Former Molloy coach Cecala finding his way at CK

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Christ the King’s courtship of Dom Cecala started early – actually it was mere hours after Cecala learned he would not be brought back as Archbishop Molloy girls’ basketball coach.

Bob Mackey, coach of Christ the King, the team that Archbishop Molloy had just beaten for the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens championship two months earlier, called him that day in May and the seeds were planted.

“If nothing else happens,” Mackey told Cecala, “I’d love to have you.”

A few days later, Cecala was meeting with Mackey and his co-athletic director at CK, Joe Arbitello. Arbitello had been JV girls’ coach the previous season, but, with a baby due in the winter, probably would not retain the job. The Royals offered Cecala the junior varsity head-coaching position and a spot on the varsity staff.

“Come on board, join the party,” Mackey said of his pitch. “It’s the best game in town. I still think we run the best program in the country.”

Most importantly, Christ the King gave him time. No other varsity head-coaching job came to the forefront and, in August, Cecala accepted the jobs.

“I just trusted my gut and did what I wanted to do,” Cecala said.

So far, everything has worked out. Cecala’s junior-varsity squad is 7-0 with non-league wins against Shenendehowa (N.Y.), St. Peter’s and LaSalle (R.I.) and a league victory over Bishop Ford. Mackey let him play a full, 22-game schedule.

Mackey has been impressed with Cecala’s insights and recognition as part of the varsity staff with top assistant Jill Cook.

“Dom’s been great,” Mackey said. “He’s an outstanding floor coach, an outstanding practice coach. He sees things real well. There have been no objections whatsoever.”

Mackey got first-hand experience of Cecala’s coaching last season. Cecala, then the Stanners’ junior varsity coach, took over a struggling Molloy varsity in January as interim coach and led the team to a pair of historic wins – both against Christ the King. In the regular season, the Stanners snapped the Royals’ 108-game league winning streak and in the Diocesan finals, Molloy ended CK’s 23-year reign as champion.

A funny thing happened in May, though. After a lengthy interview process, Molloy decided it would go in another direction by hiring Mary Louis assistant Tom Catalanotto, who, like Cecala, is a Molloy graduate.

Mike McCleary, Molloy’s athletic director, never gave Cecala a reason for the decision and the entire situation is something that irks him to this day.

“I graduated from there and I coached there forever (eight years),” Cecala said. “The way I look at it is: things happen for a reason.”

By the end of summer, though, he had other offers on the table – Cecala was either going to head to Christ the King or take a year off. He wanted to be a head coach, but he felt that being a JV coach and varsity assistant at a legendary girls’ basketball program was not much of a step down. In the end, the decision was easy.

“There’s no possible way that Nov. 1 comes along and I don’t get that itch,” he said.

Sunday night was a particularly weird one. After being on the sidelines for Christ the King’s win against Shenendehowa in Albany, Cecala took a bus to Bishop Ford, where Molloy and Francis Lewis were playing in the Big Apple Recruiting Christmas Classic. Kyra Aloizos of Molloy and Kelly Robinson, Ayana Duncanson and Sabrina Jeridore of Lewis all play for Cecala on the AAU NY Xplosion.

“To see Molloy on the floor and me in the stands was an interesting feeling,” Cecala said.

Afterward, there were greetings and hugs from current and former players alike. By most accounts, those who have played for Cecala have enjoyed it. His results last year, after all, speak for themselves.

“He just has so much energy as a coach and his heart is all in it,” Aloizos said. “He could take the worst team in the country and make them play hard and give it their all and, in the end, be a very successful team. His passion for the game is insane.”

That’s why he couldn’t take that year off. That’s why he’s enjoying being at a place he calls “basketball heaven.” Cecala still has the ambition to be a head coach, particularly in the CHSAA, one day. But for now he’s content doing what he loves.

“I’m very happy,” Cecala said, “that I made this decision.”

Posted 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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