It was the day after Thanksgiving and Coeur d’Alene standout Joey Naccarato was looking for an extra workout opportunity.
So he called former CdA coach and current Sandpoint coach Kent Leiss, who he counts as a friend. Leiss got four of his players together and Naccarato drove up for a two-hour workout.
Leiss worked with Naccarato on ballhandling, shooting and one-on-one moves.
“I never coached him in high school, but I’ve worked with him a lot,” Leiss said. “The kid loves to work hard and that’s why he is so good.”
The words ‘work hard’ are a common theme with anybody you talk to about Naccarato.
Kurt Lundblad coached Naccarato for three years at CdA and even longer in AAU, going back to third grade.
“He wasn’t born with the God-given skills to be a (NCAA) Division I basketball player, but with his work ethic he’s made himself a Division I player,” Lundblad said. “I don’t know any kid who has worked harder.”
Naccarato has been a four-year starter. That’s given opposing coaches plenty of time to see him up close and personal.
“Joey has really improved his game, especially his perimeter game,” Lake City coach Jim Winger said. “His freshman and sophomore years we backed off him on the outside and fouled him on the inside to put him on the free-throw line. That is not the case now. That is a huge credit to the kid to improve that part of his game that much.”
Naccarato was always the tallest for his age growing up. And that meant he was always positioned near the basket. That hindered the development of his ballhandling and shooting.
So he knew, at 6-foot-4, to earn a Division I scholarship he was going to have to transform his game. He entered high school with a shooting range of 15 feet. He’s now accurate from behind the 3-point arc.
While still required at times to play inside for CdA, Naccarato changed his game to the point that he caught the attention of a new Division I school, the University of Massachusets-Lowell.
UMass-Lowell assistant Biko Paris was at a tournament in Anaheim, California, last summer. Paris had no idea who Naccarato was at the time.
“It’s a tournament where you park yourself in a place and scour for talent,” Paris said. “I was popping around from court to court and I saw this 6-4 strong athletic kid and started watching. He fit what we look for in players – smart, skilled, tough, can shoot and play multiple positions with a high basketball IQ.”
Paris liked what he saw. But his head coach and another assistant also wanted to see Naccarato in person. So they watched him at a tourney in Las Vegas.
Naccarato and his parents visited the school, located in a city of 100,000 about 20 miles north of Boston, in late September.
“We like to meet the kid in person and the family,” Paris said. “We want the player to get a feel for the campus and our players and make sure it’s a comfortable fit for all.”
The school offered Naccarato a scholarship and he accepted. He signed a letter of intent in November.
There are several other major universities in the region, and Naccarato will be a short train ride from watching his favorite NBA team.
His father, John Naccarato, who has also been courtside through all of his son’s career, is as excited for the off-the-court opportunities for his son.
“Gretchen (John’s wife) tried to find reasons for him not to go back there,” he said. “This is so much bigger than basketball for Joey. It’s going to be such a big cultural experience for him. I think he’s really going to blossom back there.”
Joey Naccarato turned to local athletic trainer Bud Rasmussen to help him transform his game and body. Naccarato needed to add strength, quickness and explosion to his vertical jump.
He will continue to train with Rasmussen after the season and leading up to his move back east.
More than a basketball junkie
Basketball is just a part of who Naccarato is as a person. He carries a 3.72 grade-point average and has been a big part of his high school since his freshman year.
“As great of an athlete and career he’s had, he’s a greater young man,” Lundblad said. “He’s got a big heart. I’ve been fortunate to be around him as long as I have and he’s been a big part of my life.
“His commitment to the right things has led him down the path he’s gone down. He’s been equally committed to school, family, church and friends. When you’re committed to those things you will continue to be very successful.”
One of Naccarato’s highlights at CdA was helping put on a Special Needs basketball game last week.
“The gym was packed and cheering for all the kids,” Naccarato said. “It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
He has been recruited for football as well. A receiver and defensive end, Eastern Washington University offered him a partial scholarship.
“His potential in football was untapped. He could have played Division I,” CdA football coach Shawn Amos said.
Naccarato was tempted but defaulted to his favorite sport.
UMass-Lowell switched from Division II to Division I four years ago. It will be eligible for the postseason for the first time when Naccarato is a freshman.
He can’t wait for the next chapter in his life and doing it in an area that’s essentially the birthplace of the United States.
“I’ve never been a big city kind of guy,” Naccarato said. “But I really enjoyed the feel back there during my visit. And I really like the direction of the program. They only graduate one.”
Naccarato wasn’t a highly recruited athlete. But he made himself a basketball player through hard work and sacrifice.
Tony Hanna took over as CdA’s coach this season. While he’s been around Naccarato less than others, it didn’t take him long to figure out why he’s respected.
“Joey is probably the most committed player I’ve ever coached,” Hanna said. “What I mean is all the things he’s doing to help us be successful. We know all the eyes that are going to be on him when we play. I asked him to share the load and use his teammates. He hasn’t blinked an eye.”
Naccarato is looking forward to the challenge of playing in Division I.
“Physically, I’m still maturing,” Naccarato said. “But I think athletically I have a high ceiling.”