Tony Petosa, the dean of all CSI coaches, manning the CSI men’s basketball sidelines in his 21st season, has been named the Staten Island Advance’s Sportman of the Year for 2010, it was announed today. The coach was profiled in today’s Advance, spotlighting his achievements turning from an accomplished local basketball product into the backbone of the CSI coaching staff. The 47-year-old, notched his 300th a win a year ago, and recently saw his team cap its ninth annual Tournament of Heroes at the Sports & Recreation Center, a tournament he created in 2002.
Petosa began his CSI and CUNYAC career in 1982, as a freshman for head coach Evan Pickman for the Dolphins flourishing program, entering only its sixth-season as a four-year college team. Even before that though, Petosa was a standout four-year basketball player at Monsignor Farrell High School, setting off on a journey that would never lead him too far away from his passion.
Petosa won three CUNYAC Championships at CSI, playing side-by-side with teammate Tom Hannafin, who years later is honored with the Tournament of Heroes as a former CSI basketball pupil and victim of September 11, along with Scott Davidson and Terrance Aiken, whom Petosa coached.
By the time his personal career was over, Petosa became CSI’s all-time leading rebounder (982), and his 1,684 points stood as a CSI career scoring record for 16 years.
After graduation, it was no wonder that former coach Thomas Keenan wanted Petosa on his coaching staff, and for Petosa it was a pretty easy decision. “I enjoyed being around the game,” he reflects. “I really enjoyed being an assistant coach.”
Petosa stayed on as an assistant for three seasons, the last two under Howie Ruppert. CSI posted a 63-26 record those three seasons, and Petosa was not only getting the hang of the coaching system at CSI, but he was also donating more time to his players, becoming increasingly invested in their futures after basketball. Not long after his appointment as assistant coach, Ruppert stepped down from his head coaching position, and Petosa was nominated for the job. The irony lies in the secret that Petosa declined the offer, only to reconsider a few weeks later.
“I didn’t think I was ready for the job,” he stated in a 2003 interview. “With school (Masters Degree) and working full-time, it was a tough decision. Then one day I just realized I wanted the job. To me, there’s nothing better than being at a practice for three hours, no matter what else I was doing. I came to realize that I enjoyed the teaching.”
Petosa endured three straight losing seasons, pioneering the program on the sidelines with longtime assistant and friend, Matty White. “I look back on those years and I realize that I wasn’t a very good coach,” he laughs. “I needed to learn. I’m still learning, but I think I’ve gotten better.”
Better indeed. The next season, CSI put up its first winning campaign under Petosa. Two years later, the team won 20 games. Systemizing the team according to his personal coaching style was the key to Petosa’s success. For once, Petosa was operating under a new formula: his own.
Petosa has learned that stability in players and sticking to his own coaching style were keys to developing quality teams over the long haul. “The operative word for us is not ‘team,’ it’s ‘program,’ teaching kids how to play, developing them. Over time, you depend on them. You hope that they depend on you a little too. That’s what building a program is all about.”
Twenty years later, Petosa was in the Bronx when CSI erased a late deficit to win a 66-64 nailbiter at the buzzer over Lehman College, his 300th career win, the 56th NCAA Division III coach to turn the trick. It remains a career highlight for many current Dolphins on the team who were there.
Fast forward a year later, and Petosa was the solitary body at the Sports & Recreation Center this past Monday, as Staten Island was rocked by 16 inches of snow to threaten the 9th annual Tournament of Heroes. There, Petosa spent about eight hours on the phone making sure three teams were arriving safely, organizing staff, and letting in teams to shoot-around. Less than 24 hours later he logged a few hundred miles all over Staten Island picking up catered food, t-shirts, and awards to get the Tournament off. He also coached the Dolphins to a 23-point win over the University of Dallas.
“That’s Tony,” said David Pizzuto, associate athletic director. “He dumps every resource and ounce of energy that he has into his program and what he believes in. You learn a lot watching him work and manage his time.”
To achieve the amount of success he has is incredulous, given his part-time status at the College.
“I don’t know how he does it,” said fourth-year assistant Chris Peterson. “His program never suffers because he never leaves a stone unturned.”
Petosa certainly doesn’t do it for the paycheck, and without dorms and a high academic index for play may even put him at a competitive disadvantage to his peers, but Petosa notes that there are incredible benefits to doing what he does year after year.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating, but when you find that kid who does enjoy playing you learn to appreciate him a little more,” he states. “What keeps me invested is that I sometimes struggle to find those players, but when we do, you can’t help to be somewhat impressed by them, and working with them becomes special.”
Forging a special bond with them is nothing new to Petosa, who after 20 years at the helm, recognizes how serving at CSI has become a backdrop to nearly his entire adult life.
“A lot of my memories, both personally and in business revolve around what has happened here,” he began. “This job for me is almost like a marriage, there are stretches of happiness or frustration with everyone involved, even myself, but I’ve definitely grown here.”
Petosa will be honored by the Staten Island Advance officially on January 20, with a dinner in his honor at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island. He is the fourth CSI coach to earn the honor. Fomer assistant and friend Matty White was honored just a handful of years ago while former baseball skippers Bill Cali and John Scrivani shared the honor less than a decade ago.