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The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Naclerio’s unique path to basketball history

St. John’s alum Ron Naclerio knows a thing or two about winning. In fact, he probably knows around 758 things about winning.

Naclerio, a graduate of St. John’s in 1979, has coached basketball at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, NY for 36 years and counting. In that time, he’s become the winningest public school head coach in New York state history.

He achieved the record win, number 755, back in December, and since then he has tacked on three more wins to that legendary total.

But Naclerio didn’t always have his sights set on coaching. In fact, at St. John’s he was actually a baseball player, who also spent time playing under legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca on the Johnnies “sub-varsity” team.

“My senior year, I was hoping Carnesecca would put me on the team as like a last-man walk-on,” Naclerio said. “But I was a really good baseball player…so Carnesecca said, ‘If you’re a baseball player with a chance to be great, you gotta do that.’”

Following his college career, Naclerio was selected in the 1979 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox, where he would spend two years in the minor leagues before his career came to an end. However as his baseball career ended, his basketball coaching days were just starting.

Naclerio had started as an assistant with the Manhattan College basketball program to fulfill a requirement for his athletic administration major at St. John’s, but when the commute from Queens became too difficult, he instead began working with his alma mater at Cardozo.

“I lived right near Cardozo, because Cardozo is only a few miles from St. John’s,” he said. “So the next three years I was the assistant coach there even though I was still playing basketball and baseball at St. John’s.”

So when his baseball career came to an end, Naclerio continued coaching at Cardozo, where he’s been ever since.

In that time, Naclerio has seen a great deal of success. He’s won a pair of New York City championships and coached a number of future NBA players.

He was also given a prestigious “Guardian of the Game Award” by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2002. The annual award is given out to four coaches around the country who exhibit strengths in leadership, service, education and advocacy.

“The year I got it, John Wooden got the education award. The leadership award was Dave Gavitt, who started the Big East and coached at Providence…and Ron Naclerio got the service award,” he said. “And I was the only high school coach to ever get the Guardians of the Game Award.”

Aside from those achievements, Naclerio has become a fixture in the New York City basketball scene.

“With basketball, whether it be Coney Island or Bed-Stuy or Harlem, in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s I was probably the most recognizable face in the inner city,” he said. “And everybody got to know me, and I got to know every player.”

In 36 years of coaching, Naclerio has seen quite a few changes to the game that he loves. Not only that, but he has seen the culture surrounding high school basketball change dramatically.

With social media becoming more and more prevalent in the world of sports, some would say high school basketball has turned into more of an individual sport. But Naclerio’s coaching techniques to eliminate those issues have stood the test of time.

“The bad thing about now is that it’s such a ‘me’ generation instead of a ‘we’ generation…There’s money to be made in the game that was not around when I started as an assistant,” he said. “I’m very demanding, when I see selfishness I hit it hard. The kids really don’t want to box with me, because I’m all about winning. Everything you want in life starts from winning.”

Naclerio offers his players life lessons like that on a regular basis. Many of them were probably instilled in him decades ago when he played under Carnesecca, his former coach with whom he still remains in regular contact.

And now it is his job to pass those lessons onto the younger coaches of today. Some of those coaches regularly reach out to Naclerio regarding his coaching techniques, which he is always eager to talk about.

Naclerio will be honored at City Hall next month for his record-breaking win total, and a documentary detailing his quest for his historic win total will premiere on Jan. 27 on SportsNet New York. But as of right now, it doesn’t seem as though he’ll be slowing down any time shortly.

“Am I in the fourth quarter [of my coaching career]? Maybe. Am I in overtime? I don’t know,” he said. “Because 36 years is a long, long time. But I still love it. I’m still healthy, I’m still young enough to do it.”

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About the Contributor
Troy Mauriello, Co-Sports Editor
Co-Sports Editor: Troy is a senior Journalism major who wants the sports section of the Torch to be the place that St. John's students go to on a weekly basis for the latest news on their favorite SJU sports teams. He also wants to grow our staff with even more outstanding writers who are passionate about both sports and St. John's University. He has been involved with the Torch since Spring 2014. [email protected]

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