Who’s the best?
By Eric Berry
This is a tough column, and mostly Vermont-centric and certainly basketball-centric, but thought provoking for me, and hopefully for you. I recently engaged in a social media messenger exchange with a good friend and a current Vermont high school basketball coach. We always ask each other questions like ‘who is the best coach you’ve seen’, or, ‘who is the best shooter you have seen’? Questions that make you think deeply. After 30 or 40 years I have formed some opinions on said topic so I thought I’d take a shot at it publicly. Undoubtedly, some people will take offense as they may be left off. Please don’t. It’s an opinion that is likely to change-maybe by tomorrow.
Who are the best coaches I have seen or coached against? In no particular order:
1. Ute Otley-Classy, Prepared, Players Coach. She’s won so many D1 titles the trophy should be named after her.
2. Charlie Mason-Relentless Recruiter, Offensive guru.
3. Matt Dempsey-Same as Charlie. Also, had the best practical joke ever at the Final Four we attended in Atlanta. Walked around the party town called “Buckhead” and placed 1″ inch pictures of his face with sticky stuff on the back of people’s shoulders. Hundreds of them. Before Google.
4. Warren Caruso-Great recruiter year in and year out
5. Randy Lee-Got D1 players at a D3 school, maybe that’s what made him great?
6. Matt Luneau-I don’t know Matt really well but man his teams are always the most fundamentally sound I see each year.
7. Dan Gandin-He won. And won. And won. He did it the old-school way, and I love that about him. Got the shaft to end his coaching career-by the way!
8. Paul Pecor-Just win baby. He’s coached some great talent for sure, but that doesn’t guarantee wins. In the past 15 years I ask you, who has been better on the big stage except for the person listed first?
9. Jeff Davis-Most of the officials don’t like him, which makes me like him even more. His teams are prepared and play basketball like it’s the last time they will ever play again. Takes a great coach to get that out of them.
10. Tim Barrett-I coached against Tim when he was coaching the men’s program at Castleton. He then took over the women’s program and it’s been a juggernaut ever since. I watched him coach in practice before a final four game for his team’s conference championship. It was one of the most thorough, well thought out practice I have seen.
11. Layne Higgs-Another coach whose players were about as fundamentally sound as you could ask for. New England Basketball Coaches Hall of Famer, Vermont Sports hall of Fame. He just won!
12. Jack Driscoll-A defensive tactician. His teams are never out of games because of it!
13. Mike Osborne-I have a ton of respect for Mike. He’s gotten every ounce out of his CVU kids and he did at Johnson State too. I also watched one of his practices and loved the way he had the attention of his team. Class act. He’s taken a program to the upper echelon of Division 1 where it had not been before.
14. Buddy Trask-A defensive guru. An epic winner. Underrated coach and should be in NEBC HOF.
15. Gary Jenness-No one has won more games than Gary, not even God. More titles either. The designer of “how to build a factory that makes champions”.
16. Mark Collins-see description for Buddy and Gary. A Winner through and through.
17. Tammy Rainville-She won championships by the handful it seemed. Her teams played basketball. They didn’t pass it around and see who the best passing team was on the planet. They played. And they won! A Danville legend.
Ute Otley, listed first here, in my opinion, is by far and away the best coach I have seen in terms of all-around coaching. Her teams are beyond fundamentally sound. There isn’t a defense that confuses her teams, zone or man. Her players execute, they play hard, they are fundamentally sound, and they play the game right.
Who are the best shooters/players I have ever seen, coached, or coached against? Top 5 in no particular order(players list is longer and it should be):
1. Tony Orciari-Elevated above everyone, pure, perfect release. Scored over 1,400 points at UVM.
2. Ben Sackett-Best long-distance shooter ever from the NEK in the last 40 years that I’ve seen. 10 feet beyond the arc, no joke.
3. Kevin Trask-Most consistent 3-point shot. Seemingly, always on. Best baseline 3-point shooter I’ve ever seen.
4. Tanner Price-Another deep shooter. Zero conscience. But when you shoot like Tanner-do you need a conscience?
5. Chris Brown-First of all, one of the best kids I’ve ever coach. Great person. No one more dedicated. Hit 2 of the biggest shots I’ve ever seen. One was from 28 feet away at U. Maine Farmington like it was nothing.
6. Jimmy Lau-This kid is the best player to never play college basketball from Vermont in the past 15 years. College recruiters blew it BIG TIME. Money in the bank. Put Jimmy down for 20-25. Fax in the scorebook with his points before the game starts to the press.
7. Mark Weigel-Mark was a great scorer, and THE best athlete I ever played basketball with. No one could stop him. He once scored the first 19 points of the game against Johnson. Would have scored more in a row but I passed the ball to someone else-like an idiot! 38 inch vertical. Stop and elevate. No one better that I have seen in terms of the will to score.
8. Bill Benson-As a sophomore in high school I remember when the seniors would say “money” when he shot the ball during practice while going through our offensive sets. He didn’t miss from the baseline.
9. Ray Alley-Admittedly, I only saw this guy a couple times. He scored, ready for this, 2,657 points in college at Husson.
10. Ricky Sutton-I was young when Ricky played at Lyndon State. He was one of the last cuts on the LA Lakers-yup those LA Lakers! He also scored over 2,000 points. He passed away too early from the dreadful disease cancer. He would shoot the ball and not even look to see if it went it while giving everyone “five” in the front row.
11. Tom Witts-Played for me for 1.5 years at Lyndon and scored over 1,000 points during his brief tenure. Went on to play professional basketball in Australia. Scored 40 points, AS A FRESHMAN, in a road game at Castleton. Let me repeat, AS A FRESHMAN. Guys were hanging all over him. He didn’t even act like he had a pulse-just kept banging jump shots right in their grill!
