Thomas Capuano: Freshman is a standout in passion, grit

When Thomas Capuano was a kid, his passion for basketball was quite obvious to his mom, Janet.

“Anything you’re worried about. Any stress in your life, it’s just gone,” Thomas said when asked about how basketball makes him feel. “You just have to focus on one goal and you use your teammates to achieve that.”

He was always in the gym. He’d attend every practice he had to go to and then to any other practice other teams held. Any opportunity he had to be around the game, he’d take it, even if it was sitting in on other teams’ practices. There was no limit and he just wanted to do it. All of it, Janet recalled.

"Shows his determination at such a young age," Capuano's mom said in an email. He's seen playing with his first Amateur Athletic Union team en route to winning the third grade D2 Nationals. (Courtesy: Janet Capuano.)
“Shows his determination at such a young age,” Capuano’s mom said in an email. He’s seen playing with his Amateur Athletic Union first team en route to winning the third grade D2 Nationals. (Photo courtesy of Janet Capuano.)

“It was that discipline that is a big part to getting to where he is today,” she said.

“No one has seen Tom play more than I have since the third grade,” Capuano’s mom added. “I understand it’s biased coming from his mom but I’ve always known what he’s capable of and believed in him 1,000 percent that he could play at [the Division I] level and succeed at that level. He has always had to prove himself, he was the underdog a lot of the way, just in terms of his height — [ 5 feet 11 inches].”

From Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) through college, almost everyone who knows Capuano well describes him as tough; a grinder; determined; a hard-worker; hard-nosed; blue-collar. The list can go on.

If someone told him he had to work on his strength, for example, he’d do push-ups and sit-ups before bed without fail. And if he forgot to do them one night, he would get up when he remembered. When he has a goal he goes for it, his mom remembered.

“He’s the toughest mentally, physically that I’ve ever had as a coach,” Chris Ward, Capuano’s former AAU Spartans head coach, said, “and I’ve been coaching for 28 years. He’s got a special quality, charisma.”

What Janet Capuano and Ward said about Thomas was on full display when Steve Masiello, his current coach at Manhattan College, said he saw in Capuano when out recruiting. And in a season when player injuries seem to continuously find itself trying to be a bit of a road block for the team’s aspirations toward earning a third consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title. Capuano has already proven his worth to Masiello, as a freshman no less.

“He’s a lot like [senior guard] RaShawn [Stores] in his demeanor of how hard he plays,” Masiello said. “He plays with a great edge to him, chip on his shoulder, however you want to word it. [What] helps him so much as a freshman is his ability to shoot the basketball, most freshman struggle shooting the basketball, but he has done a nice job of coming in shooting the basketball at a high clip, making his job a little easier and that makes his role easier.

“I’m excited about the next three years of him. He’s going to have so much experience. He has already probably played, I bet, as many minutes as guys halfway through their sophomore year, never mind freshman year. This is a great foundation for him to get better, have a great offseason, work hard and do the things he needs to become an elite player in this league.”

Capuano’s key freshman stats

Games Played-Starts

Minutes Per Game-Average

Field-goal percentage

3-point percentage Free-throw percentage
21-9 558-26.6 45 percent 42 percent 67 percent

Remaining ‘Modest’ and ‘Defensive Minded’

In the summer of Capuano’s senior year at Iona Preparatory High School, his AAU team was set to face the Expressions Elite, a team it was expected to lose to by 50 points, in the first round of a hoop group event, Ward recalled.

He said in that game he remembers Capuano scoring 41 points on 19-of-22 shooting, which included nine 3-pointers. Ward said that without Capuano’s performance, it would never have been a four-point game with nine minutes to play until its eventual 14 point loss, 68-54.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ward said as he watched Capuano play, that’s when he knew he had a D1player on his team for the first time ever.

Capuano still visits his past playing days when he’s home. He’ll sit on the bench and watch kids play where he used to, and when his former teammates see him they look at him with respect, not necessarily for his ability to play basketball either, Ward said.

“He’s so modest. He’s a team kid,” he added. “He never got preferential treatment. He didn’t look for it, ask for it. That helps in his efficiency in college.”

“Pretty much all the coaches I’ve played for are defensive-minded,” Capuano said when told about all of the high-praise from his mom and coaches. “You can’t take a play, drill off; practices are hard– it led me to here, it all prepared me for this. It was kind of just like a ladder. Built me up, built me up, and now I’m here.”

Just in the way he responded, from his parents, Joseph and Janet; his brothers, Nick and Jake; Ward; Vic Quirolo, his coach at Iona Prep; and now Masiello. They all deserve a tip of the Cap’.