The Cat Comes Back
T.J. Sorrentine's hard-fought
by JON REIDEL
Mens basketball associate head coach
Jesse Agel 85 thought hed died and gone to basketball recruiting
heaven. There he stood, all alone, watching a recruit draining jump
shots in a gym, while dozens of other basketball coaches obliviously
watched a tournament downstairs.
Agel looked on as the 5-foot-11 inch kid from Pawtucket, Rhode Island
continued to make feathery jumpers and showcase NBA-level dribbling
skills. Agel knew he had to bring the player to Burlington. He turned
to UVM assistant coach Curtis Wilson and said: Lock the doors.
And dont let anyone in here to see him.
That was the first meeting with the player, who is now a junior at UVM.
The second time, Agel saw T.J. Sorrentine put himself through a self-imposed
workout that included three hours of plyometrics, shooting, dribbling,
weight training and other forms of strength training.
It was incredible to see, Agel says. I knew right
then he had all the attributes we liked, all the intangibles. He has
the rare combination of talent and the ability to push himself to the
extreme. He is never satisfied ever.
Sorrentines determination led coaches to stick with the player
even after he broke both wrists after the end of his senior season in
high school. The gamble paid off: Sorrentine became only the third sophomore
in conference history to be named America East player of year. But after
that season, Sorrentine fell during the pre-season team scrimmage and
again broke both of his wrists, missing all of last years NCAA
I was shocked and scared when it happened, he recalls. I
just couldnt believe it was taken all away so quickly.
Friends and family back in Pawtucket, knew that it wasnt all taken
away, and never questioned Sorrentines ability to make another
comeback, says Dave Borges, a sportswriter for the Pawtucket Times
who covered Sorrentine in high school.
I know it had to be killing him to sit out, but hes a tough
kid, says Borges. I dont think anyone around here
ever doubted that he had the fire to come back.
But the second return would prove tougher than the first, as Sorrentine
fell out of the mental and physical habits that had transformed him
from a very good prep player to one of the best college point guards
in the East.
I got depressed and started gaining weight, Sorrentine says.
Im usually real selective about my diet, but I stared eating
at Burger King and other fast food restaurants and put on 10 to 12 pounds.
Adding to the self-doubt was the performance of the basketball team
in his absence. The Catamounts steamrolled to the schools first-ever
NCAA tournament appearance without their star point guard. They seemed
to be doing just as well without him. But Sorrentine sucked up his pride,
remained supportive, and took advantage of the layoff by studying opposing
players from his newfound seat on the bench.
I always believed that the only way to get better was to play,
Sorrentine says. But I retract that statement because I learned
a lot from watching our guys play and seeing their tendencies. I know
more about how they play and the best spots to get them the ball.
Sorrentine says other positive things grew out of his year off the court.
His relationship with his father, Tom Saar Sorrentine, who
was his high school coach, improved. He noticed a difference in the
way his father, who drives four hours to Burlington to watch his son
play every game, then back home in time to teach the next morning, dealt
with his injury the second time.
In high school I think it was harder for him to differentiate
between father and coach, Sorrentine says. He was upset
when I broke my wrists the first time because I think he felt like I
was messing around. He was very supportive this time. Our relationship
has always been good, but now its the best its ever been.
Hes a great father.
When the casts came off last season Sorrentine says he couldnt
move his wrists. The once automatic motion of shooting a basketball
was an insurmountable task. After a few weeks, however, he began dribbling
and eventually shooting.
I remember walking out of the hospital with him with casts on
both hands, recalls UVM head coach Tom Brennan. But I never
questioned his drive to come back. God didnt smile on him by giving
him a bunch of great athletic gifts, but he did give him the best gift,
and that was a heart like Secretariat.
David Hehn, a 6-foot-5 guard from Sarnia, Ontario who adeptly handled
Sorrentines point guard position in his absence, knew his friend
was back in full force as soon as practice started in the fall. Playing
with a guy who practices as hard as T.J. makes everyone better,
Hehn says. You just dont want to let him down. Its
so hard to match his level of intensity.
Sorrentines comeback wasnt complete in the minds of many
observers until he played in the same game he broke his wrists in one
year earlier the Green and Gold scrimmage in October. Sorrentine
says he had a dozen or so voice mail messages from friend, his mother,
and an aunt who playfully lobbied him not to play.
Fans saw that Sorrentine was back after he set up a teammate for an
easy basket, and then nailed a deep jumper on the next play.
Its so hard when you love something that much and its
taken away from you that quickly, he says. Now I savor every
minute of it like its the last time Ill ever get to play.
Ill always be smiling when I play.
Alexis Castro, ranked 75th on Blue
Star Basketballs list of top 100 seniors in the high school
girls game, has signed a national letter of intent to continue her career
at Vermont. Castro, who attends Californias Coronado High School,
also received a pre-season All-America honorable mention from Street
& Smiths Magazine. The womens basketball team opened
the year with a 4-2 mark, playing under new head coach Sharon Dawley.
Early standouts included Aaron Yantzi, Lani Boardman, and Katie McNamara.
Freshman swimmer Ali Fowler dove into her intercollegiate career
by going undefeated in her first four meets. She also notched a freshman
record with her time of 10:49:41 in the 1,000-meter freestyle.
The early season highlight for mens basketball was a near upset
of UCLA on their homecourt at Pauley Pavilion. Taylor Coppenrath
led the way with 38 points in the game, prompting coach Tom Breannan
to say, Taylor was tremendous tonight and if nothing else, he
made a case to become a contender for Pac-10 player of the year.
The Cats were 1-4 after their first 5 games. Catch the Cats live on
television February 15 when they take on Boston University at Patrick
After eight seasons as the head coach of UVM mens soccer, Roy
Patton has resigned to pursue other professional opportunities.
Under Pattons leadership, the Catamounts reached the America East
title game twice and posted five winning seasons. In 2000, the Catamounts
returned to the NCAA College Cup after a 10-year absence. Longtime assistant
coach Roberto Beall 91 was named interim coach in November
as a national search for a new head coach began. The team ended their
2003 season with a 4-9-5 overall record, 3-4-2 and seventh place in
With a 0-11-2 mark as the semester closed, the mens hockey team
was looking to regroup under new coach Kevin Sneddon. The Cats
opened with a tough schedule, six of their opponents were ranked among
the nations top 15.
Senior Michele Palmer closed out her outstanding college cross
country career with a fourth place in the America East Championships,
followed by a 37th place finish two weeks later at the NCAA Regionals.
Womens soccer coach Jodi Kenyon resigned in November after
seven seasons at UVM. A national search for her successor is underway.
The team posted a 5-9-4 record, 1-6-2 in the league, for the 2003 season.
For the latest on UVM Athletics, check out the new- and-improved
web site at www.uvmathletics.com