Albany senior back for one final hurrah

Posted: March 22, 2013

JACOB IATI was not playing much last season. His prospects for playing did not look promising. He was ready to graduate, go for his MBA and get on with his life.

He talked it over with his coach and they decided that he would give up his final season of eligibility at Albany and become a graduate assistant for Will Brown's team while working on that MBA.

"I wasn't playing a lot," Iati said Thursday morning at the Wells Fargo Center. "They offered me to be the GA this year which would pay for graduate school. I decided not to come back."

Then, a player got hurt. Iati got into a game against Hartford and hit two threes. Then, he hit six threes against Rider and seven more against Binghamton. In a CIT game against Manhattan, Iati hit eight threes. The Great Danes lost the game, but plans were about to be changed.

His had been a perfectly rational decision. Then, all those threes started to find the net. Coach and player met.

"The coach said, 'I know you were going to be the GA, but I'd rather have you in a jersey than a suit and tie next year. I'll still give you the option of what you want to do,' " Iati said. "I told him on the spot, 'It's a no-brainer, I'm going to come back and play.' "

The 5-10 senior from York (Pa.) Catholic started his career at High Point, transferred, sat out a year and played the next 2 years at Albany. He had another year to play, but it didn't seem to make sense until it did.

Albany finished fifth in the America East, but the basketball gods were about line up in March. Third-place Boston University, leaving for the Patriot League, was ineligible for the conference tournament which began on Albany's home court. Albany beat Maine, 50-49, on a layup with 14 seconds left. The Great Danes beat regular-season winner Stony Brook, 61-59, the winning shot going in with 2.7 seconds left.

They had to leave home to play at Vermont in the championship game. Hardly anybody wins at Vermont.

Enter Jacob Iati. He had made 87 threes on the season, was scoring a 12 points per game. He did not take a single shot for the first 37 minutes, missing time in foul trouble and just not getting a look at the rim. In the first two games against Vermont, Iati was 1-for-17 and 0-for-11 from the arc With his team trailing, 45-43, and 2:41 left, Iati hit a three to give them the lead. With Albany leading 46-45 and 1:38 left, he hit another three. With 19 seconds left, he made two free throws. They were his only shots from anywhere.

"All I cared about was winning the game," Iati said. "I've never been a guy that cared much about stats or points. At the end of the game, we ran some plays for me and I knew I was going to get a chance to make a big shot. I just wanted to knock it down. I knocked the first one down. The second one, I got a guy off his feet with a pump fake. I saw the orange on the rim and I just let it fly."

The player who was just about finished playing a year before made the biggest shots for the America East champions. He was going to the NCAA Tournament, where Albany (24-10) will play Duke Friday afternoon.

The Great Danes had gone 3-0 against teams they were 1-5 against during the regular season. They won the games by a combined seven points, but the margins kept getting larger.

And here they are, playing against the gold standard in college basketball.

"We're not going to roll over and be scared just because of the name on the front of the jersey," Iati said. "We know how good Duke is. We respect them. They have a lot of great players, NBA players on their team, we understand that. But we're not just going to roll over. If we're going to do that, there's no point in coming."

Iati's friends and family are making the short drive east from York. If this is going to be his final college game, just about everybody who matters to him will see it.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Iati said. "It's nice that it's in Philadelphia, close to York. I'm excited about the location."

One of Brown's assistants is Iati's brother, John. The brothers were going to be on the bench together this season. Now, John watches his brother on the court.

"He approached me and asked me about the [GA] spot," Brown said. "At that time, he was not playing a lot, so I said I'd love to have you as my GA . . . Then, we ended up having a couple of injuries late in the year. Jacob got into the lineup and he was unbelievable. Once the season ended, within minutes, I went to him and I'm, like, 'Hey any interest in staying, talk it over with your family.' "

Iati did not need to talk it over with anybody. He was going to play. He graduated last spring with a degree in business administration. He is studying for that MBA. He is playing basketball. He will be lining up against Duke. This time, his last basketball game will be his last basketball game.

"I'm going to start my business career," Iati said.

And he will have some basketball memory to take with him.

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