GENEVA – Nate Navigato hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the United Center, blistered Bloomington for 41 points and was his team’s fourth quarter focal point for many of Geneva’s 25 victories.
Yet the junior forward’s favorite memory of the season involves somebody else playing hero, a revealing insight into the mindset of one of the state’s most unselfish stars.
“I’d just have to go with probably beating West Aurora because it was one of the biggest games I’ve ever played in,” Navigato said. “Just the atmosphere was great and being able to beat them since we lost to them in the regional final [last year], and being able to go to the sectional final was a huge accomplishment for our team. And just seeing a senior, Chris Parrilli, hit the game-winning shot, it really felt awesome to be around him. It was a great feeling. I was so proud of him.”
Navigato, naturally, had plenty to do with positioning the Vikings to win that game. That sectional semifinal triumph was one in a long line of tremendous performances this season for the Kane County Chronicle Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
The Vikings hit benchmarks this season the program has not seen since the 1980s, and Navigato’s judicious playmaking – the shots he took, and the ones he passed up – played a leading role.
St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said it’s rare to find a player as skilled as Navigato who plays so selflessly.
“It’s more difficult to stop somebody like him when he’s making other people better, and he does that, and plays within a team system,” Poulin said. “As a team they run such a disciplined system. It’s more difficult to stop him because that system puts him in positions that are advantageous and positions to be successful, which is harder to stop than if he just had the ball and was trying to beat you 1 on 5.”
After a breakout sophomore year, Navigato was sharper in just about all categories this season despite absorbing ramped-up defensive attention. Navigato’s statistical profile demonstrates his apparent allergy to ill-advised shots.
In averaging a team-high 18.3 points a game, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing shot 52 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point land and 87 percent from the free throw line. Whether drilling clean looks from the perimeter or scoring on spin moves and half hooks on the interior, Navigato seldom let fly a shot of that discerning Geneva coach Phil Ralston didn’t approve.
It wasn’t uncommon for Navigato to begin games with relatively quiet first halves, but come crunch time, he typically was at his best – and most assertive.
“I’ve actually talked to my parents about that, too, and they always say I play way better in the second half than I do the first half,” said Navigato, also Geneva’s leading rebounder. “I don’t know, as the course of games goes on and it gets closer, just gets more tight, I just like rising to the occasion and being the player that gives the momentum to our team, gives our team the lead or maybe makes the lead even bigger. That’s my favorite time to play, fourth quarter and it’s a really tight game, or second half.
“… Maybe I should have more of an aggressive feel to the first half, too, but I definitely like playing in the second half.”
Navigato’s unselfish, spread-the-wealth approach extends to assigning credit to his basketball mentors.
“Probably all the coaches that have coached me,” Navigato said. “I can go down the line, just from when I was little in fifth grade on feeder teams until high school, just from working out with people, playing AAU. Those are probably the biggest influences.”
Stoic and focused on the floor – whether he’s pumping in 41 at the University of Illinois’ State Farm Center or battling through a rare off-night, as he did in Geneva’s sectional final loss to Benet – Navigato lets loose with teammates behind the scenes.
“He’s definitely got another side to his personality,” Parrilli said. “He’s really just a goofy kid, a funny kid, just has fun. He definitely is comfortable with everyone on the team. He knows when to take it serious in practice but when we’re having a team dinner or in the locker room after practice he’s definitely a really fun kid and a happy kid.”
Navigato has a trio of Division I scholarship offers – from Northern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and South Dakota State – and his options are likely to expand by the end of his spring and summer runs with his AAU program, Mercury Elite. He’s in no rush to make a decision, and said academics and clicking with the coaching staff will be leading drivers of his decision.
Between now and his senior season at Geneva, Navigato plans to take Ralston’s challenge to bulk up in the weight room to heart. He also aims to become more explosive and keep refining his shooting and footwork, which already are major strengths.
“I’ll just work on different moves,” Navigato said. “I’ll see maybe some NBA players do it or I’ll see a coach teach me it, and I just keep practicing it until it becomes permanent and I can just do it in the game, and it just flows.”
Navigato has triplet younger brothers – Cole, Devin and Dominic – who started on Geneva’s freshman team this season. While it’s premature to know whether any of them might be ready to join Nate on the varsity next winter, Navigato said he enjoys leading by example for his younger siblings, including his little sister, a middle-schooler.
Ralston said the example set by his unselfish star resonates throughout the program.
“Nate’s not just a great role model for his siblings, he’s a tremendous role model for all the kids in our program,” Ralston said. “When you look at a kid like Nate, and he’s arguably one of the best players in decades in the basketball program at Geneva, he’s not just setting the bar for his siblings, he’s setting it for all the kids in this program.”