When 8-year-old Greg “Shoes” Vetrone attended his first St. John’s University, Jamaica, men’s basketball game at Alumni Hall in 1971, he just knew he wanted to someday be part of the program.
It surely helped that a former Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) player from his parish — Mike Kielty from St. Sebastian, Woodside — was then a member of the St. John’s team.
“From that day on, I told my father all the time to take me to the St. John’s games,” Vetrone said. “I was in awe that a guy from my parish was out there with a St. John’s uniform on.”
Today, that dream of joining the Johnnies program has come true.
Vetrone has signed on as an assistant coach for Mike Anderson’s men’s squad heading into the 2021-2022 season. He brings more than 35 years of coaching experience to his new role.
For Vetrone, it all started at St. Sebastian, where he played CYO basketball and baseball all the way up to the Major Division — which included a time where he lived in New Jersey and still was able to make the weekend games.
“That parish center was my life; it was my whole life,” Vetrone said. “That parish center without question got me into basketball. I can still remember games from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I could give it to you verbatim.
“My whole life has been CYO. Without CYO, I wouldn’t be sitting at a desk at St. John’s right now. I wouldn’t give up my childhood in that community for anything.”
It was during his childhood that he was given the nickname “Shoes.” His two older cousins, Nick and Mike Fricchione, used to compare him to a shoeshine boy based on the way he barged into their bedroom when they were sleeping so they would come outside and play. The name “Shoes” stuck.
Vetrone split his high school days between Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, and Hackensack H.S., N.J. He then earned an athletic scholarship to play basketball at C.W. Post (now L.I.U. Post), Brookville, L.I. As a senior, his team reached the Division II NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
A criminal justice major in college, Vetrone planned to become a police officer or Department of Sanitation worker in the city. However, his college coach asked him to stay on at Post as a graduate assistant coach in 1985. He was hesitant at first but ultimately accepted the job — the start of three decades of coaching.
After four years at Post, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, N.J., before holding the same role at the University of California, Irvine, for four seasons.
Vetrone then moved on to become an assistant coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he was responsible for scouting, recruiting, and game strategy. Queens always had a special place in his heart, so when he returned east, his first coaching stop was CYO at St. Sebastian.
“Queens has always been home for me, no matter where I’ve been,” Vetrone said. “And St. Sebastian has always been my parish. Without that parish, I wouldn’t be coaching.”
He then led Port Chester H.S., Rye Brook, N.Y., to a league championship in 2008 before becoming Fairleigh Dickinson’s head coach. Following two years in Spain as a player development consultant with the Canarias Basketball Academy, Vetrone spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Rutgers University, Piscataway, N.J.
“Shoes” thoroughly enjoyed his time at Rutgers. In fact, the only coaching opportunity that would have pulled him away from the Scarlet Knights was joining the Red Storm staff. He said he is excited and energized to help lead the Johnnies to new heights alongside Anderson.
“This is not just a job for me,” he said. “Coach Anderson giving me this opportunity is beyond a job. It’s passion; it’s devotion; it’s dedication. When St. John’s wins, it takes over the city, sometimes even more than the Knicks.”
St. John’s will be Vetrone’s first coaching stop at a Catholic school, which is important to him given his Catholic upbringing at St. Sebastian parish. He’s already reconnected with members of the St. Sebastian community he hadn’t spoken to for years.
“Throughout my whole career, my aspirations were to coach at St. John’s,” Vetrone said. “There’s a reason why this all happened. God is here.”
It seems God’s plan is pretty simple: have “Shoes” fill some big shoes for the St. John’s Red Storm men’s hoops team.
Now that’s a “Shoe” with a perfect fit!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.