“Catotti, untuck your warm-up, you’re going in.”
Those words from UCF Director of Player Development Ricardo Greer with just under three minutes to play in Wednesday night’s 71-41 rout of Bethune-Cookman may have been the most memorable in the life of Knights junior Anthony Catotti.
A student manager with the UCF men’s basketball team since his freshman year, Catotti was added to the roster and began suiting up with the Knights’ for their third game of the season, a 60-40 win over Charleston, back on Nov. 18.
Because of a number of transfer players sitting out, and a couple of injuries early in the season, UCF is working with a depleted bench. With that in mind, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins made the decision to give Catotti the opportunity to be on the team.
“It was the greatest moment of my life until last night,” Catotti said of finding out he was going to be a member of the team. “There’s never been anyone more proud to put on the UCF uniform than I was that first game. Every time I put it on, it’s everything.”
Still, through nine games putting on that jersey, Catotti had yet to go through an entire warm-up with the team, let alone get into the game.
On Wednesday night he participated in warm-ups with his teammates. And with less than three minutes to play and the game out of reach, he overheard Dawkins tell his assistant coaches, “with two minutes left, I want Anthony to go in the game.”
It was still a surreal moment for Catotti. Not until Greer told him to untuck his jersey did he realize what was happening.
The crowd and his teammates on the bench roared when he first stepped on the court, but Catotti didn’t want it to end there. More than ever before, the student manger-turned-walk-on took the words so often uttered by his coach, and put them to good use.
“It’s not about how many minutes you play, it’s about what you do with your minutes,” Dawkins said again last night in the post-game press conference.
Catotti did everything with his two minutes on the court. He brought energy. He was in the right places at the right times. And yes, when his opportunity to take a shot came with 55 seconds remaining, he took advantage. His layup off of a pass from Nathan Laing went straight through the hoop and an even bigger cheer erupted.
“It was all instinct,” Catotti said. “I don’t remember much of it. I don’t remember the catch and I don’t remember jumping. I just remember being in the air and thinking to myself ‘make this layup.’”
After the final buzzer sounded, Catotti’s teammates charged at him, creating a pile worthy of a national championship victory.
“That felt incredible. Unlike anything else,” Catotti said. “The greatest feeling ever was seeing those guys all lineup as the clock was ticking down and storm the court. All of the sudden the team is rushing at me. I stagger back with the force of a stampede. To have those guys be as happy for me as I am every single day to be a part of this team. It was an incredible feeling and something I’ll cherish my entire life.”
“I was so happy for him,” Dawkins said following the game. “I know he had a lot people here for him. It was fun to see. The basket was one thing, but just the energy he played with down the stretch, he came in and he tried to make an impact. He made that impact through effort.”
Hard work leading to success is nothing new for Catotti, an Oviedo native. A National Merit Scholar out of Seminole High School, he had planned on attending Duke or an Ivy League institution, but when offered a full academic scholarship to attend UCF, he couldn’t say no.
Since arriving on campus two and a half years ago, Catotti can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I never imagined going to UCF before my senior year of high school, but since I got to campus I’ve fallen in love with this school.”
Now in his third year at UCF, Catotti is a double major in business management and sport and exercise science with a minor in coaching. And yes, he also holds a 4.0 GPA.
His work ethic has transferred to the basketball court as well. Having only started playing basketball on the junior varsity team at Seminole as a sophomore in high school, Catotti fell in love with the game later than most. But his love has only grown over the past five years, and his desire to be a part of the UCF family grows with it.
“Since I started playing I dreamed about playing college basketball,” Catotti said. “I went in with the goal of playing for the team. This year, with a new coach, a new hope, I made it my life to train and make the basketball team.
“Unfortunately, I was cut at tryouts during the off-season. But that didn’t stop me. Just before we went to the Charleston tournament, Coach Greer and [Director of Basketball Operations] Jimmy Drew told me they were considering adding me to the roster. That was everything.”
At least that was everything until Wednesday night happened.
Social media blew up with his story and he was on multiple airings of ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“It’s insane,” Catotti said of his SportsCenter appearance. “I got a call from my high school coach, who was watching TV and saw me on SportsCenter. He said congrats and I hadn’t even seen it yet.”
At the end of what may have been the best day of his life, Catotti, a true teammate, brought everything back to his fellow Knights, his family.”
“I’m just so happy that we’re getting recognition. These guys deserve it. It’s about how united this team is, how together we are, and how ready we are for conference play.”
Catotti and the Knights begin American Athletic Conference action Dec. 28 at Tulane. If the comraderie on display Wednesday night is any indication of things to come, UCF may be in store for more memorable moments like this.