By Andrew Wroblewski
Andrew “Andy” Athanas remembers the days when he was just learning the craft of being a basketball coach.
“When I think about my first team, I remember we taught them an offense and they could only go to the right,” Athanas said with a laugh. “We were really novices.”
That was 41 years ago.
Since then, Athanas has spent 10 years at Huntington School District and the last 31 as the head coach of the Elwood-John Glenn girls varsity team. He’s won 352 games at Glenn, making him the fourth-winningest coach in Suffolk history, and he’s led the Lady Knights to one state, three Long Island and four county championships.
On March 13, Athanas will add another accomplishment. He will be one of 10 coaches inducted into the Basketball Coaches Association of New York’s state basketball Hall of Fame as a member of its 2016 class.
Athanas said he’s “proud” of the “amazing” honor. “It’s a good thing. I’m happy about it, obviously.”
Athanas assembled his first team in 1974 at Huntington and kept coaching at various levels until the varsity spot opened up at Glenn in 1986.
At Glenn, Athanas became a coach who “tried to set up situations where [the girls] can play basketball. I’m not a play guy – an Xs and Os guy. Offensively, I set up situations where kids can succeed and I think that’s the key to all of it.”
And having the athletes to support such an offense, he added.
“When you consider the run of great athletes that I’ve had, I’m a lucky man, let me tell you,” said Athanas, who grew up a basketball “addict” in Bayville and played junior varsity ball for Locust Valley High School. He has lived in East Northport for the past 40 years with his wife, Barbara. They have two children.
He’s also had several influential figures during his coaching career, naming thre people in particular who “who helped me along the way and inspired me to keep going and keep coaching.”
They are: Ron Cuppernul, a Huntington teacher who Athanas said was the first coach get him going and give him me confidence; Phil Robinson, who Athanas has worked with at Long Island Lutheran’s summer basketball programs, whose attitude and approach to the game Athanas adopted; and Bob Kratzski, formerly Huntington’s varsity girls basketball coach, who Athanas looked up to during his time coaching at Huntington.
In 2005, Athanas and the Lady Knights were undefeated on their way to the state championship. Also that year, Glenn became just the second Suffolk public school ever to win the hyper-competitive Federation Tournament of Champions.
The only other Suffolk school to do it was Wyandanch High School in 1987, whose coach at the time, Warren Fuller, was one of two current hall-of-famers to nominate Athanas for the Class of 2016. The other is Northport varsity girls basketball coach Rich Castellano, a longtime friend.
“Basketball-wise, he’s had a really great impact on John Glenn, on Elwood and he deserves to be in,” Castellano said Wednesday, adding that Athanas is set to be the fourth Suffolk girls coach to be a state hall-of-famer. “I’ve seen his program get better and better as he’s gone along. It’s a testament to him and the time he puts in.”
Athanas has also made friends at the Elwood school district. Louis Tuorto, the district’s athletic director for the last 14 years, said Athanas is “very dedicated and gives a lot of time to the players.”
Athanas has also accrued several coach-of-the-year awards from various organizations, including BCANY; has worked summer camps, including one for Elwood-John Glenn that’s gone from a camp attended by dozens to more than 1,000 in 2015; and he’s been a volunteer for activities hosted by Suffolk Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
The coach will have one final shot at a championship when the Lady Knights begin their 2015-2016 on Nov. 28. He plans to retired at the end of the season.
“He’s going to leave a very big void and it’s going to be difficult to replace him,” Tuorto said.
Athanas isn’t thinking about that now. He’s readying to lead a Glenn team that’s seeking its sixth straight appearance in the county finals.
He’s hoping the Lady Knights’ season won’t end in the Suffolk championship game, as it has for the last three years, but rather with a New York Class A championship in March at Hudson Valley Community College.
That would make Athanas’ life easier, after all, since the game is slated for the night before the hall of fame induction ceremony, which is just 50 miles away at the Glens Falls Civic Center. But coach said he isn’t ready to think about that just yet.
“I’m more focused on what I’m going to do for practice this afternoon.”