Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ex-Siena Coach Castelli's New Team Beats Old One

It certainly was more than a little unusual late Saturday morning, on a brief visit with former Siena women's basketball coach Gina Castelli during the Saints' day-of-game shootaround, to see her wearing a Rhode Island sweat suit.

After all, Castelli previously spent about half her life wearing Siena green, as an assistant in that program for a season followed by 22 more seasons as its head coach.

But, Siena opted to go in a different direction with its program after last season and Castelli was brought aboard the Rhode Island staff as its director of player development.

And, coincidentally, a home-and-home series that Castelli set up (Rhode Island was at Siena last season) wound up being the third game on Siena's non-league schedule this year and Castelli wound up on the opposing bench.

She wasn't without a considerable amount of support. About 40 Siena "connected" fans, including a half-dozen former players, made the trek to Kingston, R.I., for the game and sat behind the Rhode Island bench as Castelli's personal rooting section.

It's not the first time a MAAC program's former head coach had to play against his or her former team, but it is somewhat unusual.

Because this was a Siena game, I researched the past times it happened for that program and could only come up with three former Siena head coaches meeting their former team.

The first came in the 1997-98 season when one-time Siena men's head coach Bob Beyer was on the staff of Northwestern and the Saints (then under Paul Hewitt) made the trip there for a game.

Then, former Siena women's coach Jim Jabir, who was at Providence at the time, saw his former team when the Saints played Providence in the 2001-02 season. Coincidentally, Jabir will play against Siena again this season, a Dec. 22nd game at the Saints' Alumni Recreation Center, when his current Dayton team comes to Loudonville, N.Y., for a game.

And, Paul Hewitt, when he was at Georgia Tech, twice went against Siena, those times coming in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Assuredly, it has happened elsewhere. The most-recent that comes to memory was last season when former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley played against the Stags as the head coach at Providence.

On Saturday, Rhode Island rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to earn a 47-39 victory over Siena, and Castelli assuredlycontributed a few pre-game strategy points about playing her former team, currently comprised entirely of players she recruited.

It was Rhode Island's second straight victory after a 27-game losing streak and the Rams, featuring four freshmen among their top six players, seemed poised for some future success in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Rhode Island head coach Cathy Inglese was effusive in her praise for Castelli.

"She is an extremely compassionate individual who truly cares about the best interests of our players both on and off the court," said Inglese. "Personally, she is just the nicest person you could ever meet. And, she brings a wealth of basketball knowledge to our staff."

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