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Iati story printed in Hoopville

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Truly a remarkable guy.....I feel a bit guilty for riding him this season from time to time perhaps even saying something I shouldn't have at times. This guy was/is all heart, we are better....much better for having him spend his college years here.


I guess you can't truly appreciate something/someone until it's/they are gone. Glad he will be around the team to start the season, wish him nothing but the best of luck.

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I just copied and pasted it for those who would be too lazy to scroll up to hooplinks and click around, and its an amazing story.



A True Gunslinger rides off into the sunset


by Sam Perkins


"I have no problem taking a big shot, at the end of the game, I have no problem taking it, I don't know that I'm always going to make it, but I have no problem taking it."

-Jon Iati


When the University of Albany Great Danes' season came to an end at the hands of Boston University in the America East Tournament quarterfinals, it meant the end of the careers of seniors Brian Lillis, Brent Wilson, and Jon Iati. Throughout the season Albany fans, and the America East as a whole, were abuzz with the phenomenal play of Lillis, a do everything All-Conference guard-forward. Likewise fans commended Brent Wilson's four-year career.


But little was said down the stretch about the prospect of losing Iati, Albany's longest tenured player. Perhaps it was what wasn't said that stood out the most, or more accurately what wasn't said during head coach Will Brown's post game press conference. There, the unfathomable happened: the outspoken and always quotable Brown was silent for several seconds while trying to compose himself when asked just what fifth-year senior Jon Iati had meant to his program during his time at Albany. Just how special Jon Iati was to the Albany program, and the league, may not resonate with many fans, but it certainly has never been lost on Brown, as there has never been a harder worker, or a more selfless teammate than Albany's smallest player.


When he did collect his thoughts, Brown, choking back his emotions, gushed about Iati, saying "He should be an inspiration for everybody that (has heard) 'you can't do this, you're too small, you're not strong enough.' We list him at 5'10", he's like 5'7". People don't know the true story about Jon, Jon's had two shoulder surgeries, two broken toes, and he had major back surgery in August and he was told by two doctors that his career was over."


Fans tend to know Brown as a brash, at times boisterous, coach, never shy to speak his mind. But he showed a different side of himself when talking about Iati, as it was touching to hear him talk about his fifth-year senior. "The last thing you think when you see Jon Iati in street clothes is that he was a basketball player, maybe you think he was a DJ or something like that, but not a basketball player, and I'm going to miss him," said Brown, adding, "He's just persevered, I wish that he had a healthy career, because he still scored over a thousand points, was the Rookie of the Year, two championship rings, but I just think that he could have done so much more because he was a tireless worker. Unfortunately for half of his career he wasn't allowed to work on his game because he was injured."


Uncanny parallels can be found between Iati's career at, and the atypical Clint Eastwood character from a long list of gritty Westerns (Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter, and Unforgiven all come to mind). Sure, on the surface the comparison seems preposterous: at a very generously lifted 5'9" Iati bears no physical resemblance to the imposing characters played by Eastwood, nor does Iati have any of the gruff, rough around the edges persona of Eastwood. But if you look at them within their respective elements (Iati as a basketball player, Eastwood's typical gritty hero), and the comparisons are almost endless, as the America East has never seen a quicker draw, or a bigger and more fearless shooter than Iati. Like Eastwood, Iati does little talking, as you will never see him get in an opponent's face, or get more animated than the occasional fist pump. He lets his actions speak for him. And like Eastwood, despite a career full of heroics, a battered and bruised Iati walked off into the sunset with slightly less than a storybook ending.


Jon Iati grew up in York, Pennsylvania loving the game of basketball, and from an early age he was a gym rat. By the time he reached high school, Jon Iati could flat out shoot the basketball. In his four year career at York Catholic, Iati re-wrote the school record book, graduating as the Irish's all-time leading scorer with 2,216 points (a record since broken by his brother Jacob), was a three-time All-Star, led York to its first tournament birth since 1999 and a District 3 title, was an AP Class AA first-team all-state selection, was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd," and set a school single-game record in erupting for 56 points in the best game this reporter ever saw a high-school player have. And yet, despite all his accolades, Jon Iati was anything but a hot commodity coming out of high school, as many coaches could not see past Iati's shortcomings.


But Iati caught the eye of Brown, whom had taken over the University of Albany two years earlier, and whose program was still in its infancy. "A lot of people couldn't see past the fact that Jon was very undersized: He was a 5'7" scoring guard who hadn't really played the point, he was small, needed to get in the weight room, he wasn't much of a defender, and there were all kinds of questions about whether he could even set foot on the floor against Division I players," said Brown. "But Jon was a gym rat, and I love gym rats, I loved his mentality. He was so fearless out on the court, and the kid just wanted to play, he had this drive. At the time we were desperate to fill roster spots, and I felt he was the kind of kid that could help me build the program."


