FOR Bulleen Boomers junior Joel Capetola, the past 12 months feel like something out of a dream.
Last July, Capetola captained Vic Metro to an under-16 national title and five months later – at just 15 years of age – he helped steer Marcellin College to a memorable victory at the 2016 Helloworld Australian Schools Championship.
This month the talented teen has been in Canberra, one of 40 young athletes from around the country (20 men and 20 women) selected to attend the 2017 Australian Development Camp at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence (CoE).
To cap it all off, Capetola was named a member of Vic Metro’s Under-18 Men’s team this week, ticking off his first main goal for 2017.
It’s been a big twelve months and the teenager took some time over the holiday period to reflect.
“I just thought back to what I’ve accomplished over the past year and thought, ‘damn I actually did that’,” Capetola told Basketball Victoria.
“It’s just one of those things where it feels like a dream or something.”
Possessing a versatile skillset, Capetola combines the size and length of a forward with the playmaking instincts of a point guard.
One moment he’s slashing to the cup and the next he’s threading the needle with the pass, setting up team-mates for easy buckets at the rim.
It’s a package that has Marcellin College head coach Brett Atley describing Capetola as a “special talent.”
“Joel’s got a real natural feel for the game,” Atley said.
“He’s an exceptional passer, a great athlete and has impeccable timing. He just seems to have that natural awareness to be able to play at a high level.”
That’s exactly what Capetola did at the Under-16 Australian Junior Champs last July, where he led the tournament in both assists (4.8 per game) and steals (3.0). He even notched up a rare triple-double along the way, torching SA Metro with 11 points, 13 boards and 11 dimes.
But it was his performance at the recent Schools Championship that really turned heads, Capetola holding his own against opponents as much as four years his senior.
“Joel was absolutely phenomenal,” Atley said.
“Our starting power forward was unavailable and we were a bit undersized so I actually pushed him to the four and played him as an undersized power forward. He guarded some of the best four men in the country and I don’t think he got beaten once.
“He really held up our defence and was also able to score … To be that much younger than a lot of those guys and have the ability to put a stamp on that tournament was really noticeable.”
Marcellin entered the Championships as a wildcard but wound up rolling through the week undefeated, overcoming powerhouse Lake Ginnninderra (ACT) and South Australia’s Trinity College (SA) in the finals.
“That was awesome,” Capetola said.
“We were coming in as the underdogs and nobody even thought we had a chance. I think teams slept on us a bit and we snuck under the radar and got the win.”
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As a slashing point-forward with a pass-first mentality, Capetola draws inspiration from current Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons.
A former Vic Metro star in his own right, Simmons briefly played for the Bulleen Boomers – Capetola’s junior association – in the Big V competition back in 2013.
“I’ve been watching (Simmons) play since he was Under-18s and watching him play high school and college,” Capetola said.
“Just the way he plays and shares the ball around, he’s just so unselfish. He’s probably the professional player I most relate to.”
It’s that unselfishness – the enjoyment he gets from diming up his team-mates – that most impresses about Capetola. For a kid so adept at getting to the rim, he genuinely loves sharing the basketball.
“It’s always good getting your teammates open and getting them involved,” he said.
“Once you get them scoring and getting them up and about, it really fires the team up. And once you’ve got the whole team going, it’s easy to keep that head of steam.”
Atley believes it’s the aspect of Capetola’s game that currently sets him apart.
“His ability to see the floor and see things that are not quite there yet, they’re things that you can’t really teach,” Atley said.
“There are not many prospects in this country who have that innate ability to see guys who aren’t quite open yet and be able to find them. His passing really is outstanding.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Capetola’s already set his sights on the next stage of his development.
The first stop: the CoE in Canberra, where he’s been learning under the top coaches in the country and staking his claim for a potential future scholarship.
Beyond that, the plan is to re-enter the dream world of winning titles on the national stage.
His first opportunity will come in April at the Helloworld Australian Under-18 Junior Champs, having been selected into the team as a bottom-age prospect.
“Also to lead Marcellin to the State Championship and defend our title at the Nationals,” Capetola said.
“We’re going to have to step up because we had a lot of Year 12’s who have moved on. I reckon we can do it though.”
On a personal level, Capetola‘s focus is on improving his stroke, something Atley believes will help him take his game to the next level.
“He can still work a lot on his shot and I just hope that his shot doesn’t hold him back,” Atley said.
“I think definitely it has improved and he’s been showing that in games now, where he’s really been shooting it well under pressure. If he can get that to a good point then I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
One thing’s for sure, Capetola has great perspective about his future.
“I’m just really enjoying playing basketball at the moment,” he said, adding a desire to play college hoops in the States at some stage in the future.
In the meantime, Basketball Victoria’s player development pathway – and his speedy transition through it – has felt like a dream for Joel Capetola these past twelve months.
A hoop dream, the best kind.