When the final buzzer sounded March 13 at the historic Rose Hill Gymnasium on the campus of Fordham University, the Bronx, the Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, varsity basketball team had captured this year’s CHSAA ‘AA’ city championship.
The Clippers spilled out onto the court celebrating their victory, and their head coach of 21 years, Jack Alesi, took in the scene one last time.
For he knew that his coaching journey had come to a resounding end.
In June, Alesi announced his retirement as Xaverian’s head varsity basketball coach. In his 21 seasons, he compiled a 345-250 career record to go along with three Brooklyn/Queens diocesan titles, two city championships, seven coach of the year awards and induction into the CHSAA Hall of Fame.
But for the legendary coach, the relationships he formed along the way are what he will remember most about his coaching tenure.
“Clearly to me it was about the players; it was about the standards of the program,” Alesi said. “What’s most satisfying to me is the young men we produced at Xaverian. It’s very satisfying to have that relationship now. I think if you coach that long, you view yourself more as a mentor than you do as a coach.”
Gurus Piqued His Interest
A graduate of Nazareth R.H.S., East Flatbush, Alesi broke into the Catholic Youth Organization coaching ranks at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, at the age of 18. In 1977, he attended the coaching camp hosted by basketball gurus Lou Carnesecca and Red Sarachek, which piqued his interest in coaching.
“I think what I always really enjoyed about basketball was the X’s and O’s,” Alesi said. “You have a team and you try to figure out different ways to play and figure out offenses and defenses, and I think that was first instilled in me in being around Carnesecca and Red Sarachek.”
Alesi arrived at Xaverian in 1979 as the coach of the freshman and junior varsity squads. He soon became the school’s director of finance, a position he holds to this day and will continue despite his retirement from coaching.
He then served as an assistant hoops coach under Lou Piccola, whom he said was instrumental in his basketball career. When Piccola took over as athletic director in 1994, Alesi became the head varsity basketball coach.
After 20 memorable seasons, Alesi had thoughts of potentially retiring following the 2014-2015 season. However, the team made a run to the city championship, losing to Christ the King H.S., Middle Village.
Heading into this past season, Alesi could see the drive from his seniors Nyontah Wisseh, Brandon Leftwich and Jordan Guzman, who were eager for one last championship run.
One More Year
“I could tell in my mind that I wasn’t 100 percent certain that I wanted to stop,” he said. “So I said let me just see these guys (his seniors) through. Let’s go one more year.”
With that in mind, Alesi was certain that 2015-2016 would in fact be his final year coaching, though he did not make that decision known as to not overshadow any recognition from his players – the epitome of a classy move from a classy guy.
The Clippers may not have been favored on paper to take home this year’s city championship, but when it mattered most, the team rose to the occasion throughout the entire playoffs and defeated Bishop Loughlin, Fort Greene, in the title game.
What a way to end a storied career for Coach Alesi!
“In my wildest dreams to have an ending like that, it was really nothing that I could have imagined,” he said. “I knew we were a good team. One of the things that really makes me enjoy coaching is figuring out how to make the team good. That was the challenge every year that I coached. I knew we could beat any one team on any given day.”
While this year’s championship run is fresh in his mind, Alesi said one of the true highlights of the past 21 years was being able to coach with his son Chris, who played at Xaverian for his father and spent the last four years as an assistant varsity coach at the school.
Though Xaverian has not yet named a successor, the future coach will have the benefit of learning from Alesi, who again will remain at Xaverian as director of finance. But though he may be leaving the coaching ranks, he remains a fixture at the Bay Ridge school.
“I want to enjoy it from a different perspective,” he said. “Once you’re a coach, you’re always a coach.”
So later this fall at Xaverian, the familiar face of Jack Alesi will undoubtedly be roaming the gymnasium – except he’ll be doing so from the stands rather than from the sidelines.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.