NEWINGTON - Mason Romanoâ€™s recruitment to play college basketball had suffered a setback.
Like many other student-athletes across the country, the covid-19 pandemic had slowed the recruiting process to a crawl due to the lack of games and ability to hold in-person visits. For Romano, a former star for the Newington boys basketball team, completing his first season at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts should have helped heat up interest from prominent college programs. Instead, Romano was left pondering a future that had suddenly clouded.
â€śI couldn't really take visits to the other offers I had,â€ť Romano said. â€śBecause of covid and seniors getting another year, a lot of Division I schools I was talking to stopped hitting me up. It was scary at first not having a school, but once coach [Scott] Burrell called, I already knew I wanted to go there.â€ť
Burrell, the head coach at Division II Southern Connecticut State University, called Romano with an opportunity to come visit the school in New Haven. Hearing from a basketball mind like Burrell, a former first-round pick and NBA champion, was all Romano needed to decide where he would spend the next phase of his basketball career.
â€śHe played with Michael Jordan,â€ť Romano said of Burrell. â€śHe had a great career at UConn and played under Phil Jackson, who I think is one of the greatest coaches of all time. Just having that background and going to a school where the coaches can really make me better and move me to the next chapter of playing is definitely one of the reasons why I'm going there.â€ť
Romano was back home in Newington when Burrell called, with Winchendon having been temporarily shut down due to covid, and within a week of the phone call, Romano and his family went to the SCSU campus and met with Burrell and the rest of the coaching staff. If Romano had felt confident enough to commit to the Owls before ever seeing the campus in person, his visit only reinforced that desire.
â€śWe talked and watched a little bit of film and saw the gym,â€ť Romano said. â€śI looked around and I already kind of knew that it was where I wanted to spend my college career at. Two days later, I made my decision.â€ť
Burrell was a major factor in Romanoâ€™s decision to commit to SCSU last week, and for good reason. Aside from his NBA background, Burrell has the highest winning percentage in program history with the Owls, and has made it to two NCAA Tournaments in the past four years. Burrell, who has coached at SCSU for six seasons, has yet to finish a year below .500, making it an easy choice for Romano after Burrell offered him a spot on the team before their phone call had ended.
â€śIt definitely took a lot of stress off of my shoulders,â€ť Romano said. â€śIt felt really good. Playing college basketball has always been my next goal, and getting that over with and signing that paper felt really good.â€ť
Romano was an all-conference selection for Newington as a junior before transferring to Winchendon, where he is preparing for his final season. After spending a full year at the school, Romano believes his decision to transfer has helped prepare him for the college experience.
â€śJust being away from home, getting up early in the morning working out and having practice twice a day has definitely helped my time management skills and physique,â€ť Romano said. â€śJust getting bigger and stronger for the college level.â€ť
Of course, preparations have been difficult of late due to covid, but Winchendon reopens for school on Jan. 10, and the basketball season is scheduled to begin less than a week afterward, meaning itâ€™s almost time for Romano to begin his final tune-ups before putting on the SCSU black and blue.
â€śIt's been awhile since I've played 5-on-5 basketball in a game setting,â€ť Romano said. â€śBut I'm working out every day and doing everything I can to get better every single day. You can never be satisfied.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org