STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Modern technology is unable to do justice to Phil Gaetano's game.
It's easy to assemble a highlight reel of a player's above the rim performances or sharp shooting from the floor, but how do you capture intelligence on film?
"He really makes you pay."
The Sacred Heart Pioneers are the ones cashing in with the rise of their generously listed 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard, who has often been called a "throwback player." After sharing the job as a freshman, Gaetano, a Wallingford native, has manned it alone with Evan Kelley sidelined for the season with a knee injury.
Judging by the Pioneers (8-12, 6-3 Northeast Conference) being tied for second place in the conference halfway through the schedule, the added responsibilities for Gaetano, who turned 21 Saturday, have not been an issue.
Gaetano ranked second in assists (8.0 per game) in the NEC going into this weekend, trailing only Brickman (8.4 apg), who has led the Blackbirds to two straight NCAA tournaments. Brickman and Gaetano were also ranked third and fifth in assists nationally.
"They have a terrific point guard who knows how to play the game," Central Connecticut State coach Howie Dickenman said. "He's a player that makes his teammates better. You have to have him on the court. ... He's the next Ernie D."
Gaetano has not let high praise -- such as being compared to former Providence great and NBA guard Ernie DiGregorio -- go to his head.
"It's nice to know people notice because I'm not flashy or anything," Gaetano said. "What other coaches say is great, but I'd rather just win every game and have coaches say nothing about me -- that would be just fine with me."
Dave Bike's program has produced plenty of scoring guards in recent years, but the Pioneers have lacked a true point guard since former Boston College floor general Tavio Hobson left in 2007 after leading SHU to its first NEC title game.
"One characteristic you don't see -- well, maybe you see on the court a little bit and even in the huddle or practice -- but he's becoming more assertive," Bike said. "That's so important. Tavio communicated so well. Besides the numbers being very favorable, I think that (Gaetano's) a fanatic, he's a student of the game and he's not keeping it all to himself.
"He's sharing it."
Gaetano's schooling in hoops might have begun even before he wore his first diaper. His father, Joseph, is the head coach at Sheehan High School and his older brother, Joe, also played the game.
"I've been around basketball since I was born," said the youngest Gaetano, who won a state title with his father at Sheehan before spending a year at Choate School. "I watched my older brother, who is 11 years older than me, in high school, and my dad, I was always in the gym with him. I think it helped watching, I think that's where I get a lot of dribbling with your head up, see the court and knowing how to play, because I've watched all my life.
"It's almost second nature to me."
Everyone on the Pioneers struggled the first half of this season on the way to a 2-9 non-league record, including Gaetano. The point guard had 74 assists and 42 turnovers through 11 games.
Since NEC play began, Gaetano has 86 assists and 30 turnovers through Friday, with almost a third (nine) of those mistakes coming against Wagner on Thursday night.
"It`s exactly what we need. We need someone to drop dimes and not turn the ball over, and that's what he's been doing in conference play," said senior guard Shane Gibson, who ranks second in the NEC with 20.2 ppg.
With Gibson and the emergence of sophomore guard Steve Glowiak (10.8 ppg) along with junior Louis Montes (13.8 ppg), Gaetano has plenty of options. However, he can also stroke it when necessary (4.8 ppg, 15 3-pointers).
"He's passing and getting those guys baskets that no one else is getting guys baskets like that in our league," said Monmouth coach King Rice, who played point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina.
Rice added that Gaetano reminds him of former Oklahoma State turned basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb, with one exception.
"Gaetano shoots way better than Doug," Rice said. "Doug Gottlieb used to have 20, 15 assists with one turnover and never take a shot. OK, this kid shoots it better ... you watch him in warm-ups and he's talking to the guys on the team telling them what they are going to do today. Then he goes and sits with Shane, the point guard sitting with the main guy, and I know he's gassing him, `Man, I'm coming to you, I'm coming to you.'
"He keeps them together, he runs the show for them."
Through 20 games Gaetano had 160 assists, which is 16 shy of Drew Shubik's NCAA Division I program-record 176. Steve Zazuri holds the single-season record at 271, which he set in 1984 at the D-II level.
"I go back to when Tavio was here and we had some success here, and hopefully Phil will do the same thing," Bike said. "He's made a difference, no doubt about it."