When the NTL basketball season does kick off there will be some very familiar coaches strolling the sidelines.
This year, Ryan Napp returns as the boys’ coach for Towanda, while longtime Troy coach Rob Gentile takes over the girls’ team.
The last time Napp was coaching the Black Knights they were a dominant team in the NTL, bringing home back-to-back league titles.
Since then, Napp took some time off from coaching, and then spent some time helping out with the Mansfield University program.
Now, Napp is back at the helm of his alma mater, where he still holds the career all-time scoring record with over 2,000 career points.
“Towanda will always be home to me,” Napp said. “I have so many great memories as a player and coach at Towanda. I am excited to see how quickly we can get things turned around.”
This just felt like the perfect time for Napp to return to the sidelines for Towanda.
“Towanda has always been a potential coaching job that I was interested in,” Napp said. “I knew the program was going to take time to get back to a championship contender. I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to that task this year. But, a combination of things happened this past fall that has allowed me to take this next step. Due to the Covid situation, the Mansfield University basketball season has been in jeopardy of being canceled. The entire fall semester, we have been limited with our contact with the players, and only a few have even been on basketball.
“As the basketball season at Mansfield became unlikely, ore modified at best, and the position at Towanda was still available, I decided to make the change. I loved coaching at the college level, but the time and distance away from my family makes it impractical in the long-term. I am excited to be back home and ready to build the program from youth basketball up to the varsity. I know there are a lot of people at each of those grade levels that are willing to put in the time necessary to build a solid foundation.”
Being at Mansfield was something that Napp learned a lot from.
“I have been so fortunate to have an opportunity to coach at a Division II school,” Napp said. “Being around that caliber of athletes and coaches gives you an appreciation of the talent it takes to participate at that level. It’s remarkable the time commitment these student athletes put into it year round to continue to get better both as an individual and as a team. I am very appreciative to coach John Szentesy giving me full access to the program. It is a great connection to still have available for our Towanda program as well.”
One thing that makes this transition back to Towanda easier is that Napp spent some time with Towanda’s program in recent years.
“Coach (Matt) Johnson gave the opportunity to be a part of the team two years ago,” Napp said. “It certainly helps already knowing a few of the players. When I was coaching from 2011-14, coach Johnson and coach Mattocks were a part of the coaching staff then, so there is still some familiarity with terminology and expectations. Coach (Jeff) Innocenzo, who also played a large role in our success will be coming back this year as well.”
Napp knows he has work to do in order to get the Black Knights back to the top of the league.
“The expectations and standards will remain the same as they were with every team we have coached at Towanda,” Napp said. “There are no shortcuts, and we must change our habits to get the results we want. These past two weeks have been a lot of fun and we are excited to be working the kids that we have right now.”
The last time Gentile was coaching was with the Troy girls’ program.
Now, he’s back, this time with the Black Knights.
“Coach (Joe) Jacoski and I are both super excited to get back in the coaching gig,” Gentile said. “We have both been out of it for a few years and we both feel like we have something positive to offer these kids and this program, so why not? Plus, we spent a long-time coaching against each other and had a lot of good battles, and some not so good, so we are definitely looking forward to joining forces. Joe is a really good coach and a great teacher of the game, so we all feel very fortunate he decided to come out of “retirement” as well.
“We are both very familiar with the girls’ programs in the NTL, even though there have been quite a few coaching changes since our departure! From what I was able to watch last year and what I have reviewed on film already these coaches are really good. Plus, I am really looking forward to some good battles again with some old friends and coaches I respect a ton, like Jason Dominic, Brian Miller and Eileen Spardutti. We all go back quite aways! “
Gentile hadn’t really been seeking out a coaching opportunity, but when this job became available he thought it was something worth pursuing.
“ Honestly, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get back into coaching, but when this job came available, it really forced me to think about the possibility. After discussing with my wife, just to make sure she wouldn’t divorce me (or worse), I decided to throw my hat in the ring.
“The other thing that made this appealing to me were already established relationships with AD, Paul Lantz, and High School Principal, Rebecca Stanfield. I knew they were 2 people that I could work with, and more importantly, I could trust. Plus, it helped to know that I had a group of talented athletes that, from everything I was told, truly loved basketball. From what I’ve seen so far that couldn’t be more true. What is even more impressive is they are really hard workers that are committed to being the best they can be. I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to coach all of them and see what we can achieve together.”
Gentile knows this team has a lot of potential.
“Looking at the roster, there are legitimately a million possibilities. I have never coached a team with this much size across the board. Not too many high school girls’ coaches could put five 6 footers on the floor at the same time. Something some people may see at times this year. It helps to have 2 or 3 of them that can handle the ball, get to the rim, and be able to shoot it from distance. If we play our cards right, we could be a match-up nightmare. We have a long way to go before we get to that point, however.
“This on top of the fact that we have a ton of talented young players that are ready to take that next step. The coaches in this program, especially in our youth program, have really done a great job of preparing these kids, and getting them excited about the game of basketball. My hat is off to them! Towanda Youth Basketball has a lot of people in place at those levels that work extremely hard getting kids interested and teaching them the game. I haven’t experienced anything quite like it in any other coaching job I’ve had.”
The past few years Gentile has still been around the game, watching his daughter Morgan go from Troy, to three years with Elmira High School, and now she is off to play Division I for St. Bonaventure.
“Obviously, my daughter had a lot to do with me getting out of coaching initially, but I wouldn’t say it was the only reason I left. Sometimes we let coaching get in the way of more important things in life. It was time to put my focus elsewhere. My daughter was chasing a dream and it was my job as her dad to help her catch it. Ironically, along that 3-4 year journey I learned more about basketball than I had in the previous 20 plus years of coaching.
“Just watching and observing some of the best in the business, Rob Baxter and Mike Constantine with the BNY Select Program, and Andy Scott at Horseheads who arguably runs the best girl’s basketball program in the state of NY. I’ve watched some of the top talented girls High School and AAU programs in the country and some of the best talent around. I just kind of took it all in mentally and realized there were alternative ways to coach. This is my shot to apply what I’ve learned and see what happens.”
One challenge for Gentile is taking over the team during an odd season where they didn’t have a normal offseason, and now the season will get a later start.
“Obviously, Covid is not making this transition easy, but we all learn to adapt, but we will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest in the health and safety of the kids. It has definitely limited us, but it has had the same effect on everybody. We were able to get a few open gym sessions in late in the summer, mostly just to get to know each other a little, and we started back up earlier this month, going a couple days per week. We’re still just trying to establish expectations and begin developing those relationships.
“ It is hard getting to know each other under these circumstances. Obviously, we have all heard some things about each other. I was familiar with some of them and did get to see them play a couple times last year. I’m not so sure they knew what to expect from me though. I’m sure they all heard some things, some good and maybe some not, but I think they realize that I am there to help them, not just to yell at them. They are starting to understand that it is my job to get the most out of them and that is exactly what I am going to try to do. Right now, it’s really about building expectations and setting standards that we want to uphold. We are not re-inventing the wheel; they know how to play the game. We just want to be a little more consistent in how we play the game and a little work with the passion we intend to play it.”