This is a guest post by Ronak Patel.
The strongest attribute a Division I college basketball coach can have is their ability to multitask.
But Iona men’s associate head coach Jared Grasso has taken that art to a new stratosphere in recent days. Grasso, his wife Andrea and their newborn son, Jared II, recently moved into a new home.
“(Andrea) thinks I’m nuts carrying boxes while I’m on speakerphone with recruits and AAU coaches,” Grasso said.
When he’s not busying changing diapers or moving boxes, Grasso has blossomed into one of the nation’s best assistant coaches at Iona.
After Tim Cluess was hired as head coach in the summer of 2010, Grasso came with him to New Rochelle. The duo have helped forge an impressive run with Iona—the Gaels have made three NCAA tournaments, two NITs, and won three MAAC regular season crowns and played in five of the last six MAAC tournament title games, winning two.
“Jared has been extremely instrumental,” Cluess said. “He is a big part of what we do on the court, recruiting, academically, and in all areas of our program.”
Grasso was coming off a stint as Fordham’s interim head when he got Cluess’s call. The greatest influence for the native of Syosset, NY was his father Fred—a high school coach, but Jared also looked up to coaches like Cluess, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Davidson’s Bob McKillop. Thus, working for Cluess was an opportunity Grasso couldn’t pass up.
“Coach got the job on a Tuesday night at 10 p.m. and he called me right away,” Grasso recalls. “I took the job at midnight and started working at 7 a.m. the next morning.”
Cluess knew of Grasso from years ago, as he coached against him in high school when Cluess was head coach at St. Mary’s (Manhasset) and Grasso played at St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, N.Y.
“I knew his work-ethic from having seen him and I knew what he was about from having coached against him when he was a player in high school,” Cluess said. “I knew that he came from a basketball family that was passionate about the game and I knew he was someone with an edge that wanted to prove to people how good he was and how good a program he was a part of could be.”
Grasso has carved a reputation through the years of finding players that fit Iona, even though they might not necessarily have certain measurable attributes. That success has kept the Gaels atop the MAAC standings.
“We’ve found a niche of finding a certain type of player that has had success here,” Grasso said. “They can shoot, handle the ball, and, given how fast we play, we give them freedom to play offensively—moving the ball from side-to-side, but they must hustle back and play hard defensively.”
“We’ve found players who are tremendous leaders, coachable and we’re blessed to be guided by Cluess, one of the best coaches in the country. The way the Spurs and Warriors play in the NBA is what Cluess has been doing for nearly 25 years,” Grasso continued.
There has been litany of examples of recruiting success with Grasso, including A.J. English, Sean Armand, David Laury, Scott Machado, and host of others. Armand followed Grasso to Iona and became one of the program’s best players. A recent case study is English, who had no Division I offers prior to Grasso scouting him for Iona.
“Recruiting is a funny thing and there’s no exact science to it,” Grasso said. “Success can lead to opportunity, especially out of the area and more nationally. Armand and English were great examples—you have to trust your eye of what you see on the court and not what’s on paper. We were able to get them in here. They fit our culture and for them to go on to the success they’ve had is a testament to not only them but coach’s vision for the program.”
The eye test is a recruiter’s best friend, but the challenge is being able blend many different types of players and their talents into a cohesive unit. Iona’s results speak for themselves. The Gaels have been one of the best scoring teams in the country, finishing in the top five in scoring four out of the past six seasons, including a school record 83.6 ppg during the 2013-14 season.
“We recruit basketball players,” Grasso said. “We’re not into 1, 2, 3, 4 or the 5 position but we put the best basketball players on the court and can do multiple things offensively and defensively. We’ve played four guys who were 6-2 and smaller and played three guys 6-8 and taller. They all have high IQs and our system can adjust to what we recruit.”
That’s been evident in recent big men David Laury and Mike Glover, who were comfortable playing at the top of the key with the ball in hand as they were with their backs to the basket in the low post.
“Jared has been excellent at understanding the system we run at Iona and finding the types of players fit that system,” Cluess said. “Going out and finding guys that fit the way we play and guys that are under the radar that fit the way we play.”
Oftentimes with recruiting, success breeds a higher caste to recruit from, but Grasso contends an old trite formula is the key.
“Players go by word of mouth,” Grasso said. “They see our success with the style of play we’ve had, averaging over 80 points a game and leading the country in three-point field goal percentage. Most if not all players want to run and play uptempo and when the players come here and have success, word of mouth is the best tool we have—more so than the coaches—because they can share first hand of how we do things here, culturally on and off the court. Our best recruiter is our players. We’ve had former players making good money playing professionally.”
Some of the aforementioned players, such as Laury and Glover, were transfers and that has also been key in Iona’s success, especially given how strong the MAAC has been in recent years.
“There’s many good coaches and good players in the MAAC,” Grasso said. “Every year it’s a battle. The league’s gotten better and we put two teams in the NCAA few years ago and should’ve had two this past season. We’ve added Monmouth with their tremendous program lineage and facilities. Every year going into the conference tournament, there’s six to eight teams that can win the tournament.”
While Grasso prepares for a seventh season in New Rochelle, the former Quinnipiac standout—whose dream of a post basketball career was derailed by a back injury—knows a potential head coaching gig awaits in the future. He got a taste of it as an interim coach at Fordham, replacing Dereck Whittenburg five games into the 2009-10 season.
“You move over one seat and you learn it’s different when you move over 19 inches,” Grasso said. “It could be difficult to be thrust into a situation few games into the season but it was a crash course on being a head coach and it was a great experience that will serve me well if I get that chance in the future.”
But the focus now for this coach’s son, who first touched a basketball at the age of two, is maintaining the continuation of success in New Rochelle.
“Iona has a great basketball tradition,” Grasso said. “Jimmy Valvano to Jeff Ruland to Kevin Hamilton and now to Coach Cluess, who’s one of the best winners in the game. I’m a New York guy and to be part of this program is a blessing and to be able to stay in the area, it’s a home run for my family and I.”