Tuesday, August 6, 2013

MANO-E-MANO With: Ossining Head Coach Dan Ricci

Gatsby believed in the green light.

 Ossining coach Dan Ricci believed in the biggest green light in Section I, giving prolific scorer Saniya Chong the keys to the program’s high-scoring engine.

 The current UConn freshman embraced the role every step of the way, too, without a trace of trepidation. Shy and humble off the court, Chong laced loud 3-pointers, shredded defenders off the dribble and converted steals into fast break layups about as  quickly as any guard in the country.

The proof is in the production tree.

Chong averaged 34.4 points, 9.1 assists, and 5.6 rebounds while spearheading Ossining to its first New York State title.

She was named Parade Magazine National Player of the Year. She set the Section I scoring record while subsequently scoring a NY state record 928 points in a single season her senior campaign.

Chong’s game rose with the level of competition. The bigger the game, the bigger the performance.

That told the story in Chong's final year under Ricci, a devout Section I junkie who spent much of his summer shaping his 2013-2014 team on the AAU circuit.

During a 90-84 win over Section I power Irvington, Chong went off for 51 points.

The slim guard hung 46 points to propel Ossining past a plenty-tough St. Anthony (Long Island) team, 80-69.

Against Queens powerhouse Christ The King, Chong poured in 33—in the second half. She totaled 46 points in that barnburner, keying a 89-84 Ossining win.

  Chong was inundated with consistent, mailbox-loads of scholarship offers. Every high-major you can possibly rattle off expressed interest in the 5-foot-9 guard.

While Chong leaves an immeasurable void and surely a tough act to follow, she’ll be around equivalent talent at UCONN.

There is ample time and room for her game to grow, room for her to get stronger. At the same time, Ossining will re-load while thirsting for another Gold Ball.

We caught up with Ossining head coach DAN RICCI today, canvassing Chong’s recruitment, the confrontational and controversial Geno Auriemma, and the future of OSSINING GIRLS BASKETBALL.



ZS: Chong averaged 34.4 points, but what seems to go unnoticed is how she gets those points. It’s easy for people to say ‘She takes every shot.’ Yet when you look at the tape, you see things differently. She buries a quick 3, rips a steal and turns it into a simple fast break layup, then knifes through a pair of defenders for a 3-point play. She seems lethal for her spurt-ability. What is it that separates her so much from other talented guards of her type?


DR: What separates her, in my opinion, is she can do it all. Some can shoot threes. Some can slash. Some can pass. Some can create for others. She can do ALL of those things and do them well!


ZS: Despite his legacy, UConn Coach  Geno Auriemma seems to gets a bad rap by the mainstream media. Some folks antagonize him and make him sound like a confrontational, mean-spirited guy. Yet after reading his book, seeing Diana Taurasi and several other players’ quotes, there is no doubt his players love him and have benefited tremendously from his guidance.  He is hard but he is fair, no question. How did Coach Aueriemma and the Huskies reel Saniya in?


DR: Coach has been straight forward and honest with us from Day 1. Everyone else told Saniya she would be this and that. Coach Auriemma did not promise anything, other than the chance to compete for time and the opportunity to win National Championships! On her official visit, we had dinner at his house with his family and the entire team. He made us all feel at home and you could see how well everyone got along with each other. Saniya said it was that family atmosphere that she desired.


ZS: Rewind the clock back to 2010. Packed County Center. Section I championship against Mount Vernon. Saniya is a shy freshman at the time, but her game  suddenly elicits a lot of talking. She drops 38 points, putting on an electric crossover display. Tough loss, but after the game you tell the media they just saw the best player in Section I. How has her game grown since that memorable night?


DR: I believe she has been the best player every year she has played here. She went from purely a driver and a passer, to a potent 3-point shooter and a better defensive player. She learned how to take over games when she needed to. She scored more points in less shots each year.


ZS:  Jalay Knowles is stepping into a colossal role this season, especially with Chong and Espinoza-Hunter departing. What are Knowles' expectations, what are the ceilings on her potential? Are there any?


DR: Jalay is more than ready to lead us. If we don't lose Destini and Andra we would have put four definite Division 1 players on the court the next two years, with the possibility of a fifth. That would have been special. However, with Jalay and Shadeen and a group of the hardest working kids I have ever had, I fully expect to compete for a few more Gold Balls.


ZS: Tell me about this summer on the AAU circuit, coach. Who killed it? Who showed flashes?


DR: Shadeen was out all AAU season, due to knee surgery, which gave everyone an opportunity to get more time. Jalay was the most consistent and has drawn interest from Marist, Hofstra, Iona and Siena. Stefanie Svoboda will be our point guard and was our next most consistent kid. Abby Squirrell and Madison Strippoli give us great Size and work ethics. The rest of them improved so much over the course of the AAU season. They all work really hard every day, which is a pleasure to coach.