It is a full court shot from Parenzo Hall Gym to the big time world of college basketball, but Westfield State alumnus Chris Caputo is living his dream as an assistant coach at the University of Miami.
Caputo, a 2002 Westfield State graduate and a four-year letterwinner as a reserve point guard for the Owls, has been in sunny south Florida for the past two years. Prior to that, he was a member of the George Mason University coaching staff in Fairfax, Va., for nine years. The 32-year-old Caputo already has many memorable moments in his short basketball odyssey: Miami’s upset victory at Duke last season, George Mason’s remarkable run to the NCAA Division I Final Four in 2006, and his four years at Westfield State.
“I’ve seen a lot of great places like Duke and North Carolina and I have been to the Final Four, but I wouldn’t trade those for my time at Westfield; it was special and worthwhile,” said Caputo the day before the Miami Hurricanes departed for a Christmas Tournament in Hawaii.
Caputo’s passion for coaching began at an early age and continued at Westfield State. As a seldom-used point guard for the Owls, Caputo was a keen observer on the bench as a member of Westfield State head coach Rich Sutter’s first recruiting class in 1998. In between classes he was a regular visitor to Sutter’s office, peppering him with questions on coaching strategies. Caputo also watched a lot of game tape on Westfield opponents and gave Sutter detailed scouting reports. “I don’t know if he used them,” said Caputo with a chuckle.
Interestingly, Caputo stresses his academics at Westfield State also played a pivotal role in preparing him for the 24/7 world of big-time college basketball.
“My time at Westfield was really valuable,” said Caputo. “It’s a place where you cannot get lost because it is a smaller school and a lot of demands are put on you academically. I was a finance and economics major where I had to grind it out and fight through it studying, especially near the end of the semester. That’s helped me today.”
Caputo’s connections (he and Miami head coach Jim Larranaga both graduated from Archbishop Malloy High School in New York City where they played for the legendary coach Jack Curran), coaching passion and work ethic landed him a job straight out of Westfield State as a volunteer assistant coach for Larranaga at George Mason. The Elmhurst, N.Y. native toiled as an unpaid assistant for three years before becoming a full-time staff member at George Mason in 2005. He even turned down several full-time paid positions at other colleges to remain at George Mason because it was such a priceless training ground.
“Ten years ago there were not as many NCAA restrictions and I was able to do more things,” said Caputo in explaining why he didn’t take the money and run. “In addition to breaking down film, I could make calls to recruits, work camps and recruit off campus within 30 miles of the school. Plus coach Larranaga is a great mentor and a veteran in the business.”
Caputo’s main duties at the University of Miami are recruiting and scouting opponents. He admits the pay and perks are good; his per diem is a lot more than the $7.00 meal money he received at Westfield State. But the lifestyle isn’t always glamorous and the pressure to win is enormous as Miami is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s more than just two hours in suits coaching basketball,” said Caputo. “There are late nights watching film, countless trips to see high school recruits that you are not going to get, and hours of sacrifice and family time missed. It is a tough profession and a very workmanlike job. But being at Miami has been great and the school has such a name brand – five football national titles and four baseball national titles. And the ACC is he best basketball conference in the country. Every night is a moment in this league. It’s a great city with great weather and an exciting place to be.”
Caputo’s first “coaching moment” came when he was a sophomore in high school. In March of 1996, he and a friend went to the Hilton in midtown Manhattan, the headquarters for the NCAA Final Four. Caputo watched in awe as a who’s who of coaches roamed the lobby.
“I saw coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Tarkanian and I said this is what I want to do, this is cool,” said Caputo. “Then 10 years to the date I was living out my dream of walking around the lobby at the Final Four as a coach.”
One day Caputo dreams of strolling the lobby and the sidelines as a Division I head coach. He is realistic that may not happen for some time, if at all, because head coaching positions are scarce and highly sought. But he does point out that that four of Larranaga’s former assistants during the past decade are currently head coaches. A content Caputo just bides his time, works hard, and continues to network and make new friends in the coaching profession. He frequently sends text messages to Erik Spoelstrag, the head coach of the 2012 NBA champion Miami Heat.
“Anyone who is in this business does it to become a head coach,” said Caputo. “But if I become a head coach it has to be the right fit for me; I am big on that. I am also big on knowing what the commitment is from a school. But if nothing comes along I will also be happy to work with Coach Larranaga.”
Westfield State teammates, in particular Phil Connors (Class of 2002). And two other Owl teammates – Kris Kachelmeyer (2001) and Jon Mazzone (2001) – visited with Caputo when Miami played at UMass Amherst in early December. Wherever Caputo’s coaching odyssey takes him, Westfield State will be of big part of it.
“A lot of nice things happened to me at Westfield State and playing there was a great experience,” said Caputo. – Courtesy of Mickey Curtis/Westfield State sports information director