|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XXI NUMBER 2 Winter 2006|
Battling for Brooklyn
When Brian Nash '92 stepped to the podium to accept the position of head men's basketball coach at St. Francis College of Brooklyn, N.Y., last spring, he was fulfilling a dream that began soon after he completed his standout four-year career at Keene State. The son of a high school coaching legend, Nash had weighed his options – including teaching and playing overseas – before deciding to pursue a coaching career. It may have been his destiny.
"When you're a coach's son, it's tough to get out," Nash said. "Either you want to be in it because you see what your father did, or you know it's something you definitely don't want to do. There's no middle ground."
And now the career is taking Nash into combat with another KSC alumnus – in the Battle of Brooklyn.
Taking over a Division I basketball team is no easy task, but Nash, who paid his dues as an assistant at St. Bonaventure, Siena, and Seton Hall, was ready for the challenge.
"It came to a point where I thought I knew enough," Nash explained. "You get sick of being an assistant. And you rarely have a chance to get a Division I head coaching job. There are only 327 in the country – it's a privilege."
In many ways, Nash began preparing for the job as a boy growing up in Floral Park, N.Y. Tagging along with his father, Ray, a coach at Bishop Ford High School in Brooklyn, Nash had the opportunity to meet some of the city's top coaches and players. Later, playing for his father, Nash made a name for himself on the court by earning All-Brooklyn and All-City honors.
"When you're the coach's son and you can shoot a little bit, you get a lot of plays set for you," Nash said. "But if you don't make those shots in a game, instead of getting a ride home you have to take the train."
Recruited to play at Keene State by former Owls assistant and current Plymouth State coach John Scheinman M'89, Nash turned down several Division I offers in order to play at KSC. "We picked a situation where I liked the school and the coach, and where I could play," Nash said. "To me that was important – I wanted to go someplace where I'd get a chance to play a lot."
Nash, a point guard, moved into Keene State's starting line-up as a sophomore. Playing alongside teammate Jimmy Ferry '90, who would become a close friend and mentor, Nash developed into one of the top backcourt players in the highly competitive New England Collegiate Conference. Although wins were scarce and Nash sacrificed his own scoring to run the team on the court, he didn't regret his decision to come to Keene State.
"The record wasn't what you want it to be, but the friendships I had with my teammates are something I will never forget," Nash said. "I try to take something away from all my experiences, and I certainly have fond memories of my days at Keene State."
In addition to his friendship with teammates, Nash also developed a close bond with his coach, Don Kelbick. Even during his playing days, Nash spent countless hours in the basketball office dissecting the game. "Brian was a student of the game," recalls Kelbick, now living near Miami, Fla. "There was never a question in my mind that he'd go far in the coaching profession."
Inspired by Ferry, who served as an Owl assistant coach during Nash's final season, he decided to begin his climb up the long and sometimes treacherous coaching ladder.
Returning to New York, where he worked as an assistant for his father, Nash also took the opportunity to network with coaches at numerous camps. After landing a graduate assistant position at Sacred Heart University, Nash moved on to St. Bonaventure as its "restricted earnings" assistant coach. Nash credits Bonnies coach Jim Baron for not only teaching him every aspect of running a Division I program, but also developing a philosophy that served him well during his rise in the coaching ranks.
"Jim always said to us, think like a head coach and act like an assistant," said Nash, who passes along the same advice to his current staff.
After spending six years at St. Bonaventure, including the 1999-2000 season when the Cinderella Bonnies lost a first-round, double-overtime thriller to Kentucky, Nash joined Louis Orr's staff at Siena. Heeding the advice of his dad to work with different coaches, Nash thought he could learn a lot from Orr, who had played at one time for such coaching greats as Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino and Hubie Brown in the NBA. After one successful season at Siena, Nash went along with Orr to Seton Hall.
After four years with the SHU Pirates, Nash finally saw his perseverance pay off when he was offered the head coach job at St. Francis. No one appreciated the hard work needed to become a head coach more than Nash. "Coaching is a fraternity and everyone realizes that when you're the low guy on the totem pole, you've got to work your tail off," he said. "You start to make a name for yourself, develop relationships and contacts. The one person I give the most credit to is my wife, Kristen. She was my best recruit ever. She's my rock."
Throughout the long interview process at St. Francis, Nash often sought the advice of Ferry, now in his fourth season directing the program at Long Island University. "Brian and I spent a long time talking about it," Ferry said. "It's a challenging job, like any at this level, but he's a young, energetic guy with ties to the area. He can do a great job. I think it's a great opportunity for him."
Although he had interviewed for several head coaching positions, the job at St. Francis was special for Nash. Not only was he coming home, he was also coaching at his father's alma mater. Ironically, Ray Nash played on the last St. Francis team to go to the post-season, an NIT berth in 1963.
There was one other draw to the job. St. Francis and Long Island University are both members of the Northeast Conference, so Nash and Ferry will get to match coaching wits twice a season, including the infamous "Battle of Brooklyn."
The two schools, located just a mile apart, began their court rivalry in 1974. This year's battle will take place Feb. 27 at LIU. "You get a lot of big time lawyers and doctors, and all the alums come back," said Ferry. "The presidents of the schools, the borough presidents come out – it's the only away game in the country you can walk to. It's a big deal for Brooklyn. Now that it's two college roommates going at it, the game will be even more interesting."
With one KSC grad on each bench, the friendly rivalry between Nash and Ferry will be renewed. Nash jokingly recalls the early days of the rivalry. "Jimmy threatened me when I first got to Keene State that if I didn't pass the ball to him, he was going to rough me up," said Nash with a laugh. "I had to pass the ball to him for his 30-foot bombs. Jimmy never got inside the three-point line at either end of the floor."
As far as coaching against Ferry, Nash knows it will be an intense game. "We're both very motivated competitors, but we're not going to lose sight of what the game is," he said. "Our relationship is close enough where if Jimmy beats me, I'll be mad we lost, but I'll be happy for him. Ultimately I want both of us to be successful."
Stuart Kaufman is KSC's sports information coordinator.