Home for hoops star-A journey to the St. Francis Prep five

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THE QUEENS COURIER/PHOTO BY CHRISTINA SANTUCCI
Mike Cavataio soars for a reverse lay-up in a summer league game with his new teammates at St. Francis Prep.THE QUEENS COURIER/PHOTO BY CHRISTINA SANTUCCI
Mike Cavataio soars for a reverse lay-up in a summer league game with his new teammates at St. Francis Prep.

The words roll off Mike Cavataio's lips like everyday events. The hardships he's faced - from his mother, Joanne's, passing, to a pair of fractured ankles, to a broken wrist, to the Catholic Athletic League's unrelenting decision not to alter their transfer rule - would make weaker people bend, if not break. But for Cavataio, a 6-foot-4 basketball dynamo from Forest Hills, these obstacles have only strengthened his resolve. “You've just got to fight through it,” he says of the adversity. “People are a lot worse [off] than me.”
Cavataio starred for the Christ the King freshmen team, leading them to the city championship as the leading scorer. But after an injury-plagued sophomore season when he twice broke the same ankle, Cavataio's mother, Joanne, passed away due to a heart attack in April of 2004. He stayed at the Middle Village school, looking for some semblance of balance in his fractured world.
“The most important thing was doing the same thing,” said his father, Mike Cavataio Sr. “He just wanted to survive.”
But during the end of that year, Cavataio began hanging out more frequently with his sister, Jackie, who was a year ahead of him at St. Francis Prep, and her friends.
Many of Cavataio's childhood pals from the neighborhood attended the Fresh Meadows school, which he nearly did; he chose Christ the King because of the basketball coach, Bob Oliva, and the nationally recognized program.
But after his first week of classes, he suddenly found the urge to transfer, as if his mother would've wanted it that way. “When my mom died, I was confused of what to do,” he said. “I felt I had to be happy.”
The following Monday, Cavataio and his father went to Prep; they explained the situation to the school, Joanne's passing and his sister's presence there. They accepted him, but the Catholic Athletic League wasn't as understanding.
In an effort to tone down recruiting between schools several years back they instituted a rule that mandates student-athletes who transfer within the league must miss one full season. Since Cavataio had played two jayvee games his sophomore year, he had to sit out his entire junior season, although he practiced with the team. If that wasn't bad enough, at the team's final practice, when Cavataio's A.A.U. season was just beginning with the Long Island Lightning, he broke his left wrist, forcing him to miss two more months. “It was like nothing could go right,” he said.
But through it all, he's kept his head up and fought, never giving in, just working relentlessly. “Every now and then he would scratch rock bottom and he would bounce back,” Cavataio Sr. says. “If he didn't have a strong character, he would've turned to what teenagers do to fill the time. … He's got a big backbone.”
Cavataio should help the Terriers, a habitual dweller in the league's basement. A rail-thin yet athletic pure-shooting forward who can handle the ball in the open court and find teammates, Cavataio is an honor roll student with a 1570 out of 2400 SAT score. Ivy League schools such as Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton have all shown significant interest. He is easily the best player at St. Francis Prep since guard Brian Geffen, class of '04, who is now at Boston University.
He's opened eyes already this summer since getting over his wrist injury with outstanding play at the Eastern Invitational Camp and Jam Fest in West Virginia, where he led the Lightning to a fourth-place finish in the 100-team tournament.
Alas, Cavataio isn't too concerned that he left one of the top programs in the nation for the one of the weaker ones in the city. He's back with his old buddies after all, and can't wait to suit up for his first varsity game. “It's definitely going to be exciting,” he says, his eyes lighting up as he speaks. “I can't wait. Summer's not even important, except for college. I just want to get back to my high school and finally play.”