For junior Phil Valenti, the toughest point of last season occurred before the final buzzer of 2015.
The 6’7″ Valenti suffered an ankle injury that, days later, the school said would sideline him for an ‘indefinite’ amount of time.
“They were going to put me out for the season, but I was like, ‘Don’t do that yet,'” Valenti said, adding that he rehabbed two to three times a day in February. “It’s tough watching them go out and competing, knowing how hard they work in practice and I want to be out there with them.”
Valenti did return after a nine-game absence to come off the bench in Canisius’ MAAC tournament quarterfinal loss to Monmouth. In 14 minutes of action he added three points and grabbed one rebound.
“It’s real tough because you can’t really do the things you want to do, but you’re out there just competing and doing what you can do just to help your team in any way,” Valenti said. “I wasn’t really contributing the way I wanted to, but I was doing things to help us win and push us further.”
Opposing coaches rave about Valenti’s high motor and effort, two of the trademarks he has brought to the table in his two seasons as a Golden Griffin. Over the summer, the lefty worked on his jump shot and took to heart what he heard from opposing coaches, when he started to work on improving his dribble with his right hand.
“I remember hearing a couple of coaches saying, ‘he’s going to the left, he’s going to the left,’ so working on spinning back to my right,” Valenti said was one of the parts of his game he worked on. “The thing you can’t guard is playing hard, and that’s what I do. You can’t really put a scouting report on that except for telling your guys to play hard. I’ll run the floor hard and get the easy buckets, and that’s really what you can’t coach.”
Now he is one of the most veteran players on the roster, having spent three seasons with head coach Jim Baron, on a team that will rely on plenty of newcomers.
“I know everything that coach is preaching because I’ve heard it for four years now,” Valenti said. “It’s me helping them pick up the stuff quicker than because my first year, the seniors didn’t know what to expect from coach, but now since I’ve been with him I know what to expect. I know how he wants to play, so now I can help him teach the younger guys how to play.”
The 6’7″ redshirt junior finds himself working the most with junior college transfer Ronnie Gombe, a 6’8″ Kenyan forward who Valenti says is a “really strong” rebounder. Most of all, Valenti hopes that any major injuries are in his past.
“I can be injury prone, injuries come throughout the season, but I got to avoid the big injuries where I miss a longer number of games,” Valenti said. “I’m going to have my bumps and bruises, but limiting those and building my body up, my muscle, my strength was key for me this summer.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.