You watch a McMaster men’s basketball game, and you can tell these guys are having fun.
The team plays an up-tempo game with dynamic offensive sets that encourages creativity while maximizing individual strengths. From the bleachers, it’s an enthralling product, but the players enjoyment – both on-court and on the bench - is equally interesting.
For Adam Presutti, a point guard heading into his fourth year of eligibility, it has not always been this great. Mac is coming off a CIS Final 8 run and returning the majority of the roster. Presutti is not taking things for granted.
The 2011-12 campaign saw the rookie year for five new Marauders – Nathan McCarthy, Aaron Redpath, Joe Rocca, Brett Sanders and Adam Presutti. Dubbed the “Fab Five” by the Marauders athletic department, the group was expected to help revitalize a program that had become stagnant in the late 2000s.
McMaster immediately turned around. They went 17-5, including an eight-game winning streak to close out the regular season, and beat the Windsor Lancers in what supporters say is one of the more important victories for the program of the past decade or so. As a rookie, Presutti led the team in minutes and assists per game en route to winning the CIS Rookie of the Year honours.
“After that season, I was feeling amazing, confident, happy, excited … That year I felt I proved a lot of people wrong,” said Presutti.
The rookie success was vindication for Presutti, or, in his owns words, a way of proving a lot of people wrong.
Then, in the following summer, an injury would derail his rise. During training over the summer, Presutti suffered a minor fracture in his ankle. With the injury happening later in the summer, his health to begin the sophomore season was in question. Presutti’s minutes plummeted, going from 598 minutes played to only 321, and his effectiveness on the court was limited. He could not get fully healthy, and while his ankle had healed, other issues arose.
“It just really sucked. I just don’t know how to describe it any other way than that,” said Presutti, with a bitterness in his voice. “[After my rookie season], I felt on top of the world. I went from an all-time high to an all-time low. Injuries were nagging me, and they weren’t even major but they really affected me.”
Head coach Amos Connolly aimed to guide Presutti through the tough time. Connolly says athletes at a young age do not always take care of their bodies properly.
“You don’t really see kids understand how to take care of themselves until they are 21, 22 years old. You just have to hope the kids are smart enough or humble enough that they will listen to the professionals when they are young,” said Connolly. “Some guys need to do it their own way and figure it out their own way, and that is the best way they learn.”
Presutti’s second year was already off to a suboptimal start with the injury, but the difficulty was only compounded with the turmoil following the departure of Victor Raso. The team lost a leader and had to regroup quickly to right the ship. Fifth-year Scott Laws filled that void as the season went on, but nothing could undo the damage done at the start of the year.
There was an incredible amount of pressure on Presutti in that second year. Mac had made the OUA Final Four and looked to be ready to take a trip to the CIS Final 8. Presutti was viewed as the precocious point guard that could carry the team to a height not reached in nearly a decade, along with a healthy mix of youth and experience on the roster.
Connolly talked about the pressure and his interactions with Presutti during that 2012-13 campaign.
“In some cases, I’ve been really, really hard on him. The expectations have been very, very high and I’ve put pressure on him and not let him settle. I think sometimes, when it comes to injuries, I haven’t been as fair as I should have been,” said Connolly.
And Presutti, admittedly, was grappling with confidence issues in that season. To help get back to the level he knew he could play at, that his coaches and teammates knew he could play at, there needed to be changes made in the offseason after his sophomore year.
Presutti says that it was the hardest working summer he’s ever had.
“I was getting up, going from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at physio, hop in the pool sometimes, do my jumping exercises. Then I’d go in the back, I’d stretch out then I’d go to yoga. By the time I’m finished eating and showered up, it’s 1 o’clock,” explained Presutti.
“As a varsity athlete, your body gets so tight and so sore that you have do foam rolls, you have to soft ball. Those things are tedious, they are time-consuming but you have to do it properly and you have to take care of yourself.”
And it was time well-spent. McMaster started 2013-14 with a difficult schedule – facing Toronto, Ryerson, Carleton and Ottawa in the first and third weekends of the year. Mac had their point guard back though, and leaned on him heavily. Presutti logged 33 minutes in the win over Ryerson – the most in an OUA regular season game since December 1, 2012. Two weeks later, Mac got 39 minutes out of Presutti in a gruelling and narrow loss to Carleton. They split the four games, but showed that they were in the same tier as the hoops giants from the nation’s capital.
That marked the start of what would be a return to form for Presutti. Glancing at the statistics doesn’t lend to what he meant to the team. He brought a steadiness to the team while on the court, limited turnovers and produced good shots.
His return to form went largely unnoticed, because it did not include eye-popping box scores or national accolades. Presutti capped off the year with a brilliant performance on the OUA Final Four.
After a blowout loss to Ottawa, Mac needed to beat Windsor to earn a spot into the CIS Final 8. While it sounds hyperbolic, it was the most important game McMaster had been in for years. The game went to overtime, where Presutti stepped up. He nailed two threes – one of them a well guarded shot from the wing – and cashed in two free throws to. Presutti scored eight of Mac’s 12 points, and the team moved on to the national tournament.
The career arc of Presutti is interesting as is, to see someone reach such highs and lows in the small span of three years. There are very few entire teams that will experience peaks and valleys as severe as his.
Presutti is happy now, saying that the gap between last season and next feels like far too long of a wait. But it is more than just being an impact player and contributing to a winning team. Gone are the days where he has to sit back and watch his teammates put in the effort while he nurses injuries.
“The toughest thing for me is having to watch your team grind through their strenuous days. These guys work full time, then go lift, then scrimmage for two hours or have an individual workout. The grind of all those things is what brings a team together and it sucks to not be a part of it sometimes,” said Presutti, reflecting on the years past.
Changes have been made that cannot be seen from the stands. The maturation is easy to hear in conversation, and he is honest about the struggle. What’s made the biggest difference is getting the mental side of his game in order.
“The most important thing I’ve learned about myself is not to say something you can’t back up. I’ve said a lot of things about my goals in the past and didn’t do what it takes to achieve them. I’ve gotten a lot better at controlling my mind, thinking positively and I’m hoping that will help contribute to our team’s success,” said Presutti.
Connolly too has made adjustments in his coaching style after his experience.
“With Adam, I’ve learned to be a little more accepting, have a little more faith in the intention of these guys. Adam’s learning curve has been nice to see. Now, there’s a noticeable difference in where his head is at,” said Connolly.
“That said, he’s still going to frustrate me, I think that’s the nature of our relationship. But I care about Adam a lot and I think he really cares about the team. I really like him as a person, and I probably don’t show him that enough. I probably don’t show any of these guys that enough.”
The end of Adam Presutti’s McMaster story isn’t written yet. Basketball past the CIS level is on his radar, and well within his capabilities. He’s grown up during his time as a Marauder, and is a phenomenal example of sport transcending the confines of the court and helping someone become a better person. Where he goes from here is up to him and Presutti is embracing that, and ready to put in the work.