BRISTOL - As St. Paul boys basketball senior Mike Palmieri stepped up to the foul line against Waterbury Career Academy Tuesday night, all the eyes in the Falcons’ gym were on him.
He was one point shy of reaching 1,000 career points.
“Having the game being stopped and all eyes on him with everybody knowing he was a point away was certainly enjoyable,” St. Paul assistant coach Brendan Phelps said. “To be able to have a stoppage in play to reel in the moment was surreal. It was gratifying for me because I know all the work behind the scenes that he puts in.”
Palmieri, to nobody’s surprise, knocked down the free throw, entrenching his name on the 1,000-point banner that hangs in the St. Paul gymnasium.
The feat is a testament to the incredible work ethic Palmieri has had throughout his entire life. He wanted to get better each and every day and has done that thus far.
It doesn’t mean there isn’t still much ahead for Palmieri.
“Now that I got 1,000 and we have games left, I can’t slow down,” Palmieri said. “Even though I’ve accomplished this goal, which is a big feat, as a competitor you can’t be satisfied. I’m even more hungry now.”
The story of how he got to where he is today makes it extra special.
It wasn’t long ago Palmieri was an eighth grader playing against upperclassmen at the high school level.
Phelps made the suggestion Palmieri take on opponents above his skill level that had more experience on the court than him.
It didn’t go easy as Palmieri was outplayed on the floor. The experience, though, fueled him to get even better.
“I’m the type of person that always has a goal or a plan in mind,” Palmieri said. “I think that helped me a lot with achieving my goals. I like to see a vision and set a plan to get to that and put in the work required to get there.”
Both head coach Steve Phelps and his son Brendan has played an integral role in the success of Palmieri on the basketball court.
Palmieri grew up down the street from the Phelps and attended the basketball camp “Shoot for Success” at St. Paul Catholic put on by Phelps.
Right then and there, Palmieri knew that donning the Falcons uniform was a goal he wanted to reach.
“Steve Phelps has kind of been a second father to me,” Palmieri said. “I’ve grown so close to him over the years. There was this youth basketball camp in fourth grade that I attended over the summer. Listening to the stuff he had to say about improving your game and your mindset, I knew that if I surrounded myself with the mentality that he has then I could be something great. That was kind of when I knew that I wanted to go to St. Paul. He came across as a guy that wants to win just as much, if not more, than the kids he puts out on the court every night.”
In fourth grade, Palmieri would always want to go to the gym to put in work with Brendan and attributes much of his success to the work they put in together.
“[Brendan] created that hunger and drive that players need to have if they’re looking to get to the next level,” Palmieri said. “He sparked that passion in me to reach for the sky in basketball.”
This season, Palmieri averages 16.5 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game.
He has been named to the All-State team twice in his career. He was All-NVL in his junior season and All-Copper division as a sophomore.
He still has goals left on his mind this year as the Falcons are set to take part in the Division III tournament. They have one of the most dynamic backcourt duos in Palmieri and Tyler Arbuckle.
“Coach talks to us seniors all the time and says, ‘as a senior you want to leave the program in a better place than when you arrived at it,’” Palmieri said. “That starts with practice and then evolves into league championships and hopefully state championships. I’d say collectively it’s not just my goal, but all of our goal to leave the program and feel the satisfaction with what we’ve done.”
Regardless of how the Falcons finish, Palmieri has a future in the game and is looking at both Eastern Connecticut State and Roger Williams collegiately.
“It’s awesome,” Palmieri said. “It’s a blessing not only to have the opportunity, but also to have multiple opportunities. Basketball not only gives me something to do but it’s something I enjoy very much and keeps me disciplined as a person. To be able to do that for the next four years gives me something to do and work towards.”
Another four years on the court has been well-earned for Palmieri, though, he’ll be missed by the St. Paul program.
“This time in Mike Palmieri’s career is a time I really never anticipated,” the elder Phelps said. “But it’s upon us and we’re dealing with it. He’s a remarkable kid from a remarkable family. The one thing I will always be able to do is look up at that banner in the gym and see his name on it.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org