Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
For one night, the Philadelphia Area Small College Coaches Association’s annual Senior Banquet and Hall of Fame Induction turned into a Rowan basketball reunion.
More than a dozen former Profs players and coaches, along with family and friends, joined in the rest of the attending area Division II and Division III coaches to honor former Rowan coach John Giannini and star forward Terrance Stewart. The pair, who led the school to the 1996 Division III National Championship, were inducted into the PASCCA’s Hall of Fame, joining 28 others who’ve had a significant impact on the region’s small-college landscape.
“It’s nostalgic, man, just brings back so many good memories,” Stewart said. “It reminds me of the family, a lot of older guys came out, and it was just a good time.”
Now, both are head coaches–Stewart in the Division III ranks at Immaculata, where he’s in his second year running the program, and Giannini at La Salle, where he guided Explorers on a much-publicized run into the Sweet 16 last year.
And both spent a lot of their time at the podium talking about the other. In introducing Stewart, Giannini praised his the former All-American, who graduated in 1996 as one of the best players in school history, as someone who was willing to come off the bench his first two years in college.
“I did want to start,” Stewart joked when he took the mic. “You just didn’t start me.”
Stewart and Giannini were in the NCAA Tournament all four years they were together at Rowan, making the Final Four in three occasions before finally winning it all in 1996, when Stewart was named the MVP of the tournament. Following that win, Giannini joined the Division I ranks when he got the head coaching job at Maine, where he stayed for eight seasons before getting the job at 20th and Olney.
They reunited after Stewart enjoyed a 12-year professional career in Europe when Stewart became the video coordinator at La Salle under Giannini, a position he held for two years before becoming just the second head coach in Mighty Macs history in June 2012.
Though the two have their own very busy schedules, Stewart said the two still text multiple times per week, and speak on the phone a few times a month as well. Now that he’s running his own program, Stewart is starting to see the game the way Giannini saw it 20 years ago–and still sees it today.
“I understand what he means by ‘it’s about the players,’ it’s all about the players,” he said afterwards. “The one thing about coaching is, I no longer have an outcome on the game, I can’t affect it physically, so you try to put all your knowledge into them, try to help them understand how to work hard. It’s definitely an appreciation for what we did, now coaching, knowing how hard it was to win games and to be that successful, it definitely motivates me.”
Giannini was introduced by Joy Solomon, the athletic director at Rowan when he was hired back in 1989; Solomon retired as the AD just two years ago. He found success rather quickly, leading the team to an .816 winning percentage in his seven years there–though not without going through some rookie hazing at first.
“Let me try to set up what it was like to work with some of the things I had to work out,” he said. “It was a very veteran coaching staff, and I was the new kid on the block. I go to the mailbox, and I’m motivated off the charts, so I look at this one message and it’s a long African name, 7-foot-1, Washington State, wants to transfer to Glassboro State [what Rowan was called in 1989], has relatives in the area.
“So I take that note, literally sprint to my office, close the door really quick, dial the number–and it says ‘Welcome, you’ve reached Dial-a-Prayer.’ I look out my window and there’s [soccer coach Dan] Gilmore and the swim coach just cracking up.”
Giannini’s legacy still weighs heavily on the school. Current head coach Joe Cassidy, who’s been in charge for 18 years–that’s right, since Giannini left–was an assistant under him for five years prior to that.
In other honors awarded Tuesday evening, the Sam Cozen Coach of the Year Award went to Cabrini’s Marcus Kahn, who led the Cavaliers to a 26-2 record and their fifth consecutive D-III Tournament appearance. It’s the third time he was named the Cozen winner; he also was named the CSAC Coach of the Year for the sixth straight season.
The John McAdams Service Award went to Nate Ware, the current president of the PASCCA and one of the founding members of the organization back in 1986. A coach since 1977, Ware has coached both men’s and women’s between various stops at Eastern, Valley Forge Military College, University of the Sciences and Wilmington University.
A number of four-year players and managers were also honored, and UScience senior Pat Connaghan spoke briefly about how all there were using basketball to better themselves as people and as students.