Anna Maria junior Mike Rapoza rules boards, connects from the field

Mike Rapoza
When his playing days are done, Anna Maria junior Mike Rapoza is looking forward to a career as a high school teacher and coach, and his AmCats coach, Shawn Conrad, thinks Rapoza will be great at both.
Rapoza, the former Shepherd Hill Regional star from Charlton, has been working with kids for about four years and coaching AAU basketball for the Central Mass. Swarm. At Anna Maria, where Rapoza has been a dominant big man the last two years, he’s kind of like an additional member of Conrad’s staff. “It really is like having a coach on the floor,” Conrad said. “He anticipates everything that’s going to happen. He’s not a reactor; he’s an anticipator. While he’s playing, he sees through a coaching lens almost.”

After practice or a game, Rapoza will spend time with his teammates, then join the coaches to go over and break down what just happened. “He gives a lot of insight,” Conrad said. During Rapoza’s freshman season, when he averaged 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds, beat double teams on a nightly basis and earned GNAC Rookie of the Year honors, Conrad projected that Rapoza could become one of the best players in Anna Maria history. Conrad’s prediction seems to be right on. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Rapoza continued his rise. He averaged 18.1 points and 14.1 rebounds while leading the conference in field goal percentage (63.2 percent) and being named GNAC Defensive Player of the Year. He posted 22 double-doubles. The AMCats finished 10-16 in 2017-18, but with added depth and, of course, the return of Rapoza, the team has higher expectations this season. “We have the right mentality,” Rapoza said. “We come to work every day in practice. We may not be the most talented team in the conference, but we can be the hardest working, and if we can do that and each of us works on our individual role and succeeds at that, we should be good.” In the age of the 3-pointer, Anna Maria instead has built its offense around Rapoza. “The furthest shot he will ever take here is a free throw,” Conrad said. “He doesn’t care about taking anything outside five feet from the basket. The 3-point line doesn’t even exist in his mind. He is a true, old-fashioned low post player. Before they put in the 3-point line, those were the guys you had true appreciation for. “We’ve created our style because of him. We are an inside-out team. He’s so good with his body, sealing people, and just knowing what his strength is and never going away from his strength.” Rapoza gets to the free throw line a lot, and improving there is one of his goals for the season.

“Definitely,” said Rapoza, who is a 67.5 percent career free-throw shooter. “I have to get my percentage up. I would love to convert more from there.”

Rapoza begins each practice with 50 free throws and finishes the same way. Rapoza made NCAA Division 3 history last season when he made 26 straight field goals over three games. Included was an 18-for-18 effort in a win over Mount Ida. “I knew I was having a pretty good game,” Rapoza said, “but I didn’t realize I hadn’t missed a shot until I looked at the box score after the game and one of my assistant coaches told me. I really couldn’t believe it. “At the time,” Rapoza added, “I didn’t realize how tough that would be to repeat (the 26 consecutive made shots). Looking back on it now, I can’t even imagine how I did that. As a team, we won all three of those games. It happened at the right time. We all clicked, and my shots just happened to fall.” In high school, Rapoza led Shepherd Hill to the 2015 Clark Tournament Large Schools championship. The Rams advanced to the Western Mass. Division 2 final his sophomore season. At every level, coaches have always praised Rapoza’s work ethic. “I always had coaches that made that the emphasis,” Rapoza said. “Coach Conrad is all about effort. He matches my intensity. It’s the perfect fit. I couldn’t ask for a better coach.” Rapoza passed seven advanced placement exams in high school and is way ahead in his secondary education studies at Anna Maria. AMC director of athletics Serge DeBari, the former longtime men’s basketball coach at Assumption and Babson, has been around sports his whole life and has 40 years of experience as a coach and college administrator. He calls Rapoza one of the most impressive human beings he has ever met. “He’s a gem,” Conrad agreed. “He’s a special, special kid,” Conrad said. “He’s always smiling, always upbeat, always positive. He’s a great sportsman.” Article Written by Jennifer Toland from the Telegram & Gazette Staff

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