GRAY — As a 21-year-old coaching neophyte, Tony DiBiase didn’t realize how fortunate he was when he took over a thriving Machias boys’ basketball program.
“Probably the easiest job I had was my very first job at Machias, where I walked in and there were four returning starters and they were all real good players,” he said. “Thank God, because I had no clue.”
DiBiase will bring a much different perspective to Gray-New Gloucester, which hired him as its boys’ basketball coach recently. With a career that has spanned 31 years at five different schools and 392 victories, DiBiase knows taking over a new program isn’t as easy as it was at Machias.
“I don’t know many people who go into a program and you just walk in and take over and it’s all set up for you,” he said. “Usually, you have to build.”
DiBiase replaces Scott Flagg, who resigned after four seasons with the Patriots. He has built winning programs at Noble, Gorham, Portland and South Portland, winning state titles at Gorham in 1982, Portland in 1986 and South Portland in 1992.
After 17 seasons at South Portland, DiBiase’s basketball coaching contract wasn’t renewed by school administration in 2007, although he continues to teach phys ed and coach baseball there. He spent the last three years as an assistant to St. Joseph’s College men’s basketball coach Rob Sanicola, but said he has been looking to return to high school coaching for some time.
“I really enjoyed my time at St. Joe’s. That was a great experience for me for those three years,” he said. “Like I always told people, it was like going to graduate school after 31 years of high school.”
“Dealing with high school athletes is more of my niche,” he added. “That’s really the main reason that I was looking around and trying to figure out what I was doing for next season.”
DiBiase said a friend recommended he look into the Gray-New Gloucester opening. The Patriots have been a bubble playoff team the last couple of years, reaching the Western B quarterfinals in 2009, then missing the tournament last year with an 8-10 record. DiBiase said the opportunity to build the program into a perennial contender appealed to him.
“When I spoke to the people in charge, I was impressed not only with the people personally but what they had to say to me and their commitment to try to get their basketball program on that level,” he said.
“It’s one of the bigger Class B schools. There are a lot of positives to the school,” he added. “It’s a challenge to me and a challenge to the community and to the players themselves to get them to the level where they can get to the playoffs year after year.”
The Patriots will graduate top scorer and rebounder Taylor Valente but should bring back a strong backcourt duo in juniors Adam Jensen and Josh Farynaz next year.
“We’ve got a decent nucleus coming back,” DiBiase said. “I saw a tape or two of last year’s team and I thought they were very effective. They were a big, strong, physical team. They were in most of the games. They played Greely, Falmouth and Cape, the three top teams, and they were right there with them.”
DiBiase said he will be flexible to his players’ talents, but the Patriots will play his trademark high-energy style on both ends of the floor, pressing off made and missed shots and pushing the ball on offense.
“That’s basically the only way I know how to coach, and that’s what I’m going to implement at Gray,” he said. “Not only is it fun to watch, but I think it’s fun to play.”
Players will start to find out how fun during the upcoming summer program. With his hiring coming near the end of the school year, DiBiase, 56, doesn’t think he’ll be able to put much of game schedule together, but the Patriots will go to some team camps and have time to learn the new system.
“It may turn out to be OK in that we’ll spend a little bit more time practicing and giving the kids a chance to get to know me and a chance to know the system and for me to get a chance to know them,” he said.
While DiBiase’s hiring closed one vacancy, another coaching spot opened up to the north of Gray on Route 26. Gregg Rose has resigned as Poland Regional High School varsity boys’ basketball coach after two seasons and a 9-27 record. The school is advertising for the position, according to co-curricular director Don King.