For Iati, the chance to simply play Division I basketball was a dream come true, and he jumped at Brown's scholarship offer. Before Iati stepped foot on campus his work ethic was apparent to his new head coach. "I told Jon coming in that he was going to have to work on his ball-handling skills, because being able to play the point would really help his chances of playing, and he would have to really dedicate himself to a strength and conditioning plan to get physically stronger in order to compete," Brown recalls. "Jon dove into it head first, I really felt bad for Mr. Iati (Jon's father) though, because he was Jon's workout partner before he arrived here, and I think Jon might have taken a few years off of his life running him into the ground. During his time at Albany, Jon's sheer will to succeed, and work ethic are second to none."


Iati almost bit off more than could chew as neither he nor his coach, however, could have foreseen just how much he would play during freshman campaign, as the Danes entered the season with a bare-bones roster made up of Iati, Levi Levine, Jamar Wilson, and some fringe Division I players and walk-ons. Albany's roster shortcomings were further magnified early in the season as they lost Wilson, the team's star, for the season due to injury. Without Wilson, and with a roster so thin that the Danes actually finished one game with only four players on the court, Iati was thrust into the role of point guard and go-to scorer.


During the 2003-2004 season as a true freshman Iati averaged 14 points per game, numbers more impressive when you consider that because of the lack of Division I talent on Albany, teams often doubled down on both Iati and Levine without having to fear being burned by anyone else on the floor. Even more amazing, however, was the fact that Iati led the nation in minutes played, averaging over forty a game (thanks to some overtime games).


"Jon Iati five years ago as a true freshman played 40.9 minutes a game, he used to ask me to come out and I used to chuckle at him, I said you see this bench, we got seven guys in uniform, I said you're playing my man, you wanted an opportunity to play at the division I level and I'm giving it to you," joked Brown. Iati was rewarded with the America East Rookie of the Year award, but he would never reproduce his numbers from his first season.


Iati got off to a solid start during his sophomore year, averaging 11 points per game while shooting an astounding 47 percent from downtown. Iati was never bigger than against cross-town rival Siena, as in front of a packed house at the Pepsi Arena, Iati poured in 20 points to lead Albany to the biggest win of his young career. Brown was beginning to bring in top-flight talent, and the Danes were on the verge of turning the corner and becoming a team to be reckoned with in the America East, and the sky seemed to be the limit for both Albany and Iati.


However, soon after Iati tore his labrum and missed the rest of the season following surgery. When Iati returned the following season, the Danes had a completely new look, as two years of talented transfers and solid recruiting classes put Albany at the top of the conference. But the drastic increase in talent pushed Iati to the bench, uncharted waters for him as prior to his injuries he was the focal point of the Danes offense. Upon his return he played limited minutes, serving as instant offense off of the bench when the Danes needed some long range firepower.


Most players in Iati's situation would have sulked; many would have developed a chip on their shoulder. It's not easy to go from being the man with the ball in your hands to riding the pine and watching much of the game from the sidelines. But Jon Iati isn't like most people, and while every competitor like Iati wants to be out on the floor, he is also becoming a dying breed in the era of "me first" athletes: a player who puts his team's needs above his own, and who wanted to do everything within his power to help his team win.


"I never expected to be playing like I was as a freshman" said Iati, "I was brought in here to be a complementary player, so while it was terrific to play that much, and I grew a lot as a player my first year, I never expected it to last. And I mean, we won five games, sure an ideal situation would be to be starting and being a top scorer on an NCAA team, but that wasn't a reality. I'll gladly trade in my numbers and playing time to help us win, winning is much more rewarding to me than individual accolades."


Iati's quick transition to his new role also won his coach over even more, as Brown reflected, "Jon Iati has done everything that I have asked of him and more from day 1. He took less playing time without making a peep so that we could become better as a team. That's not an easy thing to do, or to expect of a young man, Levi Levine struggled with that same transition greatly here. It's a credit to Jon, and to the kind of kid that he is that he was able to put the team first. That's something that lots of players preach, but very few actually do."


But Iati could still play, as he continued to fire away fearlessly from downtown, and he had several memorable moments during the Danes' magical two year run from 2005-2007 in which they made their first ever NCAA Tournament appearances, in back-to-back seasons no less. Early in the 2005-2006 season, Iati erupted for 23 points to lead all scorers against 16th-ranked UCLA, almost carrying the Danes to victory. The following year, he come off the bench to put Albany up for good against Utah, a memory that his coach will hand onto for a long time.


"Against Utah Jon comes in and with under three minutes to go and the game tied, he launches one from I swear 28 feet out, and he is back-peddling down the court before the ball swishes through. I could have killed him for taking that shot, but I sure loved him after it went in." Iati also nailed seven three pointers and scored 25 points versus Utah Valley State.


