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Abbagnaro Brought the Blocks as T-Birds’ Starting Center
Senior Zachary Abbagnaro became a defensive anchor in the paint for the North Branford boys’ basketball squad this year. The senior center started all 13 games for the Thunderbirds and recorded a career-high six blocks in a game versus East Hampton. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Abbagnaro )
Zachary Abbagnaro became a mainstay in the North Branford boys’ basketball team’s varsity lineup this season. Zachary started all 13 of the Thunderbirds’ games, and it means a lot to the senior that he had the support of his coaches and teammates while playing center on a night-in, night-out basis.
It didn’t always seem as though logging major varsity minutes would be in the cards for Zachary, but that just makes his earning of a starter’s spot all the more impressive. Zachary went through a few tough years on the hardwood. He wasn’t able to make his middle school team when he was younger and saw minimal playing time during his first two years with the T-Birds.
Instead of getting down on himself, Zachary started taking basketball more seriously and began practicing on his own, so he could improve his play as a member of North Branford’s rec team.
“From 4th grade to 8th is when they started doing championships. I started to work even harder, so that we could win,” says Zachary. “Once 8th grade happened, I started practicing in my driveway, I started going to the courts more. It’s what got me loving the sport.”
As a freshman, Zachary wanted to get acclimated to high school and focus on his grades, so he decided to hold off on basketball. However, Zachary had current North Branford Head Coach Cliff Yerkes as his Spanish teacher that year and, after Yerkes landed the coaching position, Zachary decided to try out for the team.
“I felt like I was ready to try out. Some of my friends were asking me if I was going to try out,” says Zachary. “I found out Yerkes was the coach. He was my Spanish teacher my freshman year. I wanted to try out even more, because I thought there would be good chemistry already with the head coach.”
At his first tryout in his sophomore year, Zachary quickly realized how much different high school basketball is compared to rec. Zachary didn’t play his best that first day, but during the second day of tryouts, he decided to leave it all on the line. After that, Coach Yerkes told Zachary that he had made the roster.
“It didn’t hit at first until I got in the car with my dad and told him I made it, which made him prouder than I was,” Zachary says. “The day after when we had practice, it was like, ‘Wow, I made the team.’”
Zachary spent his sophomore and junior years on the JV squad, meshing with his teammates. By the time he was a senior, Zachary and his fellow T-Birds had jelled together quite well.
“I had chemistry with my teammates. We were staying after. We were going to the high school courts and playing,” says Zachary. “Between sophomore and junior year, we had summer league. We were playing out-of-town teams. It helped with my jump.”
Zachary secured his role as North Branford’s starting center as a senior and was in the lineup for every game of the campaign. Zachary felt a little nervous at first, but after scoring his first bucket in the T-Birds’ season opener, he began to feel more comfortable at the center position.
Zachary recorded four blocks in his first game, then had four more blocks in a subsequent contest versus Haddam-Killingworth. Later in the season, North Branford played East Hampton, and Zachary notched a career-high six blocks for the T-Birds. Zachary wanted to prove to other teams that he wasn’t going to back down.
“I started at center. Obviously, they have a big role in protecting the paint. That’s just what I wanted to do,” says Zachary. “It was hard. It was my first year of varsity basketball. I’m playing kids that are two, three inches taller than me. They had more strength than me, but I didn’t let it affect me. I just kept playing. I wanted to show them that no matter what, I can still play basketball.”
Coach Yerkes is proud of Zachary for much he’s progressed as a basketball player throughout the past few years. Yerkes saw Zachary evolve from a raw athlete into a defensive stalwart on the court.
“It has been great to see Zach grow as a basketball player. He developed and got a little bit better each and every year. He has a lot of confidence,” says Yerkes. “His biggest impact this year was blocking shots and altering shots. He pours a lot of emotion into the game. I saw a big growth from sophomore to senior year.”
After graduating from North Branford, Zachary plans on attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Farmington. An avid sports fan, Zachary says that he wants to work for ESPN someday.
As he looks back at this time playing basketball in North Branford, Zachary feels honored to have shared the court with a group of teammates and coaches who were always in his corner.
“It meant a lot. We’re a small community. Everyone knows each other,” Zachary says. “No one was a stranger on the court this year. Everybody gets along on the court. We play as a family and as a team.”