Vermont star takes senior with rare disorder to her senior ball

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Vermont star forward Anthony Lamb returned home to his alma mater, Greece Athena High in Rochester, New York over the weekend.

Lamb was Alexandra Hammell’s date to the school’s senior ball. Hammell suffers from Rett syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disorder that is more often found to affect females than males. The disorder keeps her from speaking and bounds her to a wheelchair.

“When you have a daughter who is non-verbal, non-ambulatory, needs nursing care, I never even thought this was a possibility,” said Hammell’s mother, Colleen told Jeff DiVeronica of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Lamb, the 6-foot-6 forward, in scoring, rebounds, and blocks in his first season in Burlington, averaging 12.8 points, 5.5 boards and 1.2 blocks per game. He helped Catamounts run off 21 straight victories en route to an appearance in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. This fall, the rising sophomore will be in the discussion for top mid-major players.

Introducing Cinderella: The Vermont Catamounts are headed to the NCAA tournament

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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Conference: American East

Coach: John Becker

Record: 29-5 (16-0 1st)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 60
RPI: 49
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: The Catamounts have won 21-straight game, but are likely headed for something around a 13-seed.

Names you need to know: Vermont gets it done with a balanced approach, with five players averaging at least eight points and none more than 12.6. Anthony Lamb (12.6), Payton Hansen (11.2) and Trae Bell-Haynes (11.2) are the leading scorers with Lamb and Hansen also the team’s top rebounders.

Stats you need to know: Vermont almost doesn’t miss near the basket. The Catamounts are eighth in the country in 2-point shooting percentage at 56.3 percent. They do it with a methodical offense that ranks 311th in tempo, per KenPom.

Big wins, bad losses: They knocked off American East third-place team Albany three times and second-place Stony Brook twice to go undefeated in conference play and clear the league by four games. A home lost to Northeastern is the only blemish on the resume.

How’d they get here?: Only five games of Vermont’s 21-game winning streak have been decided by single digits. In the American East tournament, the Catamounts blasted Maine by 45 and New Hampshire by 33 before outlasting the Great Danes, 56-53, in the title game.

Outlook: Vermont hasn’t been tested much during its conference season, but the Catamounts’ dominance can’t be totally overlooked. Their lack of 3-point shooting means they’ll need their defense to come up big when matched up with a superior team – they can’t count on a hot shooting night propelling them to an upset. They’ll have to do it by locking down and being efficient on offense.

How do I know you?: The Catamounts’ lone NCAA tournament victory came in 2005 when they knocked off fourth-seeded Syracuse in overtime.

VIDEO: Vermont’s Josh Speidel honored at Purdue

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When Josh Speidel made his commitment to play for John Becker at Vermont, he was expected to be a significant contributor upon his arrival. However tragedy struck in February, as Speidel suffered a major head injury in a car accident. While the rehabilitation process has been a difficult one for Speidel, he has remained a part of the program he committed to joining while in high school.

And that commitment goes both ways with Vermont doing everything they can to make sure Josh is part of the program, from weekly phone calls to even sending him film to study. And thanks to a waiver granted by the NCAA, Vermont was allowed to have Speidel on the bench with them as they took on No. 23 Purdue at Mackey Arena.

Speidel, who played at Columbus North (Indiana) HS and was an AAU teammate of Purdue’s Ryan Cline and Grant Weatherford, was honored prior to the game by Purdue. Per a source, Vermont did not know of Purdue’s plans to honor Speidel before the game until about an hour before tip when Purdue coach Matt Painter informed the team.

Cline and Weatherford led their teammates over to greet Speidel on the court, and the student section chanted Josh’s name.

Vermont’s Ernie Duncan discussed the opportunity to have Speidel on the bench, as well as his emotions as Purdue’s players greeted Speidel before the game, with Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Ernie Duncan, who scored 18 points in the 107-79 Purdue victory. “To have him around the guys and feel like he’s a part of our team is a great thing. When I saw what Purdue did to come over and hug him — it brought tears to my eyes.”

Vermont has and will continue to honor Josh’s scholarship. With Speidel continuing to make progress in his recovery, hopefully it won’t be long before he’s able to make the trip to Burlington to watch his teammates play a home game.

Video credit: RTV6 The Indy Channel

Vermont signee injured in car accident receives high school diploma (VIDEO)

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Saturday was a special day for seniors at Columbus North High School in Columbus, Indiana, as their four years of hard work culminated with graduation day. The afternoon was special for another reason: Vermont signee Josh Speidel, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in early February, was able to graduate with his fellow seniors.

Speidel, who was released from the hospital less than two weeks ago, received his diploma as the entire crowd rose to give him a standing ovation. As he continues to recover from the injuries suffered in the accident, Speidel will defer his enrollment at Vermont until 2016.

Speidel was an Associated Press third team all-state selection, and he was named to the Indiana All-Star team that will take on Kentucky’s All-Star team in two games next weekend.

