Coaches Korn, Roff, Gray joining legendary list of luminaries
BY MARC MATURO
The roll call of coaches is instantly recognizable, with many legendary names known even to those who are not basketball fans.
Roll out names such as Lou Carnesecca, Joe Lapchick and Frank McGuire of St. John’s University fame (McGurie also was acclaimed at North and South Carolina Universities); or Jack Curran of Archbishop Molloy High School; maybe consider Claire Bee (LIU), Nat Holman (CCNY) or Red Holzman, the legendary Knickerbockers coach; and the great Ralph Arietta, who did so much for so many years across the river at Westchester Community College in Valhalla.
To these names and others in the New York State Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, one can now add the former Nyack High School coach Gary Gray and two coaches from the same school, North Rockland, Rich Korn and Chris Roff. In addition, Dan Ricci of Ossining HS will also be inducted in a special Sunday ceremony on March 26 at Heritage Hall Civic Center in Glens Fall.
Speaking of the Vietnam veteran Korn, who coached the girls team and is now retired in Virginia Beach, Va., and Roff, who coached the boys and continues to teach art at the high school, longtime Red Raiders football coach and athletic director Joe Casarella spoke highly, as one might expect.
“Both are good guys, disciplinarians; the kids loved them – they were very helpful in getting them to the next level,” Casarella said. “It’s so rare to get two (coaches) from one high school into the Hall of Fame at the same time.”
The 65-year-old Nyack HS grad Gray, who was inducted into the Rockland County HOF in 2013, then last year into the Indians’ HOF, and who gave much credit to his longtime assistant Pete Bonomolo, is already looking ahead to his five-minute allotted speech.
Quite an honor
“It’s pretty cool,” said Gray, who had some 11 years of 20-plus-win seasons and whose 1991 crew was deemed “team of the year,” forging a long run of success for the program. “Look at the names – (Jim) Boeheim (Syracuse University), Carnesecca, all these great coaches. It’s quite an honor to be inducted.”
Korn, who led the North Rockland varsity for 27 years following a one-year stint at the JV level, coached the last Rockland team to win a Section 9 championship and soon thereafter won a Section 1 title by beating John Jay-East Fishkill.
Korn’s credentials are noteworthy, obviously, but the 69-year-old — who helped coached a local high school team in Virginia Beach before finally stepping aside to root for the University of Virginia and Coach Tony Bennett – also said his induction is an honor, but totally unexpected.
“I never gave it any thought,” the Haverstraw HS alum said, “I’m not very good figuring out who should be in any hall of fame. But certainly it’s a great honor.”
Korn coached many outstanding players, including sisters Jacqueline and Jenifer O’Neil, who both went to Marist College; and 1,000-point scorers Lindsay Gonzalez, a point guard who attended St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J., and guard Margaret Denman. Jennifer O’Neil also scored 1,000 career points while her sister missed by a mere six points. Other standouts were inside players Crystal and Carla Vasquez.
Molded young men
Roff, 57, who finished up his 29th year last season, thought he would be out of the coaching business.
“But I just couldn’t leave, I have to be involved,” said Roff, who played four seasons at Clarkstown North HS and two years on the baseball diamond.
To stay sharp, Roff, a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, remains an assistant golf coach, volunteers with the girls varsity team, and just for good measure, helps out his son, Shane, with 17 third-graders at St. Peter’s.
During his successful tenure at North Rockland, where he is an art teacher at the high school, Roff’s teams won more 468 games and lost 148 – figures that AD Casarella determined and which stat man Kyle O’Grady, now a junior, supported.
“In my last year (2015), Kyle – “A great, great kid, he’ll do anything” – came up to me after we beat Beacon, I think it was, and said, ‘Ya know, that was your four-hundredth and something victory. I never cared about that, actually.”
More than the victories, and six trips to the final at the Westchester County Center and despite never having won the Gold Ball, Roff said he will be going into the Hall with all the players he ever coached.
“It’s going to be me and the players, for sure,” Roff said. “They were all great. When I took over I demanded a lot of the young men, like getting up at 4:30 in the morning to run. You know what’s most important to me? The biggest thing is that every senior who played a full season graduated from high school. I take a lot from that. We didn’t have any big-time DI college players, but a lot played college ball and had the experience of their lives. A lot of them still keep in touch.”
Among those young men, many of whom came from tough backgrounds, are Steven Diaz, now a teacher in New York City, and Tommy Rodriguez.
