By RYAN HAYNER
---- — ALBANY — When Brian Barnes was recruiting Matt Farbotko to join his fledging men’s basketball team at Sage College, he had high expectations for the forward from Northeastern Clinton.
Four years later, Farbotko has been everything Barnes had hoped for. On Wednesday night, Farbotko became the program’s first 1,000-point scorer in a loss to Farmingdale State.
“Matt’s become everything we envisioned as a student-athlete,” said Barnes, who is both the men’s coach and assistant athletic director. “He’s a poster boy for our program, which we told him when we recruited him we thought that was the role he could fill. He’s got one of our highest GPAs, well over a 3.0 for his academic career, and 1,000 points. He’s exactly what we want representing the program.”
Farbotko, a senior, said he would rather have had the win Wednesday but was happy to reach a goal he set as a freshman.
“It meant a lot. It was kind of nerve-wracking the last couple of games not knowing when I was going to get it or not,” he said. “I just kind of wanted to get it out of the way. It’s a big milestone I wanted to accomplish when I came here.”
Farbotko has been a model of consistency for the Gators since he was a freshman in their inaugural season of 2009-10. Though a bit undersized in the Skyline Conference as a 6-foot-3 forward, he has been able to use his quickness and ball-handling to get by bigger post players, Barnes said. In 78 games, Farbotko has averaged 12.8 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
“Matt always could score the ball, obviously with 1,000 points,” Barnes said. “What’s really impressed me is his growth as a team leader, his competitive spirit really trying to move the team forward every day.
“On the court he’s a positive, vocal leader, and in the locker room we know that Matt is sending the message that will help show other young players the way.”
There hasn’t been an abundance of wins for the Gators, though. Sage won seven games in its inaugural year and then went 13-13 and 10-15 in the next two years. But this season, the Gators are off to a program-best 6-5 start, incluwding a 2-3 mark in the conference. They have their sights set on their first Skyline Conference tournament bid.
“Ever since I came here I’ve wanted to do it. We’ve come close,” Farbotko said.
Barnes said this year’s team is the best Sage has seen in the program’s young span. With a roster full of local Section II standouts like starters Jeff Stopera, Ryan Sager and Mason Horne, the Gators are tied for fifth in the conference standings. They rank in the top four in scoring and defensive points per game and lead the conference in steals per game.
“This is a great group to work with,” Barnes said. “They all get along on and off the court. They’re very coachable.”
Farbotko was a four-year varsity player under Robb Garrand at Northeastern Clinton, reaching 1,000 points during a senior season that also garnered him Champlain Valley Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player honors. He finished his high school career with 1,337 points.
When it came time to choose a college, Farbotko liked the idea of helping Sage grow from the ground up. He saw the opponents in the Skyline Competition as tough — “I like competition”— and he also liked the Albany area. It’s about a three-hour drive from his hometown of Rouses Point, so family members — especially his dad — have been regulars at home games.
Farbotko originally majored in education with a goal to be a physical education teacher, but he switched to law and society and is considering joining the U.S. Border Patrol after graduation.
Barnes said the years “went by so quickly.”
“To see Matt get it and be the first one to reach 1,000 at Sage was special and what we thought it would be when he said he was coming to Sage,” Barnes said. “We’re going to get the conference playoff bid for him. That’s coming this year.”