If you are a student-athlete, one of the most important people in your life, in addition to your professors, is your coach. That is especially true for the members of the men’s basketball team here at Lesley. I had the good fortune to work for an outstanding coach, Chris Giordano. And I am disappointed to learn that he will not be coming back next season.
As I discussed in a previous article, men’s basketball at Lesley University is still relatively new: our first games were played only twelve years ago. While the team had its share of wins and made it to the playoffs several times, even a losing season can be a learning experience. This past year, the Lynx finished at 13-14 over all (although we broke even, 7-7, in conference play). It was a season of injuries and disappointments, but it was also a season where we never gave up and where we kept persevering, no matter what. Whether we won or lost, the one person who has been there for us, to motivate, encourage, and teach us the skills we need to improve has been our coach.
Chris Giordano, also known as “Coach G,” spent the past four years as the head coach of men’s basketball; he arrived in June 2014, after serving as the associate head coach at Rivier University in Nashua, N.H. for three years. At Lesley, Giordano also became the recruiting coordinator for a roster that featured players from throughout the New England region and the country. In addition, he served as the academic liaison for the team, which responded by raising its cumulative GPA each season.
He took on the challenge of making improvements to Lesley’s men’s basketball program at a time when the team was “…on the ropes to say the least.” Coach Giordano inherited a team that not only wasn’t winning; the players “had no chemistry or camaraderie; there was sniping, backstabbing and the constant need to one-up teammates, for the purpose of putting individuals before the program.” But Coach Giordano was ready. His own experience in college basketball showed that he understood what needed to be done. A graduate of Rivier University, he had played for four years on their men’s basketball team. During his time as a student-athlete, the Rivier Raiders appeared in the GNAC Tournament four times, and he helped to lead the program to its first ever GNAC Championship, as well as an NCAA Tournament Appearance in 2006-2007; he also won several awards himself, including the Unsung Hero Award (which he won twice).
Coach Giordano not only rebuilt the Lynx basketball team; he rebuilt the culture. He fostered an environment where teamwork was what mattered. Results were not instant: during his first season of rebuilding, the Lynx recorded only five wins and twenty losses. But the attitude on the team was changing, and that was as important as winning games. The next year, the team also had a losing season, but the coach was not discouraged, and he never stopped believing in his players. The very next season, the Lynx had a big breakthrough. They won a school record sixteen games, and they made the playoffs. And although they fell short, they still reached the conference semifinals.
In the 2017-2018 season a sophomore transfer student, who happened to be from Cambridge, joined the team—me. Coach Giordano trusted me, and he encouraged me to join the Lynx family, with the goal of winning a championship. Although we did not accomplish that goal, I still met some great people, and I felt like I was a part of something bigger than just basketball; that is exactly what I was looking for.
When I interviewed the coach, we discussed the team’s dynamics. He said, “the relationship with our players [has been] very strong. A lot of programs preached family, but we really lived it… Our relationships went beyond the basketball court, not just with each other but with our extended families too. There are moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who were very involved in our program and with me directly. Our guys went out there and would run through walls for each other and our program, because of the strength of our relationships off the court.”
But this past year’s team was hampered by injuries to key players, such as when Xeo Golding tore his achilles. And yet, no matter how many obstacles we faced, Coach Giordano was there to encourage and motivate. At the end of this year, our players were looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season… until several surprising events occurred. One was a change in our gym. Lesley University is a small school, located in Cambridge, where (as we all know) space is limited. The university does not have its own gym. Now, the Lynx home gym will probably be moved to Medford, which may not be an ideal situation for anyone involved.
But it was the other change that was more disappointing: Chris Giordano and his staff will not be able to return for next season. Finances seemed to be one factor. Coach Giordano said, “I feel like our athletic administration did their best to keep us, but we have limited resources, making this a difficult situation. Our athletic department supported us from the start and let us build the program our way, but we just don’t have the resources to continue what we’re doing.” He went on to say, “I wanted to return badly for next season. As I sensed my resignation was coming, my mind was racing. There was a lot going through my head, trying to play out scenarios like if I would be able to stay dedicated through the gym change, or how would my guys take the news? How would I break it to them? It was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make… We had accomplished so much together, and they were the ones who believed we could be great when there was no reason to. They have given so much to our program, I felt like I was letting them all down… There’s many reasons why I want to return – we’re young, we have great chemistry, we have great people, we have great players, but I really wanted to come back for next year because I’m so proud of what we built… It’s going to be tough to watch that from a distance next year.”
The Lynx will have a new head coach for next season and it is up in the air which players will return and which new players will join. What is next for the former Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Chris Giorgando is also unknown at this time. But his players had a lot to say when they heard that he would not be returning. Space does not permit quotes from every player, but here are a few examples of the admiration his players had for their coach. Xeo Golding said: “Coach G is the main reason I came to Lesley. He always demanded the best out of me and pushed me to be great not only the court, but in all aspects of life.” That sentiment was echoed by Joey Martin: “Coach G is basically the only reason why I decided to go to Lesley in the first place. Now that he has left, a lot of things will be different. He has impacted my career in a big way, by giving me a second chance and allowing me to be able to continue my career.” Chase Howard added: “Coach G was a great leader, regardless of seasons outcome. I am still a freshman, so I was still figuring out everything he wanted in terms of game-plans, and coaching tendencies, but we had a great connection our first year together. He was one of the best basketball minds that has ever coached me and he’s a great man.” And Marquise Johnson observed: “Coach G is a coach that really genuinely cares about his players. He knows the game inside and out. He preps like no other. One thing I will take with me forever is I will preach togetherness. I will do this because it will have a major impact on success. He stood by that!”
I reached out to Athletic Director Jen Benway, who had nothing but praise for the coach. She wrote to me that “Coach Giordano will truly be missed at Lesley University. He came to Lesley during a time when we needed a major culture shift for the men’s basketball program. He eagerly accepted the challenge and in a very short amount of time, the team became an extension of his family. The men’s team learned to represent Lesley with pride and sportsmanship, and [they] committed to getting better every day. This is a true testament to Coach G who instilled these values into his team. I want to thank Chris and his staff for all of their hard work and positive contributions to the men’s basketball program.”
As for what happens now, she said that “the coaching position has been posted and we already have a large number of highly qualified candidates who want to coach at Lesley. I’m confident that with the help of the search committee and the team, we will find the right coach who will build upon the great success that Coach Giordano leaves behind.” But many of the players still wish Coach Giordano could stay. I am one of them. As I said earlier, I will always be grateful because he took a chance on me. Before coming to Lesley, I did not even know if my college basketball career was going to continue. Thanks to him, my growth this year was amazing. Coach G and the rest of the staff put in the work for us to succeed on and off the court. He will be truly missed at Lesley.