David Zanatta Memorial Award

The David Zanatta Memorial Award:

My friend David and his whole family made a lifelong impression on a young boy far away from home playing basketball. To this day I’m grateful for having them in my life for a short period of time in person but the impact lasts a lifetime.

I am always emotional when speaking with Mrs Zanatta or just thinking of those days. Thanks to Mrs Zanatta who provided the photo and her never ending love and support.

The award will go to the boy or girl who has a pure ‘ love of the game’ and can always be found in the gym sometimes playing basketball, sometimes working out, sometimes talking to friends, sometimes sleeping, but you just always know where to find them. When David was in grade 9, doctors told him he’d never play basketball again. From then on,he was all about practice!

The following article is by Peter Ruicci of the Sault Star. July 21, 2008

A Star Remembered:

When the question of Dave Zanatta’s physical gifts is raised, few have a better perspective than Andrew Barbeau.Though Barbeau never played high school basketball with Zanatta, who died July 13 at the age of 49 in Toronto, he often watched the talented guard’s hard-court magic.”He was worth the price of admission. Everybody wanted to see him play,” said Barbeau, who starred locally at St. Mary’s College and also joined Zanatta for the 1983- 84 season at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University. “He was the best player I’ve ever seen, both locally and across the country.”

That the five-foot-10 guard was the best basketball player ever produced in Sault Ste. Marie is an opinion held by many.”Without a doubt,” said Pat Torquato, who started at guard alongside Zanatta on Bawating’s 1976-77 and 1977-78 senior teams.

“There was no one who was even close,” remembered Loris Pecile, the former longtime head coach of the St. Mary’s Knights senior team. “And he came along before the three-point line. Basically, he was unstoppable. He did whatever he wanted to.”
Having transferred to Lakehead from Sudbury’s Laurentian University, Barbeau was forced to sit out that ’83-84 season.But he was still able to watch Zanatta, the quintessential gym rat, tear up what was then known as the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU).

A man who had few peers when it came to handling, passing and shooting the basketball, Zanatta finished his university career in 1984.He stands fourth on Lakehead’s all-time scoring list with 2,083 points and his average of 20.2 points-per-game is the highest in school history.Twice during the 1979-80 season, Zanatta scored 44 points against an opponent, a single-game school record he held until last season.That year he was also named a CIAU second-team all-Canadian. He was the school’s male athlete of the year in 1981-82.

“He was a legend, no doubt about it,” said Barbeau, who also played with Zanatta for several years in the old Labatt’s City Basketball League. “I played at two schools and saw teams from around the country. Dave was explosive. He could go around you and either make the shot or find the open man. I played four years of university basketball and never saw anyone who could do it like that.”

Zanatta graduated from Lakehead with a BA in Sociology and became a social worker. His mother, Arlene, and father, Enso, said their son was diagnosed with a blood disorder several years ago and his condition grew especially worse during the last two years.He developed blood clots and fell into a coma prior to his death, one day after his daughter, Melody, was married.Zanatta’s death comes nearly 18 years after his older brother, John, died in a traffic accident in August of 1990 at age 33.

Also a star athlete, John Zanatta played at Lakehead and later became head coach of the men’s basketball team. Both John and Dave are Wall of Fame members at Lakehead and both are listed among Frozenhoops.com’stop 500 Canadian basketball players of all time.In a school press release, former Lakehead men’s coach Lou Pero said Zanatta always made whatever team he played for stronger.”He is arguably the best player to ever play at Lakehead,” Pero said.

In the same release, the school’s athletic director, Tom Warden, referred to Zanatta as “a great gentleman, a great basketball player and a great ambassador for Lakehead University.””There was something inside of David that said: ‘Give me the ball, no one can stop me,'” said Norm Neilson, a retired high school teacher who coached Zanatta for one season with the senior Braves. “He was phenomenal, a tremendous athlete and never mind basketball, he could also play hockey and baseball.”

Now 44, Dave Peterson’s introduction to Zanatta’s vast skills came as a 16-year-old, when he began playing summer pick-up games at Lake Superior State University in the Michigan Sault. Peterson also remembers former NBA player Kyle Macy, who was apparently vacationing in the area, also taking part.

“He (Zanatta) was in a class of his own,” said Peterson, when asked about the Sault and area players he’s witnessed over the years. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen locally. He trained like I’ve never seen anyone train, he could shoot from anywhere and he made everyone around him better.” Peterson remembers winning two Labatt’s League championships with Zanatta in the 1990s.

Barbeau said the late 1970s high school back court of Zanatta and Torquato was the most explosive he’s ever seen locally.Looking back, Torquato marvels at his friend’s competitive nature.”He was the fiercest competitor I ever played with,” Torquato said. “Not too many people can say they played with the best basketball player to come out of the Sault. I can. He was truly phenomenal.” And not just in one aspect of the game, Pecile remembers.”He could hit the jump shot from outside, penetrate to the basket and either shoot or dish,” Pecile said. “And to top it off, he was outstanding defensively.”

But as great an athlete as he was, Zanatta was modest about his skills. His close friend, Ashley Mowbray, remembered him as someone who never took himself too seriously and was never critical of an opponent.

“He was like family to me,” Mowbray said. “He was extremely competitive, but he never had a bad word to say about anybody. He was always for the underdog, he loved to laugh and he had a great sense of humour. We loved travelling to watch professional sporting events together.”

As his condition grew worse, Torquato said Zanatta’s close friends knew his death was imminent. “But when it does come, it’s never easy,” he said.