By Joseph Staszewski
Moments after officially standing alone atop the PSAL’s coaching-wins list, Ron Naclerio got up on a chair to address the standing-room only crowd celebrating with him at Benjamin Cardozo.
When he started coaching the Judges boys’ basketball team in 1981, he never imagined being at his alma mater for 35 seasons and racking up a league-record 723 wins.
Naclerio, who was a ball boy for the Knicks, dreamed of one day coaching at St. John’s—his other former school—or even the NBA. While those opportunities never materialized, that no longer matters to Naclerio, he told all those who watched him set the mark with an 88-72 win over Francis Lewis Tuesday night.
“I’ve realized in the last couple of days that the break that I probably really got was the break I didn’t realize, the fact that I was able to coach at Cardozo,” he said.
That stroke of luck became a historic one after the 58-year-old Naclerio passed the mark of 722 victories set by the retired Charles Granby, who coached at Campus Magnet (formally Andrew Jackson) for 45 years.
“You have to be good for a long, long time,” Naclerio said. “You have to be lucky. I’ve been blessed with players that have let me coach them up.”
Tuesday night’s win also put him third on the all-time list in New York state, behind Archbishop Molloy’s Jack Curran (972), who died in 2013 and East Hampton’s Ed Petrie (754), who retired in 2010.
“This is big for him,” said Duane Causwell, his former player who enjoyed 11 seasons in the NBA. “I saw him before the game and I said, ‘Naclerio, you are looking more nervous than the first time we played Jackson.’”
Not much has changed about Naclero since he began, other than the fact that he’s had just one losing season since he went 1-12 his first year. He coached the milestone game in his traditional orange Cardozo polo shirt and blue Judges sweat pants. There were veins popping, a sprint down the bench after a bad call and plenty of teaching.
Naclerio got on star Rashond Salnave (19 points) for shooting too early to end the third quarter, leading to a Lewis hoop. He pulled aside sophomore Dejavaughn Utley in the closing seconds to correct him and give him words of encouragement. Things like that are one of the reasons why so many former players hold him in such high regard.
“Not many people can say that one man changed their life around when they were growing up,” Salnave said.
Prior to coaching Naclerio was an All-American baseball player at St. John’s University. He was drafted by the White Sox in 1979 draft and spent two years in the minor leagues. He took over the Judges’ hoops team after one year as an assistant to his former coach Al Matican, who was in attendance along with Stu Jackson, the senior associate commissioner of the Big East.
Matican, described his as “Mr. Tenacity.” He remembers one game where the opponent’s star guard threw the ball at Naclerio out of frustration.
“Just the way he was on the sidelines was the way he was on the court,” Matican said.
That passion has allowed Naclerio to win two city titles in 1999 and 2004 and Cardozo is one of the favorites to win this season. Naclerio coached four NBA players Causwell, Royal Ivey, Rafer Alston and James Sutherland. He also trained others such as Joakim Noah, Elton Brand and Metta World Peace.
Causwell spoke about how he couldn’t make a layup in tryouts, but Naclerio promised him if he put in the work he could help get him to the NBA.
“He just knew how to bring out the best in you,” Causwell said.
Naclerio got the most out of his team and Tariq Coburn after halftime with Dozo leading just 46-35. Coburn scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half. Alex June Araula tallied 24 points to lead Lewis, which got as close as eight in the fourth.
“Coach was saying I have to take more shots and I just started to take over,” Coburn said.
The performance enabled Cardozo (2-0) to unveil a banner commemorating the achievement. Naclerio knows his run will eventually have to come to an end—but not anytime soon, he hopes. What other records may lie ahead are of no concern for now.
“Eight hundred?” Naclerio said “Let me get to hopefully Thursday and hopefully 724.”