When Joe Read left his job as Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School’s junior varsity girls basketball coach to take over the Southold/Greenport varsity team last season, it wasn’t a package deal. The fact that now, one year later, one of his former McGann-Mercy players has joined the Southold/Greenport ranks is an unexpected bonus for the Clippers.
To some of the Clippers, Cari Gehring’s transfer from McGann-Mercy to Southold High School was puzzling. Why, they wondered, would a player of her ability join the Clippers for her senior season?
“We were like, ‘Why is she coming here?’ ” Abby Scharadin, a senior forward, said. “I mean, at first we were like skeptical of her. Who wants to come play for Coach Read? He’s crazy. But she’s a part of our team now and it feels like she’s been here forever.”
Scharadin was being comical in calling her colorful coach crazy, but she was dead serious when she said she expects Gehring to help the team a lot. She isn’t the only one, either.
Coming from a basketball family, Gehring played for Read’s junior varsity team at McGann-Mercy when she was a freshman. The New Suffolk resident was brought up to the varsity team as a sophomore. As a junior, however, she did not play for the Monarchs, choosing instead to focus on playing with her Westbury-based club team, FST.
Transfers of players of Gehring’s caliber don’t come along every day. She has an impressive basketball résumé. How many high school seniors can say they have played for the United States?
Gehring has. She was a point guard for the United States in the United World Games that were played in Austria this past summer. The experience gave Gehring a taste of what it must feel like to be a celebrity.
“People wanted to take pictures with us,” she said. “People were asking us for our autographs. It was weird because we’re just regular girls. They really like look up to [the] USA. It was like a really overwhelming experience.”
Earlier this month, Gehring played for Suffolk County in an all-star game against Nassau County. She was among 12 players who made the Suffolk team; 75 players tried out for the squad.
On Wednesday Gehring signed a national letter of intent to play for Chestnut Hill College, an NCAA Division II team in Philadelphia. Her older sister, Danielle, a former McGann-Mercy student herself, is a freshman guard/forward for Chestnut Hill.
Gehring undoubtedly has talent.
“She’s definitely a scorer, so she’s definitely going to be putting up points for us,” senior point guard Justina Babcock said. “That’s what we need.”
Even when Gehring was a freshman, Read could tell that she had something.
“She [is] a really tough, tough competitor,” he said. “She will not quit until she’s dead. She’s very strong. She’s a gym rat.”
Now, back to the question of why Gehring transferred. One of the big reasons is Read.
“I just couldn’t imagine my senior year playing for any other coach,” she said. “He helped me so much. I developed so much because of him.”
“He’s really been like one of the biggest people in my life since freshman year and we hated each other at first,” she continued. “I hated coming to practice at first, but I realized everything he says, he does it with good intentions, and he really helps out so much.”
Gehring played for Southold/Greenport’s team in a summer league, but said she was still a bit uneasy about transferring. Her new teammates, though, soon alleviated those concerns, she said.
“The first week of school I thought I was going to hate it, and everybody here was just so welcoming, especially the basketball girls,” Gehring said after Thursday’s practice. “They were just like welcoming me with open arms. It’s been such an easy transition. … Everyone made it so easy for me and I love it here.”
Gehring sees herself as a point guard but the Clippers will most likely use her to fill a bigger need at shooting guard, succeeding the graduated Sydney Campbell. The Clippers already have a pair of fine point guards in Shannon Smith and Babcock.
Gehring unquestionably boosts the Clippers’ stock. Read said Gehring can shoot from outside, but also likes to penetrate and take the ball to the basket.
“The way we play, she’s going to have to hustle to find her shots, just like everybody else,” Read said. “… I have no doubt that she’s going to find ways to get her baskets. Maybe that will pick everyone else’s game up, too.” He added, “She has to shoot when she can and pass when she should, and that’s true of everybody.”
But Read believes the biggest difference Gehring makes is with her defense. That’s encouraging for a team hoping to improve in that area.
“I kept looking at the [score] book and looking at the film last year,” Read said. “We did a great job offensively last year … but what we were doing was as many as we were scoring we were giving back. So this year our emphasis is going to be” on defense. “We’re going to be some team you don’t want to play.”
Read has a good memory. He hasn’t forgotten his team’s loss to Stony Brook in the Suffolk County Class C final last season, a result that left the Clippers with a 10-7 record. He said, “We’ve got a vendetta to repay against Stony Brook.”
For a team that lost Nicole Busso, Melissa Rogers and Campbell to graduation, the addition of Gehring just may be the pick-me-up the Clippers need.
“Here’s what a coach would love,” Read said. “Think about this: A kid takes the game you coach really seriously. They work at it in the off-season. Every time, they’re working in the gym. That’s what she does. What’s not to like?”