When the season began, Albany head coach Will Brown was not sure how he would get Joe Cremo playing time.
The 6’4” freshman was playing behind a senior back court of Evan Singletary, Peter Hooley and Ray Sanders and joined a team that went 15-1 and three-peated as America East champions.
“I just didn’t know where the minutes would be,” Brown said. “I think that was the big question and concern, had nothing to do with talent level, the kid won two state championships in high school and was the New York State Class A Player of the Year two years in a row.”
But Brown knew that the freshman would hardly back down from a challenge. Cremo was not on the radar of the AAU scene, but the Scotia H.S. product was constantly in the gym working on his game.
“Coming in I knew we had three returning All America East guys, all these guys they can play at such a high level, I knew coming in we had three of them returning starers, so I knew it was going to be competitive from the start and I wanted it to be the way,” Cremo said. “If we want to be good it’s got to be competitive and it definitely helped me out.”
Brown was impressed how in these summer he did not back down in the face of the Great Danes’ experienced veterans.
“Joe has not had a bad day at practice all year long and I’m not sure how many guys that I’ve had since I’ve been coaching here, I can say that about,” Brown said. “Every day is like game day for Joe Cremo, you get maximum effort every time he steps on the floor and I think that’s something that’s rubbed off on our team.”
However the issue of playing time loomed over the chances of the freshman making an impact on a three time championship team. That was found when the Great Danes lost Chas Brown to a family emergency and Travis Charles, who was found to have a heart condition, suddenly Albany was even thinner in the front court. Brown moved 6’6” junior Dallas Ennema to the power forward spot and as senior Peter Hooley struggled through the first shooting slump of his career, Cremo found his playing time. The 6’4” freshman ranks fourth on the team with 10.1 ppg and first in free throw percentage (84.1%), while grabbing 3.6 rpg.
Cremo said he knew it would be difficult to earn Brown’s trust, especially since his coach was concerned that the 6’4” guard would struggle to pick up their defense after playing mostly 3-2 zone in high school. But a few games in, the freshman has worked to earn his trust and has played 21 minutes per game since.
“It’s a process and I knew coming in, he had three returning starters and I had to earn his trust, but at the same time I’m still earning it,” Cremo said. “It’s not going to come easy, he expects a lot from me as I do from myself, I probably expect more from myself than he does sometimes.”
“It’s a process and hopefully with the games and practices he can keep trusting me and hopefully teammates keep trusting me. My teammates have a lot of confidence in me and they tell me to just play my game, go out there and be confident.”
When Sanders exits, a player who earned All-America East defensive team last season, it is Cremo that gets locked up on the team’s best offensive player.
“So much has been thrown at him that he’s just, he’s a sponge,” Brown said. “He’s been really good, really consistent for us.”
“He’s a basketball player, who plays the right way, who’s very efficient. He’s concerned about one thing and that’s helping this team win: not concerned about his shots, his points, his minutes, he just wants to win.”
Cremo knew Albany was right for him and relatively quickly too. The local product received his offer from the school in his junior year on the day of his grandmother’s funeral and committed shortly thereafter.
“I felt like it was kind of her calling for me,” Cremo said. “At the same time, this team had a lot of interest in me right from the start and they came to a lot of my games, to a lot of my practices and they showed me that they really wanted me here. It was a good fit for me.”
The 6’4” freshman said being a local doesn’t bring any more pressure to help the Great Danes return to a fourth straight NCAA tournament. The guard has the best chance to win the America East Rookie of the Year award since Jon Iati accomplished the feat in 2004. However the freshman is still adjusting to the college game, especially through the long season.
“I thought I prepared myself pretty well, coach said it’s going to be the longest, grind it out season I’ve played in, but I tried to prepare myself when I was working out three, four, five times a day and just preparing myself for this,” Cremo said. “I guess the biggest adjustment would be defensively, then coming off the bench and just being an impact right away, trying to be consistent and efficient right away. That’s probably the biggest transition trying to be efficient off the bench and making the most of your minutes.”
So far, he has and it has helped the Great Danes to their second straight 20-win season.
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.