Having determined his team's most glaring weakness next season was likely to be outside shooting, newly hired Marist coach Jeff Bower began asking around last month to see if any of his friends knew of a perimeter marksman still on the market.
One name he got in response left him especially intrigued.
A prep school coach told Bower about a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Southern California once viewed as a high-major prospect before a back injury sidelined him for most of his junior and senior seasons. Bower watched film of Nick Colletta from his sophomore year at Glendora High School and scouted him in person at a Las Vegas AAU tournament a couple weeks ago, both of which left him surprised no other Division I schools were showing any interest.
"You never get overzealous too quickly and you're always trying to be as reserved as you can, but Nick really did fit every criteria I laid out as far as if I wanted to use a scholarship this spring," Bower said. "Obviously this time of year, you understand the challenges of finding someone in the mold of what you're looking for. With Nick, we really liked how he shot the ball, how he played the game, his competitive instinct and his ability to make plays."
A little-known Metro Atlantic Conference program on the other side of the country once may not have interested Colletta, but his outlook had changed dramatically over the previous two years.
Phone calls and letters from Division I coaches gradually became less and less frequent during his injury-plagued junior season until by the start of his senior year no schools were recruiting him at all. Before Bower and his staff began showing interest in late April, Colletta's plan for this spring was to showcase himself on the AAU circuit to prep schools and enroll at whichever one offered the best platform to drum up interest from college coaches the following year.
A handful of conversations with Bower and a visit to the Marist campus during the first week of May led Colletta to scrap that plan. He committed to the Red Foxes on Wednesday and faxed his letter of intent Monday afternoon once he and his parents determined they were comfortable with him attending school on the East Coast.
"This kind of came out of nowhere," Colletta said. "I knew the chances of getting a scholarship offer weren't great this spring considering it was so late in the process, so I was already applying to prep schools before Marist came along. I loved the campus, I loved the team and I loved the coaches. It seems like it's going to be a good fit for me, so it's definitely a relief for this to happen."
It wasn't long ago that it seemed Colletta would have his choice of colleges rather than having to wait for a lucky break.
Twenty Division I programs including most of the Pac-12 were already recruiting Colletta after a sophomore season in which he averaged 24 points and eight rebounds for a storied Glendora program that has won four section titles under coach Mike Leduc. He ran bigger defenders off screens to create space for jump shots and took smaller defenders into the post, emerging as one of the premier scorers in the Los Angeles area.
Everything changed entering Colletta's junior year when his back flared up for the first time. Not only did he experience constant stiffness and soreness in his lower back and occasional shooting pain down his legs, Colletta also couldn't bend or move quickly without exacerbating the discomfort.
Since doctors initially diagnosed Colletta only with back spasms, he tried to play through the pain. Two games into his junior season, the discomfort was too great, so he sat out for a month. Two more games after Christmas didn't go any better. Even after shutting it down for the rest of the season and only doing light training to strengthen his core the first two months of spring, Colletta's back still wasn't getting any better.
"When I didn't know if I was going to be healthy again, there were certain points where I was ready to quit basketball," Colletta said. "I knew it was something serious and I realized something wasn't right, but I was frustrated the doctors couldn't figure out what it was."
Only after Colletta went to see a fourth doctor last year did someone finally identify the real source of his pain: two fractures in his lower back. Even though the injury required Colletta to sit out another nine months and miss the all-important summer viewing period and his entire senior season, the diagnosis was comforting to him in a way because it represented hope that he'd again be healthy enough to play basketball.
Colletta channeled his frustration at not playing as a senior into getting himself into the best shape possible for the spring AAU circuit.
In November, he began lifting weights. In January, he started running more and doing conditioning drills to regain his stamina. And throughout the whole process, he kept shooting day after day, first just honing his form and later with jump shots and movement.
It took Colletta until late April to regain his basketball shape and get comfortable shooting against live defenders, but to his delight his back problems gradually dissipated and doctors expressed confidence they would not return. As a result, he was able to serve as an effective spot-up shooter for his talent-laden AAU team this spring, a role he was even better suited for after his hiatus because of the work he'd put in to improve his stroke.
"My game was a lot more perimeter-oriented because driving to the basket still didn't feel natural to me yet," Colletta said. "I was doing the things that I felt confident in, which was play hard defense, rebound and catch and shoot. I really feel like I never lose confidence in my jump shot now just because it's so natural to me at this point. It's completely mindless. Shooting is what I did for a year straight."
Perhaps at some point Colletta will regain his ability to absorb contact in the lane and finish at the rim, but for right now his catch-and-shoot capability fits Marist's needs. Bower would be thrilled if the forgotten recruit he landed in mid-May was simply able to knock down perimeter jumpers, play solid defense and make some of the coaches who lost contact with him regret allowing him to slip off their radar.
"Somebody who scored 24 points a game at a good high school program as a sophomore is someone who typically has a lot of options in front of them in the future," Bower said. "His ability to perform at that level in the past is something we think he'll be able to do in the future."