Doing It The Right Way

Men’s Basketball Coach Tony Petosa Leads By Example

by Bradley Popkin

In the award-laden office of CSI men’s basketball coach, Tony Petosa stares at his computer screen concentrating on apparel he plans on purchasing for his team’s upcoming season. For Petosa, there is no off-season. The day following their loss against York College in the 2014 CUNYAC Championship game, he had wanted to scout but fortunately was able to have an assistant make the trip.

Tony Petosa has been at the helm for men’s basketball at the College of Staten Island for 24 years and has built a highly-successful program. (CSI Athletics)

Tony Petosa has been at the helm for men’s basketball at the College of Staten Island for 24 years and has built a highly-successful program. (CSI Athletics)

“My season began the day after we won [the ECAC Championship],” said Petosa. “It absolutely kills my personal life. I’m easily here from September through the end of March.”

Behind the storied coach sits a Staten Island Advance clipping of one of his former coaches, the late Thomas Keenan. Keenan coached Petosa during his Junior and Senior campaigns at CSI.

“He was so far away,” said Petosa. “Every six months or so I’d give him a call. He was a good person.”

Petosa is fresh off of a record setting 28-3 season that concluded with an ECAC Championship victory over Kean University and will be inducted into the Staten Island Hall of Fame in May. Before his head coaching career at CSI, where he has racked up five CUNYAC Championships and 400 wins, Petosa forged an award-winning basketball career at the school that began in his teenage years.

The future CSI great began playing basketball at the age of eleven where began his basketball career playing at Our Lady Queen of Peace.

“Things were different, they had intramural leagues at my grammar school,” said Petosa. “They had CYO and stuff like that.”

Petosa, a self called late bloomer, entered Monsignor Farrell High School where began to take the sport seriously. Petosa honed his skills under Tony Rafaniello who is the winningest coach in Staten Island high school basketball history with 511 games.

“I was very well coached as a high school player,” said Petosa. “He has a great knowledge of the game and brings a lot of intensity.”

Before there was a Tom Keenan, Petosa played his first two years of college basketball under head coach Evan Pickman. Pickman, a former scout for the LA Clippers, coached the Dolphins for six years compiling a 127-42 record. Petosa was a starter for all four years at the school.

“Pick made me hungry to become a better player,” said Petosa. “By the time I had left, I felt I was as good as anyone in this area. Whatever improvements I made over the course of my four years here were because of Pick.”

The 6’6 Center, although Petosa took on other positions, says he didn’t become gifted overnight.

“I had almost no athletic ability,” said Petosa. “I played multiple positions, I wasn’t really a Center. I was probably a better perimeter shooter than a post-player and by the time I was done [at CSI] I was a better post-player.”

Petosa played and started in 28 games as a Freshman averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds. The team won the conference but lost in the ECAC tournament. As a Sophomore, the team received a birth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

“My Sophomore year we didn’t win the tournament [CUNYAC],” said Petosa. “We went to the nationals because we had such a good year. Being able to compete against the best teams in the country, we were very fortunate.”

Petosa’s run at CSI included winning the CUNYAC championship three times and started all four seasons. In his senior year, Petosa won the ECAC tournament and a CUNY Tournament MVP Award. Today, he is still the career leader in rebounds with 982.

“As a Senior you want to be recognized by what you do,” said Petosa. “You take a little bit more responsibility for the wins and losses.”

Both coaches were instrumental in Petosa’s success as a coach. His ability to mold kids on the court and motivate academically deserves a lot of thanks to Pickman and Keenan.

“Keenan was really laid back and Pick was very fiery,” said Petosa. “I’m kind of in the middle between the two of them.”

Pickman, whom Petosa calls Pick, is now head coach of the varsity program at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan, and had nothing but praise when recalling times when he coached the big man.

“I recruited him out of Farrell High School where he was a good player. [In] my last two years at CSI he started every game and was sort of a role player. He rebounded, he fit in. After I left, he became a great player,” said Pickman. “He wanted to be a shooter [laughs]. When he left, he was outstanding. He learned to incorporate a presence inside. He became a complete power forward.”

“I still talk to Pick on a fairly consistent basis,” said Petosa. “I’ll reach out to him once a month and see how he’s doing and just talk to him. Sometimes it’s about basketball, sometimes it’s to see how he’s doing.”

A young Tony Petosa accepts an award during his playing days of the 80s. (CSI Athletics)

A young Tony Petosa accepts an award during his playing days of the 80s. (CSI Athletics)

The pair continued their relationship even after Pick left the bench. Pickman became the General Manager of the Staten Island Stallions, a team formerly a part of the United States Basketball League from 86-87. Petosa played with the Stallions both years.

“We added Tony to the team as a local guy because you need 10-12 guys for practice,” said Pickman. “He handled himself against very, very good players. He turned himself into an above average Division-III player. He could play for a lot of Division-I teams and proved it playing against division one players in the summer league.”

Petosa would later give up his playing career for one as a teacher and coach. The future hall of famer spent 18 years teaching at Lafayette High School, Brooklyn before coming to Tottenville in 2007. He returned to CSI to become a part of previous coach Howie Ruppert’s staff for a couple of seasons.

Petosa initially declined the offer to become head coach of the Dolphins but due to the persistence of Ruppert, the coach who happened to be leaving at the time, was convinced to step in. Coaching alongside Petosa would be close friend and mentor Matthew White, whom the CSI alum credits with much of his success coaching.

“Matty spent 17 years as my assistant coach,” said Petosa. “[He] got the job at the age of 50 and worked until 67 and was an amazing person.”

White died nearly four years ago after succumbing to a battle with kidney cancer.

“Everything that I am as a basketball coach is because of him,” said Petosa.

Petosa’s first four seasons got off to a rough start where he amassed a 48-58 record.

“My first six years I didn’t think I knew anything I was talking about because unless you win it’s hard to validate what you’re trying to do,” said Petosa.

In his fifth campaign, things took off. In 1995, the team boasted a 20-7 record but didn’t win the CUNYAC until the following year. Petosa took home CUNYAC Championship honors following the 1996 season. John Cali, a CSI hall of famer, was an integral part of the team that season and over the next three seasons.

“That was a great season,we weren’t expected to do much. We lost 3 or 4 starters that year,” said Cali. “We came together as a team and coach gave us a shot to become a good team.”

The team followed that season up with a loss to Baruch in the CUNYAC Tournament and in 97-98; Cali went down with a hairline fracture in his back.

“I went to road games and most of the home games,” said Cali. “I felt like I left him alone [Brian Gasper]. He was a junkyard dog and heart and soul of the team.”

In what would have been devastating way to end a basketball career, Cali was able to medical redshirt and play in 98-99. The team finished 17-11 and beat York to win their second championship under Petosa. However, the wins don’t seem to matter to him.

“I just don’t enjoy winning. I’m always looking to move onto the next game. ” said Petosa. “That’s really my personality and if anything it’s a flaw. My philosophy is when it’s all over and I decide not to coach anymore, that’s when I think I’ll look back at all I’ve done and probably still be a little bit critical.”

Those who know him best, like former players, think they have him figured out.

“It’s not about winning with him,” said Matt Franzreb, forward (97-01). “It’s about doing the right thing on and off the court and the wins will just come.”

On the eve of the new millennium, the Dolphins suffered back to back losses in the CUNY Championship. They also endured a tragic loss off of the court. In the September 11 terrorist attacks, former players Tom Hannafin, Scott Davidson and Terrance Aiken passed away. Next year, Petosa created the Tournament of Heroes which is held at the end of every year.

“These guys meant a lot to him. I played in other leagues with some of them, like Terrence Aiken, outside of CSI” said Franzreb. “I come by and support every year as much as I can.”

The team would plateau for the majority of the start to the 21st century. Petosa’s teams would go 92-70 between 2003-2008; then hitting rock bottom with a 6-20 performance in 2009. The Dolphins lost three times to York in the CUNYAC postseason during that span. Sean Weismuller a key component of the team had transferred to rival Brooklyn in the early months of the 07-08 season.

“A lot of people think it was problem between me and coach,” said Weismuller. “[We] butted heads because both of us were intense. I get really excited on the court. He was tough to get a laugh out of.”

Weismuller transferred to be closer to his father whose health began to fail. He remains in touch with several players from the team.

“We lost a couple of other kids because of injury and personality but what ended up happening was Jordan, who was a Freshman that year, really became our leader for four years,” said Petosa.

Jordan Young, a 6’5 center from Wall Township high school in New Jersey, became the centerpiece of the team’s resurgence.

“[He had an] unbelievable feel for the game, just reacted really well; played with a lot of confidence and tenacity, great footwork; a very high-character person” said Petosa. “I honestly think he would’ve chosen three other schools but we just got fortunate and he had a great career here.”

Young remembers the recruiting process and speaks highly of his past coach and current bench mate. He’s been an assistant coach alongside Petosa for the past two seasons.

“He actually told me during my senior year [of high school] that I would have a starting spot,” said Young. “[He’s] a good coach, friend and mentor. He wants to be your friend first and then your coach.”

Petosa’s squad improved each of the next two seasons but lost to Baruch and John Jay in postseason play. Meanwhile, the team received strong play from Dale Taranto and added standouts, T.J. Tibbs and Bloochy Magloire over the course of those two years. Tibbs, a graduate of St. Peters high school, was an impact player under Petosa averaging 16 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds over two seasons. He formerly played basketball for Monmouth College before settling in at CSI.

“[After St.Peters] I was looking for somewhere to go and he tried to recruit me out of Monmouth and then again in Wagner College,” said Tibbs. “In 2010, I reached out to him. I always wanted to play for coach [Petosa] but didn’t want to go to CSI. He’s a mentor; I look up to him as far as how he carries himself as a person. I was actually at school a week and a half ago to talk about things as far as my career; I’m on a path to become a college basketball coach.”

History was made in 2012. The team strung together a 19-game win streak, capturing a CUNYAC Championship win over Medgar Evers, en route to a berth in the NCAA tournament. The highly touted Dolphins that year were filled with talented names. The team also received help from the mid-season acquisition of Lameik Black. Black averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds over 17 games.

The Petosa-led Dolphins circa 2002. (CSI Athletics)

The Petosa-led Dolphins circa 2002. (CSI Athletics)

“2012 was a phenomenal group, a tight knit group of kids,” said Assistant Coach Chris Peterson. “They worked their asses off in practice. Some practices were even more competitive than games.”

The following season history repeated itself. After a 19-5 regular season record, Petosa’s team defeated John Jay to win the championship and would continue their run of dominance in the CUNYAC in 2014, despite missing Seniors guards Jonathan Chadwick-Myers and Magloire for the first 8 games.

“It was entirely my fault. I slipped up in the classroom and had to deal with the consequences,” said Magloire. “He was 100% honest with me. [He’s the] best coach I’ve had [and] developed my game into what it is now.”

After starting 1-2, the team won 24 consecutive games including lopsided victories over Baruch and Medgar Evers. The team would falter in the CUNYAC Champion versus York losing 87-84. To the dismay of Petosa and many supporters, the team was not given a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I just think it was a bad decision by the NCAA, the selection committee was very unfair to our program based upon our conference,” said Petosa. “Our season shouldn’t have hinged on us winning that tournament. Once we got to 23-2 or 24-2 we should’ve been an automatic [bid].

Despite the disappoint, Petosa and his club moved onto the ECAC tournament where they conquered NJCU, Stevens IT and Kean to win the championship.

“We didn’t play great throughout the ECAC’s,” said Petosa. “We played good enough to win.”

As the team moves on and players graduate and new roles open up, Petosa is tasked with meddling with a roster where Javon Cox, Will Fonseca and Frankie Schettino return and have added experience under their belt.

“This year [2014] we really pushed the ball because we had a point guard who could push the ball and we had guys he throw it to on his wings,” said Petosa. “If we don’t have that next year, we have to walk it up and try to keep games close.”

With Seniors like Chadwick Myers, Dylan Bulger and Magloire graduating; there are voids that need to be filled. One spot Petosa is comfortable with is Point Guard. The Freshman sensation Schettino snagged D-III All-Freshman Team honors and helped lead the Dolphins to a 23-2 regular season record with 9 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game.

“We’re not going to be deep next year. We’re not going to bring in six kids with the ability of the ones we’re losing,” said Petosa. “I’m going to do the best I can to bring in good kids, high-quality kids. I need to bring in a number of them; one or two possibly, three and four is not easy.”

Petosa added, “It’s hard to recruit public school kids because they don’t have the academic grades to get into the school. Our standards for the baccalaureate program are very high.”

Petosa will be entering his 25th season as head coach of the men’s basketball program at the college this November. The full-time teacher has a 10 month old daughter Alexa and wife Dalia at home.

“I call this a labor of love, I love doing it but at the same time it impacts my personal life immensely,” said Petosa. “I don’t have holidays off, I don’t have Christmas off. I get to go to my sisters house for Christmas and while I’m there I’m watching videos of games that we have in two days or making phone calls to recruits on Christmas Eve.”

According to a 2011 CUNYAC benchmarking study, the average yearly salary for head coaches of men’s teams at CSI is $8,267.

“This was as a difficult year as I’ve ever had coaching wise,” said Petosa. “I feel that if I wanted to I could coach another 15 years easily. There’s no question I still have the desire.”

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