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LOCKED IN: Rob Paternostro on his first love of baseball, breaking into broadcasting and rising with the Riders


British Basketball
League stars are far more than just the incredible athletes you love to
watch do their thing on the hardwood week in, week out – this is about more
than just hoops!

To demonstrate that
this season we’ve launched a new feature where you’ll get to hear directly from
some of the biggest names in the League about some of the topics and issues
both in basketball and beyond that they’re most passionate about! 

We’ve already heard from Surrey Scorchers sharpshooter Quin Cooper, Caledonia’s Patrick Whelan and Cheshire Phoenix’s Aaryn Rai, who shared their incredible journeys in the game of basketball, and next up is our first coaching contributor of the series, as one of the all-time greats – Leicester Riders Head Coach Rob Paternostro – pens this exclusive column.

From baseball to basketball to broadcasting, and everything in between, Rob is in fine form for this one so LOCK IN and learn more about the life of one of the greatest in our game.

Name Team Date of Birth Hometown Nationality Position
Rob Paternostro Leicester Riders January 16, 1973 Waterbury, Connecticut (USA) American/Italian Head Coach

Most kids probably dream of being a player
that is talked about on broadcast, right? But my dream was to be a broadcaster
talking about players – particularly in baseball, not basketball!

I never looked at playing sports
professionally as a possible career. Instead, I had an affinity for broadcast. Growing
up in Connecticut in the eighties, if you had the radio on in the summer, baseball
was everywhere, and I became drawn to it.

Nobody in my family was 6’10” either so I knew I was never going to be tall(!), and right until my senior year of high school, broadcasting was something I was really keen to pursue in college but a series of events took me down a different path, and I decided to make basketball my focus.

I chose basketball because of the
scholarship at the time, because with basketball it was fully funded all the
way through and with baseball it was partial, so there was less security there,
and I really wanted that certainty with my education. I had offers to play
baseball at a lot of different places, but the scholarship situation really
made the decision.

I was loving basketball, but my passion for broadcast never went away. I got my first broadcast opportunity whilst in college at Southern New Hampshire – an internship at an ABC affiliate – and I fell in love. I wasn’t in front of the camera, but working behind the scenes doing whatever it took to produce the best possible sports show, and that was where it began.

When I graduated a few years later I took a
break from playing professionally and worked for ESPN in Connecticut, close to
my family home. You name it, I probably covered it, but after a few months they
put me on the NBA Show covering the 1999/2000 season.

It went on air at midnight every night and
I was writing, editing and producing content for the show, which was a
wonderful broadcasting experience, but great for my basketball career too. I
spent a lot of time with former NBA coaches and players and was assigned to prepare
analysis segments with whichever guest we had I would
sit with them, watch the NBA and offer my playing perspective on informing how
we put the packages together.

What an education for me, not only in broadcast
but in basketball!

Batter up,

Baseball is my first love. I started
playing when I was three and I took to it at an early age. I could hit, run and
throw and do everything early.

I don’t think I shot a basketball until I
was probably eight years old, but once I found that game, I always had fun with
it and I have great memories of playing it in the summer outside as a kid. My
love for the game really developed in those local parks I used to compete in.

Until the senior year of high school,
though, if you’d asked anybody that knew me they’d have said I was going to
push to be professional in baseball instead of basketball, and at that age, I
was probably better at baseball too.

I was good enough to play basketball collegiately though, and because of the scholarship situation, that was the route I chose.

I think about it often – if I had made the
right choice because I still dream about playing baseball. I might be a little
too old now to play second base for the New York Yankees, but I do have dreams
that I can still get up at Yankee Stadium and hit a home run.

When I was younger I would go back home in
the summer from college and still play baseball in the summer, competing with
college baseball players at the time. I kept going and thought that maybe I
would pick it up at some point, but my basketball career really took off and I
never had the chance to look back.

Rob Paternostro’s playing and coaching accolades
17 British Basketball League titles won as a Head Coach (3rd all-time)
Seven Molten Ed Percival Coach of the Year titles won (most all-time)
Ranks 11th all-time in assists per game (5.17) following a six-year playing career in the British Basketball League
Southern New Hampshire University’s all-time leader in assists
Inducted into Southern New Hampshire University’s Hall of Fame

broadcasting back to ballin’

I was really enjoying my time at ESPN. It
was intense working with people from all around the country, but a truly amazing
place to be.

I was only 27 when I was working there so I
was still playing basketball every day during the day and then going to produce
the show at night; I was in pretty good shape and playing at a good level.

