Way More Than 1000

bentley-bigTonight, Bentley University Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Barbara Stevens reached a tremendous milestone becoming just the fifth women’s basketball coach earn 1000 victories. Like the women’s basketball coaches before her to reach the mark (Sylvia Hatchell, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and Pat Summit) Coach Stevens is a basketball legend.

Coach Stevens is a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer. Coach Stevens led Bentley to a National Championship during the 2013-2014 season. Coach Stevens boasts twelve, yes twelve, 30 win seasons and more than likely, pending the selection committee, Coach Stevens will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame come September 2018.

In Coach Stevens’ amazing 31 year tenure as the Head Coach at powerhouse Bentley University (DII – NE-10), the Falcons have averaged a mind-boggling 26+ wins a season. Her only sub .500 season was during the 14-15 season when her squad was hit hard by the injury bug.

Ironically, during the 2014-15 season I was the Head Coach at Southern Connecticut State University and our regular season conference game was the lone time I was fortunate enough to matchup against Coach Stevens. Despite her squad being hampered by injuries, the Falcons were up on us by nine points with about 5 minutes to go in the contest and looked as if Bentley was going to seal the win. However, we made one last push and went on a 13-0 run of our own to take a four point lead, only to have Bentley tie it up, 62-62, with under a minute to play. Fortunately, we executed Chop EOG set in the closing seconds of the game and held on for a 65-62 win.

Quite an accomplishment for me. 1-0 against the legend.

However, that win is not the story I tell my family, friends and coaching colleagues about Coach Stevens.

I tell them this one.

When I first came into the conference, I was the only male head coach at the time. With many veteran coaches in the league, I was feeling a bit ostracized at recruiting events and league meetings. Everyone knew everyone and then there was me. Sure I became friends with some of the coaches — Monique LeBlanc from Merrimack and Ty Grace from New Haven (now Head Coach at Howard University) come to mind, but I didn’t get paid too much attention from the veteran coaches.

Then one Saturday afternoon, I found myself near Coach Stevens. We began to chit-chat for about 30 minutes during a recruiting event at CCRI-Warwick campus. We got to know each other a bit during our talk. I asked Coach Stevens about her career, recruiting philosophy, the landscape of recruiting and the future of the game. I showed her a picture of my only daughter at the time, spoke about my program and the direction I was leading it. Coach Stevens told me that she respected how I was building the program at SCSU, which meant so much to me.

It still does.

I left that meaningful conversation realizing that Coach Stevens is an ego-free, down-to-earth person, who is not only a great coach but cares about the game enough to allow a young coach to pick her brain. More importantly though, I thought I may have made a new friend.

Fast forward to June 2015, I was not rehired at Southern Connecticut State University and spent the 2015-16 season networking, viewing practices and games in order to get back on the sidelines. It was a tough time in my coaching career and there were many moments of despair.

Then in March 2016 after Bentley made their Elite 8 run, I received an email from Coach Stevens saying that she heard of an opening that she thought I may be interested in and immediately forwarded me the application materials. During my campus interview, the athletic director reiterated that “Barbara Stevens recommended Coach DeSalvo” which instantly made the administration, student-athletes and president of the University consider me a serious candidate.

Why did Coach Stevens do this? Lord knows, she did not have to. I was an out-of-work basketball coach and she was about 950 wins into her Hall of Fame career. She would be no worse off if she was not thinking of Bert DeSalvo. I’ll tell you why because she is a good person who stuck her neck out for me when I needed some help. She had nothing to gain. She merely did it to help a young coach.

She did it to help me and wanted nothing in return. Isn’t that the definition of selflessness, charity and being a good person?

If I didn’t share this story, nobody would ever know. I’m sure Coach Stevens barely recalls her large act of kindness towards me and my family. However, I will never forget that Coach Stevens took time for me and thought of me enough as a coach to recommend me to a colleague of hers.

The wins are a staggering milestone but the it’s the relationships that last. I can only imagine the countless acts of kindness that Coach Stevens has displayed throughout her tenure as a head coach. I hope others will share their interactions with Coach Stevens so we can put some substance to the 1000 victories.

I’m sure Coach Stevens, a living legend, would agree that those moments are worth way more than her 1000 wins.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo




Deserving of Each Other

Last evening, it was made public that West Liberty University Associate Head Coach, Kyle Cooper, was elevated to the position of Head Coach.

I have known Coach Cooper for several years now since he has been an assistant coach in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference turned Mountain East Conference when I was a head coach at Penn State – Beaver and an assistant at Clarion University.

From my interaction with Kyle, he has always been the consummate professional as women’s college basketball coach. Whether it was staying for the late AAU game at tournaments when he was trying to land the big recruit, breaking down just a little more film, or working with female student-athletes on the court, Kyle was always willing to do whatever it took to be a great assistant.

