Saturday, September 1, 2012

Former Jasper Coach Chiesa Returns To NBA Ranks

A couple of posts ago we reported about the continuing NBA career of former Siena and Fairfield assistant coach Steve Clifford, who will be entering his 13th season of service at that level.

When we made the post, we also offered that Clifford was the longest-tenured former MAAC coach in terms of NBA employment. At the time, that was true. But, it's not any longer.

When the post was written, former Manhattan head coach Gordon Chiesa was not actively employed by an NBA team. That, though, changed earlier this week when Chiesa was hired as a "special adviser" to newly hired Orlando Magic head coach Jacques Vaughn.

This coming season will be Chiesa's 22nd in the NBA, 16 with the Utah Jazz (1989-90 through 1994-95) and five with the Memphis Grizzlies. And, that's if one doesn't count last season when he was a consultant for the NBA's developmental league.

Your blogger had several opportunities to interact with Chiesa when during his Manhattan days when I was an upstate New York newspaper guy and the Jaspers had two prominent players from my area, guard John Leonard and forward Tim Cain, as key contributors.

Chiesa was a witty, wise-cracking and extremely hard-working, knowledgeable individual back then and, by all reports, remains pretty much the same about 30 years later. His annual coaches clinic he conducts at Manhattan remains one of the most popular and best-attended of its kind.

Chiesa has been around for so long that when he served a season as head coach at Providence College (1987-88), one of his assistants was Jeff Van Gundy, who went on to be head coach of the Knicks and Houston Rockets before his current stint as a very successful NBA color commentator for network TV.

Chiesa directed the Manhattan program from 1981-82 (the first season of the MAAC's existende) through 1984-85. Although the Jaspers weren't wildly successful, the team's 15-13 overall ecord in 1982-83 was enough for him to be named the conference's Coach of the Year.

Chiesa's overall record at Manhattan was 18-35 in league play and 45-68 overall. He left Manhattan to become an assistant coach at Providence under Rick Pitino for two seasons. When Pitino abruptly left Providence to become head coach of the New York Knicks in the summer of 1987, Chiesa was promoted to become the Friars' head coach.

Pitino's last season at Providence resulted in a Billy Donovan-led trip to the NCAA's Final Four. But, with Donovan gone after that season, Chiesa's only years as Providence's coach resulted in an 11-17 record and he was dismissed after that season.

That set the stage for his move to the NBA, an affiliation which, now, is entering its 22nd season and making Chiesa the MAAC connection with the longest-tenured connection with the highest professional league.

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