Branching Out From The Giorgis Tree

Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer, and Brian Giorgis.

Yes, you read that right. Brian Giorgis is in the same sentence as these legendary coaches because they all have something in common.

Each of these coaches represents years of program and player success, and each has a coaching tree that branches throughout several different levels of college basketball through former players and assistants that get hired as head coaches.

Giorgis is responsible for 429 of Marist’s 676 all-time wins in Division I, and both will continue to increase the longer he stays with the program.

He does not take all of the credit for the success he has brought to Marist since taking over the program in 2002. He credits all of the loyal assistant coaches he has had over his tenure for their roles in the program’s success and his vaunted motion offense.

“You’ve got to have someone who believes in what you do and won’t try and take over your position,” said Giorgis, “and to not only teach what you teach but to also bring new ideas to the table.” Those are his main criteria when looking to hire assistant coaches.

He went over the daily responsibilities his assistants have, how much they contribute to team activities and explained how their work behind the scenes positively impacts the program. He referenced his former assistants and described their work ethic and what athletic directors around the country look for when searching for their next head coaches.

“Because of ladies like Meg, Keila, and Jada, when they were here, we had a lot of success,” said Giorgis, “and I think a lot of ADs want good people who are hard workers and hope that [my assistants] can bring the success they had here, to their schools.”

Former Marist Associate Head Coach Megan Gebbia is in her eighth year as the Head Coach of American University’s women’s basketball team. Former two-time Marist assistant Keila Whittington is in her second season as Head Coach of Saint Francis (PA), and former assistant Jada Pierce is in her sixth season as Head Coach of MAAC foe Niagara.

“Marist was a tremendous stop,” said Pierce. “Coach Giorgis and I actually did not know each other before I started working for him, and he took a chance with bringing me into the family.”

Pierce was coaching at the D-II level and was trying to get back to D-I. She met Giorgis through a former Fairfield assistant who knew Gebbia at the time.

“I was only there for one year, but I really feel we had an impact on each other’s lives,” said Pierce. “He trusted me, even though I was only there for one year. I had head coaching experience, but I was the outsider. I was the only non-Marist person that had been working there.”

Pierce described the culture that Giorgis had established and how different the atmosphere was at Marist compared to the other stops along her journey.

“It’s a special place,” said Pierce. “It’s not just campus-wide, it’s community-wide. When we play there, a lot of people still remember me and come up to me even though I was only there for a year. It’s a second home.”

Pierce was on Giorgis’s staff for the 2006-2007 season, the Sweet 16 year. She said how other, larger schools came up and asked what they did to beat certain teams in the NCAA tournament.

“People still ask me about Coach and his philosophies and ‘Why is he so good?’ and stuff like that,” said Pierce, “and I don’t give away family secrets, and he knows that.”

Pierce feels that being an assistant at Marist, under Coach Giorgis, was crucial for her career. She took what she learned during her brief stay in Poughkeepsie and used it to her advantage.

Gebbia was Marist’s Associate Head Coach from 2003-2013 until she was hired away by American University in Washington, D.C. She talked about her role in the Giorgis coaching tree by explaining the Brian Giorgis process on how he prepares his assistants in becoming future head coaches.

“He allowed us to do a lot in practice, and he made us think through everything we would present to him,” said Gebbia, “and he would find the flaws to help us get better.”

She also referenced the high level of trust that Giorgis develops with all of his assistants.

“If you are there for long periods of time, he is going to trust you,” said Gebbia, “you have to be you and go out and do what feels right; he gives you that freedom.”

Whittington echoed sentiments. She came to Marist after stints at Power Five institutions like Penn State and Oregon.

“It was great to be a part of. Being an assistant at Power Five programs, I have seen different types of success, and the way he does it is completely different,” said Whittington. “He wants you to be a normal person. He doesn’t want his program to be one where you feel like every waking moment you are thinking about basketball. He wants you to have a life.”

She contrasted Giorgis’s approach to winning with those of other successful programs while stating the stark difference.

“Some winning programs are only concerned with winning and losing. It’s not about building the total person. Giorgis wants well-rounded people,” said Whittington.