What made me give ESPN up was I got a phone call from an agent who asked if I would be interested in playing European basketball for a team who were looking for an EU player (a player with a European passport). I was an EU player at the time with an Italian passport and this team were going to play in Europe in the next couple of seasons and they wanted to bring me in.

I spoke with Terrell Myers, who was a star player in the British Basketball League at the time and somebody I knew as we were both from Connecticut, and he thought it would be a great fit for me, so I left ESPN behind and gave it one more shot on the basketball court.

I kept in touch with broadcasting whilst I
was playing in Birmingham, but I didn’t think it was ever going to be a
full-time position, so when I started to move towards the end of my career I
began teaching in a school in the city and did that for a year.

During that period I was also offered the
coaching position at Leicester, which I decided was a good move for me.

I didn’t give up the teaching straight away
so in that first year I’d be teaching in Birmingham in the day then travelling
to Leicester at night to take practice and build this team. I was offered the
role of player-coach, but I refused that because there was no way I could
teach, play and coach at the same time.

I had never dreamed of being a coach, and there were a few teachable moments early on that really stuck with me – number one being that you’ve got to make sure that you always have the respect of your team.

If you say something has to be done a
certain way – whether that’s on the court or off it – then you’ve got to
enforce it and not turn your back on it because it’s difficult to deliver. I
was tested in that way quite a lot early in my career, but I always stuck by my

There was one game in that first season
where one of my players did something in a big game that was unacceptable –
without going into specifics – so I took him out, knowing that keeping him off
the floor could well cost us the game. Putting him back in would have been like
excusing his behaviour, so I didn’t do it for the good of the team.

Moments like that are really important for
your growth and development as a coach and I’ve always tried to get handling
those moments right so that the team can grow and develop together as a group.

mentorship and moving forward

Coaching is about continually learning and
communicating with others that are in the same space and I think having those
mentors or sounding boards are vital to becoming the best coach you can be as
the years go on.

I’ve lost count of the number of people
I’ve turned to for advice, but one that stands out is my college coach, Stanley
Spiro – he’s a Hall of Fame coach but a Hall of Fame person as well. Watching
him and how he handled himself on the court, off the court and in his program
was vital to me.

Another key influence has been Coach Steve
Pikiell from Rutgers (NCAA Division I Basketball Programme), who I’ve known
since I was 15. He’s a big-time coach, but anytime I’ve ever needed anything or
had a question, he has always been there for me.

Tony Garbelotto has been another guy
throughout the years that I’ve learned a lot from. I played for him and still
talk to him a lot to this day. Kevin Cadle was awesome for me too.

Kevin’s experience both in broadcasting and
in basketball was immense and he was always at the end of the phone for me. The
seasons aren’t the same without having a guy like that to pick up the phone to.

Anything associated with his name in this
country from a basketball perspective is special. Most people will know about
the 20 titles he won in this League and the five Coach of the Year wins, but I
was lucky enough to know the man himself. He’s a legend and everybody that was
around when he was around knew that that his personality was something else.

I give him so much credit for being there
when I needed a phone call, and I try to tell people all the time that if they
need something then please don’t hesitate to call me.

My phone is always there for anyone that
has a question and my practices have always been open to anybody who wants to
come down to watch and learn.

What has kept me in this game for so long
is that I just love the relationships you build with your team. There’s nothing
like being part of a group. Since I was seven years old, I’ve been on a team
and that’s what I know and love – the camaraderie and the relationships that
form are special.

I’m still close friends with a lot of my
players. I love to find out how they’re doing, how their families are, all that
kind of stuff. I watched my college coach foster an environment where once you
were done playing there, you were always welcomed back or welcome to contact
him … he was there for over 30 years, so the number of people that would return
to see him was staggering.

That’s the most satisfying thing for me – when
I see my former players and we share the stories about all the stuff that we
did, the laughs and good times … it’s hard to find any other job that feels
that way.

As for how long I’ll continue to do this, I
don’t ever look too far ahead or behind. I’m trying to win the day, win the
week, win the month and do the best I can on a daily basis. I’m always
consulting with my family and friends on the future, but since I’ve been in
this position I’ve been committed.

I want to be as versatile as I can be as a
human being. I want to be able to do a lot of different things in my life, and the
one constant over the last many years has been the day-in and day-out grind of
basketball. I’ve become addicted to it in some ways, so letting that go is
never going to be easy for me, because it has given me so much in my life.

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