Justin Cerasoli’s Road Less Traveled
August 11, 2009 by End to End
After playing his first season of AAU with Ft. Sooy No Limit, during the summer of 2003, Justin Cerasoli cemented his status as a top 100 player in the country.
Thanks to his strong performance on the AAU circuit alongside backcourt running mate Shaun Livingtson, Cerasoli secured an invite to the prestigious ABCD All American camp. His peers at the camp such as Dwight Howard, Sebastian Telfair, Josh Smith, and a slew of other highly rated players were shoe-ins to the camp’s all-star game because of their names, not their performance during the camp. Cerasoli separated himself from the other hundred camp participants to earn a final spot in the camp’s all-star game thanks to his strong play. With that, came a bunch of scholarship offers from big-time programs from all over the country.
What seems like a typical story of any top 100 recruit is anything but for Justin Cerasoli. Cerasoli, a 6-foot-5 point guard who possesses great handle and excellent court vision, started his high school career at Providence St. Mel in Chicago. He started attending the small private school as a sixth grader. At that point, St. Mel had one of the better basketball teams in the city under head coach Billy Garrett. By the time Cerasoli started high school, Garrett had gone onto the college ranks at Seton Hall.
After his sophomore year at St. Mel, Justin transferred to West Aurora to go to school with a lot of kids he grew up with. As a senior, Cerasoli helped lead his team to an appearance in the 2004 Class AA elite eight in Peoria. Current New Orleans Hornet Julian Wright, and his Homewood Flossmoor Vikings, defeated West Aurora in the semi-finals. After a third place finish downstate, Cerasol chose to play collegiately for Garrett at Seton Hall over several other offers from prestigious programs.
“I was an All-American coming out of high school,” Cerasoli explained. “I played in the EA Sports Roundball Classic. I had a lot of schools after me. I ended up choosing Seton Hall. They weren’t on my list originally, but they made me a lot of promises about playing there. Plus, my old high school coach Billy Garrett was there and he was the one recruiting me.”
Cerasoli’s AAU teammate, Shaun Livingston, entered the NBA draft after their senior year of high school, along with several other players Cerasoli competed with that previous summer. Cerasoli, like many kids who grow up with a love for basketball, also had NBA aspirations. Admittedly, he entered college with the wrong mindset.
“A lot of my peers went straight from high school to the NBA,” Cerasoli said. “Honestly, my focus going into Seton Hall wasn’t right. I went in with the mindset of probably pulling a one-and-done because the coaches had promised me a lot of playing time. Had they told me the truth on how they would’ve played me, I probably wouldn’t have ended up there.”
Since it was his first time being away from home for an extended period of time, and away from his family and friends, Justin had a difficult time handling the new experience.
“I can say that I didn’t really know how to handle a lot of situations,” Cerasoli said. “It just wasn’t a good fit for me over there because I had felt like I had been tricked into going to Seton Hall. It was a good learning experience though.”
All was not lost for Justin during his freshman season. He was able to contribute to the team and had several good games. His minor successes gave him the opportunity to transfer to Mississippi the following season to play in the SEC. He felt comfortable with their coaching staff, Rob Barnes and Tracy Dildy, because they had recruited him out of high school.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Justin would have to sit out a year before he could gain eligibility. It seemed as if he had a fresh start playing in a major conference.
Between the time he arrived on campus, to the time he gained eligibility, much had changed. The coaching staff that recruited Cerasoli was fired, and Andy Kennedy was brought in as the replacement. On top of that, he broke his wrist during the summer prior to the season he would be eligible.
“We had a new coach come in, and I broke my wrist going into the school year. I wasn’t able to condition or lift weights with the team. I basically went straight out of the cast onto the basketball court. I played a few games, but I just wasn’t ready,” Cerasoli explained.
Soon after the start of the season, Justin sat down with coach Andy Kennedy. They came to a mutual understanding that it would be best to part ways. Kennedy, who Cerasoli still has great respect for as a person and coach, needed to be able to bring in players he recruited. Justin headed back to his home in Chicago discouraged, and unsure of his future.
“When I left Ole’ Miss, I was really done with basketball,” he said. “I was already looking for jobs, and stuff like that. My pops spoke with some people, and the opportunity at Loyola came about.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, Justin Cerasoli had reservations about playing at Loyola. Family support, and his unwavering love for the game of basketball ultimately were the reasons he chose to play for Loyola. However, just like his previous two stops, Loyola gave him an entirely new learning experience.
The culture of the program at a division-one program like Loyola is much different than those in the major conferences. The adjustment Justin had to make fitting into that program was tough.
“That really showed me a different side of basketball,” Cerasoli said. “The whole mindset is different when you go to a low-major school. The emphasis on basketball is different. Coming from two schools from big conferences, where the focus is all about winning basketball games, that wasn’t the case at Loyola. At Loyola it was about playing hard, and working harder than the next guy.
“We could lose a game and it’d be O.K. if we had a week of good practices. That was different for me. Because of that me and my coach didn’t always see eye to eye. We had a good relationship and everything, but we had differences because that was something that was new to me. It was fun for me though for the simple fact that I love to play basketball.”
Justin ended up having a subpar junior and senior year by his own standards. He averaged about 13 points per game, and led the team in steals. After finishing up his collegiate career at Loyola, Cerasoli has kept training to reach his dream. Right now, he’s looking at options to play overseas or in the NBA’s developmental league.
The path, former high school All-American, Justin Cerasoli’s career has taken is not the one he expected. However, it gave him a chance to learn from all the different environments he played in. Whether it was his first and only summer on the AAU circuit, sitting behind a point guard solely because the kid played his high school ball for a coach who has a lot of pull in the state the college is located, or playing for a school with little national exposure, Justin took something out of each experience.
Ideally every player with several scholarship offers would want to pick one school, have a successful career and a shot at playing professionally. Realistically, that is not always the case. Cerasoli’s experience taught him a lot about how things can work, and offered a little advice to those who might be in a similar position he was in as a senior in high school; someone who wanted to play a lot right away.
“I never really understood the politics that came with college basketball. I always thought my talent would get me where I needed to go. I would just tell anyone to do their research, and look at the guys ahead of them. Also try and get as good a feel for the coach as possible in that short period of time. It’s really all a crap-shoot at the end of the day,” said Cerasoli.