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Trapani made the right move

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 21, 2009
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In 1972, the year before Charlie Trapani came to the University of Vermont, basketball coach Peter Salzberg decided to take his team to Division 1.

He established relationships with coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference, particularly North Carolina's Dean Smith and N.C. State's Norm Sloan, and stacked the Catamounts' schedule with any team that would make his program better.

Trapani, a self-described "low-post bruiser," spent his college years pushing and shoving the big men of some of the best teams in the country, and the competition was what he remembered and appreciated most when he looked back.

"We played a lot of teams in the ACC or elsewhere that we probably never would have played against," Trapani said. "We played against a lot of good players that went on to play in the NBA."

So when Charlie's son, Joe, came to him two years ago, saying that after spending a season at his father's alma mater he wanted to make a change, Charlie could look at his own experience and understand.

"It was just a tremendous experience for me," Charlie said of his playing days. "And that's what I wanted for him. I wanted him to have the same experience or better."

Charlie Trapani was a three-year captain at Vermont and the team's MVP in 1974. But even though Joe Trapani decided Vermont was the best fit for him coming out of high school, he never felt he was following in his father's footsteps.

"He never persuaded me to go there," said Joe. "I made that decision on my own."

Trapani averaged 11.4 points and 4.4 rebounds during his freshman season, earning a spot on the America East All-Rookie team, even though a foot injury kept him in street clothes for seven games.

In Trapani's first collegiate start, he helped Vermont upset Boston College, 77-63. The Eagles were the nation's 14th-ranked team, and after Vermont had picked them off, sophomore guard Mike Trimboli said, "This win was big for our program."

Trapani wanted to play games like that all the time, and sitting out only gave him more time to think about it.

"I just wanted to play at a higher level," he said. "And I thought I could."

Not as effective as he wanted because of the injury, Trapani also saw his role change. And on top of that, the native of Madison, Conn., was getting cabin fever in Burlington, Vt.

The first person Trapani called when he seriously considered leaving Vermont was his father. But his choice to transfer was made the same way he made the decision to go to Vermont.

"I talked to him about it for a while," said Joe. "I finally made the decision on my own. I said if I had a chance to play at a higher level, I'd definitely take advantage. I always thought I could play with anybody in the country."

In that win over BC, Trapani scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Eagles coach Al Skinner remembers the performance.

"I thought he was OK," Skinner said.

But when word came after the season that Trapani wanted to transfer, Skinner saw a player who could fill some of the Eagles' needs.

"He was able to shoot the ball, handle the ball, and make good decisions," Skinner said. "And we thought that would help us."

Trapani visited Michigan, Providence, and Northeastern. BC assistant coach Pat Duquette called Trapani to let him know the Eagles were also interested. The feeling was mutual.

"Obviously, BC's got a great tradition," Trapani said. "The ACC is one of the top conferences in the country, so that was obviously a big thing when I was thinking about transferring."

Skinner saw a player who wanted to prove something.

"He wanted an opportunity to play against the best, compete against the best," said Skinner. "He wanted to challenge himself, so we've given him the opportunity to do that."

What Skinner hopes Trapani sees is the difference between the player Trapani believes he is, and the player Skinner believes he can become. Trapani is the Eagles' leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and No. 2 scorer (13.8 ppg); he has the ballhandling of a small forward, and the ability to play in the paint with power forwards.

"His game is so much more than 3-point shooting, and we've got to get him to understand that," Skinner said. "I think he will. When he's able to really become a playmaker, then that's when things are really going to take off for him, and he's learning that now."

Vermont coach Mike Lonergan said he was shocked initially that Trapani decided to leave. But through a spokesman via e-mail, Lonergan said, "I am very happy for Joe's success. He is a fine young man and a terrific basketball player who was a pleasure to coach. His dad, Charlie, a former UVM captain, is a great guy and it was wonderful getting to know them both during our recruitment of Joe and his time at UVM. I wish the Trapani family nothing but the best."

Coming off a win last Sunday over No. 6 Duke, the Eagles (19-8, 7-5) will try to finish strong. With games against Miami (today at noon), Florida State, N.C. State, and Georgia Tech, there's no letup in the schedule. But that, Trapani said, is what brought him to The Heights.

"I knew being at Vermont, we might be able to get into the tournament," he said. "But being able to make some noise in the tournament, that's what I was looking for."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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