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Stopera is backbone of Gators' offense

Stopera is backbone of Gators' offense

Timing plays a key role in both of Jeff Stopera’s passions: basketball and golf.

Timing plays a key role in both of Jeff Stopera’s passions: basketball and golf.

In basketball, the fifth-year point guard and captain knows just when to deliver a pass to a teammate, setting up a wide-open shot. In golf, the right timing produces an effortless swing that results in plenty of fairways and greens hit in regulation.

Currently, Stopera, son of Gazette County Amateur and Gazette Senior County Amateur standout and assistant Scotia-Glenville basketball coach Glenn Stopera, is wrapping up a banner basketball career with the Sage Colleges Gators. The 5-foot-6, 150-pounder is averaging a solid 10.6 points per game, but his scoring is the least of his multiple talents. He leads the Gators with 118 assists — sixth in the nation among NCAA Division III players — and he also has 43 steals, which is ranked 19th in the country. With a 2.68 assists-to-turnover ratio, he is No. 1 in the Skyline Conference and 29th in the country.

“Nobody works harder on their game than Jeff Stopera,” said Sage head basketball coach Brian Barnes, who played collegiately at the University at Albany before becoming the Gators’ first head coach as a four-year program.

“Jeff has gotten better every year with his skills, and he is always putting in the time trying to become a better player. He’s improved every year statistically, and he’s having a fantastic year this season.”

When Barnes recruited Stopera, he got a big thumbs-up from Scotia-Glenville head coach Jim Giammattei.

“I had a couple of conver­sations with coach Giammattei, and he recommended Jeff very strongly,” Barnes said. “Then, I went to see him play in a YMCA summer league. I was very impressed. He had a very good feel for the game, which is something you definitely need as a point guard. He plays his tail off, and that was something that attracted me to him. He gets everyone involved in the offense, and he opens a lot of doors for his teammates. He makes the team run more smoothly.”

Stopera, who was a member of Sage’s first Division III varsity team in 2009-2010, is third on the program’s all-time scoring list with 779 points. He is also the all-time leader in assists (519) and steals (221), along with being in the top three in field goals, free throws and three-pointers made.

Earlier in his Sage career, Stopera was asked to do more scoring, but this year’s team is not only a solid 11-8, but the Gators are also scoring 83.8 points a game, good for 13th in the country.

“Having guys who can put the ball in the basket is definitely great for a point guard like me,” said Stopera. “I think I have a unique ability to see the court. I was given that by my dad. It’s easy to be a point guard when you have guys who can run and knock down shots. As a point guard, I know the best way to win is to get everyone involved. I don’t need to score to be happy.”

Stopera lettered in both basketball and golf at Scotia-Glenville. He was a two-time captain in basketball, and was an all-Foothills Council first-team selection who set school records for most career assists. He also tied a school record for most three-point goals in a single game (nine). Stopera also was an all-conference first-team choice in golf.

His ability to excel at two sports was one of the reasons he chose Sage as his college choice.

“I chose Sage at the time because I wanted to stay close to home, and they had a major that I wanted to pursue. But it was also very important that they had a golf program,” Stopera said. “That’s what really made the choice for me. My dad kept advising me to go there, because they also had a golf program.”

Stopera still has a few more basketball games left in his career, and he appreciates that the Gators are finally competitive on the court. He realizes that being an original Division III Gator is something nobody can take away from him.

“My father told me that if I went to Sage, I might be able to start there for four years, and that’s what’s happened,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to come in as a freshman and play for four years. I’ve been very fortunate. The first few years here weren’t that great in terms of wins and losses, but then we got into the playoffs, and now we’re having an even better season. We’ve got five players averaging in double figures. This is a very good team this season.”

Stopera doesn’t want his basketball season — and career — to end too quickly, but when it does, he’ll be back on the fairways playing his other favorite sport. He excelled on the Gators’ golf team last season, and helped them finish second in the 2013 Skyline Conference championship.

“Pretty soon, you will have another Stopera playing every year in the County Amateur,” he said, referring to joining his uncle Jack and a slew of brothers and cousins.

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