Photo courtesy of Image Arts.
0312 Mario Stramaglia
Senior Mario Stramaglia will play basketball for ETSU next year.
It is 1 a.m. at Spartan Arena in January. Four hours ago, the place was rocking with the sounds of fans cheering, coaches yelling, and the squeak of basketball shoes as Mountain Brook dueled with Spain Park.
All of those people have left. In fact, at this hour, all of them are asleep. Except one.
As the reggaeton (a form of Spanish rap originating in Puerto Rico) blares over the arena’s sound system, Mario Stramaglia goes around the arc shooting three-pointers. Then he moves to free throws. The sweat drips off his head while he shoots hundreds from the line. His body is exhausted from the game, but he carries on. After shooting floaters and layups, he moves on to an endless array of dribbling drills. And five hours later, he would be right back in the gym after a restless night, practicing for an hour before school on Wednesday.
This is what a poor shooting performance and a close loss to a rival team will do to Stramaglia. Never mind that he was on the brink of becoming Mountain Brook’s all-time leading scorer, or that he was averaging a team-leading 18 points per game. Never mind that he was named a part of the Super 8, the preseason list of the best eight players in the state. And never mind that he had already signed with East Tennessee State University to play division-one college basketball.
At this moment, deep into the night, Stramaglia wanted to get better.
Stramaglia grew up in Puerto Rico, where his dad met his mother. As a child, he played a lot of volleyball. Serious basketball was not in the picture until his family moved to America when he was in eighth grade.
After a short stay at Oak Mountain, Stramaglia came to Mountain Brook for his freshman year of high school. The transition from Puerto Rico to America was difficult for him. Yet, even while dealing with being new at Mountain Brook from another country, Stramaglia was sure of one thing: he wanted to play college basketball.
Head coach Bucky McMillan remembers meeting Stramaglia and his dad: “I said, ‘If you are good enough to play in college I’ll do everything I can to help you.’ I remember walking through the Arena and they just stopped and looked at each other. So I said, ‘That’s only if you have an interest in that.” And they just looked at each other and he said, ‘That’s the only reason I’m here.’”
“When he first came here, I had him practicing five hours a day with the ninth grade team, JV, and varsity to try to prepare him,” McMillan said.
While others might have succumbed to the pressure of a language barrier, Stramaglia persevered and would often practice two more hours after the five hours he had with all three teams.
“Out of the thousands of players that I played with – many playing professionally – and all the players that I’ve coached, Mario is the hardest working player I have ever been around,” McMillan said. “He practices over and over to an extreme I have never seen.”
“Every hour I get, I want to spend it on getting better at basketball,” Stramaglia said. “Knowing that other guys are out there working makes me work even harder.”
According to McMillan, Stramaglia’s work ethic helped him earn the respect of older players. The other thing it got him? A starting spot on the varsity team halfway through his ninth grade year.
That first year, Stramaglia was named all-area. The next year, he would help the team make it to Jacksonville in the playoffs, once again making the all-area team. Before his junior year, the Birmingham News named him to the All-South Metro Team, and he got to play in the AHSAA North/South All-Star Game.
During his time at Mountain Brook, the Spartans have consistently been a top ten team. McMillan said, “Not only has he done a lot for himself, he has done a lot for Mountain Brook basketball.”
His career, filled with memorable shots and dunks, came to a close on February 22 in a loss to Hewitt-Trussville in the playoffs in which he contributed 22 points.
Stramaglia signed with East Tennessee State a few months ago to play under Murry Bartow, Gene’s son. Other schools began recruiting him but were inconsistent in their contact with him. ETSU, on the other hand, would call and come to practices consistently, making an impression on Stramaglia.
“ETSU has showed me the most love,” Stramaglia said. “They have the highest attendance in their conference; I love the coaches; their dorms are extremely nice; and they have good facilities.”
McMillan compared playing at ETSU in basketball to playing at Vanderbilt for football. “People don’t realize that ETSU was top-100 in RPI last year, which was better than Auburn or Alabama. It’s the equivalent of playing at Vanderbilt for football.”
All-Time Leading Scorer
The night of the Spain Park game was a long one for Stramaglia. But three days later, in a home game against Vestavia, everyone saw the results. He went off for 28 points, in the process becoming Mountain Brook’s all-time leading scorer with 1,557 points.
And yet the next day, even after one of his best games, Stramaglia was back in the gym for hours. While his friends were enjoying the weekend, he was focused on completing his mission to become a division-one basketball player.
“People can’t comprehend how he works so hard,” McMillan said. “That’s what separates him – he’s a relentless worker regardless of prior results.”
The man on the mission is close to achieving all of his goals until he moves on to the next level. For now, he is trying to lead his team to a deep playoff run, improving one practice, one hour, and one shot at a time.