Jan. 13, 2014. Two years ago, you could find a 6-8 student from West Jefferson playing basketball at Appalachian State University’s Student Recreation Center. Today, you can find that same student on the hardwood for the Mountaineer men’s basketball team, leading the squad in rebounds (7.2 rpg) while ranking second in scoring (10.7 ppg).
On Monday, Tommy Spagnolo’s collegiate basketball journey took another step as head coach Jim Fox named him the team’s captain. A former walk-on, Spagnolo spent most of his junior season as a rarely-used role player before earning his first collegiate start in last year’s opener at NC State.
“This is a well deserving honor for Tommy,” said Fox. “He sets the tone for our program through his consistent hard work and toughness. He is someone we want our younger players to look up to and emulate. Tom cares deeply about this program and is always working to promote it both on and off the court. As coaches, we appreciate the leadership Tommy gives day in and day out.”
After earning a spot as a rotation player for most of the 2013-14 campaign, he burst onto the scene late in the year as he posted eight double-doubles in the team’s final 13 games. Spagnolo’s career appeared to be finished after last season, but his journey took another turn when the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility due to an injury sustained his freshman year at Radford.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have to be a part of this team,” said Spagnolo. “Coach Fox has given me a great responsibility and I’m honored to help lead my fellow teammates in a positive direction. I’ll continue to work to improve everyday and to be a beneficial influence on my teammates.”
Since then, the super senior has worked tirelessly both on and off the floor to improve his game and become a leader in Fox’s first year at the helm of the Mountaineer program. It’s an honor that was given to another former walk-on two years ago, when Nathan Healy went from bench player turned captain as a senior and earned Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012-13.
“I’m just really proud of how far Tommy has come, both as a person and a basketball player,” said Healy. “After everything he has been through, and the way he has seized this opportunity, it’s fitting that he be rewarded this way. Hopefully he can keep playing well, maybe even elevate his game to a level he might not even know he is capable of, and help App State win some more games.”
Through 13 games this year, Spagnolo has posted four double-doubles this season. He ranks third in the Sun Belt in rebounding and10th in field-goal percentage (52.3 percent).
Spagnolo and the Mountaineers return to action on Thursday when they host Arkansas State at 7:30 p.m. before taking on preseason league favorite Georgia State at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Holmes Center.