Cady Lalanne still likes to remind Tyler Bergantino about it from time to time.
It began nearly three years ago to date, on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010, at Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Fla., where the two high school basketball standouts – Lalanne a senior, Bergantino a sophomore – played against each other for the first time.
The game was a highly anticipated one. On one side was Lalanne’s Oak Ridge Pioneers. On the other stood Bergantino’s Nature Coast Technical Sharks in Florida’s Class 4A, Region II final. The big storyline: A much-hyped duel between Lalanne and Bergantino, two of the best big men southern Florida had to offer.
“I remember I stayed in the gym that whole week before trying to work on my post moves and stuff like that because I knew I was going to be going up against a really good center,” recalled Bergantino, who is now a teammate of Lalanne’s at UMass. “I really wanted to prepare for him so I wouldn’t get embarrassed.”
The week in which both Bergantino and Lalanne said “everybody” was talking about the game finally ended and game day arrived on Saturday. Bergantino and his teammates took the 90-minute bus ride from Nature Coast in Brooksville to Oak Ridge in Orlando, where his anticipated foe awaited.
“As soon as I walked in, I see Cady,” Bergantino said. “I look at him and he’s huge. And I never went up against somebody as big as him, so I was kind of excited and nervous at the same time.”
Lalanne, who dominated opponents during his senior season and entered the matchup averaging 20.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game, even said he, too, hadn’t gone up against someone quite like his counterpart.
“Everybody said I had a matchup on my hands because this was the first time I went up against a real big man like that,” Lalanne said. “I see (Bergantino) and I’m like, ‘Man, this kid is pretty big’ with long, blonde hair like a real surfer, so tip-off came, and we were going at each other.”
The first half came and went and not much happened. But things started picking up in the second half, when Lalanne and Bergantino did their best to out-do each other. At one point, Bergantino made a nice play by faking a shot and going in for a dunk, but Lalanne answered two plays later with his own highlight.
“He fakes a dribble and does that quick spin he does,” Bergantino recalled, “goes up, cocks back (and dunks) right on my teammate, and I was like, ‘Wow, so this kid is good.’”
Eventually, Lalanne’s team prevailed over Bergantino’s, 56-48, and went on to advance to the Class 4A championship game. But it was Lalanne’s performance in that regional against his future teammate – 20 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks – that foreshadowed what was to come.
After originally committing to Georgia to play basketball, Lalanne ended up switching to UMass under less than ideal circumstances. The big man didn’t qualify academically for the Bulldogs, but the Minutemen took him in.
After having to sit out the 2010-11 season as an academic non-qualifier, Lalanne entered his freshman season in 2011-12 already with a little bit of hype, as he was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Rookie team before even touching the floor.
There were glimpses of Lalanne’s potential during his rookie season, as he came off the bench to try to give UMass a spark. In just his third collegiate game, he pulled down 14 rebounds in 15 minutes against New Jersey Institute of Technology. He scored in double-figures in four other occasions, and almost got his first career double-double – 11 points, 9 rebounds and six blocks – against Towson in 28 minutes, which was then a career high.
But his season was derailed by a foot injury. During early fall workouts in September 2011, he broke his foot, requiring for a pin to be inserted. He re-aggravated it in the 14th game of the season in UMass’ win against Central Connecticut State.
Less than a week later, it was determined the center would miss 4-6 weeks, and in April, he decided to have surgery.
Lalanne returned this season with more expectations, but it didn’t begin the way he’d like to. He was suspended for the Minutemen’s exhibition game against American International for a violation of a team. On Dec. 1, he was arrested on three misdemeanor charges stemming from an on-campus event. He was suspended then too, but was reinstated on Dec. 14.
Piecing it all together
Since he resolved his off-court troubles and got back into shape, Lalanne has finally started to piece his potential together over the course of recent weeks.
Since Atlantic 10 play began on Jan. 10, Lalanne is averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, including four double-doubles, and has slowly worked his way back into the starting lineup, where he was for the first six games of the season.
“I anticipated it when I recruited him,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Lalanne’s play recently. “I thought honestly wherever he went in college, he was going to be a really good player.
“I thought last year he was making great strides and was ready to come until he got hurt. I thought that hindered him from having it come a little sooner this year, so I’m hoping he can continue to play with a pretty good clip and good pace.”
Lalanne not only matured and slowly got back into shape, but he has also received special attention from former UMass basketball player and current assistant Lou Roe and strength and conditioning coach Richard Hogans, who is known as “Big Rich.”
Both have spent additional time throughout the season and even during winter break to work with Lalanne on his footwork, post moves and everything else needed that may eventually help him fulfill his potential.
“I’ve learned how to go hard every time you’re on the court, no matter what,” Lalanne said. “Whenever you’re hitting that wall or you’re feeling tired, you just try to get over it and I feel like early on in the season, it was like a mental part that I had to get over. I feel like now, I got over that part and I feel a lot better now.
“I don’t know where the ceiling’s at. I feel like I still have a lot of work to do to get even better.”
For now, he has UMass fans excited for the player he could be – one they hope can help lead his team to championships in the future, just like he did in high school.
“That’s the scary thing, he’s still got two years,” Bergantino said. “The sky’s the limit for him. He’s got other notches that he can take it up to, that’s another scary thing, so if he can keep taking it up notches every step of the way, then watch out.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.