Video credit: RTV6/The Indy Channel

Vermont signee injured in car crash speaks first words in more than ten weeks

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Last August Columbus North (Indiana) HS forward Josh Speidel made his verbal pledge to the Vermont basketball program, making him the fifth Indiana native to commit to the Catamounts in the last three years. Speidel’s trek to Burlington took a tragic turn on February 1 however, as he was severely injured in a car crash.

Among the injuries suffered was a serious brain injury that left Speidel unable to speak. Speidel’s steadily made progress, and according to the Indianapolis Star Speidel spoke his first words since the accident on Thursday. His first word was “Mom,” which he said multiple times with his parents at his bedside.

“I just broke down crying,” Lisa Speidel, Josh’s mother, said. “He said it a couple more times and the nurses came in and were celebrating with us.”

Lisa posted on her Facebook account Thursday night: “Do you know what is the sweetest sound EVER….hearing my son say, ‘Mom’ for the first time in 10 ½ weeks!!!!! YES HE DID!!!! PRAISE BE TO GOD!!!”

That was just one of several breakthrough moments this week for Speidel, a 6-8 standout senior basketball player from Columbus North. He said his sisters’ names, said “grandma” and looked at pictures of his basketball team and identified his teammates.

When Lisa asked him who was No. 32, Josh said: “Me.”

According to the Star Speidel’s spent the last three weeks at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, and the ability to speak is the latest of multiple breakthroughs that he’s been able to make. Here’s to hearing even more good news regarding Josh’s health in the coming weeks.

Throwback Thursday: T.J. Sorrentine hits it from the parking lot, becomes Vermont legend (VIDEO)

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On Sunday night, Brown’s basketball team went into Providence and knocked off the Friars, 77-67. It was a really nice win for Mike Martin, one of the better young coaches in an Ivy League that seems to be full of them these days. An assistant on that Brown staff is a native Rhode Islander by the name of T.J. Sorrentine, a guy that knows a thing or two about staging upsets and whose name doubles a curse-word in Upstate New York.

You see, back in 2005, Sorrentine hit a shot that not only helped him cement his legacy as one of the best players to ever suit up for Vermont, it also helped turn Gus Johnson from just another announcer into one of the most beloved cult figures in college basketball.

Here’s the situation: Vermont has taken No. 4 seed Syracuse — a team two years removed from winning a national title — to overtime in what would eventually end up being the last season for UVM legend Tom Brennan. Sorrentine, a point guard, isn’t even the best player on this Catamounts team — that title belonged to Taylor Coppenrath — and he’s struggling on this night, just 4-for-19 from the floor and 4-for-15 from three.

And, well, I’ll just let you watch the rest:

There are two things that I love about this moment:

– Right before the shot goes in, you can hear Gus Johnson start to say Sorrentine but get caught in the moment, and it comes out as a hissing sound. I like to think of it as the fuse burning before Gus Jeezy explodes with a “Hit that one from the parking lot!!!”

– When the shot clock hits the 15-second mark, you can see Brennan start yelling something at Sorrentine, who casually waves off his coach as if it’s not overtime of the NCAA tournament with a minute left. Brennan told the story of what happened to Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard years later:

“We had put in a special set for Syracuse’s zone,” Brennan said. “We set a screen and skipped the wing pass to try to get a good shot from the corner. We had run it a couple times and it didn’t work well.”

“So I said ‘Run Red,’ which was the name for the set and T.J. He put his hand out like a traffic cop and then he turned and fired.”

“That was not the play until it went in, and then it was just what we drew up.”

That shot instantly turned Sorrentine into a legend in the state of Vermont. Ask any Catamount fan — UVM has a surprisingly large and passionate fanbase — and they’ll tell you that’s the single greatest moment in Vermont athletics history, the kind of moment where you remember exactly where you were and who you were watching with when it happened.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Eight years later, on Labor Day in 2013, Sorrentine got married back in Vermont. At some point that weekend, Sorrentine’s wedding party made their way to CK’s, a sports bar in Winooski, a town over from Burlington, that was described to me as “the place where you meet all your buddies from high school when you’re back in town”. Sorrentine is a legend in the state, so everyone that worked at CK’s knew Sorrentine and a number of his teammates — Taylor Coppenrath, Germain Mopa-Gjila, Kyle Cieplicki, Brennan — would be making their way to CK’s.

The DJ that night, a Williston native known as Rizzo that doubles as one of the biggest UVM fans in the state, had already downloaded the audio of Gus Johnson’s call … because why wouldn’t he?

He played it at the bar that night.

“At first people really weren’t sure what it was,” Jordan Tipson, whose family owns CK’s, said. “Once people started to realize what it was, the place got pretty quiet to let it all play out. As soon as Gus went off about the parking lot the whole place just erupted.”

“T.J. and Coach went right up to Rizzo after and dapped him up.”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

“Don’t make me out to be some doofus,” Rizzo said.

“But it was incredible.”