ALBANY — Matt Cerruti showed up to summer workouts for the UAlbany men’s basketball program looking to demonstrate he belonged.
A goal developed solely because it was his introduction to playing at the Division I level after starting his college career at Division II Lock Haven in Pennsylvania?
“I kind of always have a chip on my shoulder,” Cerruti said. “Whatever I’m doing, I feel like I have to prove myself.”
Along with his impressive shooting stroke, that quality is one that has stuck out to first-year Great Danes head coach Dwayne Killings as UAlbany enters the second half of its six-week summer session.
“He loves to work,” Killings said of Cerruti. “I love that about him. . . . Winners do certain kinds of things and that will help us as we move our culture forward here.”
A 6-foot-4 guard who played his high school basketball in the Philadelphia Catholic League, Cerruti was Killings’ first commit at UAlbany. Cerruti didn’t play last season since Lock Haven’s campaign was canceled because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the 22-year-old from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania showed throughout his first three collegiate seasons why Division I programs were interested in him once he entered into the NCAA transfer portal. Cerruti averaged 15.6 points per game during three seasons at Lock Haven and made 42.9% of his attempts from 3-point territory.
Most recently, as a junior, Cerruti averaged 16.3 points per game and made 46.2% of his 3-point attempts.
Asked to describe Cerruti’s games, UAlbany senior Jamel Horton — who averaged 9.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season — didn’t hesitate.
“Matt is going to get me a lot of assists,” said Horton, laughing as he delivered that line. “When I see Matt on the 3-point line, he gets it every time. He gets the ball from me every time.”
Horton added: “But he can put in the floor, too.”
Developing that part of his game has been a point of emphasis for Cerruti. He’s comfortable driving against opposing defenders that play too tight on him.
“Offensively, my main asset is my shooting, but, being a little bit older, I’ve learned to use that to my advantage, too,” Cerruti said.
Cerruti said he takes pride, too, in his defense. Killings said he’s appreciated the hustle Cerruti has shown during his first weeks with the Great Danes.
“First practice we had, there was a loose ball, and he goes flying across the gym to dive on it,” Killings said. “He’s a winner.”
Cerruti said he’s noticed clear differences in competing at the Division I level after starting his college career playing Division II basketball.
“Obviously, the skill sets are a bit higher, but the intensity is at a different level,” Cerruti said. “You can’t have a bad day or a bad drill. You’ve got to be ready to go at all times. You can’t take a break on anything. You can’t take any plays off defensively.”
Cerruti said playing with the necessary effort won’t be something he struggles to do.
“I want to be able to show I earned this,” Cerruti said, “and that I deserve to be here.”
BUILDING ON A STRONG FINISH
Horton took over as the Great Danes’ starting point guard from Jojo Anderson during the 2020-21 season, and concluded that campaign playing at a high level. While he was regularly recognized as one of UAlbany’s top perimeter defenders throughout the season, Horton was at his best during the playoffs when he averaged 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game in the Great Danes’ two postseason contests.
“I’m just focusing on what I do well and what I don’t do well, and trying to find that balance between building on what I did well, but also strengthening weaknesses at the same time,” Horton said of his individual offseason goals. “So it’s about consistency and bringing that every day.”
Horton was one of several Great Danes who elected to return to the program after initially entering into the NCAA transfer portal following the dismissal of Will Brown as UAlbany’s coach. Horton said he’s been impressed with the Great Danes’ new coaching staff, especially with the way the team’s spring workouts played out as he was figuring out his next step.
“We had a clear line of communication and we built that trust,” Horton said. “That’s why the spring was so good for us, with our workouts and with everything they [the new coaches] did with us. That was the reason I stayed.”
A series of Killings’ “Dwayne Killings Basketball Camps” start this week.
From now through the end of August, Killings will run three separate week-long camps, as well as a one-day “Father & Son Camp” on July 31. A native of Amherst, Massachusetts, Killings said he attended father-and-son camps at UMass as a youngster with his dad Sam.
“That was a highlight of my summers,” said Killings, who is the father of two young children. “So we wanted to try to do it here.”
For more information on the camps, head to: dwaynekillingsbasketballcamps.totalcamps.com.