Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Most Underrated Team on Long Island - Part II - Mateyko Keeps the Eagles Soaring

This is part two of my two part series on St Joseph's Eagles basketball.

As I noted in the first part of the series, I interviewed Coach John Mateyko four years ago for my site.  The Eagles were in the midst of their second successful season in a row, the second of now many for St. Joseph's.  In that interview, he noted to me when he first started coaching that “Our first year we only had five guys who played high school ball. We had six guys on the bench who never played in high school.”

Mateyko is only a part time coach.  He is still a full time financial planner.  But he has a long history in basketball.  He first played at Archbishop Malloy under the legendary Jack Curran.  Mateyko then played at American International under one of Curran’s disciples, Jim Larranaga, the current University of Miami Florida coach, of course most well known as the former head coach of George Mason, who went to the Final Four in 2006.  Larranaga also played for Curran at Archbishop Malloy.

Mateyko said about Curran in my previous interview, “He’s it. That’s where you learn. Larranaga learned from him.  I learned from Larranaga.  I try to take as much as possible from them”.  I remember Coach Mateyko showing me a picture of himself with Larranaga, a good friend whom he talks to often.

After playing at American International, he was a graduate assistant coach there, where he coached former NBA guard Mario Elie, who played for the Houston Rockets during their championship teams.  He became an assistant coach at St Mary’s Manhasset for his best friend Tim Cluess, who is now the head coach of Iona.  Then Mateyko became an assistant at SUNY Maritime for four years, two as associate head coach.  Then he was hired as the St Joseph’s head coach in 2001.

It took some time, but St Joseph's has made the postseason five years in a row and should make it for a sixth time this season.  His 2008-09 team won the Skyline Conference Championship and made the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in the history of the program.  That team featured two terrific players, David Acree, the all time leading scorer in St. Joseph's history and J.J.Walsh, a former NAIA Player of the Year.  They lost to DeSales in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. DeSales went to the Elite Eight that season.

This season, including their win over Purchase, St. Joseph's is 15-2 and 11-0 in the Skyline Conference.  They have a road win over once #18 ranked Eastern Connecticut in the D3Hoops.Com Poll (now no longer ranked as of this week). St Joseph's also currently has fifteen votes in the latest D3Hoops.Com Poll.   One of their two losses is a respectable fifteen point loss to Yale, so the Eagles only have one Division III loss.

Including this season so far, in his last six seasons Coach Matyeko's record is 116-40. His team has appeared in three Skyline Tournament Championship games, four ECAC Tournament appearances and the aforementioned NCAA Division III Tournament appearance in 2009.

Here is the transcript of my interview with Coach Mateyko before his win over Purchase.  My questions are in italics, while Coach Matyeko's answers are in regular text.


Coach, talk to me about how your team has been so successful.

We have the same group for two years.  This group as juniors, we lost two of our big guys.  So last year we basically said "Let's have fun.  We'll throw five guards out there and see what happens." We spread the court out and we found out that we gave a lot of people problems.  So now, last year they were 22-7.  We just missed the NCAA. I was told we were the 63rd team and they let 62 in.  They come back this year, the same kids and they play well together. We're too small, but you know when we shoot the ball well, we're real good. We're real good to watch.

You're averaging 85-86 points per game, but you are also playing good defense.  You're third in the Skyline in Field goal percentage defense at 41 percent.

We throw a lot of junk at people. But it's no secret, our major problem is that we're weak down low.  We haven't been able to combat that.  We haven't led a game in rebounding in two years.  But this team in two years has compiled a 36-9 record. We're a pretty good group.

But you can win without rebounding.  You're at the top of the Skyline in three important categories; assists to turnover ratio, turnover margin and field goal percentage defense.

Right, all three of them. And the last one is assists.  We do well with handing out the ball to each other. They're great. We have three guards that basically are three point guards and they are very tough to cover as the league has found out.  The shame of the whole thing is that in about ten to twelve games I won't have this group anymore.  So we'll reload for next year.  We have seven seniors, five of them are starters who log over 30 minutes a piece.  It will be tough next year, but we're already recruiting and we've got some kids coming in,

So we're lucky on that end and I don't know where the next eight games will end up. I was telling these guys the other night, I felt bad, these kids have done so much. We beat East Conn(Eastern Connecticut, currently #18 in D3Hoops.Com's Top 25 Poll)...

