When Steve Haladyna walked into Cousens Gym, he was immediately struck by the court’s style. The double staircase ascending to the locker rooms, the balconies overlooking the hardwood, it all felt so old-fashioned.
He fell in love with Cousens. He fell in love with Tufts.
Haladyna, a senior at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., is one of four incoming freshmen who together comprise a sterling recruiting class assembled by the men’s basketball coaching staff.
In less than a month, the Jumbos will graduate Alex Orchowski, James Long and Peter Saba, two forwards and a center whose average height is 6-foot-6. So Tufts focused its recruiting attention on post players, securing commitments from the 6-foot-5 Haladyna, 6-foot-8 Tom Palleschi, 6-foot-6 Brian Kilgore and 6-foot-7 Zach Roswald, the Daily has confirmed.
Restocking the lineup never seemed such a tall task.
All four recruits applied and were accepted via early decision, bringing with them national-caliber pedigrees from across the country to a team that this past season finished over .500 for the second time since 2006-07.
A self-described slashing small forward, Haladyna was an All-Scholastic selection at St. John’s, where he helped lead the Eagles to the Div. I state title in his junior season and finished as the program’s all-time second leading scorer, averaging 22.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
A taller, more hard-nosed model of Tufts’ reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year freshman Ben Ferris, Haladyna also received an offer from Bentley and interest from Stonehill, Assumption and Ivy League schools like Brown. He opened communication with head coach Bob Sheldon and assistants Keith Zalaski and Matt Malone while he was playing AAU ball with the Mass Rivals. Per NCAA and NESCAC rules, the coaches are prohibited from speaking to the media about recruits at this time.
“I declared early because I knew it was the right place for me,” said Haladyna, who was also named to the ESPNBoston.com MIAA All-State team. “I felt comfortable with the coaches, and they really sold me on the future of the basketball program.”
Palleschi, on the other hand, is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound back-to-the-basket bruiser who finished with more than 1,000 career points and rebounds at Phillips Andover Academy. His size and interior presence should lessen the defensive burden on other post players like junior Scott Anderson, and coupled with Roswald – a pick-and-pop Chicago native with solid three-point range – Palleschi gives the Jumbos a gaudily tall incoming class that should complement a perimeter-heavy returning roster.
“I’m very physical in the post,” said Palleschi, who is also a pitcher and first baseman and would become the first baseball-basketball athlete at Tufts since Brian Shapiro (LA ’03). “I know I’m not going to be the most talented, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be the hardest working. I’ll go in with that mentality. I’ll get lower, more physical and hit them before they hit me.”
Palleschi narrowed his college choices down to Tufts and Amherst, but the decision wasn’t that hard. Most of his recruitment process was spent talking to Zalaski, a 2006 Amherst graduate. His parents will be able to attend every game from nearby, and after a few pickup games with the current Jumbos, Palleschi quickly formed a bond with his future teammates.
“They don’t play selfishly at all,” he said. “[Freshman] C.J. [Moss] and [sophomore] Kwame [Firempong], they understand that if someone’s open in the post, they’re going to get it to him right away. I liked that no one on the team was trying to be a superstar.”
Of the four recruits, Kilgore certainly has the farthest to travel for matriculation, an expedition compared to the mere miles separating Palleschi and Haladyna from the Hill. The Spruce Creek (Fla.) High senior had a visit scheduled at MIT when Tufts called following an AAU tournament. He didn’t particularly like things over in Cambridge; Medford was a different story.
“I watched a couple of their games, and I feel like I would fit right into the way they play,” Kilgore said. “Good passing, moving without the ball. Everyone has a high basketball IQ. The school is a great setup for me.”
The feeling is mutual.