12. Jeff Creech-St. Joseph’s College-Maine. This guy scored his 2,000th point against us when I was playing in college. Look him up. Played pro ball overseas. UNSTOPPABLE.
13. Bruce Henry Dalrymple/Rory Grimes-They combined to score about 10 bazillion points at SJA. Problem is, I was a freshman when Henry graduated. In the days of social media, and when Lyndon folks didn’t even begin to look at anything a SJA team did, I didn’t see much of them. However, from what I did see, holy hell!
14. Taylor Coppenrath-No one really could have ever guess could they? A Vermont state legend and a great person to boot. UVM basketball on the map because of him. 2,442 points! Think about that for a minute. Every scouting report was designed to stop him. NO ONE STOPPED HIM.
15. Dennis Fowler-I saw Dennis score something like 78 points in a men’s league game. Against former college players!
16. Matt George-Scored like a million points in college and was not blessed with a ton of physical ability(no offense, Matt). He just scored and no one could put an end to it.
17. Riley Blankenship-The best player no D1 coach recruited and I have no logical understanding as to why not! Should have won Vermont’s Player of the Year award in 2012. One of the state’s best coaches told me that privately too. She did it all. No doubt the best female athlete I’ve ever coached. Riley was just like CJ Doane, who played at Lyndon in the early 90’s. Ridiculously smart and athletic each of them.
18. Pat Lang-You might not remember her but she played for Jack Driscoll in the early years. 5’7 or 5’8 point-guard who could shoot it, pass it, rebound it, and defend. All around stud!
Who were the toughest competitors I’ve coached or seen?
1. Gregg Rose-Didn’t matter if it was at practice or in a game. He was a stone-cold killer on the floor. 6’3 with a 6’5 wingspan and had D1 college speed in all directions. I would routinely put him on fast guards who scored points. They wouldn’t score against Gregg. They would go to the bench and wonder what in the hell just happened! Glassy eyes on the bench stuff! In a daze.
2. David Andrus-His own teammates hated the way he played against them. He and Gregg were literally brawling during a big man drill because they got so mad at each other. My assistant said, ‘Hey, you need to go break that up’. I responded with, ‘I’m not going anywhere near those two’. When the ball was thrown up, between the two of them-and I love ‘em dearly, there were a couple of screws loose. Haha.
3. Joe Layn-The guy doesn’t know how to not work hard. I love him off and off the court. Relentless is all I can say. Takes the same approach to real life work as he did to hoops.
4. 2000-2001 Lyndon State Men’s Basketball team-3 of the guys I’ve already spoken about from this team. Shane Garceau, Pete Camp, Jimmy Nelson, Vinnie Maloney are 4 more from that team that were unreal. Garceau, won tournament MVP that year. NO ONE OUTHUSTLED HIM. Not a cliché. FACT. As for Pete and Jimmy nobody got more out of their bodies than they did.
5. Jesse Kittredge-I loved watching him play at Danville. In someone’s face from opening tap until the coach pried him off the court.
6. Greg Morrison-see description on Jesse Kittredge.
7. Garrett Calkins-Even as a youth basketball player he found every way to win. Scored 1,000 at SJA but was a winner.
8. Chris Dorsey-Probably the most talented player I ever coached AND a ridiculously hard worker. Left a scholarship school to come play for us at Lyndon.
9. Brittany Regis-Helped lead her #12 ranked team to a state title. Tougher than nails. I would have loved to coach her. Her whole team was made up of “tougher than nails” kids. Britney Lane, Adama Kaye, Bianca Calkins, Molly Moran. I watched them practice once and couldn’t believe how hard they worked. It’s why they won it. Defense and hard work.
10. Madalyn Sanborn-All about whatever she could do to help the team. And then went crazy in the state title game to lead our team offensively. Great person.
11. Shaylan Mosher-The best point guard to ever play at Lyndon Institute on the girl’s side. I’ve seen a lot of good ones too-Sandy Lacroix, Michelle Lund, Danielle Shufelt, just to name a few.
12. Jade Berry-I know what you’re going to say. Bias. Yup, completely, I like players who work hard and give their all. Jade gave her health to the team and her school in the quest for a state title that was captured. Enough said.
13. Tyrah Urie-Wicked competitor and beyond fast. LR didn’t like LI, and LI didn’t like LR(still). But one’s thing for sure, I have a lot of respect for players that worked as hard as Tyrah. Same can be said for Carly Giroux and Kylee Wright from NC. They gave it their all every second on the court.
14. Almost forgot my friend Tammy Rainville. What a player. First time I ever saw her play she came down the court and threw a behind the back bounce pass to her backcourt mate, Lisa Bedor. I was like, ‘what is going on here’. She had a tremendous HS and college career. Great person, great coach too!
Who are the best officials I’ve ever seen?
Totally kidding. They are a lot better than I ever gave them credit for, in a game that is near damn impossible to get perfect. Block/Charge call is so hard to get right. So many 50/50 calls that they must instantly react to while coaches like me are demanding they get it right. I liked my relationship with officials like Steve Ward, who I would holler at and he would give it right back to me. Some guys took things personal and shouldn’t have done so.
There is way more that should have been mentioned, I know that. Obvious people I am missing(see Dwayne Lynaugh). I apologize for that. Would love to get your feedback for column #2 on the best that’s ever played around here and why. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was thought provoking. Keep in mind there are some players I never saw play like Kim Silloway, or Jade Huntington. I never coached against Dan Thurston, or some him coach. His record speaks for itself. Same with Dave Frederickson. Legends. Like I said, I’ve probably missed some obvious players and coaches. They’ll be in the next one I write! Count on that.