There are times when Tom “Saar” Sorrentine probably wishes he had a traffic light on the bench. Instead of making tiresome gyrations with his hands and feet and straining his vocal cords, Sorrentine could simply stand and rely on the signaling device to get the message across.
Charles Correa would also reap the benefits of having his peripheral vision pick up something as basic as red-yellow-green. Instead of looking over and seeing his coach writhing in frustration, Correa would use the traffic light as a means of showing confidence or disapproval relating to his play. If Sorrentine selects red, that’s a direct order for Correa to slam on the breaks. If green is chosen, Correa would get to showcase his freewheeling ways, which can also be interpreted that the veteran St. Raphael coach senses there’s a mismatch the Saints can exploit.
Yellow? That’s called the middle ground, where youthful spunk collides with set-in-stone, old school mannerisms. Such a description epitomizes the head coach/point guard relationship in place between Sorrentine and Correa. At times it’s contentious, other times there’s harmony and all is forgiven.
Without Correa, St. Raphael isn’t playing in URI’s Ryan Center tonight in the open state tournament semifinals against North Providence. He is the driving force that makes the Saints go, a claim backed by the sophomore’s stats. Correa leads the Saints in scoring (16 ppg) and 3-pointers (41).
Without Sorrentine, Correa isn’t as refined in his handling responsibilities. The youngster who’s never been accused of lacking confidence knows that the man with the funky sideburns is responsible for introducing him to an entirely different side of the game, something Correa admits took some time to realize.
“Every time he calls a play, I’m like ‘Should I run my own thing?’ The only thing I’ve ever known is streetball,” said Correa, leaning up against the hallway of the Wellness Center one day earlier this week. “I would always get the ball and run. I never had someone stop me; I’ve always been a one-man team.
“Now it’s like Saar is always in my head. Everything he tells me is true,” went on Correa, who might be 5-foot-7 on a good day. “He’s just trying to help me.”
THROUGH THE YEARS St. Raphael has opened its doors to many an acclaimed hoopster, and Correa certainly fit the mold upon his enrollment in 2009. He was a local lad and a known commodity, having starred for Harris Nachbar at Jenks Middle School, located a jump shot away from the Wellness Center. He was also used to running the ship as he deemed fit, his quick-as-lightning step granting him a huge advantage over his peers.
The task fell upon Sorrentine to de-program Correa and then re-program him. It would take some time, but as the mentor looks back, he knew upon looking at Correa run like a deer in preseason drills that St. Raphael had found its next point guard.
“I had considered him a varsity player right from the get-go,” said Sorrentine.
Technically Correa wasn’t. He missed a close to a week of school and subsequent practice time while fulfilling his duties on the Central Falls Panthers midget football team. The Panthers were vying for national honors in Orlando. Correa returned to the fold just as the Saints were set to start the season, but Sorrentine had already made up his mind. Talent or no talent, the ninth grader would have to work his way back into Sorrentine’s good graces while playing at the lower levels.
“He’s a young kid and that’s his option, but he hurt the team,” Sorrentine said. “I couldn’t reward him for going away. It’s a high school team and you’ve got to be dedicated.”
Naturally Correa took it as a form of punishment. No way was he a junior varsity also-ran. He was right, but Sorrentine was the one holding the cards.
“He made me play a freshman game, so I was mad about that,” recalled Correa. “I was in a rush to play.”
Prying minds wanted to know more about Correa after capping off a 40-point explosion against Woonsocket’s JV outfit with a bank shot as time expired. The theatrics came exactly one week before Christmas, meaning the holiday break was forthcoming. With no games scheduled, Sorrentine thought the down time would be the best time to infuse Correa into the varsity way, which looking back was the plan all along.
“I just wanted to show Saar that I belonged on varsity,” said Correa, who as the calendar flipped to 2010 was humble and ready to open up to the idea of being coached.
Wasting little time in flashing his playmaking ability, Correa began his varsity career with 21 points in one game and eight assists in another. He was the starting point man on a St. Raphael squad that wound up defeating Bishop Hendricken and North Kingstown, the two teams that played in the Division I championship game, yet saw its season end in inglorious fashion (61-39 loss to Central in the first round of the playoffs).
With his first year behind him, Correa was primed to take the next step, with Sorrentine serving as his guiding hand.
HIS SPEED IS a blessing and a deterrent, a contradiction that brings out a wry smile in Correa. Seeing the entire floor is what Sorrentine implores his pet project to gravitate towards and understand. Slipping into another gear, Sorrentine relayed, didn’t mean Correa had to sacrifice other aspects of his game.
“Just try and slow down,” is Correa’s response when Sorrentine tells him to ease up. “I’ve got to get into that rhythm to just stop whenever I get the ball.”
“He’s a scoring point guard, so he has even more value. A lot of point guards can distribute and they can’t score, but he’s got the whole package,” said Sorrentine. “With the younger kids you get away with being quicker than everyone else, but not with the older kids. You’ve got to be able to change speeds because if you don’t, everyone will draw in right to you.”
Correa started to realize the error of his ways when passes started glancing off teammates’ fingers and land out of bounds. Now his timing and instincts have improved so that Trevor Vasey and Cesar Mejia now anticipate when the ball is heading in their direction.
“He’s the most talented kid on the floor almost all the time,” said Vasey, a senior who has taken on the role of big brother with Correa. “It takes a little time to get used to his passes, but if you’re wide open and catch the pass, you’ll score easily.”
Said Mejia, a junior, “He’s always there; he’s just basically waiting for you to get there.”
PART OF A point guard’s job description is to realize what play the coach is calling and execute it flawlessly. Sorrentine and Correa admit this is one area that has taken time for the youngster to get used to.
“I was like, ‘What is this?’ I can’t be running all these plays, but they work and we need them in the game,” Correa says. “(SRA assistant coach Dana Smith) is always telling me not to look towards the sideline when he’s calling a play. Listen to what he said and run the play. Don’t be looking back and forth.”
Correa’s decision making has ripened to the degree that Sorrentine has allowed him to improvise in practice.
“Last week we had him calling different offenses and he was doing okay,” Sorrentine relayed. “He’s going to get to a point where he’s going to run it himself. He’s just got to get the whole game down, the score and what we want to do. Do we hold the ball or do we push the ball? He’s got to make those decisions, and once he does, he’s going to be pretty good.”
SORRENTINE DOESN’T WANT Correa to become complacent, hence why he’s always on his burgeoning pupil about something. In Tuesday’s quarterfinal win against West Warwick, the coach felt Correa was shielding his body from contact, which resulted in not getting any calls.
“He wants my defense to get better,” Correa said.
“He’s got to add to his game every year,” deadpans Sorrentine.
If anything, Correa understands why Sorrentine sometimes nitpicks the way he does.
“You can’t let him get into your head. My freshman year he was in my head. I was scared to play,” Correa said. “Our relationship has gotten much better throughout this year. We have a better connection.”
Comparisons have been made to Jeff Xavier, the former SRA standout who went on to enjoy a fine college career at Manhattan and later Providence College. That illustrates just how much faith Sorrentine has in Correa and his capabilities.
“He’s a lot better around school and is getting his work done. He never had a lot of homework and suddenly he has a lot of responsibilities. It took him his whole freshman year to figure it out,” said Sorrentine. “He knows what he’s got to do. He’s come a long way.”
And figures to climb even loftier heights in the coming years.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03