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Gaby Belardo: the pendulum of personality

Photo by Erica Morano from Canisius vs. Niagara 2010

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Gaby Belardo’s smile is infectious. When he’s playing with supreme confidence, the Canisius Griffins’ men’s basketball team is unbeatable. Last year, his senior teammates fed off the then-sophomore guard’s charisma, elevating their own play when they saw the Griffs’ Energizer Bunny gleefully slicing through opposing defenses and forcing turnovers by diving on the court in Robert Goldsberry-an fashion.

Belardo’s flashy grin, fist-pumps and youthful exuberance were evident in last-second victories against conference rivals Siena and Iona in which drilled game-winning shots—and even in his 29 point outburst in a loss to the Saints later in the season.

Unfortunately, unbridled emotion can also rear its ugly head—the highs are very high, the lows are very low. Take last February’s game against Loyola (MD) for example. Belardo, usually the aggressor on offense, hoisted only four shots in 33 minutes, committing four turnovers and slumping his shoulders whenever he made a poor play. While his energy can galvanize, his frustration and pouting also breed long stretches of apathetic play from his teammates.

“That’s Gaby, and a lot of times, that’s how he expresses himself,” head coach Tom Parrotta said about his guard’s body language. “He’s one of those cavalier guys out there. He does a lot of unorthodox things—a lot of those things have been very good for us, and there are other times where it’s hurt him and hurt us.”

For Belardo, the character traits evolved quickly under the pressure of his youth basketball coach—his father, Jose Belardo.

“Everything started with my dad, being a basketball player [himself] who’s always pushing me,” Gaby Belardo said. “Every game, he’d scream at me when I’m doing good and when I’m doing bad. I remember when I was a little kid, my dad would tell me whenever I started shooting and missing—he’d yell, ‘Don’t shoot anymore!’ Whenever he used to yell at me, I’d get all down.”

It didn’t take much pushing for the Griffs’ guard to expand on his father’s influence, which is definitely a motivating force that’s shaped the way he plays basketball.

“I remember when I was a little kid, I was not good at free throws,” Belardo, who hit only 61% from the line last season, said. “He’d yell at me to shoot with my left hand. ‘You cannot shoot with your right!’ he’d say. He was more than a coach though—he’s my dad—so he’d always catch me after the game and have me shoot more free throws.”

Jose Belardo, who lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, caught two of his son’s games last year—the first two of the season against St. Bonaventure and Syracuse. It’s his wife’s turn this year, as Gaby’s mother will see him play against Iona on Dec. 2.

Parrotta isn’t about to suffocate Belardo’s energy, but the head coach challenges Belardo to keep a slightly more even keel, particularly now that all five seniors have departed and the junior guard has been chosen as a captain.

“When it comes to the ratio of good and bad plays, I have to keep a level head, but I never want to take away his aggressiveness,” Parrotta explained. “What I told him to work on is this: if a play doesn’t work out the right way, it’s not because he’s not trying to get it done. He can’t hang his head, and he can’t allow the other guys on the team to see that. He just has to get it back.”

The message has been very clear to Belardo, who chuckled a little when asked how Parrotta has dealt with his charisma. “[Coach] tells me I need to keep a positive attitude—he tells me, ‘Gaby, if you miss 10 shots I’m not taking you out, but if you put your head down, I’m taking you out.”

While his start to the 2011-12 season has been rather troubling—over four turnovers per game and only 30% shooting—he’s had to adjust to playing off-the-ball, as transfer Harold Washington has seized the point guard job. Regardless of how he’s started the non-conference portion of the schedule, Belardo’s demonstrating a little more maturity than Canisius fans witnessed last season.

“Last year I didn’t have this pressure because I had five mature players that knew what they were doing on the court. This year—you know how young players are—they don’t know where to go!—they’re always messing up or getting lost in the offense,” Belardo said. “My role is bigger—I have to keep everyone together on this team. We have nine or ten newcomers, and I have to keep my composure.”

The image of the floppy-haired fireball that had local college basketball fans giddy after his 19 points vs. Andrew Nicholson and St. Bonaventure last year has passed; Belardo’s hair is short, and he’s sprouted a little extra facial hair. Still he’s no grizzled veteran—he’s essentially entering his second full season after riding the pine with South Florida as a freshman and then sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.

“I think I’ve become more mature,” Belardo concluded. “If I shoot six times in a game, I have to move on. If I miss ten shots, I can’t bow my head.” Belardo’s energy—and hopefully his emotional control—will be closely watched as Canisius plays its first local game at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday at Alumni Arena against Big 4 rival University at Buffalo Bulls.

TAGGED: canisius griffins, gaby belardo, hoops, jose belardo, maac basketball, tom parrotta

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