On the court, Mike Catino was known for his fierce competitiveness and sweet shot.
How Catino was away from it, though, is what made him special to those close to one of Siena College’s earliest stars at the Division I men’s basketball level who also starred as a Schenectady County high school athlete.
“Michael was the best friend anyone could ever ask for. He was my best friend for 45 years,” Rod Owens said of his former Siena teammate who died Wednesday at 62 years old after a long illness. “He was always loyal to those he cared about. He was sincere.”
“He was a dear friend,” said Paul DiLello, a friend of Catino’s from college who is now Siena’s assistant athletic director for development. “He always had your back.”
A lifelong Schenectady County resident and a member of multiple local halls of fame, Catino scored 1,238 points at Siena following a high school career that started at Schalmont before graduating from Linton in 1976.
Playing for head coach Bill Kirsch at Siena, Catino remains the only player in program history to score 40 or more points in multiple games, a feat he achieved in back-to-back contests during the 1977-78 season. Catino scored 41 points against St. Francis (NY) for a then-program single-game record, then scored 42 against Drexel. Catino’s Siena single-game scoring record stood until Marc Brown scored 44 points against Fairfield in the 1990-91 season, a record Doremus Bennerman bettered to 51 against Kansas State during the 1993-94 season.
During a college career that spanned from 1976 to 1980, Catino averaged 16.6 points per game as a senior, and averaged 14.9 for his career.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael’s family and his friends at this difficult time,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said in a press release issued through the school’s athletic department. “Michael holds a special place in our history, starring on Siena’s first Division I team. His achievements helped kick-start the Division I era, and set a standard of success for the program’s future stars to follow.”
Mike Catino was predeceased by his father Ed Catino, a long-time physical education teacher and coach in the Schenectady school district who starred athletically at Mont Pleasant High School before playing at George Washington University. Ed Catino died in 2012.
Mike Catino’s wife of several decades, Joyce Catino, lives in Rotterdam, as does his mother Barbara Catino; his son Jordan Catino resides in Niskayuna; and his daughter Karah Sherwood resides in Schenectady along with her husband Ryan Sherwood, and Mike Catino’s grandchildren Matthew and Emme.
Funeral services will remain private.
“The response has been overwhelming from everyone,” Jordan Catino said. “It’s been really nice to hear from people at Siena, and all of his former teammates. He just touched and affected so many people’s lives, and it was really nice to hear all the incredible stories.”
With a laugh, Jordan Catino added: “My dad would always tell us the same stories. We’ve heard them all a million times.”
DiLello first met Mike Catino when he interned in the Siena sports information department while Catino starred on the basketball team. Like Owens, DiLello said Catino was quick to make friends.
“He was always smiling,” DiLello said. “He was a joker. He was a character.”
“He always had a funny story, a smile and a laugh,” said Owens, a Catholic Central graduate who first met Catino when both were area high school stars. “No matter how serious a situation was, he’d find the humor and good in it.”
Catino’s friendships, though, went beyond laughs. He constantly kept up with his friends and former teammates, always calling to check on how they were doing. In a normal week, Owens estimated he heard from Catino a handful of times, and those conversations often were sprinkled with mentions of others Catino had recently called.
“So I know that it wasn’t just me,” said Owens, who lives in Brunswick. “He’d work the phone. He stayed in contact.”
Following his college career, Catino had NBA tryouts. Professionally, he worked in sales.
“On the court, he was a fierce competitor. It didn’t matter if he was going against the greatest defense or the greatest players. It didn’t matter,” DiLello said. “He had a chip on his shoulder on the basketball court, and he was a tremendous shooter.”
Beyond that, he was a captain and leader for Siena in its early days playing Division I basketball.
“He was the face of the program when he played,” DiLello said.
And Catino’s impact went beyond basketball for so many.
“I’m a better person for having him as a friend,” Owens said.