SPORTS – The college basketball news that surprised so many last week, that Jay Wright had unexpectedly stepped down from his post as Villanova men’s basketball head coach, hit Joe Cremo the same way.
It also left the former Capital Region standout, who now is playing professionally in Spain, feeling pretty good for his former coach.
“I was in the same boat as a lot of people, in that I was pretty surprised by it. I know some of my former teammates there were surprised by it, too,” Cremo said in a recent interview. “But I’m also so happy for him. He deserves it, and gets to go out on his own terms.”
A star at Scotia-Glenville High School and later with the University at Albany men’s basketball program, Cremo finished his college career playing one season for Wright, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member who won two national championships and 642 games in 28 seasons as a college head coach. Wright’s first years as a head coach were at Hofstra in the America East, then he later became one of the sport’s most-recognizable figures during 21 seasons leading Villanova.
Cremo didn’t experience his usual level of individual success during his season at Villanova, a campaign that included an injury that robbed the 6-foot-4 guard of some crucial on-court time early in his year with the Wildcats. Cremo averaged four points in 16.6 minutes per game with Villanova, and appeared in both NCAA tournament games the Wildcats played during the 2018-19 season.
“It was very challenging, but it was rewarding, too. I learned a lot,” Cremo said of his season playing for Wright at Villanova. “I came out of that one year and was prepared for a lot of different situations.”
Cremo put together one of the best-ever Section II basketball careers during his time starring for Scotia-Glenville High School. Playing for head coach Jim Giammattei, Cremo led Scotia-Glenville to four area titles, two state championships and a federation title during a high school career that included numerous individual honors and 2,159 points. Cremo’s Tartans were 92-7 during his tenure, with the seventh of those losses snapping a 53-game winning streak.
After playing for Scotia-Glenville and before competing at Villanova, Cremo played three memorable seasons at UAlbany for coach Will Brown. Cremo was America East Rookie of the Year and America East Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, a second-team all-conference selection as a sophomore and a first-team pick during his junior season. In 100 games with the Great Danes, Cremo scored 1,469 points.
Cremo is now playing for Zornotza ST, which is based in northern Spain. He’s averaging 13.9 points in 27.7 minutes per game during his first season playing overseas. Cremo said he leaned a lot on advice from Steve Dagostino, who starred in the Capital Region for Guilderland High School and The College of Saint Rose before playing overseas, prior to finalizing his decision to play professionally in Europe.
“If I never did it, I’d never know what the experience was like,” said Cremo, who said he’s likely to play overseas next season, too. “My team’s winning, I’m playing well and I’m really happy I came over here.”
Before not playing during the 2020-21 season, Cremo had spent the 2019-20 season playing in the American Basketball Association and the NBA G League. Before deciding to move forward with a professional playing career, Cremo said he almost spent the 2019-20 season back at Villanova as a graduate assistant for Wright.
“He’s always believed I could be a good coach,” said Cremo, who eventually wants to pursue coaching as a career.
What stuck out most about Wright to Cremo during his time at Villanova was how the Hall of Fame coach treated those around him. Cremo described Wright as “down to earth,” and said he first saw that quality on his visit to Villanova during the recruiting process. After he entered into the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate transfer, Cremo visited several schools, and said his interactions with the head coaches of some of the programs was limited.
“But coach Wright took me on a tour around the campus in a golf cart, and explained to me the history of the campus,” Cremo said.
Cremo spent several days on Villanova’s campus this past January, working out during a break in his professional team’s schedule. On one of the days — a game day for Villanova — Cremo said he spent nearly an hour catching up with the 60-year-old Wright. Regularly, Cremo said he hears from Wright via text message.
Wright’s Villanova teams produced their fair share of NBA players and program legends, but Cremo said the playing status someone reached at the school didn’t change how Wright treated that person. There are text messages and phone calls, and offers to help, for all of the former Wildcats.
“Everybody gets treated the same there,” Cremo said.