In his 30-year tenure as a college basketball coach, Pete Gillen racked up numerous hall of fame honors.
He is a member of the Xavier University, Cincinnati, Sports Hall of Fame, the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame, the 5-Star Basketball Hall of Fame, the Jim Valvano Nike Basketball Hall of Fame and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
However, a recent induction into a local hall of fame was very meaningful to the longtime hoops coach.
Gillen was inducted Nov. 10 into the Holy Name of Jesus, Park Slope, Hall of Fame during the Holy Name Foundation’s 10th annual dinner dance at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, Coney Island. He was enshrined alongside Father Kevin McBrien, pastor of Our Lady of the Snows, North Floral Park, and Anthony Butler, Colleen Martin-O’Donnell and Sharon Smith of the Holy Name Ensemble.
“He (Gillen) is a great person, personal friend and a great individual, and I’m happy that Holy Name didn’t forget him,” said Don Kent, the former head boys’ varsity basketball coach at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, who is also a Holy Name Hall of Famer.
Gillen, 69, played his Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball and baseball at St. Patrick’s and Our Lady of Angels, both Bay Ridge. He went on to star in both sports at Brooklyn Prep, Crown Heights, before continuing to play both sports at Fairfield University, Conn., where he graduated in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature.
He then returned to Brooklyn to teach fifth and sixth grade, and later seventh and eighth grade, English at Holy Name. It was there that his basketball coaching career began for the parish’s seventh- and eighth-grade boys’ CYO ‘B’ team.
While teaching at Holy Name for nearly six years, he also coached basketball at his high school alma mater and later Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, once Brooklyn Prep closed. He said his time at Holy Name prepared him for the next phase of his coaching career.
“I really loved it there,” Gillen said. “It was really a character place, great families, good solid people that were very generous to the parish and school. They were salt of the earth people. I enjoyed coaching, I enjoyed being there and I really loved teaching there.”
Prior to the 1975-76 basketball season, Gillen received the opportunity of a lifetime: moving to the college coaching ranks…in Honolulu! He served as an assistant coach for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors alongside Rick Pitino, currently the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville, Ky.
From there, he spent two seasons as an assistant at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington City, Va.; two seasons as an assistant under Rollie Massimino at Villanova University, Pa.; and five seasons as an assistant under Digger Phelps at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.
His first head coaching job came in 1985 at Xavier University. In nine seasons, he led the Musketeers to seven NCAA Tournaments and one appearance in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). He is still the most successful coach in program history with 202 wins.
Gillen then coached at Providence College, R.I., for four seasons, including two trips to the NIT and a historic run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 1997.
The final seven years of his coaching career were at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. His teams appeared in one NCAA Tournament and the NIT four times.
Right after hanging up his clipboard, Gillen was able to continue his passion for basketball as an analyst for CBS Sports Network. He is also a seasonal guest columnist for the New York Post with his “Chillin’ With Gillen” column during the annual NCAA Tournament.
While basketball has taken him all over the country, it was his time at Holy Name in Brooklyn that laid the foundation for his successful coaching career. Compared to all the aforementioned hall of fame honors, Gillen said this one takes on a special meaning, since this is where it all began.
“It’s very flattering,” he said. “I enjoyed my time and gave it my best. It was a privilege to be there (Holy Name).”
And as everyone in the Holy Name community would agree, it was a privilege to have Mr. Gillen for grammar school English and Coach Gillen on the basketball court.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.