Every time Jon Iati becomes the forgotten man on the University at Albany men’s basketball roster, he does something extraordinary to make people remember him.
The fifth-year senior from York, Pa., scored a season-best 23 points in a 76-60 victory at Maine Wednesday night. He drained six of his nine shots from beyond the arc, and was a steadying force as the Black Bears tried to press the Great Danes down the stretch.
It was Iati’s 50th career double-figure performance. He climbed to 23rd on the team’s all-time scoring list with 1,083 points, and is third in career three-pointers, with 216.
Although he is still one of the team’s first players off the bench, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Iati has struggled this season because of several injuries. He had back surgery before the season started, and then broke his big toe early in the year. Favoring that toe led to a sprain of his second toe on the same foot.
“Actually, I finally feel better now,” said Iati, who has had a long history of injuries, including two shoulder surgeries. One of them ended his 2004-05 campaign after just six games.
“When I broke my big toe, it was on top of the toe. It gave me trouble. But when I sprained the second toe, that gave me the most problem, because that’s the toe that I push off on,” he said.
Early in his career, when the Great Danes were a young, struggling program, Iati was the star of the team. He led the nation in minutes played, averaged 14.0 points per game and was the America East Conference Rookie of the Year in 2003-04. He was still starting, and averaging 11.0 ppg before his season-ending injury in 2004-05. When he came back the next season, he was relegated to bench duty, and he has remained one of the Great Danes’ top reserves ever since.
“I do what they ask me — hopefully, nothing less and nothing more,” said Iati. “Despite the
injuries, this year has actually been better for me, because instead of playing 16 or 17 minutes a game, I’m playing 22 to 23. That’s remarkable for me, because I never play the first four minutes of either half. That leaves me 32 minutes or so to get a chance to play.”
Iati’s primary role is to give the Danes instant offense off the bench as a three-point shooting threat, but this year, that role has expanded as the backup point guard.
“We know that having Brian Lillis off the ball helps him to score, so when I’m in there, I usually handle the ball,” said Iati. “I feel comfortable handling the ball if I have to. I handled it every possession my freshman year, and part of my sophomore year. And although I started slowly because of the inj uries, I think my assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty good.
“I’m pretty slow, as it is. I got slower because of the back surgery, and I was painfully slow with the injuries to my toes. That’s why it was hard for me to get away from the press early in the season. It’s a lot better now.”
Always a long-range shooting threat with a deft touch at the free-throw line, Iati was York Catholic’s all-time leading scorer with 2,216 points when he graduated, but his brother, Jacob, recently broke all of his records. Jacob Iati will play for High Point next year.
“He just broke my scoring
record there, and now has 2,388 points. That shattered my record, but he’s played in about 20 more games than I did, because his teams were better and went further into the sectionals,” Iati said.
Iati relishes his role as one of team’s unofficial leaders.
“I just prepare the guys for what’s ahead,” he said. “I know that tournament time will be our biggest challenge. The conference tournament is completely different than the regular season, and I’ve been trying to remind the guys about that. I try not to yell at the guys, because that’s not my personality, but I know what it takes to win back-to-back America East titles, and I’d like to win another one.”
Iati can’t believe he’s accomplished so much in a Great Dane uniform.
“It’s been remarkable,” he said. “I never thought this would happen. My only goal was to be a Division I basketball player. But I’ve scored 1,000 points, and done it on a good team that has won two championships. That’s more than I could ever ask for, and it makes me proud.”
Senior forward Brent Wilson moved into 18th place on the all-time scoring list with 1,128 points.
Albany (8-5, 13-12) hosts league-leading UMBC Wednesday night at SEFCU Arena.