ALBANY — During his junior season, Nick Fruscio really started to notice it.
Even in competitive games, often with plenty of time remaining, fans would start shouting for UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown to put the walk-on guard into the game.
Fruscio — a student of the game, and son of a coach — would laugh and continue cheering on his teammates.
Some nights, eventually, he’d head into the game with a minute or two left. Cheers always greeted his hopping off the UAlbany bench, but those cheers from earlier in the game always stuck with him and made him smile.
“It’s really something special. I’m really grateful that I chose UAlbany,” Fruscio said after Thursday’s practice. “I just always wanted to do whatever I could to help my team. That people noticed that, and noticed that I really care about the team, that’s satisfying to me.”
Along with four other Great Danes — Ahmad Clark, Sasha French, Romani Hansen and Kendall Lauderdale — Fruscio will celebrate his senior night Saturday when UAlbany hosts Stony Brook at SEFCU Arena.
And, that night, fans won’t have to wait long to see Fruscio in action. The popular 5-foot-10 guard will make his first career college start along with Clark, French, Hansen and Lauderdale in a game the Great Danes need to win to avoid a four-game losing streak.
“I’m grateful Coach is even letting me start,” Fruscio said. “It’s a big game. I’m just going to do my job, in whatever minutes I get, to help my team win.”
That’s what Fruscio has done throughout his UAlbany career, in which he has scored 15 points. After his high school career at Albany Academy playing for his father Brian Fruscio, Nick Fruscio headed to UAlbany as a walk-on instead of playing regular minutes at the Division III level in an effort to prepare himself better to become a college coach — his “dream job.”
While he doesn’t play much, the UAlbany co-captain — his teammates bestowed that honor upon him before this season, a rarity for a walk-on player — helps out with his enthusiasm on the bench and willingness to speak up. Before the coaching staff heads into the locker room at halftime, it’s normal for Brown and his assistants to hear someone already inside shouting encouragement and instruction to his fellow Great Danes.
“And,” Brown said, “we know that’s Nick.”
During Fruscio’s time at UAlbany, the Great Danes have played more than 5,000 minutes across 128 games. He’s played in 28 of those games for a total of 39 minutes, and only once — earlier this season — ever checked in during the first half of a game. Along the way, though, he’s become a fan favorite, the variety of walk-on player fans will remember as fondly as a team’s stars.
It’s a role that looks easy to play.
Brown knows it’s not.
“Everybody has an ego,” Brown said. “Everybody wants to play. Nick, he wants to help the team be successful. He’s never wavered from that. All he wants to do is win.”
As he worked through his high school years, the goal for Fruscio became to join the UAlbany program as a walk-on player. His father coached UAlbany assistant coach Josh Pelletier at La Salle Institute, which helped the cause for a self-described “homebody” who was born at St. Peter’s Hospital and has a view of the downtown Albany skyline tattooed onto his right bicep.
Did he grow up a UAlbany fan? Not quite, since he played as a youngster on teams with the sons of former Siena head coach Fran McCaffery.
“So I was a Siena fan growing up and I lived in Latham,” Fruscio said. “In the middle of high school, though, I started following UAlbany because I wanted to stay close and coach Pelletier had played for my dad.”
Fruscio will graduate from UAlbany with a communications degree, but wants to get into coaching as soon as possible. While he’s rarely played, he’s someone Brown describes as “very difficult to replace” because of the maturity and enthusiasm he’s brought to the Great Danes.
“He’s a regular, everyday, college kid,” Brown said, “who happens to be a member of our basketball team, whose impact goes so far beyond the box score.”