But for Iati, as magical as his career has been, it has also been marred greatly by injuries, as he had battled through two shoulder surgeries and a broken toe prior to his senior year, and then had to endure a bombshell. After experiencing severe back problems, he was told by a doctor that his back was inoperable and that he would never be able to play again. A second doctor told him that surgery was a possibility, but that he would still have to give up playing. It wasn't until he found a third doctor, back home in Pennsylvania, that he was given a glimmer of hope that he could play out his career. There were times when Iati thought about the possibility of never being able to play again, but he put them out of his mind and launched himself head on into his rehab, like he has done with everything else.


"When I first got the news of how bad my back was, and when the first doctor told me that my career was over, yeah I got down. I love basketball. But after a day or two I decided that I had to give it everything that I had, that I'd come too far and sacrificed to much to just walk away," reflected Iati.


Iati's senior season was, like the rest of his career, filled with ups and downs, as for much of the season Iati could not practice with the team because of his back. He hit another roadblock when he broke a toe in his foot. That may seem like a minor injury, but to a shooter, who relies entirely on balance and footwork, it's devastating. "When I broke my toe, it really made it hard to not only run, but really hard to shoot, because I couldn't push off for my shot anymore. It messed up my footwork, and my whole approach, and for a lot of the season I had to shoot in a different way than I had my whole life because of it," reflected Iati.


But Iati got healthy at the right time, looking like his old self in a 20-point eruption versus Maine, and helping the Danes right their ship and earn the No. 3 seed for the America East Tournament. Iati's career didn't end the way he would have hoped, as the Danes fell in overtime to Boston University 68-64 in the first round, but it wasn't due to any fault of Iati's, as in his final game he left it all on the line. In what has been the trademark of his career, Iati hit some daggers, pouring in 16 points and going 4-6 from downtown.


To the end Iati showed why he was the conference's resident gunslinger, drilling a pair of threes on quick catch and shoot plays, and another off of an inbounds. But none of his threes were bigger than the one he hit with under ten seconds play in regulation, as with the Danes trailing by three, Iati broke free of his defender and launched a high-arching 25-footer over 6'9" Scott Brittain. The minute Iati released the ball, both he and everyone else in the arena knew it was going in. However, the moment that most stood out from his final game came on a lose ball, as Iati launched himself into the seats after sprinting the length of the court. Iati couldn't quite come up with the ball, but the sheer determination and lack of regard for bodily harm summed up his career for the Danes, and resulted in a standing ovation from the crowd.


Iati and the Danes came up short in their quest for a third NCAA birth, but Iati left every last ounce he had out on the court, and no one could ask anything more from a player in their final game. "It's not the storybook ending, you want to end your career at the NCAA tournament, you don't really want to end it in the first round of the conference tournament," said Iati, "You knew potentially it was going to be your last game so you wanted to give it everything you got."


The imperfect ending to Iati's career was much in the same vain as Eastwood's characters from Unforgiven and Pale Rider, as Iati rode, or perhaps limped, off into the sunset having put the good of his cause (his team) above himself, and having come up short, but he has no regrets on his time at Albany. He refuses to dwell on his injuries and the "could halves." "I have no regrets, I mean I've had an amazing career here. I scored over 1,000 points, made two NCAA appearances, scored 23 points at UCLA, won the Rookie of the Year, and got to be a part of something really special here helping to build Albany's program."


While Iati's dream was to play professionally after he graduated, injuries have curtailed his plans. "Up until my back surgery, despite everything else, it was still a goal of mine to play after college. But I don't think I'll have anything left now, I guess that will always be a dream," said Iati.


Iati has a tremendous head on his shoulders, and truly lived up to the billing of student-athlete. He earned his B.S. in sociology with a minor in education in four years, and has used his fifth year of eligibility to work towards a Masters in Albany's liberal studies graduate program, something he will finish during the fall semester next year. "I'm no brain," said Iati in self-deprecating fashion, "so I have no regrets, regardless of the injuries, or anything else, Basketball got me to college and I've used it to not only graduate, but to earn a Masters degree, something I never thought I would do."


And while Jon won't be pursuing his dream of playing professionally, he has a new dream on the horizon: to become a coach. "If I could get into coaching, so that I could be around basketball for the rest of my life, I couldn't ask for anything more than that," reflected Iati, who will spend the fall working closely with Brown in his office, getting a first-hand look on what it takes to become a coach.


"I think Jon will need to work on becoming more of a vocal leader to become a coach, but as far as basketball know-how Jon has everything you need, and I think if it's something he wants to do, I have no doubt that he will achieve that goal," reflected Brown.

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A terrific story. Easy to see how he could have packed it in after so many of those injuries but fought his way through. A lot of times I don't think we even knew about all of them. Glad he'll be part of the staff next year.

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