Is Last Year’s Redshirt Walk-On Another Diamond in the Rough?
Moving forward with the Catamount roster previews we come to redshirt freshman forward, Nick Fiorillo. The former Scarborough, Maine high school standout joined the Cats last year as walk-on, but would elect to take a redshirt year to help hone his game. Officially listed at 6’7 210lbs, Fiorillo offers up a good blend of size and strength at the forward position. As a walk-on prospect Fiorillo’s expectations should be tempered, but because of the redshirt decision it’s possible John Becker and the rest of the coaching staff see something special in Fiorillo and have plans to facilitate the young forward in their future line-ups.
Despite being a walk-on, Fiorillo balled out during his high school career. As a junior, Fiorillo would lead Scarborough High School to their first ever regional championship, while averaging 19.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He would then follow up with 19.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg during his senior campaign, while finishing as Scarborough’s all-time leading scorer with 1,217 points. For his outstanding efforts, Fiorillo was twice named to the All-Maine First Team selection by the Bangor Daily News.
As a redshirted walk-on prospect, Fiorillo is a bit of an enigma at this point. Outside of the coaching staff, no one really knows how much the young forward has progressed and developed over this past year. Still classified as a freshman with four years of eligibility to play, Fiorillo has plenty of time to continue to fine tune his weaknesses before taking on any sort of significant role. Expect to see John Becker ease the former Maine standout into games rather than throwing him straight to the wolves, as this has typically been the case with younger players. Can Fiorillo go from walk-on prospect to superstar a la Benny Shungu or is his ceiling simply that of a rotational depth player?
How Fiorillo Can Make an Impact
Like fellow walk-ons Kevin Garrison and Deng Adiang, Fiorillo’s biggest impact last season came from supporting his teammates from the end of the bench. As part of the electric Catamount bench mob, Fiorillo’s excitement and encouragement after highlight performing plays pumped up the Cats with a burst of energy. If Fiorillo hadn’t redshirted he most likely would’ve checked in for mop up duty along with Garrison and Adiang, but despite never seeing the floor Fiorillo remained active and upbeat from the bench throughout every game.
It’s difficult to determine how Fiorillo will best impact the Cats for the 2020-21 season without knowing what type of role he’ll assume. In all likelihood John Becker has a sense of where that might be, but Fiorillo will still be battling every day with the other Vermont bigs to earn his minutes. Since Fiorillo is still classified as a “freshman” and coach Becker has shied away from deploying freshmen, it seems safe to project Fiorillo as a deep depth player for the upcoming season.
Continuing to support and push his teammates throughout the year might very well be Fiorillo’s biggest impact on the team once again, but at the same time the young forward needs to stay ready should any injuries occur. Seemingly all of Vermont’s big men have dealt with nagging injuries in previous years so Fiorillo might be thrust into action even if it’s just for short spells at a time. Being able to hold his own against legit division one opponents would go a long way towards earning coach Becker’s trust and possibly a larger role down the road.
Rumors were floated around that Fiorillo looks well above that of a typical walk-on prospect which would coincide with the coaching staff’s decision to redshirt him last year. Fiorillo will likely see the majority of his playing time as a stretch four, while also possibly sliding over to the wing depending on line-ups. Both areas – particularly on the wing, could use the extra depth. While this might not be Fiorillo’s breakout year, the young forward should be able to carve out a nice role for himself if he continues to progress as expected.
Room for Improvement?
Where does Fiorillo need to improve most? Without any relevant tape to study it’s almost impossible to pick one specific area. Throughout his high school career Fiorillo was a dominant scorer who could beat opposing defenses from all aspects of the floor. Post moves, mid range jumpers and the ability to step back from beyond the arc were all a part of Fiorillo’s impressive arsenal and practice reports throughout the season confirmed just how well of a shooter Fiorillo really is.
But dominating at the AA class level in Maine and being able to translate that success to the collegiate division one level won’t be a simple walk in the park. Practicing against the likes of Anthony Lamb, Stef Smith and Ryan Davis have definitely helped Fiorillo prepare for a higher level of competition, but in the words of Allen Iverson – “we talkin bout practice. Not game – practice”. Ideally the redshirt year will have given Fiorillo enough time to better understand the flow and pace of the game from the division one level, though without any real game exposure it’s still to be determined.
Besides becoming accustomed to the level of play, Fiorillo should use the offseason to focus on his game from the defensive perspective. Coach Becker is known for instilling tough, hard-nosed defenses and demands that his players can handle their assignments from the defensive end of the court before seeing any type of significant role in his rotation. Former walk-on Benny Shungu took this message to heart, as he went from walk-on to America East Defensive Player of the Year. It’s too early to tell if Fiorillo can reach that level of success, but if he wants to see any type of significant role in the future he’ll need to buckle down on that end of the court.
Likewise, as was the case with Kevin Garrison and Deng Adiang, Fiorillo needs to remain composed when his number gets called. His minutes might be limited and the majority will probably come from the yearly division three contest and mop up duty, but even in those affairs the young forward has to show that he can handle himself at the division one level. Fiorillo has all four years left to play and the coaching staff won’t rush him if he isn’t ready. Right now it’s all about baby steps for the Scarborough native.
Along with showing solid composure whenever he sees game action, a good season goal for Fiorillo should be locking down his defensive assignments. With an already solid offensive skill set, Fiorillo should be able to find the back of the net without much trouble, but staying with his man one on one or switching defensive assignments should be his main point of emphasis. His natural blend of size and strength has helped him control the glass in high school and being able to do so at the division one level would be a phenomenal skill to add to his arsenal.
If Fiorillo can adequately defend the post while also being able to slide over and cover wings and bigger guards he’ll find himself in contention for an increased role in John Becker’s rotation. We’ve yet to witness if Fiorillo can handle the increased pace of play so that’ll be something Catamount fans should be watching for. If the young forward can hit his marks while also protecting the paint Vermont may have found another diamond in the rough.
Realistically Fiorillo, along with the rest of the Catamount faithful just need to find patience. There shouldn’t be any sort of demand to push Fiorillo into games if he isn’t ready. Likewise, Fiorillo shouldn’t rush himself either. There’s plenty of time and this is an already deep Vermont roster. Keep progressing and wait for your moment big fella.
Another redshirt season is out of the question and it’s highly unlikely that Fiorillo would transfer schools without testing the waters first at the division one level. By this time next year if Fiorillo ultimately decides that he’d rather play at a lower level or for a different program other than Vermont that can offer him more minutes it’ll be something to discuss, but for the time being he’ll remain a Catamount. As previously mentioned, Vermont once again boasts a deep roster and barring any injuries it’ll be very difficult to crack the top ten rotation.
However, Fiorillo is an extremely upbeat guy who by all means appears to love the winning culture at Vermont and supporting his fellow teammates however he can. I’ll once again dip back to the Benny Shungu comparisons, but this time from his first year numbers. During Shungu’s “freshman” campaign he put up 1.1 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists on a 6.2 minutes per game average. Expect to see similar numbers for Fiorillo’s “freshman” season, as Catamount country will hope that the former Maine standout can carve out a career similar to that of Shungu’s as he progresses over the years.
2020-21 Statistical Predictions
- 5.2 minutes per game
- 1.8 points per game
- 0.3 assists per game
- 1.4 rebounds per game
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