College hoops coach Jared Grasso

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Describing himself as an “old-school” coach, Jared Grasso has transformed the basketball program at Bryant University in four short years.

Bryant University men’s basketball head coach Jared Grasso could see with his own eyes the change he ignited in his first season.

“My first game, there were 15 people in the crowd — three were my family, and three were the assistant coach’s family. I remember standing there during the national anthem, half embarrassed,” the 42-year-old says of the 2018-19 season at the Rhode Island school. “By the end of the season, we had sellout crowds. Students were waiting five or six hours for tickets and scalping tickets.”

Credited with turning around Bryant’s program in the last four years, Grasso was named the 2022 Jim Phelan Northeast Conference Coach of the Year. The team is 62-54 under Grasso and advanced to its first NCAA Division I Tournament this past season.

A native of Syosset, New York, Grasso played basketball at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, which inducted him into its hall of fame in 2014. As captain, he took the team to the conference championship during what remains its most successful season. “I was blessed to have a good playing career,” he says.

Grasso’s love for basketball comes from his late father, Frederick Grasso, a longtime basketball coach. “My dad gave me a basketball when I was 3 years old, and I never let go,” Grasso says. “I was in the gym since I was a little boy. I grew up around the game and fell in love with it early on.”

Grasso says his coaching style mirrors his father’s, whose focus on pressing and shooting 3-pointers was ahead of his time.

“He was my role model,” he says. “Philosophy-wise, we are very much the same. I am very old school, kind of a throwback in terms of how hard you have to work at it, the purity of the game and the amount of effort you have to put into it as a player.”

It’s essential to build relationships with players, who must trust that their coach cares about them, Grasso says. “When they know that, you can push them on the floor.”

A dual Italian-U.S. citizen, Grasso wanted to play professionally in Italy after graduating college in 2002, but back surgery derailed his plans.

He was hired as a graduate assistant at Hofstra University, then worked as an assistant coach at the University of Hartford, Quinnipiac and Fordham University. Midway through the 2009-10 season, he was named interim head coach at Fordham when his predecessor was fired. At 29, he was the youngest Division I coach at the time.

Disappointed not to get the permanent position, he moved to Iona College in New York, where he worked as associate head coach under Tim Cluess until 2018. In hindsight, that’s the best thing that could have happened to him, Grasso says.

“After my father, Tim Cluess is the most influential person in my life. He’s like a big brother to me. He taught me to manage things the right way, and balance work and family,” says Grasso, who is married and has three children.

So how did Grasso turn around the Bryant program?

First, with the support of an “unbelievable” administration and a “great” president, athletic director and staff, he says. “We had to try and change the culture,” says Grasso, who describes himself as process-driven. “We had to teach [the players] about how hard you need to work, and have a commitment to academics and athletics.”

The program put its focus on recruiting and setting high expectations for incoming players, he says. “This group we had this year, it’s the best group I’ve had in my four years in terms of talent level, toughness and commitment to winning.”

The future is exciting, says Grasso, who in April signed a contract extension through 2026-27.

Bryant joined the America East Conference this month and is building a new athletic facility that’s expected to open next year. The incoming freshman class numbers more than 1,000, the largest in school history.

“Seeing what I can do, not only for our program but for the whole university, is something I’ve really enjoyed, because I put a lot of work into it,” Grasso says. “You want to see the fruit of your labor.”

The above appears in the August 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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