He shoots the ball, he can make layups, he rebounds, he defends, he can block a shot every once in awhile. What we’ve got is a good basketball player and that’s what this team needed.”
Perhaps no game displayed his versatility better than last week’s 80-74 win over Duke. Trapani scored 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds, picked up a couple of assists and blocked a career-high five shots, all while playing 37 minutes and not committing a foul.
“He was consistent throughout the game and he did a lot of good things for us,” Skinner said. “It was clearly one of his better overall games, going against (Kyle) Singler, one of the better players in the ACC. (Trapani) just made a statement that he can compete against the best in this league.”
For Trapani, it was a matter of doing what he always does – trying to outwork an opponent.
“My legs were feeling good, it was Duke and obviously you’re a little more juiced up because you really want to get that W,” he said, “so I was playing as hard as I could and left it all on the floor.”
In high school, there was a question of which college floor Trapani would be able to display his game. Although he was an all-state player at Daniel Hand High in Madison, Conn., he didn’t attract much major-college attention.
“I wasn’t really highly recruited out of high school,” he said. “I played a little AAU but not a lot, so I wasn’t well-known. Vermont recruited me heavily and I visited there and they told me I would play right away, so I figured that was the best opportunity for me.”
Trapani said Boston College was interested but didn’t have a scholarship to offer him and suggested he go to prep school for a year. He wanted to play right away, so he chose Vermont.
His freshman season was a good one with averages of 11.4 points and 4.4 rebounds on a team that went 25-8 and made the NIT. Ironically, in the third game of his college career, Trapani helped the Catamounts upset 14th-ranked Boston College 77-63. He hit 6-of-9 shots, scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the win.
“It was a great win for the program,” he said. “Playing against players like (BC’s) Sean Marshall and Jared Dudley, it was cool.”
Skinner remembered Trapani having a solid game and thinking that he would be a good fit for the Eagles.
The season was rolling along nicely when Trapani injured his foot in late January and missed seven games. He felt he may have rushed his return and didn’t play as effectively the remainder of the season.
That’s when he started thinking about transferring. He said he enjoyed the city of Burlington – population 40,000 – and the campus with 11,000 students, but the geography is not for everyone. The city and school are essentially self-contained on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain with little else around.
“It’s kind of lonely up there,” Trapani said.
After he obtained the release from his scholarship, Trapani looked at other schools. Boston College contacted him and he also visited Providence and Northeastern, but he said the decision was easy because “Boston is a great area to be in and live in and BC is the top program here.”
He sat out the 2007-08 season as mandated by NCAA transfer rules, not an easy thing because for the first time in his basketball life he couldn’t play in competitive games. But he improved his game by competing hard in practice and working on his individual skills. He also used the time to get bigger in the weight room and now carries 218 pounds on his 6-8 frame.
For Skinner, the biggest question about Trapani was how he would react to the level of competition every night in the ACC.
“He had the physical tools,” Skinner said. “It was mentally whether night in and night out he was going to meet the challenge. That’s the biggest difference between where he came from and where he is, how competitive it is night in and night out. Up to this point he’s been learning and he’s getting better.”
Trapani had grown up watching ACC basketball on TV, so he had a good idea of what awaited him. And things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start when the Eagles opened their ACC schedule by beating top-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
But BC hit a bump in the road after that game, losing to Harvard and then dropping ACC contests to Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. It was in Atlanta where things began to turn back around.
“(The players) had a team meeting just for us in one of our hotel rooms,” Trapani said. “We were just talking about stuff and said we really want to get this done and get back on the right track. I think after that we all realized what we had to do. Teams weren’t going to lay down for us just because we beat North Carolina.”
The Eagles pulled out a tough overtime victory against Georgia Tech, the first of five straight ACC wins. Now, basking in a similar glow to the UNC win after beating Duke, the team realizes what it faces.
“We can’t let things slide like we did after (the North Carolina game),” Trapani said.
The Eagles did not play a mid-week game and the players have used the time to rest and heal assorted bumps and bruises. Staying healthy is important to Trapani, who missed practice time last season with a high-ankle sprain.
BC visits Miami Saturday, trying to earn a split in the season series. The Hurricanes took a 77-71 win in Chestnut Hill in January.
“They’re a very strong, physical team, very athletic and they like to run the court,” Trapani said. “Plus they have an excellent guard in Jack McClinton. He’s an outstanding shooter, so we’re going to have to strap up and play defense, be a lot more physical, try to match their physicality on the boards and be patient on offense.”
Trapani didn’t play well the first game against Miami, totaling eight points and four rebounds, but he still made an impression on Hurricanes coach Frank Haith.
“I really like him,” Haith said. “He’s one of those guys who stretches the defense with his ability to shoot the ball. He steps out (to the 3-point line), he rebounds, he does a lot for their team.”
For Trapani, it will be another game on an improbable journey.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” he said about playing in the ACC. “And now that I’m here I want to win every game that I play. It’s not enough just to be here; we’re good enough to win.”
Trapani has answered the questions about his ability to play. In the end it may boil down to one more – how good is he going to get? And he has several more games this year and two more seasons to provide the answer.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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