By Marvin Pave, Boston Globe Correspondent
Worcester, Mass. - He suited up for the junior varsity as a freshman, missed his sophomore season to injury and last year, as a junior, started one game for the men's basketball team at Clark University.
But Nicholas DaPrato, a former captain at Marshfield High School, never stopped challenging himself.
"There was always a reason to keep going and not looking back,'' said the 6-foot senior guard, who has emerged as a go-to player on a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores.
On Monday, he was tabbed the NEWMAC's Player of the Week following a 27-point performance against Anna Maria, in which he added a career-high seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals in a 94-86 victory.
Named to the Roger Williams/Courtyard By Marriott All-Tournament team after Clark won that championship, DaPrato helped the Cougars stage an improbable comeback against Fitchburg State with a 40-point performance.
Down 13 points with under two minutes to play, Clark rallied to win, 88-85, in overtime.
"We just rode Nick's shoulders in that game, but what's he's doing this season isn't a surprise to me. I kind of saw it coming because he has worked so hard and he fits right into our up-tempo game,'' said Clark head coach Paul Phillips.
Clark, which lost 10 players from last year's squad, is off to a 6-2 start after Thursday's 66-56 win over Becker College - a game in which he scored a team-high 20 points.
DaPrato recalled rallying from a 22-point deficit against Duxbury when he played for head coach Bob Fisher at Marshfield High.
"But at least we had time to come back in that one,'' recalled DaPrato, the youngest of three siblings whose brother Matt and sister Giovanna were varsity athletes at Marshfield High and whose father, Roger, was on the football team at Scituate High.
DaPrato was recommended to Phillips by Danny Hanlon, an assistant coach at Plymouth South High and Phillips' former assistant at Anna Maria College.
"Danny told me that Nick was my kind of player and that was good enough for me,'' said Phillips. "He plays with a lot of emotion and I wouldn't be surprised if he's coaching some day because if he suggests a play, I'll listen because of his basketball IQ.''
DaPrato, who remains close to Fisher, said his high school and college coaches share similar traits.
"For them it's about accountability and work ethic,'' said DaPrato, "and that's a big reason I wanted to play for Clark.''
Success did not come quickly or easily for the former Atlantic Coast League All-Star, who was leading the NEWMAC with 19.4 points per game and 16 steals and the Cougars with a 44.1 field goal percentage.
"It was frustrating going from being a starter on a winning high school team to being a JV player my freshman year of college,'' said DaPrato,'' but looking back it made me a better player. I needed time to slow the game down in my head and to develop into an all-around player instead of just a guy who could shoot.''
But after playing just one minute in the 2011-12 season, DaPrato underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
"I could have played through the pain, but I would not be the player I am now without the surgery,'' said DaPrato, who bounced back to play 19 minutes a game last year on a veteran team.
"Playing against them in practice made me a lot better,'' said DaPrato, who is enjoying his personal and the team's resurgence, even if Phillips gives him the needle now and then at practice.
"We feed off each other pretty well because we have similar personalities and I probably play better with that little chip on my shoulder.''