ALBANY — Two days after it became public that Joe Cremo intended to leave the University at Albany men’s basketball program, he received his release from the Great Danes and officially became a prospective recruit for the rest of the nation.
“Within 30 minutes after that,” Cremo said, “I’d taken three phone calls.”
The phone didn’t stop ringing or buzzing for quite some time. Cremo, 21, estimates 30 schools contacted him in those first few days. Really, though, he lost count. The guard from Scotia, who led the Scotia-Glenville High School team to a pair of state championships before heading to UAlbany, heard from schools from each of the Power 5 conferences during those hectic first days as one of the country’s most coveted transfers.
“But that’s what I signed up for,” said Cremo, who takes his first official recruiting visit this weekend when he leaves Friday for Creighton of the Big East.
In high school, Cremo didn’t take any official visits. It’s a story that’s been told several times before: Cremo, a homebody who didn’t play AAU hoops, committed to UAlbany as a high school junior.
Then, the Great Danes were the only school to offer Cremo . . . but that was because Cremo didn’t partake in the recruiting game. Cremo, a first-team America East selection this past season when he averaged 17.8 points per game, was perhaps the easiest recruitment UAlbany head coach Will Brown conducted.
Cremo wants to be recruited, wants to find a stage more suitable to his talents on the basketball court, and wants to take a chance on himself.
“Because I know I can play at the highest level,” Cremo said, “and I’m going to prove that to myself and to the people that care about me the most.”
The decision to do that has been — at least — bubbling for close to a year. Cremo said he didn’t actively think about potentially leaving the Great Danes as their 2017-18 season played out, but he also took steps starting last summer to put himself on track to graduate this spring along with teammate and roommate David Nichols, who also left the UAlbany program a couple weeks ago and recently committed to Florida State. Both Cremo and Nichols are graduate transfers, a distinction which means neither Cremo nor Nichols will need to sit out the 2018-19 season.
Cremo said he took the steps to make sure he was on track to graduate early to give himself the ability to leave UAlbany if Brown left for a new job, if the season went awry or any other problems popped up.
“It was just good to have that option,” Cremo said.
In the end, the reason that won out in Cremo’s mind?
Eliminating a “what if” of his career about whether he could play at the highest level of college basketball.
“You’ve only got one chance,” Cremo said. “So you’ve got to go get it.”
First, he had to tell Brown. That conversation happened a couple days before Cremo’s intention to transfer became widely known.
“I don’t think that’s an easy subject to approach a coach about, but I think if you understand the relationship Joe and I have, you know how hard it was for him to do that,” Brown said. “That wasn’t an easy conversation.”
Brown and Cremo have stayed in touch in the weeks that have passed since that talk. There is no plan for that to change.
“I’ve been doing this long enough,” Brown said. “I want Joe to be happy and successful.”
Cremo said he has a small group of family members and close friends helping him find his next destination, but Brown is not an active member of that group. Cremo said he didn’t want to put Brown in that position.
“He’s still been there for me and said if I need him, he’s there for me — but I’ve tried not to bother him with this stuff,” Cremo said. “He’s done a lot for me and helped me out with a lot already, and I know it’s stressful on him that I’m leaving and that David’s leaving.”
Cremo said he has no regrets about spending the first three seasons of his college basketball career at UAlbany. Now, though, he’s more focused on looking ahead than looking back. He is planning to take at least three official visits — “maybe four” — and won’t publicly list what his top schools are, at the moment, outside of Creighton. While he’s received interest from schools such as Duke, recruiting websites have reported Cremo’s current preferred list includes Creighton, Gonzaga, Oregon, Penn State and Texas.
Besides finding a school with a realistic shot of making the NCAA tournament — something UAlbany didn’t accomplish with Cremo on its roster — what the guard most wants basketball-wise in his next school is pretty simple: he wants to get to be Joe Cremo.
After shooting 45.8 percent from 3-point territory last season, Cremo said a number of schools pitched to him the opportunity to come play for a team where his role would be to stand in a corner and shoot 3s. That type of role, he said, is not one he has any interest in filling.
“I know I’m more than that,” Cremo said.
After visiting Creighton, Cremo said he likely will make another official visit next weekend. He said he has no idea what to expect on a recruiting trip, since he has never previously taken one, but he’s excited for the process to take its next step. While Nichols, his close friend, made a decision quickly, Cremo said he intends to take his time.
“I’m taking my visits this time,” Cremo said. “I want to take it all in and find the right fit.”
The easy thing for Cremo would have been to come back next season for a senior year at UAlbany, but he has never doubted his decision to pursue a new path. He’s starting over and gambling on himself — and he’s confident in the odds.
“And wherever I go,” Cremo said, “it’s going to be hard to keep me off the floor.”