I was going to talk to you about that, that's a huge win for you on the road. They're ranked.

Yeah, it was in their tournament. We were fortunate to play well and stick it out. That was really due to senior leadership. Then we went up to Yale, which was a lot of fun.

That was one of my questions. How did you get that game?

What happened is that there are a few things that I have been trying to do for ten years. It's your bucket list. One of the items in the bucket list was trying to get a game against a Division I team.  One, it helps out the program because you get a monetary payment for the program, it helps us out on our next trip next year some place.

We asked West Point, we asked Columbia, who was advertising.  Both of them turned us down.  They said you won twenty two games. That's a lot games for us to risk to play against somebody.  Coach Jones (James Jones, head coach of Yale) was nice enough to say yes and fit us in.  I was up there for a coaching clinic up in Yale three years ago and I just loved the place.  I thought it was good experience for the kids to go up there.

So we went up there and in the first four minutes they run out to a 29-4 lead.  So I looked at my assistant Charlie and said "Maybe this wasn't such a great idea."  But at 29-4, they sat back.  And the one thing we can do is shoot.  We outscored them 36-14 in the next ten minutes.

So the beauty of the whole deal, it really comes down to this; With a minute and a half left to go in the first half, Coach Jones calls timeout and the game is tied.  For just that one minute and a half, our team felt they belonged on a Division I court.  That was the fun of the whole deal.

You only lost that game by fifteen points.

Yeah, we didn't go away, but the kid Mangano (Greg Mangano) is so good. He's terrific.

Your philosophy is the same since you started with St Mary's with Tim (Cluess).  You like to run. You could say it's a variation of Paul Westhead's "The System".

Yeah. I think it's hard to prepare against a team that's you know is going to score eighty five points.  That's what we bring. That's what that system brings.  It puts a lot of pressure on the other team to say "Hey, we're going to have to put the ball in (the basket) tonight."

Your team really values ball possession, even though you really like to run.  Is that something you really worked on?

We work on every day with different drills. But the real reason is we don't lose the ball is that two of our guards, Trey Black and Chris  Jimenez, really were point guards in high school.  They have the mentality of point guards. They handle the ball like point guards.  And Trey and Chris are two good point guards, so that's why we don't lose the ball much.

You have seven seniors.  They all log a lot of minutes. How have they progressed over the four years?  They were all a part of that 2008-09 team that made the NCAA Division III Tournament.  Was that a valuable experience for them?

I think so.  In the case of Trey Black, he played on that team a minute before the end of the first half and the last minute pf the game.  He was a skinny kid who kept getting better, better and better.  Olivier Laurent, we always knew he had the talent.  We just had to figure out how to use it.  And Chris Jimenez, he was the starting point guard on that good team.  He's never changed.  He just always been really good.

Compare the two teams, the 2008-09 Tournament Team and this team.

There's no comparison.  The tournament team was much better. This team is a great shooting team and they do a lot of things that people can't cover.  But Acree was very good (David Acree, St Joseph's all time leading scorer) and J.J Walsh was very good.  This team doesn't have an Acree or J.J. Walsh.  So it's a little different.  This is more of a combination of five guys moving the ball, shooting the ball and playing well together.  The other team had two players that were better than everyone else on the court that night.

Right now, you're 14-2, 10-0 in conference.  You won at Eastern Connecticut and you received some votes in the latest D3Hoops.Com poll.  What do you think your chances are for an at large bid if you don't win the Skyline Tournament?

You know, when you get to an at large, you're really asking the basketball gods to give you a break.  I think we would be deserving of an at large right now.  But you have to finish out the season.  I don't think the NCAA committee values the Skyline Conference as they should.  We have three or four teams that can play with anybody.   I think that with a full resume and we keep on doing what we're supposed to be doing, we should get an at large.  But you never know. We have to win our tournament.


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