Put simply, he always tried to do what great assistants do: make the head coach’s life easier and always put the team before his ego.

Kyle made a somewhat controverisal move in 2013 when he left Wheeling Jesuit University for cross-town rival West Liberty University. By making the jump across town, he not only got to work with legendary coach Lynn Ullom, but he had the opportunity to observe and be mentored how to run an elite NCAA Division II program, make quality contacts with some of the best in the business and take the lead role in recruiting, game planning and many other facets of program planning. It was only an 11 mile move, but it made all the difference.

For an assistant (and head coach for that matter), to work in an environment that allows room to grow while continuing to be able pursuit ones professional goals and dreams IS EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, not every coach has great mentors, support from their administration or even the personal resolve to allow them to persevere until a situation arises which allows for a vertical move. Sometimes assistants get antsy and jump at any chance to become a head coach, even if it is a subpar situation. This is all in an effort not to get labeled as an “assistant” forever. Other coaches may get out of the game completely because the assistant coaching salary, especially at the DII or DIII levels, may not be enough to support themselves or their families. When you weigh the time requirements along with the modest financial compensation at most institutions, these factors can really be the deciding reasons for assistant coaches looking for an opportunity to be a head coach to make a tough decision about their vocation and leave the professional altogether.

Since head coaching jobs are so far and few between, coaches should celebrate West Liberty’s decision to promote Coach Cooper for the following reasons.

First, the administration didn’t open the position to a lengthy national search. Instead, they looked at Coach Cooper’s entire body of work since he has been at West Liberty and made a value judgment on his ability to lead the women’s basketball program. Kyle’s approach to his position over the past four seasons proved he was worthy of the title “head coach”. By not opening a search, yes it may not have given others the ability to interview and show their competence, but it also didn’t waste potential applicants time or money by putting on a “dog and pony show” when they knew who their hire was going to be. We all know that the hiring process is brutal, filled with emotional rollercoaster moments throughout, so to spare this anxiety for everyone involved, especially the Cooper family, is tremendous.

In addition, the decision to promote Coach Cooper keeps the program running seamlessly and will most likely not make for a wave of transfers, something plaguing college basketball at all levels, because Coach Cooper not only recruited all of them but he has a personal relationship with them as well. I am sure that most if not all of the student-athletes are excited about continuing to have Coach Cooper as their coach and leader.

Moreover, the process was not some “political move” or “inside job” made by administration to satisfy an alum base or booster. It was not some new administration or current administrator putting “their guy/girl” in the job who was not qualified but rather a figurehead or personal friend. It was not the administration opening the job up to find a an ex-professional player or alum to make a “splash” hire. It was not the administration hiring a “big name” who has coached basketball but never (maybe) women’s basketball before, or worse yet, never been a coach at all. The hire was also not an administrator hiring someone to fill a quota.

No the hire of Coach Cooper was none of that. Rather, West Liberty had no agenda. Instead they evaluated Coach Cooper’s four years on the Hill and took that four year job interview at face value. West Liberty rewarded Coach Cooper with a promotion because he EARNED THE POSITION. Period.

This hire has helped restore some of my faith in the hiring process in women’s basketball. Kudos to West Liberty University President Dr. Stephen Greiner and the athletic administration for how they handled this entire process. Coaches everywhere would be lucky to be treated with this type of loyalty and respect that Coach Cooper experienced.

Hopefully other administrations will look carefully at their upcoming open positions, and whether it is opening the position up for a national search or promoting from within, they must do the what is right from both the program and its current and future student-athletes. It must be noted that depending upon the situation, either option can be the right decision. It just has to be made with the student-athletes and the program in mind and nothing else. No agendas please.

With all of that in mind, most importantly, a coach who has paid his dues now gets an opportunity to play out his adulthood dream while his wife and son get to cheer him on from the stands.

Congrats West Liberty University and Coach Cooper. All the best in the future.

You deserve each other.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo





With a Heavy Heart

It is with a great disappointment that I have resigned this past week as the Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach at Sacred Heart University due to family concerns.

With the birth of our second child in early June, it was becoming more and more apparent to me that I did not really know our new addition. Like most parents, I was trying to stretch time at both ends – work and home – and I felt that I was failing as a father and did not want to fail as a coach.

I cannot thank Head Coach Jessica Mannetti enough for hiring me and giving me the opportunity to join her staff. Everyone at Sacred Heart was so very welcoming and I truly enjoyed each and every day I went to the office. Coach Mannetti’s friendship, understanding and support during this decision shows her leadership and compassion for her staff despite her desire to keep me on board.

I wanted to make sure this decision was not rash, yet still make a relatively quick decision in order to give Coach Mannetti the utmost time to find my replacement. It is nerve racking to leave a job, when you do not have any other work lined up, especially when you have a family to help support. However, I felt it was the right thing to do given the circumstance.

