NEW YORK CITY - We met years ago at an 'establishment' in Jersey City.
St. Peter's had just played a game covered by yours truly. Going out for a drink were St. Peter's coach Bob Dukiet, myself and a women's basketball assistant from Iona College. Dukiet bought. An excellent coach and great guy, the late St. Peter's mentor had a reputation of not getting a 'round all too frequently so when he bought you 'took that and ran' with it.
That former Gael assistant and I now run into each other at Army basketball games or similar functions. On Tuesday, the latter was the case.
New York's prestigious Union League Club was the site. The event was a "Meet the Coaches" night. The well-attended and received program, organized and run by John L. Buckheit, Esq. gives Army faithful and followers an opportunity to meet all coaches from the US Military Academy. Buckheit is an '84 graduate of the academy and as devout a follower as you will find, for all things academic and athletic at USMA. Naturally football and basketball coaches are welcome on this night but schedules are usually prohibitive. Still, it is a special night for coaches in rifle, track, tennis and swimming, to name a few, to have an opportunity to discuss their programs.
Lynn Chiavaro, a regular at these events, was a standout player at Northeastern University. In fact she was such an accomplished shooter she won praise from the men's coach at the time, one Jim Calhoun. She graduated Northeastern in 1977 and following her playing days she assisted at Iona for two years before becoming head coach at Army for eleven seasons. To date her tenure is the longest in Army women's basketball history. Currently employed at Northwestern Mutual she still stays very close to the game. In fact, Chiavaro can still hold her own on the court: she was part of a team that won a senior games three on three international tournament this past Summer.
Even with her coaching days over, she has stayed very close to the program at West Point. Chiavaro was instrumental in getting Maggie Dixon to West Point. On this day, just the mention of Dixon's name brings not just praise, but a tone of sincere reverence. She led the Cadets to the 2006 Patriot League title but more than that was an inspiration, leader and true friend to anyone fortunate enough to meet and be in her company. Naturally she praised in glowing terms of current Army coach Dave Magarity for the fine job he's done with the program.
She spoke in near awe about some of today's college heavyweights, Baylor, UCONN, Notre Dame and Stanford.
"Baylor is great," she said, "how did Stanford beat them?"
Having played and coached at the mid-major level, Chiavaro has a special devotion for those programs. She discussed several notables with glowing admiration. Specifically, the job Brian Giorgis is doing at Marist.
"He just keeps winning year after year," she said.
Chiavaro also discussed the work of Jim Crowley at St. Bonaventure and Tony Bozzella at her old stop, Iona.
Again, talk came back to that Army team from '06 that won the Patriot League. Their NCAA tournament consisted of a match with Tennessee.
"We (Army) got crushed," Chiavaro said. "But the fact they got to that game in the NCAA (tournament) and even led early was very special."
She also added how Pat Summit probably had the Lady Vols at full throttle being disappointed with getting a two rather than one seed.
Through the years as a player and coach Chiavaro has seen the game grow and evolve. She remembers those AIAW days of yesteryear. She discussed a short stint in the old Women's Professional Basketball League remembering how current DePaul coach Doug Bruno was coaching in that circuit years (decades?) ago. She was thrilled to hear that the 'legend' Mel Greenberg is just as involved in the game as ever.
Yet one of the biggest differences between then and now involves high school ball. To Chiavaro, the lower level improvements build the foundation on which the game gets stronger.
"Today in high school you have to work as a coach year round," she said. "It's not a case of working with the kids during the season. You have to be involved through the off season. Get them in leagues, AAU and even half an off-season self-improvement plan. Today, if you want to compete in high school it is a 12 month process."
Chiavaro has seen a great deal of change in women's basketball through the ages. One constant for her is an undying love of the game.
The coaching days are over; playing days not so. Even if they were, rest assured that the sound of the ball hitting the hardwood is still music to her ears.