WEST HAVEN — He can score from virtually anywhere in Notre Dame-West Haven’s set offense. He can finish off the fast break. He can rebound, he can help bring the ball up against a trap and he can hold his own on the other end of the court.
Yes Zach Laput can do it all for the undefeated Green Knights of Notre Dame, ranked fourth in the latest Register/GameTimeCT poll. He is averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game.
“I have to be able to take over a game,” Laput said. “If they go box and one, I have to be able to score against it. I have to be able to handle (the ball), be strong, be able to shoot and be able to lock down the other team’s best player.”
In fact, Laput likes to defend as much as anything else.
“I love going against the other team’s best player and let him know he can’t do anything against me,” he said.
That comes from an incredible work ethic that has gotten him to the brink of a spot on a Division I roster next fall.
“I tell coaches that Zach is either a culture builder or a culture changer, one or the other,” Notre Dame coach Jason Shea said. “If the culture in your program is struggling, he is going to change it. If the culture is already solid and positive, he will enhance it. Either way, he will have an impact on your team. He sets the tone with our program.”
There was a time where that work ethic was focused on a different sport. Growing up, baseball was Laput’s favorite sport. Basketball was third behind football.
He played AAU baseball from the fourth grade to the eighth grade. He had a cage in his backyard where he would take 500 swings a day.
Then he stopped.
“I was so tired doing that over time. It wasn’t fun for me anymore,” Laput said.
Other than competing in track and field his freshman year, Laput, a Beacon Falls resident, put all his focus on playing basketball.
“My parents thought I was crazy to play one sport. They thought I was insane for choosing basketball,” Laput said. “They said, ‘You should do three sports.’ They told me I’d better work my butt off. I said, ‘Yeah, I will.’”
But at the time, Laput was a 5-foot-10 freshman who would barely see any time on the JV team. Shea projected him as a Division III player.
His freshman season was the year of Tremont Waters. Notre Dame had an undefeated regular season and played in front of several sellout crowds.
“He was literally like a God,” Laput said about Waters, now a member of the Boston Celtics. “That senior class was stacked. I felt like those two (also former football and lacrosse standout Nico Ragaini) were like gods amongst men. They both worked hard and went about their business.”
Laput hit the weight room — three days per week, 1 1/2 hours per day — then would do an athletic workout on the track.
“Distance one day, agility the next,” Laput said. “I noticed a difference after two to three months.”
There was also a noticeable difference in his height: Laput grew from 5-10 to 6-3 before his sophomore season.
But despite some drastic improvements, Laput was still unable to dunk and felt he needed to be a better ball-handler and finisher.
So he moved to 5-to-6-hour workouts which, “had an emphasis on ball-handling,” not to mention his 500 or so jump shots per day, six days a week when he wasn’t playing. When he suffered tendinitis, it took six weeks for it to heal.
So Laput worked out left-handed instead.
“A lot of guys go in the gym and do a few drills,” Shea said. “Zach is going 100 percent for 90-minute workouts by himself. Then he goes to class, then his strength and conditioning coach. He pushes himself. If he could squat 350 (weightlifting), the next time he wants to squat 375. He has a different mentality than most kids.”
Laput was Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer last season, another great season for the Knights — they finished 22-3. But they fell short in the SCC tournament final to Wilbur Cross and lost in the Division I state tournament quarterfinals.
“We worked so hard, but we were not unselfish enough,” Laput said. “Eventually, I thought that’s what hurt us in the playoffs.”
So will it be different this season? Laput said it will. Shea says the players follow Laput’s work ethic. If that remains the case, Notre Dame will be a tough out come March.
However it turns out, Laput said he intends to make his collegiate decision after the season ends. Navy, Sacred Heart and Hartford have shown interest. There are others in the Ivy League and the Patriot League, and even others that Laput will not disclose.
Wherever he decides, the bottom line is this: “I do not want my parents to have to pay for college.”
Armed with a 3.8 grade point average and six advanced placement classes during his senior year, Laput seems to be the entire package for some school.
“I tell coaches to look at the results,” Shea said. “I tell them, ‘Come in and watch him shoot 200 jump shots. Come in and watch him play.’ We were lukewarm with a lot of schools, but now (that has changed) after film (on Laput) went out.”
Said Laput: “Ultimately, want to play at the highest level I know I can play at. That’s what keeps me motivated.”