I would also like to thank the Coach Yolanda Cole, Coach Ali Heller, the SHU student-athletes and support staff. You are all great people who are dedicated to your craft and I will miss working with you.

Not only was this a difficult decision because of my journey to get back on the sidelines this past season, but also because I felt that we had a great chance to win the NEC and move to the NCAA tournament this season. I will surely be cheering the Pioneers on throughout the year.

I have never been anything but all in and know that I cannot change that approach. I think right now, as a division I assistant though there are certain requirements that the job entails, which are necessary in order to assist in running a championship level program. I had to make a value judgement of myself and my priorities and I did not think I could have performed at the level that Coach Mannetti and the student-athletes needed me to, and at the level which I know how to and expect myself to work at, without sacrificing a tremendous amount of time with my family.

This sacrifice was not the right approach for our family at this time unfortunately.

To all of my friends who have called me and offered their support and encouragement, I appreciate you all.

This was a hard decision but it was the right one…And although it was the right decision it is still a very bittersweet one as well.

I have met many great people in the game and know I have positively influenced the lives of so many of my former players and assistant coaches. Some solace for me during this decision is that I know that I can hold my head high and am confident that I have treated all those I worked for, coached with and been a coach for, as best I could and given it 100% all the time.

The wins are great, but the relationships will always last and will always mean the most to me.

Players and coaches, as always, if I can help you with anything, please do not hesitate to ask.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo





WBB Final Four Article – Hartford Courant

Here is an article by the Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote on the Women’s Final Four an that Joe Ticotsky, Director of the CT Starters AAU program, sent me.

It definitely gets the conversation started…


Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo


A Neighbor(s) With No Fence

Last night a team made an improbable run to the Final Four, and it’s not even the No. 10 seed Syracuse men’s basketball team.

It’s the  No. 7 seed Washington Huskies women’s basketball team, led by head coach Mike Neighbors.

During the Huskies unlikely run to the Final Four, they ousted powerhouses #5 ranked Maryland (at Maryland), #12 ranked Kentucky and #13 ranked Stanford last night.

People always say “it couldn’t happen to a better person.” In this case it really holds true.

Coach Neighbors is truly an asset for the game of women’s basketball. Every week he sends a newsletter to thousands of coaches sharing articles, X’s and O’s, book recommendations, cartoons, and anything else he can get his hands on. It’s free. It only costs HIM his time. He does it to “Grow Our Game” as his email signature reminds all of us who subscribe.

More impressive – and a real glimpse of his true character – Coach Neighbors has taken taken time on several occasions to speak/text/email with me about my personal coaching situation (past and present) and provided me with networking possibilities and insights. More importantly he took the time as a D1 assistant coach and now head coach to give me some uplifting words and empathy. All of this occurred when he only knew me as a contributor to his newsletter.

I was fortunate to shake his hand at last year’s Final Four. Coach Neighbors again was generous with his time and I am honored to call him a friend and colleague.

I suspect I am not the only one who has successfully reached out to him and has received some advice.

That is Mike Neighbors. He grows the game of women’s basketball the right way. He is a phenomenal teache, a “coaches coach” and now can put “2016 Final Four” on his resume.

Coach Neighbor’s clearly has no fences. We should all be glad he is “OUR Neighbor.”

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo



Attendance in Women’s Basketball

Here is a interesting piece by Serena Elavia of the Atlantic that discusses the difficulties of attendance in women’s basketball and ways to promote attendance growth (See Elavia’s article)

What are some of the things your school or program has done to increase attendance? Please leave your feedback below to share with the coaching community.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Flash on My Mind

Over the past week, I have had the fortune to see some of my former players and parents of my AAU team, the South County Flash.

My wife, daughter and I had the chance to visit the Fleming’s in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It was great to see one of my former players, Bridget, “coaching” up my daughter Amara and getting her to drop her “shy guy” front and show her 3 year old persona.


Then last night, I had the chance to help a former player’s (Jordan) father, Kevin Delaney, X and O. Coach Delaney, the Head JV Coach at the Prout School, was going to be facing a 1-3-1 zone defense and wanted some insights of things I have done at the college level to combat that scheme.

What I took from these two experiences is the impact that I have had on my former players and parents AND the impact they have had on me.

That is the main reason that I love coaching.

Sure the competition is great and I am always looking to improve myself and my team. However, it is the lifetime relationships that mean the most to me. Having an extended family and true people who care for you and vice versa, is what it is all about for me (see former post “The Drive” for another story on a former S.C. Flash alumane).

It also reminds me of some of the places and games that I have coached. Hawkeye Arena, Carnesecca Arena, Bryce Jordan Center, Western Illinois, Marshall, The RAC, etc. However, it all started with middle school kids who wanted to have fun, get better and loved the game.

It puts the game in perspective and is a motivator for me to continue to improve daily and get back on the sidelines.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo