When Moraine Valley hired Anthony Amarino in 2016, they said the previously retired coach had found “the itch” to return. For some coaches, 22 years of coaching junior college basketball is more than enough for one lifetime. Amarino doesn’t share that opinion. It was “just a matter of being bored,” Amarino said about his return to coaching, “I’ve always been coaching.”
When former Cyclones head coach Dave Howard left the program, the Cyclones certainly didn’t have a shortage of suitors. Cyclones athletics director Bill Finn said he had “four amazing coaches” apply for the job including several former Division-I head coaches. However, Amarino’s personal knowledge of junior college basketball set him apart. “He knows junior college basketball, the faster pace,” Finn said “I tried to find a coach very similar to me.”
After 15 years at Morton College and another seven at Harper College, Amarino has made his presence felt in the area. His former athletics director at Harper College, Doug Spiwak called Amarino an “outstanding coach and mentor” to the team and an asset to the college.
Amarino said the current situation at Moraine Valley is unique because “you never see that many kids come back.” Unlike four year colleges, players are only eligible for two seasons on the junior college level. Therefore, having most of the roster return after two consecutive conference championships is rare on this level.
However, there are some drawbacks to having this many kids return. Amarino said it took “a while for the team to play his system” after playing under Dave Howard their first season. But Amarino’s decision to retain Roosevelt Green has certainly helped that transition. Amarino said “[Green] is helluva coach and recruiter… told me all about the team.”
Also new to the program this season is assistant coach Tanner Mitchell. Mitchell, an area native also applied for the head coaching position but was offered the assistant coaching position by Amarino and Finn. Mitchell is younger than Green and Amarino, and Amarino says that helps with recruiting talent from the area. Sophomore Luke Hook says Mitchell “brings balance to the coaching dynamic.”
Recruiting is a major challenge for junior college coaches, it requires extensive knowledge of area high schools and it’s a challenging sales pitch to make. Finn says junior colleges are at a disadvantage because they don’t offer housing and the scope of their recruiting is naturally limited. Apart from Elonas Marcauskas, a Lithuanian born graduate of Council Rock North High School in Pennsylvania and Jordan Radcliff of Columbus, Ohio, all of the players come from within a half hour of the college.
However, Amarino isn’t fazed by this challenge. He has, after all, been coaching for longer than all of his players have been alive. You have to “do your due diligence” and recruit “the best players you can,”Amarino said.
Finn says the market for junior college coaches is limited because of the long hours and low pay. However, Amarino was a perfect fit for what the Cyclones needed. “He’s retired and he’s available,” Finn said. Amarino’s scheduling flexibility was also a major key for Finn. Some previous coaches including Dave Howard had day jobs, forcing practices to be held late at night. Since Amarino is retired from teaching, he is free to hold practices whenever players are available.
Amarino says he has “three or four” players on this roster who can play elsewhere after this season, including Northern Illinois commit Tommy Demogerontas. While Amarino says he doesn’t do anything different to help players play elsewhere, he says his offense friendly system helps players showcase their skills.
So far this season, the Cyclones have lived and died shooting the basketball. Finn says the Cyclones struggle in the paint without an inside presence. However, for Amarino this is just another piece of the puzzle to figure out because “you never know what you’re going to get.”
Because of the constant roster turnover at this level, it’s hard to have a concrete “system” because no two rosters will look the same, even a year apart. Whereas at four-year universities, coaches have the freedom to recruit nationally to suit their system, junior college coaches like Amarino must constantly rework and adapt their system to the roster at hand.
His players, including sophomore Jordan Radcliff say Amarino is helping them develop into players who can play on the next level. “[Amarino] and coach Green have really turned me into a true point guard this year,” Radcliff said “I’ve made major improvements since last year.” Radcliff, who plans on playing elsewhere after this season, says the players are putting the team first this year for a chance to win conference again.
Hook says the biggest advantage to having someone as experienced as Amarino is having someone who knows “a lot about other teams and what to expect.” Finn called Amarino “well-prepared” and when someone coaches against largely the same teams for over two decades, it certainly helps to know your opponents.
The Cyclones have hit some rough patches so far this season and are in the midst of a four game losing streak, losing their previous two games by a combined five points. However, this isn’t anything Amarino hasn’t seen. Then again, after 22 years of coaching, there isn’t much Amarino hasn’t seen.