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 rush to any practices 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. He just wanted to do it. All of it, Janet recalled.
“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,” she continued. “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 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-up 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 Amateur Athletic Union Spartans head coach, said, “and I’ve been coaching for 28 years. … He’s got a special quality, charisma.”
What Capuano’s mom and his former AAU coach, Ward, said about him was on full display when Steve Masiello, his current coach at Manhattan College, said he saw in Capuano when recruiting him. And in a season when player injuries seem to continuously find themselves trying to be a bit of a road block for the team’s aspirations of 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.”
Injuries and team defections have forced Capuano into the spotlight, and the freshman has taken advantage of every opportunity. The 5-foot-11 guard averages 26.6 minutes per game, and ranks sixth in the MAAC in three point percentage with a .418 clip, and tied for third in steals with 1.5 per game.
“I’m excited about the next three years of him,” Masiello said. “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.”
Remaining ‘modest’ and ‘defensive-minded’
In the summer of Capuano’s senior year at Iona Preparatory High School, his AAU team, the Spartans, were set to face the Expressions Elite in the first round of a hoop group event, a team it was expected to lose to by 50 points, Ward recalled.
He said in that game he remembers Capuano scoring 41 points on 19-of-22 shooting, which included nine 3-pointers. Ward added 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.
Ward said as he watched Capuano play, that’s when he knew he had a DI player on his team for the first time ever.
Capuano still visits Iona Prep 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.
“He’s so modest. He’s a team kid,” Ward said. “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 Quirillo, his coach at Iona Prep; and now Masiello. They all deserve a tip of the Cap’.