Originally posted on www.chicagotribune.com by Lisa Butler
Arlington Heights, Illinois - November 18, 2013 - Saint Viator Catholic High School has always been known to excel when it comes to its sports programs. Over the years, many young men and women have set records only for them to be broken by the next wave of dedicated and talented athletes that attend this small high school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. However, not all of these athletes graduate with the hopes of maintaining their athletic career on the college level. Most go through life holding onto the memories of friday night games consisting of proud parents and peers cheering in the stands, game winning shots and record-breaking touchdown passes. But there are always the few that possess the necessary combination of drive, talent and dreams to take them to that next level.
Salvatore Cannella, 16, (now in his junior year at Saint Viator) dreamt of playing college basketball throughout his childhood. Most of his adolescence was spent participating in park district sports as well as travel teams. If he wasn’t putting on a uniform for practice or a game he was at home playing with his father, older brother and friends.
Cannella’s passion for sports quickly translated into dedication to better himself in his athletics. As he grew, so did his love for basketball. The dream of someday playing at the college level began to seem more like a reality.
Cannella has played on the Next Level Play, Inc. team for the past three years. NLP is part of the Amateur Athletic Union, or the AAU. Being a part of this team instilled fundamental skills in Cannella necessary to excel in basketball.
The team is coached by Dickey Simpkins, former NBA player of the Chicago Bulls and three time championship winner. Coach Simpkins started Cannella every year since he first joined the team; his statistics prove that a starting position is where he belongs. In the 2013 season the 16-year-old center, coming in at 6 feet 6 inches and 200 pounds, averaged 12.5 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.
These numbers showcased Cannella’s natural talent, ambition and devotion to the game of basketball. His participation aided the NLP team to achieve third place in Nationals for the season.
When I asked the former Bulls player and NLP coach Dickey Simpkins his thoughts on Cannella as a person and player, this is what he said: “Sal is definitely a big piece of our program. Especially at his age level, he shows continuous development and growth. Watching him over the years, I have seen his skill level and competitiveness improve and it is very good. He really is a good kid and a pleasure to coach. He takes everything we tell him and applies what he learns.”
Even being coached by one of the games’ greatest, Cannella remains humble and hungry to succeed. His respect for his coaches, teammates and the game of basketball only aids in his feats so far. I had the pleasure of speaking with another one of Cannella’s coaches from NLP, Mr. Leonard Jackson, and his words solidified the outstanding traits that Cannella exudes.
He said with the utmost respect, “I’ve been coaching Sal since he was 15 and to see the growth and maturity that he possesses is remarkable. He’s grown physically an inch over the year, but his growth and maturity with himself and his teammates has been tremendous. You know, sometimes it goes unnoticed but Sal really cares about his teammates. He has become a leader on the NLP team and was a big help in getting us to the final four at Nationals this summer. He is very humble and it’s a testament to his work ethic. He knows he’s not the fastest or the highest jumper but you can’t measure his heart. He always strives to try his best and it shows in his basketball skills as they continue to improve.”
The conversation I had with both coaches seemed to parallel one another and that is a sure sign that Cannella retains the necessary recipe for success. In my opinion talent can only take a person so far, but heart will take you where you want go. The endless hours of commitment that Cannella puts forth doesn’t stop at basketball. Off the court he maintains a 3.7 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) and participates in the ambassadors club at Saint Viator. What he has learned both in academics and athletics have gone hand in hand to push Cannella to the top of the list for many recruiters at the division one level.
His high school varsity team stats are impressive as well as he is averaging 7.5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 10.4 points per game. It’s no surprise recruiters are turning their heads.
When asked what the future holds for him Cannella responded with a smile, “I’d love to play somewhere in the West Coast or maybe Florida.”
His infectious ambition doesn’t just stop there.
I asked what comes after college and without skipping a beat he replied, “I’ll see what happens, but playing in the NBA is what I plan on doing after college.”
Failure isn’t an option for Cannella. The can-do attitude, hours of practice and genuine nature of this team player are just a few of the many reasons he will succeed. It won’t be long before we will be hearing his name on ESPN.
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