Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Albany's Joe Cremo rising to top of America East freshman class

Only fifteen games into his career, Joe Cremo has already made an impact on Albany and against their opponents as Great Danes prepare to defend America East championship. (Photo courtesy of the University at Albany)

Will Brown has had many four-year success stories in his decade-and-a-half tenure as head coach at Albany, but few, if any, have started for the five-time America East championship-winning coach as strongly as that of Joe Cremo.

In a freshman class across the America East loaded with prodigious shooting from UMass Lowell's Isaac White and Hartford's George Blagojevic, not to mention the efficiency and rebounding of Maine's Devine Eke, there are plenty of accolades to go around. Yet in the case of Cremo, who has immediately stepped into the sixth man role for the Great Danes as they open conference play at home Wednesday against UMBC, what takes some players four years to evolve has taken him just two months.

"He's good," Brown said of his rookie sensation, who comes into the league portion of Albany's schedule averaging 10.7 points per game and shooting an eye-popping 56 percent from the floor. "If there's a better freshman in our league, let me see him. He's only going to continue to get better, but the one thing with that kid is, I don't know if there's anybody I've ever coached where basketball is more important than to Joe Cremo."

"I feel like when I came here in the beginning, that's just what I was trying to do from the start, make this group more competitive," Cremo said after a 15-point effort last week against St. Francis Brooklyn, which he backed up with another 15 points last Saturday in a victory over Cornell, giving him eight double-figure scoring games in his last ten contests. "I don't know if something they haven't had, but I'm just trying to increase it."

A guard that is equally as a adept a passer as he is an exceptional shooter, Cremo has found his niche in the Albany lineup on the heels of two New York State Player of the Year awards at Scotia-Glenville High School. But for everything Albany's talented first-year wonder has done already, it is his future promise that remains most exciting for everyone in the Capital Region.

"He's going to be a future captain, for sure," Brown gushed. "I'd be shocked if he wasn't. Every day is like the national championship to Joe Cremo. He's got to win every drill that we do, every game. He's a good one."

"I think he brings more toughness," said senior guard Evan Singletary, who has acted as a mentor of sorts to Cremo as the freshman learns the ropes while Albany seeks a fourth straight America East crown. "You might not be able to tell by looking at him, but he's very tough. He competes every day and in the game, he doesn't back down from nobody. He's just a tough competitor."

So tough is Cremo that teammate Peter Hooley affectionately calls him "the most annoying person to practice against" because of his nonstop competitive nature. "It's almost to the point where you want him to relax and get through a practice," Hooley said, in jest, "but it's something he's prided himself on, and it shows with his success on the court."

While the America East and the Northeast region in general are just now starting to take notice of Albany's latest gold mine, the man who tapped into it is quick to remind everyone that Cremo's success story, as rapidly ascending as it may be, was not authored overnight. 

"What people don't realize, he just didn't jump out from under a rock," Brown admitted. "Any time you're a New York State Player of the Year two years in a row, in Class A, you're good. If he did play AAU basketball, he probably wouldn't be at Albany right now. I think his work ethic is contagious. Guys know when they're matched up with him in practice, if they don't bring it, they're going to get exposed. He's a winner."

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