Yoharkey Sarmiento making his mark at Gilbert. Story by John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
When Yoharkey Sarmiento came to the United States, specifically Winsted, with his mother, Dilenia, and siblings four years ago he felt like a stranger in a strange land. His English was spotty and he had yet to make friends in his new country. But he had one asset that he used to gain a certain degree of acceptance and comfort in his new school; sports.
“Yoharkey came to us as a freshman and played four games and averaged 20 points in those games,” said Gilbert School head basketball coach Mark Douglass. “You could see that he had a talent for the game. I mean, he was raw, but with work he could be something special.”
It took time and some maturing for the young man, both on and off the court. But now, as a senior, Sarmiento is one of the best players in the Berkshire League. He is averaging 23 points and around 10 rebounds a game, with 15 rebounds in one contest against Nonnewaug. He had 17 points in a loss to Terryville this past week. As a junior, he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game.
“Something snapped in Yoharkey between his junior year and senior year,” says Douglass, “and he came in ready to work hard and play hard all the time. He’s done the same with his schoolwork and made the honor roll this year. He has changed his friends and is on the right path. We’re hoping we can get into a college program, especially when coaches see he is a work in progress and he is already good.”
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 180-pound Sarmiento certainly has the physical tools to play hoops. He’s quick, lean with long arms and can jump. He’s a force under the boards (although Douglass believes he can improve in that area) and is working on his jump shot from around 10 to 12 feet. He’ll need both if he is to move on to the next level, perhaps a Division III or small Division II program, where he probably will be slotted to play small forward or big guard.
Says Douglass, “His second year he wasn’t ready maturity-wise to play varsity so he played junior varsity as a sophomore. As a junior, he was ready to play and we had a nice group of kids around him that helped him improve. This year has been great. He’s focused on the game and in the classroom and it shows. He feels more comfortable with himself, the language, and the school. And he wants to get better. There is such a huge upside to his game we are hoping we will get college coaches to take a long look at him.”
Sarmiento admits to a period of somewhat rocky transition upon moving to the United States.
“It was hard,” he says, as he sits on the sidelines during a recent practice. “I didn’t know anybody and had trouble with the language. But I could play basketball and that helped. I learned mostly on the playgrounds in the Dominican. It’s much better now than when I first came here.”
Sarmiento, who also pitches for the Gilbert baseball team, said the encouragement and direction he has received from Douglass has been instrumental in his leading a straighter and narrower life off the basketball court and becoming a better player on it.
“He’s like a father to me. I love coach. He pushes me but that is okay. He is always there for me and I want to show him that I can do things when he challenges me.” He also credits his mom as being a guiding light in the life of he and his four brothers.
He talks about what he needs to do to get to where he wants to in the sport.
“I know I need to become a better shooter and I need to get stronger. But every day I come to practice and to games and just tell myself that I’m going to work as hard as I can to improve. I think before I was a little lazy but not anymore.”
On the difference between this year and last (Gilbert finished second in the Berkshire League and was 4-3 in its first seven games of this season). “Last year, we had guys like Bob Skinner and other players and this year we have some new players and it is taking us time to jell. But I think we will continue to get better as the season goes on and become a real good team.”
Although he believes baseball (he says he can hit the mid-80’s on the radar gun and his favorite player is David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox), it is basketball where he feels his sporting future lies. His favorite hoops player is Oklahoma Thunder star Kevin Durant.
“If someone said to me that I could play baseball at another level that might be fun. But basketball is what I want to concentrate on for now.”
That certainly makes Mark Douglass and Gilbert basketball fans happy to hear.