Morelli’s Dedicated Style a Major Plus for Hopedale Hoop Squad

KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Photo by Steve Bassignani
Issue Date: 
March, 2020
Article Body: 

Sam Morelli embodies everything a coach would want in a student-athlete.
The 6-foot-2 forward, who leads Hopedale’s basketball team in scoring and rebounding, was a Dual Valley Conference all-star last year, was selected a captain at the start of this season and he’s on the honor-roll.
Although his 15.5 scoring average and his six rebounds a game are impressive numbers, it’s his determination, perspective and competitive nature that make him a breed apart. Listening to the 17-year-old senior discuss the passion he has for the basketball and hearing why the sport is so rewarding are telling. Very telling.
“I love basketball,’’ he said. “Winning is a priority but winning happens when our team plays Hopedale basketball. That means giving 100 percent effort all the time. My top thrill at Hopedale was being named a captain. It’s an honor to lead the team. My teammates’ work ethic is incredible and I’m proud of every one of our players.’’
Morelli’s goals at the start of the season were to win every home game and to win the Dual Valley Conference championship, the Clark Tournament and the Division 4 Sectional title. Although the Blue Raiders lost their home opener to powerhouse St. John’s (Shrewsbury), Morelli is now focused on achieving his other objectives.
“Winning the conference, the Clark Tourney and the Sectional are realistic goals,’’ he said. “We’ve got the talent, the work ethic and the determination to do it.’’
At Local Town Pages deadline, Hopedale’s record was 14-4 and it already had qualified for the Clark and Sectional tourneys.
The Blue Raiders’ success is a product of its team-oriented style but coach Tony Cordani is acutely aware that Morelli’s aggressive defensive style and his deliberate manner on offense are key ingredients.
“Sam has a high basketball IQ, is fundamentally and technically sound and he’s got speed and quickness,’’ Cordani said. “He’s relentless on the defensive end, always rebounding and diving for loose balls. On offense, he gets to the hoop well and finishes strong. His slashing drives are dynamic and his spin moves enable him to complete his drives.’’
A native of Hopedale, Morelli began honing his driving skills when he was a sixth-grader and quickly discovered that he enjoyed that style. “Over time it became easy and I had the mentality to sharpen that skill,’’ he noted. “I perfected most of my moves and shots by playing club basketball for the last six years. My mid-range shooting is okay but I’ve got to improve my three-point shooting.’’
Morelli’s skills were front and center in games this season against St. John’s and Whitinsville-Christian. He scored 20 points, had eight rebounds and took three charges in the loss to St. John’s, but his 22 points and six rebounds helped Hopedale down W-C.
“St. John’s is a quality team,’’ Morelli said. “They’re a tough opponent. Beating Whitinsville-Christian was a big win because it kept us in the DVC title race. And, I was able to compete capably against Justin Vander Bann, their seven-foot center.’’
A captain who leads by example, Morelli also likes to be vocal and supportive. He shows that quality when he’s listing the attributes of Hopedale’s other two captains — forward Dan Liberatore and guard Jake Wilson.
“Dan has been on the varsity since his freshman year,’’ Morelli emphasized. “He’s a great shooter and a terrific leader. Jake is a catalyst on defense, always limiting our opponents’ top guards. He gets steals by applying lots of pressure.’’
Morelli also admires his coach, labeling Cordani as “fantastic,’’ and citing him as a strong motivator. “Coach Cordani puts all his players in a position to win and he wants all of us to excel,’’ Morelli said. “He knows the game and he’s been a great mentor to me. I’ve also been fortunate to have assistant coaches like Tom D’Urso and Tom Hammann and to know former coach Don Klocek.’’
A solid student, Morelli hopes to continue to play basketball in college. Leaning towards a sports management major, he’s mulling school like Nichols, Worcester State and Westfield State.
Fully aware that athletics is a venue where valuable life lessons can be learned, Morelli points to three that he’s incorporated. “I’ve learned how to overcome adversity,’’ he said. “Another key lesson is mental toughness and how to be resilient. Sports also have helped me to sharpen my leadership skills.’’
Listing his parents (Stephen and Heidi) as his role models, Morelli has a favorite pro player — Jayson Tatum of the Celtics. “I like his style,’’ Morelli said. “He’s a slasher and he can shoot.’’
In terms of style, Morelli may be a high-school version of Tatum and one aspect they definitely have in common is their teams’ recent playoff history. The Celtics have been eliminated in both of Tatum’s first two years and Hopedale didn’t qualify for the tourney in Morelli’s sophomore season. Last year, as a junior, Morelli and his teammates were ousted by Assabet in the Sectional semifinals.
Morelli doesn’t look too far into the future but winning the Sectional and playing for a State championship would make his senior year quite memorable.
“Getting to the States and winning that title would be a great ending,’’ he said. “It couldn’t be measured on a scale of 1-10. It would be out of this world.’’
Sam Morelli is the kind of competitor who deserves that outcome. Because his desire, dedication and devotion to basketball are truly out of this world.