BY LARRY FLEISHER
Ron Naclerio keeps scorebooks of every game that he has ever coached, including his first win Nov. 30, 1981, a 56-40 victory over Aviation. That was his only victory in his first season coaching Cardozo as the youngest coach in the PSAL. At the time Naclerio wasn’t thinking about getting 699 more wins or looking 33 years ahead.
“My first year I only won one game. You win one game [per] year, I’d have to coach 700 years [to make it to the 700th win],” Naclerio said.
Naclerio didn’t have to coach 700 years. He gradually built a strong program at the Bayside school that would eventually became a major force in the PSAL. Several of his players, such as Duane Causewell, Royal Ivey and Rafer Alston, reached the NBA and many others including the Woodward brothers, Daryll Hill and Ryan Rhoomes got Division I college scholarships.
Naclerio’s 700th victory happened on Dec. 22 with a 73-61 game against High School of Construction. It came over three and a half years after his 600th victory by beating All Hallows and seven years after his 500th victory in a game against Flushing.
“That’s great,” said Rhoomes, a junior forward now playing at Fordham. “He’s one of my favorite coaches.”
Only when the Cardozo Judges survived a tough game did his latest coaching milestone sink in. Naclerio could not quite enjoy the moment until Rashond Salnave’s three-pointer late in the game gave the Judges an insurmountable 12-point lead.
After the three-pointer, assistant coach and former player Mike Blissett congratulated Naclerio. And when the game ended many of his current players embraced the passionate and frenetic coach, who was mostly relieved that Cardozo pulled out a victory after being down by one point at the start of the fourth quarter.
“When we won the game, I was so relieved because we started the fourth quarter down one and it was six with about a minute to go,” Naclerio said.
Naclerio became the fourth coach in New York State to reach 700 wins and third in the city to achieve that many victories. The late Molloy coach Jack Curran had 972 in 55 seasons. Campus Magnet coach Chuck Granby had 711 victories in his career.
Naclerio achieved the milestone with about 1,000 people in Cardozo’s gym, which he said seats 900. He also had more than 50 former players in attendance. Since notching the win, he has been getting endless phone calls, texts, and Twitter and Facebook messages.
“That’s a number that very few people have a chance to say [they achieved],” Naclerio said. “I’m the youngest in New York State high school, college or pro to do that. I didn’t realize that.”
Before building the Judges’ basketball program, Naclerio was a ballboy for the Red Holzman’s Knicks from 1970-75. He also played baseball for St. John’s and played four years in the minor leagues for the Chicago White Sox. Naclerio also worked as assistant coach under Al Matican, whom he also played for at Cardozo.
Naclerio doesn’t regret sticking with high school basketball, instead of moving to coach college. By sticking with high school coaching, he said he has had the chance to witness some other memorable victories besides his team’s two city championships.
Among the most noteworthy in Naclerio’s mind were a four-overtime victory over St. Anthony’s, a comeback from an eight-point deficit against Springfield Gardens with less than a minute to play in 1988 and the PSAL semifinal victory over Lincoln in 1999 that preceded Cardozo’s first championship.
In between memorable wins, Naclerio has spent numerous hours scouting and preparing while using his passion for the sport to getting the most out of his players.
“When I played basketball, I was the all-time hustler,” Naclerio said. “There’s no such thing as too much hustle in basketball and I was like that when I played. I was like that when I played baseball and I think it just carried it over.”