This past weekend, Sacred Heart freshman Tevin Falzon stepped on the court for the first time as a collegiate athlete, when his Pioneers battled in-state rival Yale in their season opener. In what turned out to be a scintillating comeback victory for the Pioneers, Falzon chipped in with five points, five rebounds, and a blocked shot in 20 minutes. Two nights later, Falzon was Sacred Heart's lone bright spot, as he scored ten points in a blowout loss to Rutgers University. It has been a nice start to what many are hoping will be a very productive career.
Speak with the freshman and you’ll come away impressed. You’ll sense someone with a maturity beyond his young age, who speaks with humility and respect. Falzon seems genuinely grateful for having the opportunity to play at Sacred Heart.
Combining Falzon’s maturity and undeniable talent, it probably came as no surprise that the baby faced 6’7” forward is playing at the Division I level. The path to Sacred Heart, however, was far from smooth journey for him.
Ever since he suited up for Newton North High, the buzz appeared to always surround Falzon. Here was a 6’3” freshman with size 16 shoes who was uniquely versatile, had a soft touch around the basket, and skills on the perimeter that seemed to come naturally on a basketball court.
Yet despite the talent, there were always bumps in the road that impeded his progress. After beginning his freshman season on the varsity team (a nice accomplishment for a high school rookie), Falzon was bumped down to junior varsity. Heading into his sophomore year, he suffered a concussion playing football in the fall, which forced him to miss the first couple of weeks of the basketball season. He would wisely never play football again.
Then, Falzon was primed for a breakout campaign his junior season. All the hype and excitement, however, failed to live up to his expectations. He didn't start much of the time, and consequently, struggled to make a consistent impact. In spite of the inconsistency, college coaches took notice and raved about the teenager's skill-set and potential. But with the attention came unwanted criticism. Comments containing the phrases "inconsistent motor" and "suspect conditioning" were published in Falzon’s scouting reports. When asked about it, Falzon doesn’t shy away from the negative publicity he received as a high school teenager.
"They were definitely fair criticisms," said Falzon. "That was kind of my problem throughout my high school career, that I was inconsistent. Sometimes I'd look like a superstar, sometimes I'd be nonexistent. That was something I tried to work on and got better at throughout my high school career."
Part of the problem, as it turns out, was also between the ears. Reflecting back, Falzon fully acknowledges that his mental focus lacked a bit when the going got tough at the high school level.
"I wasn't in the best shape which held me back a little bit,” admitted Falzon. “And then, mentally I wasn't always the toughest kid. Little things bothered me sometimes and that kind of affected the way I played.”
Even after undergoing three mildly disappointing seasons at Newton North, Falzon still received plenty of interest from college programs in the New England area. Quinnipiac, Hartford, New Hampshire, and Central Connecticut were just some of the schools that kept an eye on the versatile forward. The Division I dream appeared live and well, and slowly but surely Falzon started to take control of his destiny. His conditioning and focus began to improve. Soon after, scouts became cognizant of Falzon’s newfound athleticism and explosion. Things were surely heading in the right direction. It was going to be a monster senior season, or so he thought.
But then, the biggest road block to his basketball career got in the way. During an AAU game in the summer before his senior season, he awkwardly landed on his wrist after being fouled on a layup. Originally diagnosed as a sprain, Falzon had a feeling his injury was far more serious.
“It was kind of ridiculous because I went to the emergency room that night, and they told me it was a sprain," explained Falzon. After two weeks with virtually no improvement, he went to see a hand specialist who told him he would need surgery. "I couldn't believe it."
All told, Falzon missed about three months of his senior season because of a dislocated wrist. It was obviously heart wrenching, and especially frustrating when Falzon was reduced to a spectator when Newton North hosted St. Anthony High, which at the time was the number one ranked high school basketball program in the country.
Falzon eventually came back in time to help North Newton reach the playoffs, and as an added bonus, got to play alongside his equally talented younger brother Aaron. But the Division I schools that had showed interest before the injury were now long gone. He had to start from scratch.
To Falzon’s credit, he continued to work hard on his game and his body. He enrolled at Winchendon School to play a prep season and refine his game, and earn that Division I scholarship he so greatly wanted.
Before anyone had a chance to see him at prep school though, Falzon caught the attention of Sacred Heart assistant coach Johnny Kidd at an AAU tournament in Springfield, MA. The veteran coach was impressed right from the start.
"I thought [Falzon] had tremendous upside - he was obviously plenty skilled,” said Kidd. “I think the problem people had with him was they thought he wasn't in game shape. I just saw through that and believed [we could get him in shape]. I just saw he had a feel for the game, he had a good left and right hand, he drives, he can score from either inside or outside. He just has a lot of tools."
Kidd’s glowing praise eventually made its way back to head coach Dave Bike, and shortly after Sacred Heart became the first Division I school to offer Falzon a scholarship. Rather than waiting it out, Falzon honored Coach Kidd’s trust and belief with a verbal commitment before he began his prep season at Winchendon. Falzon was very appreciative of the confidence the Sacred Heart coaching staff had in him.
"I know they really wanted me and believed in me,” said Falzon. “I'm a loyal person and when they believed in me, I'd rather go there, then somewhere else."
With the season now underway, Falzon continues to progress nicely in the eyes of the coaching staff. Sacred Heart’s power forward of the future has continued to put in the hard work necessary to become an impact freshman in the Northeast Conference.
Kidd gives Falzon a lot of credit. “He was up here for six weeks in the summer and it was obvious that his body was not in great condition, so I talked to him about nutrition and his conditioning, what he had to do between the end of the summer and the fall to get himself into good shape.”
Thus far the hard work has paid off. Falzon has improved his nutrition and is working hard in the weight room, so much so that he’s down to a playing weight of 215 pounds, which is about 15 pounds lighter from the summer. "I give the kid a lot of credit. It was so obvious when he came back,” said Kidd.
With his conditioning improving, the multi-skilled Falzon has his sights set on making the All-NEC rookie team at season's end. It won't be easy given the crop of talented freshmen coming into the conference, but there's no denying Falzon's potential and talent. As a stretch forward with legitimate three-point range, his skills fit in well with Sacred Heart’s perimeter oriented offense.
For Falzon, it's been an somewhat arduous path to the next level, but the freshman endured and he's thankful for the opportunity to play at Sacred Heart.
"It all worked out well in the end. I guess everything happens for a reason."
Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride