Tony Staffiere (far left in the team photo) is an original member of the SLAM SQUAD. He has coached men’s basketball at Maine Maritime College and Onondaga Community College and women’s hoops at Regis College, LeMoyne College and Northern Essex Community College. In June of 2007, he was named head men’s basketball coach at (D2) Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. He has a BA in Journalism from Westfield State College (MA) and he’s also written for Five Star Basketball Publications and Maine RoundBall mag, so he’s not just a coach. Enjoy his diary, which will run in Too Real for the League throughout the season.

When approached to contribute to SLAM Magazine in the form of a coach’s diary, I immediately thought of a book I read a few years ago, about Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke University Men’s Basketball program. Every Season Is a Journey, the book’s title, could have been an actual account of my own basketball odyssey.

I have been coaching at the collegiate level since 1999, and over the past eight years, I have literally embarked on a journey in which I have changed addresses six times in three different states. Make that four, if you count the state of confusion…

My basketball journey has taken me to gyms all over North America. I have coached at the Division II, III, and junior college levels, in both men’s and women’s basketball. Over the summer, I was named head men’s basketball coach at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY, my third head coaching position, and first in men’s basketball.

Quite often, I am asked to describe the diversity of my experiences. Although the prevailing attitudes of a changing generation may require me to adjust my philosophy, for the most part, student-athletes want to be taught and challenged no matter the gender or level. I learned this early in my first head coaching experience as a women’s basketball coach. My starting point guard made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to be treated like a girl, rather like a collegiate basketball player. Since then, I have never wavered, simply placing the same demands on each student-athlete I coach.

I truly enjoy working with collegiate athletes. I have always felt I am best suited for this type of teaching environment. At the collegiate level, I get to witness the end result of my work much sooner, as the students are only with us for a maximum of four years. I have a tremendous amount of respect for kindergarten teachers, who may have to wait almost two decades to see the fruits of their labor. I probably enjoy being part of my players’ lives following graduation more than I do when they are in school. Over the years, I have made a pledge to my players that if they give me four years, I will give them the next 40…

I have been blessed to have witnessed over 20 of my former players graduate from college and make a positive contribution to our society. Some have even gone into coaching and teaching young people themselves. My most proud moments as a coach come when I get a chance to watch former players coach their own teams. Quite often, I will hear many of the same phrases I had once used when they were players. That brings me much satisfaction.

I have always wanted to be a college basketball coach. I recall an assignment back in the sixth grade when the teacher asked our class to write down on a piece of paper what type of job we would be doing when we became adults. It didn’t take me long, as I wrote down basketball coach. Each member of the class placed the pieces of paper in a time capsule to be buried on the school property only to be opened in 25 years. This was some 20 years ago, and God willing, the students who uncover that time capsule will be able to identify me as a basketball coach. The first book I ever read cover-to-cover was Rick Pitino’s, Born to Coach. I have been hooked ever since…

I would be remiss if I didn’t end this diary entry, with a plea to all of us who have lost a family member or friend to cancer. Last December, women’s basketball lost one of its most valuable contributors. Coach Matt Masiero, the Director of the Five Star Girls Basketball Camp, succumbed to a rare form of bone cancer in a Boston Hospital. Coach Masiero provided a wonderful opportunity for young girls to learn the game from some of the nation’s best basketball teachers and showcase their talents on a national level. Matt was a dear friend of mine, as well as one of my strongest supporters. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to know Coach Masiero, I never would have had the opportunity to coach women’s basketball. The basketball world lost a great man far too early, and I have dedicated the upcoming season to foster his spirit through my teaching and coaching our young adults. We miss you Matty, and I want you to know I am working hard to assist in finding a cure for this horrible disease…

Yours in Hoops!

—Tony Staffiere