By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jack Perri spent seven years as former LIU-Brooklyn head men's basketball coach Jim Ferry's right-hand man.
Now that Perri is running the two-time defending Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds, he's been carefully putting together what he hopes will be a title-winning staff of his own.
On Wednesday, Perri announced the additions of assistant coaches Mark Calzonetti and Chuck Bridge to his bench. The new duo will join five-year assistant Jason Harris next to Perri when the 2012-13 season begins.
Calzonetti comes to Downtown Brooklyn after spending two seasons as an assistant at Iona, helping the Gaels to a 50-20 record and an NCAA Tournament berth during his tenure. He played a key role in all facets of the Iona program, including recruiting, advance scouting, practice and game planning.
Calzonetti coached four all-conference performers in two seasons and saw the Gaels earn the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship in 2012, posting a 15-3 conference mark to match the program record for league victories.
“Mark has always been very well respected within the coaching profession,” Perri said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and a wealth of experience both coaching and recruiting at the Division I level. Most importantly, he is a truly good person that has a real passion for the game that will translate well with our players.”
Prior to his stint at Iona, Calzonetti spent 11 seasons as an assistant at conference rival Monmouth. He helped guide the Hawks to three trips to the NCAA Tournament, also claiming two NEC regular-season titles. He was primarily responsible for handling the program's frontcourt players, along with recruiting.
Calzonetti figures to lend a hand at LIU with two of the conference's top forwards in seniors Jamal Olasewere and reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd.
Bridge will be making a return to the Blackbirds' bench after serving as Ferry's director of basketball operations from 2006-08. He worked as an assistant at Dartmouth during the 2011-12 season after one season in a similar role at Trinity College, where he served as recruiting coordinator and helped the team advance to the NESCAC semifinals.
“I am excited to have Chuck return to LIU after five years,” Perri said. “As our director of basketball operations he was a loyal, relentless worker that also had a really good feel for the game. He has been ready for this opportunity and I am confident that he will do a great job for us.”
Ferry, who guided the Blackbirds to their first-ever back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances before taking over head coaching duties at Duquesne in March, strongly recommended Perri to assume his former position. LIU, which also captured its second consecutive regular-season NEC title, returns most of the key players from a roster that went 25-9 overall with a 16-2 mark in league play.
Perri's Blackbirds will also carry a 27-game home winning streak — the second-longest current run in the nation — into November's season opener.
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Over on Remsen Street, St.Francis women's head coach John Thurston, who took over for Brenda Milano following her resignation after nine seasons at the helm earlier this year, announced a coaching staff addition of his own this week.
Former Vanderbilt star and Columbia University assistant Nettie Respondek will join Thurston on the bench in 2012-13 as the Terriers try to rebound from four consecutive dismal seasons in which they compiled only 12 wins.
Respondek, who also had an assistant's position at Fordham from 2006-08, is relishing the opportunity to turn the Terriers around.
“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be a part of the St. Francis women's basketball program and I feel lucky to be working with Coach Thurston,” said Respondek. “We have a great returning nucleus of players and I am confident that coach Thurston will lead this program to great things in the coming years. I am looking forward to bringing my passion for the game and my experience playing and coaching to help St. Francis College compete in the Northeast Conference.”
Respondek helped the Lady Commodores to the NCAA Sweet 16 as a player in the late 1990s. The two-way guard was a three-time Southeastern Conference honor roll selection off the court, while leading Vandy in assists in 1996-97 and steals in 1997-98.
“I'm really pleased that Nettie will be joining our staff," Thurston said. "I feel very comfortable with her and I know our players will feel the same way. She was a great player and has that mentality and perspective that comes from being an outstanding athlete. Nettie will be heavily involved with player development and will direct our scouting and grading systems. She has been a recruiting coordinator in the A-10 while at Fordham and recruited nationally at Columbia. That experience will help us tremendously in recruiting.”
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In other local hoops news, the boys and girls aged 6-16 who attended Poly Prep's Basketball Camp this week got a very special visit from an NBA coach.
Boston Celtics assistant Mike Longabardi, who grew up with Blue Devils varsity basketball coach Bill McNally in Bay Ridge, spent some time at the Country Day School Monday, talking over the finer points of the game, and life in general, with the rapt audience of youngsters.
“I was here like you,” Longabardi told the campers. “You could be sitting next to the next NBA star.”
Longabardi explained how hard work earned him an assistant coaching job at Adelphi University before he broke into the NBA as an assistant with the Houston Rockets. Longabardi joined the Celtics in the 2007-08 season, and was there next to head coach Doc Rivers in their battle against LeBron James and the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this month.
“You have to have a plan,” Longabardi counseled. “How are you going to get better? Don’t do anything half way.”
All the best players “have a routine,” he said. “They work on their craft every day.”
“When it gets tough,” Longabardi added, “you have to dig deeper. When it doesn’t go your way, you have to concentrate…. When you fail, learn from the experience.”
Longabardi also challenged the young campers during his talk.
“This week at camp set goals,” he said. “If it is to be able to dribble with your left hand, on Friday be able to. On Friday, I’ll call coach McNally and ask if you all have gotten better. On Friday, be a better player than you are on Monday.”
After taking questions from the campers, Longabardi reminded them to thank “whoever brought you to camp today — mom, dad, or grandma — and gave you this opportunity.”
Poly’s Basketball Camp runs from June 18-22 and June 25-29 and is open to boys and girls.