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Leary joins coaching greats

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — One of the rewarding parts of coaching for Tim Leary is the thanks he receives from former players.

“Those are the kinds of things you’re going to get,” Leary said. “You’re not going to make a million dollars teaching and coaching.”

The St. Francis Prep boys’ varsity basketball coach received plenty of those along with more than a few congratulations this weekend. Many of his former players and colleagues, along with family and friends, traveled upstate to watch him get inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday morning at Heritage Hall inside the Glens Falls Civic Center.

“It is an honor,” Leary said. “I didn’t know a heck of a lot about it. I had been up there for the playoffs obviously, but when they sent some of the information down and had the booklet of all of the people that were in it, it was just a very nice feeling to be included in the group. I became excited as it got close and I was looking forward to it.”

He was inducted along with eight other coaches from around the state and joins CHSAA brethren Archbishop Molloy Coach Jack Curran, former St. John’s Prep Coach Jimmy Gatto and former Christ the King girls’ Coach Vinny Cannizzaro in the Hall of Fame. Leary’s plaque will hang along with greats like Clair Bee, Lou Carnesecca, Jim Boeheim and Joe Lapchick, among others.

“It’s an elite group,” Monsignor McClancy boys’ basketball Coach and close friend Don Kent said. “It’s guys that have been loyal to their school and coached there a number of years.”

Leary has been on the sidelines at St. Francis Prep for 39 years and has compiled 566 wins. He is just one of four coaches in the New York CHSAA to get over 500 victories. The Terriers have won seven division titles and reached the CHSAA intersectional semifinals four times in his tenure. Arguably his best chance to win a city title came in 1997, when St. Francis Prep lost to LaSalle Academy and Houston Rockets star Ron Artest in a close final. Leary has been the league’s coach of the year numerous times and is a member of the New York CHSAA Hall of Fame.

One of the many players who made the trip up to Glens Falls was Matt Fryer, the tough point guard of that 1997 squad. He said he had to come up when he heard Leary was being honored and that playing for him prepared him well for his years playing at the College of St. Rose.

“It shows that all the years he’s put in at Prep, people have noticed it,” Fryer said. “This is a long time coming.”

Leary’s teams are known for their toughness, work ethic and grasp of the fundamentals. St. Francis Prep has never had an NBA-caliber player during his time there and doesn’t always have the same level of talent as some of the city’s basketball powers, but Leary, a demanding coach, has always had the ability to get the most out of his players.

“He can take a team that, on paper, is a 20-point underdog and he can coach them to where the kids are right in the game,” Kent said. “He gets a lot out of his talent.”

Leary played at St. Francis Prep with Kent; Bob Leckie, the former St. Peter’s College and Bishop Loughlin coach; and former St. John’s University star Sonny Dove under legendary Coach Chick Keegan. He then played both basketball and baseball at Manhattan College.

“He played the game very smart,” said Kent, who nominated Leary for the Hall of Fame honor. “He played the game like a coach. He had a good feel for the game.”

After graduation, he passed the NYPD test and planned on becoming a cop like many of the members of his family, but was not called right away. He was planning on getting married to his now-wife Claudia and took a teaching and coaching job at St. Augustine HS in Brooklyn. In the spring of 1968, Leary became the varsity baseball coach at St. Francis Prep, when it was still on North 6th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and eventually began teaching in city public schools. He has recently retired. From there, he became the JV basketball coach at St. Francis Prep under Jack Prenderville and soon after took the head job.

“Even at the time that I started I thought I only was going be temporary,” Leary said.

He still considered the police force an option.

“Once I got into it,” he said, “I enjoyed it and kind of stuck with it and that was 40 years ago and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Leary had offers to coach in college early on in his career, but didn’t want to travel too much with a young family. In addition, the CHSAA, considered one of the best leagues in the country, and the camaraderie of it coaches was more than enough for him. What he enjoys most is the teaching of the game and watching young people mature.

“We’ve had some great players at Prep who became great college players,” Leary said. “Pretty much it was just good kids who become firemen, cops and teachers and on and on. It was fun to watch them go through it and grow up.”

He said he still enjoys coaching and plans on doing it for a little while longer, but says it’s more on a year-to-year basis now.

Not bad for someone who initially thought his coaching career was going to end as quickly as it started.

“It just kind of fell into place,” Leary said, “and worked out very, very good.”

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