By Laura Amato
Ron Naclerio looked down at his cell phone Thursday night and was a bit concerned it was going to ring and buzz and light up for the rest of time.
It didn’t, but the messages still poured in for hours.
The longtime Cardozo basketball coach made history as his squad took down Springfield Gardens 79-76, making Naclerio the all-time public-schools wins leader in New York state. He passed Ed Petrie for the honor with 755 victories.
“It just kind of hit me,” Naclerio said. “I looked at my cell phone and there were people from the NBA, college, people that are big wigs in the game of basketball and even people from the mayor’s office. They were all texting me and congratulating me.”
Naclerio celebrated with his team for a few moments after the game, but it wasn’t until he made an appearance at a Cardozo alumni holiday party later that night that the celebration truly began.
“I get to the party and I’m getting treated like a king,” Naclerio said. “It was like I invented the game.”
Naclerio had a chance to break the record Dec. 20, but ‘Dozo came up short of the win, falling to John Bowne in blowout fashion. It was a disappointing showing for the team, but Naclerio went back to the drawing board – it’s what he’s always done.
He watched film for hours after the loss, examined box scores and stat sheets all day Wednesday and knew he had to make a change.
“We made some changes [on Thursday] and we went all small. As the kids are learning me, I’m learning the team,” Naclerio said. “Some kids I’m maybe rewarding them with minutes they think they deserve, but the stats aren’t showing they deserve. And then some kids I’m penalizing with not giving them minutes. I’m learning.”
Naclerio’s determination to find out what makes this season’s Cardozo team tick is a testament to his ability as a coach – and the reason why he managed to make history on a court that has shaped him as much as he’s shaped it.
He was upset at the loss, but not simply because it kept him a win a way from history. He was upset with his team’s lack of effort and energy and Naclerio did his best to turn that around in a 24-hour span.
“It’s growing pains. And the pain of growing on Tuesday was rewarded [against Springfield Gardens],” Naclerio said. “I always tell the team, you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win.”
There was a bit of late drama down the stretch of the historic win, as the Judges missed 11 of 17 foul shots in the final two minutes of regulation. Dejavaughn Utley drained a three-pointer with 15 seconds to tie the game and, after Noah Semple drained a foul shot, he followed up with his own free throw to put ‘Dozo up two.
The win wasn’t perfect, but many of Naclerio’s 755 wins haven’t been. He’s thankful for each and every one of them and he’s ready to see history in his rearview mirror, determined to take the next step with this Judges group.
“I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, I just didn’t want it to be like something hanging there,” Naclerio said. “Like a baseball player where he starts going 0-for-20 and it’s like when is he going to get the hit. It was like a sigh of relief.”