Gebbia described what was different about Giorgis’s coaching style compared to other coaches and how it can impact the game as a whole, crediting his motion offense.

“When you leave playing in that style of play, you are responsible for picking up as much as you can, and it’s up to you to remember what you learned to implement in your own program,” said Gebbia. “It is more individual and how you go about philosophy, while also being on top of X’s and O’s. It’s fun playing bigger schools and seeing them struggle because they don’t know how to play it.”

Giorgis mentioned that other schools look at his assistants because of the success the program has, and how he executes his system. He recruits specific student-athletes, not because they are the best players in the country. His recruits win and go about it in the right way.

“When you watch our team, you see a team,” said Giorgis. “We set screens, we teach how to play the game. It’s a credit to the kids buying into the program and giving it their best shot.”

Marist Associate Head Coach Erin Doughty believes other programs find Marist’s success attractive when looking to fill head coaching vacancies because of its mid-major status.

“It’s the success against higher-level competition that is attractive, too,” said Doughty, “we’re not just successful against MAAC opponents, and I think other programs like that.”

Other former Marist players and assistants who are head coaches or on coaching staff include Alisa Kresge, Eileen Van Horn, Dominique Beck-Bryant, Maureen Magarity, Nikki Flores, Emily Stallings, Kristina Danella, and Stephanie Del Preore.

Kresge is in her third season as the Head Coach at the University of Vermont and has Van Horn and Beck-Bryant as assistants. Magarity is in her first season as the Head Coach of Holy Cross after spending a decade as the Head Coach at the University of New Hampshire. She is also the daughter of former Marist men’s basketball Head Coach and current Army women’s basketball Head Coach Dave Magarity. Flores and Stallings are assistants on Gebbia’s staff.

Danella is entering her third season as Head Coach at Keystone College (D-III) after having experience coaching at the D-II level at Caldwell University in New Jersey and San Francisco State. Del Preore is entering her second season at the helm of East Stroudsburg (D-II) after having experience coaching at both Bridgeport (D-II) and LIU Brooklyn.

Pierce, Gebbia, and Whittington all agree that Giorgis prepares his assistants to lead their own programs.

“He gives you an opportunity to learn the game, he gives you responsibilities that you have to follow through on. You have to be good at what you do,” said Whittington. “He wants to gain trust that you can complete the tasks he gives you, and then he sets you free. When he feels that you are ready, he puts you out there and allows you to be successful.”

“He absolutely does,” said Gebbia. “If you’re hiring from Brian’s staff, they haven’t run their own programs, but somebody has to trust that they’ve learned enough to know how to coach. I hope that ADs can figure out how to do that. Brian doesn’t sugar-coat anything. If he feels that they’re ready, he will say.”

Pierce continued by saying that Giorgis makes sure his assistants have responsibilities and that the things they are responsible for will help them later on in their careers.

“It’s depressing for me because I have to lose [assistants], but when they have success with their schools, it makes me feel ecstatic,” said Giorgis.

With Gebbia at the helm of American, the Eagles have made two NCAA Tournament appearances, and two WNIT appearances. They have won three out of their last four games and play Lafayette this weekend.

Pierce and Niagara have earned 36 conference wins during her tenure and pushed Marist to the brink in the first game of their conference series last weekend.

Under Whittington, the Red Flash are on a six-game winning streak to open NEC play. Their next game is scheduled for February 4th at home against Merrimack.

Doughty has been with Giorgis since his first season when she was a freshman on the team. Giorgis is preparing her to take over the program that he built and legitimized, and for the new era when he retires.

“I really like it here,” said Doughty. “I am continually challenged here. We’ve sustained success, rebuilt, and even coached through a pandemic now. We’ve had a taste of everything, I’m still learning every day, and I feel like I’ve been able to grow a lot here.”

“She is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever been around,” said Giorgis. “Marist will be fortunate to have her continue the legacy of the program.”

It appears that the Brian Giorgis coaching tree will extend at least one more branch and will continue to grow even taller if current assistants for these programs are fortunate enough to earn head coaching positions later in their careers.

Edited by Jonathan Kinane & Mackenzie Meaney

Photo by Marist Athletics

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