By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Connor Rubattino has a big-game mentality. He thrives on the packed gyms, the roar of the crowd, the desire to contribute in an important competition.
A primary goal this season for the 6-3 Cardinal Newman junior was to play well in key games.
He did, lifting his team to a share of the North Bay League title and a playoff run all the way to the NorCal region semifinal game.
Rubattino was named the All-Empire Player of the Year for large-school boys basketball, besting a handful of other players who also had remarkable years.
Though Rubattino led his team with an average of 18.3 points per game, it’s not necessarily the total scoring numbers that excite him — it’s when those points come.
His most memorable moment of the Cardinals’ 30-4 season, including 11-2 in league? Easy, he said.
“The last 40 seconds of the Casa Grande game,” he said.
That Jan. 26 game against the Petaluma school came before a standing-room-only crowd at home, and a win would elevate the Cardinals into a tie with the Gauchos atop the NBL.
But Cardinal Newman was six points down with only 40 seconds left. It would take a herculean effort to pull it off.
With an opportunity to reach first place in league on the line, Rubattino wanted the ball.
Newman trailed 54-48 and Casa had possession. Following a missed shot, Cardinal sub Jamon Roberts scored to trail by four. On the Cardinals’ next possession, Damian Wallace nailed a 3-pointer to close to within a point, 54-53.
Roberts then rebounded a missed shot and fed it out to the left sideline for Rubattino, who nailed a 3-pointer with one second left.
“The crowd went crazy,” Rubattino said with a smile this month after learning he was named this season’s player of the year. “That was the highlight of my year.”
Newman went on to win, 60-54. Rubattino finished with a game-high 29 points.
Rubattino, who also plays football, reached the 1,000 career point total this year, the earliest a player has passed the mark.
“I’ve never had a guy do that as a junior,” said his coach, Tom Bonfigli. “To go over 1,000 as a junior is pretty special. To score a thousand points in high school is a remarkable achievement.”
The school record looms for Rubattino’s senior year. Enoch Dix scored 1,565 in his Newman career, which ended in 1994.
Bonfigli praised his player’s full-court commitment and selflessness.
“He didn’t just score for us; he was one of our leading rebounders,” he said. “He plays at both ends of the floor. And he’s a great passer.”
The Cardinals advanced to the NorCal region semifinal game in the state playoffs, but ended their season with a loss to a competitive St. Mary’s team.
Rubattino said he felt like he started the season strong as the team went undefeated in preseason games. As other players developed through the season, he shared the limelight.
“Toward the end of season, guys like Damien (Wallace) and Justin (Botteri) found their grooves and started to score more so I didn’t need to as much. Earlier, I had to carry the load more,” he said.
This summer, he’ll continue to play basketball and explore possible colleges.
Off the court, he enjoys hanging out with his large family and studying hard.
“School is important to me,” he said. “If it don’t keep a 4.0, my parents, they’ll kill me.”
In addition to his family, Rubattino said Bonfigli has been a tremendous inspiration to him, and not just athletically.
“He’s very spiritual,” he said of his coach. “He really puts an emphasis on making us good people before good basketball players. I have such great respect for him.
Going into his senior year, Rubattino said he will focus on the school scoring record and being a more consistent rebounder.
“I just want to continue to play like it’s my last game ever,” he said. “Because it might be.”
You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @loriacarter.