Flashback Friday is looking back at the top moments from the 2017-18 athletic year at the College of Staten Island. This week, we usher in the list of grand moments with an event that occured in the middle of our fantastic year. CSI paid tribute to longtime Head Coach Tony Petosa with a ceremony at the 8th Annual Matty White Alumni Game.
#10 – Tony Petosa honored at CSI’s 8th Annual Matty White Men’s Basketball Alumni Game
Date: January 27, 2018
Who: Tony Petosa, former Men’s Basketball Head Coach
Where: The Tank – Staten Island, NY
What Happened: Former CSI men’s basketball Head Coach Tony Petosa had the biggest hand in creating the Men’s Basketball Alumni Game, and so it was only fitting that the College chose to honor Petosa at the 8th annual installation of the game this past January. Petosa stepped away from coaching duties this past summer, off the heels of a championship season with the Dolphins and his seventh trip as Head Coach to the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. With a record number in attendance there to salute the long time head coach, a banner in the gym unveiled Petosa’s all-time CSI and CUNYAC record number of wins as a tribute, moments before CSI’s tip-off against York College during the varsity event. This came on the heels of Petosa playing in the Alumni Game for the first time. An alumni reception followed the banner unveil where players old and new were able to interact with Petosa an others on the monumental day.
Q&A…with Tony Petosa
Looking back on the day now and the honor of having a banner hung in the gym for you, how does it make you feel? It’s a great honor. The fact that people, especially the ones that are in the building every day, appreciate what I gave to the program enough to do that really is a great feeling for me. It is nice to know that people think a lot of the effort we put in and also the success we had.
Were you expecting something like that? I had a feeling something might happen but to be honest I thought I had gotten through it and was not expecting the banner. I looked at the rafters and thought, oh man! Many years ago we retired the numbers of three kids who we honor with the Tournament of Heroes and I was hoping that whatever the College did, it would not take away from them and that memorial, and I think what was done was very appropriate and very specific. It was a really nice surprise. I thought I had gotten away but they got me.
You knew that the decision to stop coaching would be a tough one. Now almost a year later, how do you feel about the decision? I still have mixed emotions because I do know that I would like to continue to coach, but it needs to be the right situation, something full-time down the road. Part-time coaches, even for our former assistant coaches, it’s never part-time work, and people still think I am a part-time coach. It doesn’t ever work like that. If and when that opportunity to coach again comes, I think I will always be mixed about the decision to leave, because you do miss it.
In the weeks and months after you resigned and then in crafting the event, it brought to light so many positive stories of your success here. How did you receive all the positive attention to the work you’ve done here? Oh, it’s overwhelming. I am still getting calls and messages from players and it means a lot to me. As a coach, as much as I wanted to win I also wanted to do it with kids that liked me. It was important to me because you want them to be successful but to also have fun and enjoy what they are doing at the same time and when I get those messages, it means that we did it the right way.
Getting back to the Alumni Day itself, you laced up the sneakers and actually played a bit. Many former players and staff had never seen you play before. How fun was that for you? I’ll tell you this, it was fun in-between the times I had to catch my breath. (laughing) I had a great time. My goals were to try and get up and down the court in one piece and not embarrass myself, which is why I didn’t shoot the ball. Actually, for the first time in many, many years I have the urge to go to the gym and actually put up a few shots, so maybe next time I will shoot the ball.
The banner reveals your total number of wins, a CSI and CUNYAC record and among the most ever at the NCAA Division III level. When you see that number, does it resonate as to how long you coached and probably, more importantly, the level that you were able to keep this program while you were here? In my head, it still doesn’t really resonate. I think maybe it’s because I don’t see it as a final number for me, personally. I feel that once I am done coaching forever, I’ll be able to fully realize the scope of what I have done.
Over 450 wins are a lot, which ones stick out to you the most? One of the two biggest for me was winning the CUNYAC Championship for the first time (1995-96) on our home floor against York because it was the first time we had actually reached a destination we wanted to get to. The other was the day we retired the numbers of Terrance Aiken, Scott Davidson, and Tom Hannafin after September 11. It wasn’t so much what was said or the ceremony, but I remember we were losing at halftime and we came back and won the game by a pretty big margin. I truly think it was because the kids came out with a little more single-mindedness and they knew how important the night was to so many people. It showed a lot of strength on our part and the importance of our program to the kids.
Getting honored the way you did must have been a thrill for you and your family. How important was it for you for it to happen on a day when we honor former coach and a dear friend of yours, Matty White? I will always say that Matty is the one most responsible for the wins and everything I was able to achieve at CSI, even the games that he wasn’t there for. The program would never have been built the way it was without his ability to instill character and that perspective he carried. He was the first to remind me that character is just as important as talent and always will be. It has shaped how this program was built.
You once said that you enjoy the Alumni Game so much because it allows you to connect with many former players on a personal level that you don’t often get to do when you are their coach. What was it like reconnecting with a record number of faces this year, especially knowing that so many of them were there to celebrate you? It’s great. I love the kids. I’ve been very fortunate to have forged relationships with my coaches when I played, and so I hope that happens for me with all of my former athletes. It’s nice to hear from them and the ones that tend to always come to the Alumni Game, it’s always so great to see them and how successful they are.
The men’s basketball team went on to repeat as champs. It’s proof that the winning tradition continues at CSI and, of course, that you left the program on capable footing. As a fan, what did you feel about the team this year and moving forward? Two words…Tony who? (laughing). Seriously, I’m thrilled for them. It was hard to watch them play, because I would try to just sit back and watch as a fan and I would find myself watching as a coach or a parent. I guess that’s only natural. But to see them come together and win the way they did, I was thrilled for the kids and TJ (Tibbs). Especially the kids that came back from having minimal roles the year before with me, it was great to see them blossom into huge roles and be focal points of the team the way they did. I am beyond excited for them and I know that they will continue to achieve more and more with TJ.