Verderame Works Hard as a Combo Guard
Joe Verderame spent many hours working to improve his shot while growing up with a basketball hoop in his backyard. Joe continued adding new skills to his repertoire as time went by, and the senior was able to put those abilities to good use during his final season with the East Haven boys’ basketball team.
After shooting hoops out back, Joe started playing the sport competitively in the town’s Biddy Basketball league as a 1st-grader. Joe always enjoyed playing basketball, but once he reached 6th grade, his perspective on the sport changed.
Joe tried out for East Haven’s travel basketball team and wound up making the squad. At the same time, he also made the cut for the team at Joseph Melillo Middle School. Joe was now playing against stronger competition and seeing himself improve. Consequently, Joe decided that he was going to take basketball more seriously going forward.
“I was always decent, but in 6th grade, I got invited to try out for the travel team. I made that, and I made the middle school team. I realized that I could do this basketball thing,” says Joe. “I was playing more often, hustling more. I was getting better and playing with better guys.”
Joe has often been tasked with filling the role of a combo guard on the basketball court. It’s a responsibility that Joe took on from 1st grade through his senior year. By playing a combo role, Joe either functioned as a point guard leading the offense or a shooting guard looking to put the ball in the hoop. Joe already had his shooting skills from those days in the backyard, but he feels that playing the point guard position helped him become a more well-rounded athlete.
“Coaches know I’ve always been able to shoot the ball. The two is best for that. But I’m also able to handle the ball, so I usually end up playing the one, as well,” Joe says. “You have to know what you’re doing. The one needs to know where everybody is at all times. It’s a lot more mental than it is physical.”
Joe joined the Yellowjackets in his first year of high school and mostly played for the freshman team, while also seeing some JV time. It was a big challenge to move up to the high school level, but the fact that Joe knew most of his teammates from the travel and middle school teams made for a smoother transition.
After getting some varsity time in his sophomore and junior seasons, Joe made to full-time jump to the big stage this year. While his shooting form was still there, Joe also became a leader on the floor who was facilitating the Yellowjackets’ offense, rather than just looking for the open shot. This approach helped Joe earn more minutes.
“Freshman year, I was more of a one-tool guy. I was just there to shoot the ball. Through sophomore, junior, and now senior year, I added more tools to my game,” says Joe. “I was able to dribble, lead an offense from the one position. I was much more than just a one-tool guy, and I was able to get on the court more.”
East Haven finished with an overall record of 11-11 for the 2022 season. One of the biggest highlights came when the Yellowjackets handed Guilford its first loss of the year on Jan. 22—a victory that Joe calls a huge moment for everyone on the squad. The Easties went on to clinch a berth in both the SCC Tournament and the Division III State Tournament.
Now a full-fledged varsity player, Joe found that it was much easier to get involved and become emotionally invested in the game. Instead of just watching from the sidelines, Joe was now a part of the action. Even more than just seeing increased minutes, Joe found that sharing the floor with guys he’s been playing with for the past four years made his senior season all the more special.
“They’re more like brothers to me. I’ve been playing with those guys since 6th grade. They’re all my best friends,” Joe says. “We’ve gone through the tough seasons, and we played our best this year when we made the tournament. To go through it all with the people I played in middle school and started high school with, it was great.”
Frank Lyon took the reins as East Haven’s head coach for Joe’s senior season. Whether it was on or off the court, Lyon says that Joe was always there for his teammates and motivating everyone to perform to their potential.
“Joe was an incredible teammate. He was the most supportive guy we had in the program. Whether we were up or down, he stayed positive towards his teammates and coaches,” says Lyon. “Joe showed up every day and pushed his teammates to improve themselves, while also improving a lot himself. He set a great example for the younger players.”
Joe worked hard throughout the past four years to become a varsity contributor with the Yellowjackets. While he will certainly remember the big baskets and notable victories, what Joe will always cherish the most are the teammates with whom he took that journey in East Haven.
“It means a lot. Being a Yellowjacket and playing for East Haven is great,” Joe says. “We’re always going to remember each other. We’ll remember the fun times we had not only on the court, but in the locker room and on the bus. It was great playing with those guys.”