“Like I said, after they left they still call me. They grew up to be great men. That’s probably the most important thing to me,” concluded Roff, then quickly adding. “And don’t forget my wife (Susan). She raised three sons; I couldn’t have done it without her.”
At Nyack, Gray, who played at Rockland CC under Howie Pierson and attended the University of South Florida — which had no hoops program at the time — credited assistants Paul Lankau and Joe Laporte. He also mentioned rival coaches Tom Collins at Albertus Magnus and Paul Toscano at Clarkstown North, where he is still a golf coach.
Several Indians went on to play professionally, to wit: center Larry Abney, in Europe and for the late coach Jerry “The Shark” Tarkanian; forward Gerry McNail, in Australia; and center James Smith, in the NBA Developmental League following a career at Marist.
Other stickouts during Gray’s tenure who played at the D1 level in college include Steve Canal, who went to Fordham University; Alvin Carter and Kujo Sogadzi, who both attended Fairfield; Colgate’s Chester Felts; and Greg Acunto, an all-American at St. Lawrence University.
COLLEGIATE CLIPS: Midfielder Kevin McNally of Hillburn, who was a high school all-American at Suffern, is a member of the Mercy College men’s lacrosse team that is ranked No. 13 nationally in the USILA/Nike Division II Coaches Preseason Poll. The Mavericks, who finished 9-6 last season and qualified for the ECC Tournament for the second consecutive year, are scheduled to get under way with back-to-back road games against American International on Feb. 15 and Georgian Court University on Feb. 18. Mercy’s home opener in Dobbs Ferry is set for 3 p.m. on Feb. 21 against Saint Rose. … Tappan Zee HS alum Luke McLaughlin of Blauvelt is the fourth-leading shot blocker on the Pace University basketball team while averaging only 18 minutes a game. McLaughlin, a sophomore forward, has made eight starts in 20 appearances with 10 blocks. The Setters meet Le Moyne College at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Goldstein Fitness Center in Pleasantville. … The Mercy College women’s basketball team is playing well under the .500 level but guard Destinee Hall of Spring Valley continues to sparkle. Hall, a sophomore, is leading the team in scoring with 10 points a game, is ranked second in rebounds with six per game and is third in steals with 22 on the season. Mercy will be home in Dobbs Ferry on Feb. 4 to meet Molloy at 2 p.m. and stays at home on Feb. 8 to host LIU Post at 5 p.m. … Freshman guard Kevin Mackin of Nanuet is averaging six points a game, with 12 steals, in 19 appearances for the men’s basketball team at Oneonta. The Red Dragons are home Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 to host Buffalo State and Fredonia, respectively. … Tappan Zee HS alumna Michaela Raphael of Nyack is a sophomore sprint/butterfly specialist on the Pace University women’s swimming team, which competes at the Northeast-10 Conference Championships in New Haven, Conn., Feb. 16-19 … North Rockland HS alum Matt Caputo of Stony Point, a sophomore, won his bout by injury default at 149 pounds as the nationally 17th-ranked Cortland wrestling team waylaid Delaware Valley, 43-4, in Doylestown, Pa. Caputo is 19-11 on the season, his first on the mats for the Red Dragons, who host Oswego and Hunter on Feb. 11. … Lauren McBrinn of Suffern was second in the 1,000-yard freestyle as Cortland posted a 174-122 women’s swimming and diving dual-meet victory over visiting Oneonta at Holsten Pool.
PRESEASON KUDOS FOR KUKURA: Clarkstown South HS alum John Kukura, a key returnee to the Pace University baseball team, has garnered preseason accolades by being named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Preseason all-East Region first team. Similarly honored is junior catcher Michael Gulino of Meriden, Conn. Kukura, a senior outfielder, earned numerable honors last season, his best ever with the Setters. He led the team in batting average (.341), runs (43), hits (75), doubles (15), triples (8), slugging percentage (.536), on-base percentage (.411) and stolen bases (10). Kukura’s eight triples set a Pace single-season record, and his 75 hits were the fourth-most all-time. Kukura added four home runs and 33 RBI last season. His teammates this year include Tappan Zee HS graduate Mike Barbato, a sophomore catcher; and North Rockland HS alums Brian Bohlander, a freshman infielder, and sophomore southpaw pitcher Dan Wirchansky, both of Stony Point.
RIP: Belated condolences to the family of Joe Dugandzic, whose passing at the age of 52 brought an outpouring of love and support from a large network of friends here, in New Jersey and elsewhere. Dugandzic, 52 and a high school teacher in Cranford, N.J., was a key member of the Pearl River HS state championship cross country team in 1980.