Life’s twists and turns can form some unforeseen developments. Lucas Grigonis knows full well.
Back during the 2004-05 high school boys basketball season, Grigonis was a senior playing for Southold. That season also happened to be the late Phil Reed’s first season in Southold as Jeff Ellis’ assistant coach.
At the time, Grigonis could not have imagined that he would one day succeed Reed as the First Settlers’ coach. “I would have never thought that I would be back here coaching, to be honest,” Grigonis said. “It has been a wild ride.”
Reed’s stunning death on Jan. 26 at the age of 59 left Southold in shock. Ellis picked up the reigns and coached the team through the remainder of a 6-11 season.
Now the job has been handed over to Grigonis, 29. Although this is his first varsity head coaching job, he has been something of a fixture at his alma mater. In basketball, he was Southold’s junior varsity coach the past two seasons and he coached the seventh-grade team for three years before that. Because of that, Grigonis said he has known most of the players in the program since they were 12 years old.
And they know him.
“Most of the guys know him, so we’re kind of just picking up and running right from the start,” senior guard Pat McFarland said last Thursday night following the team’s fourth preseason practice. “He’s just very upbeat. He definitely has a win mentality and really strives to push everyone out of their comfort zone.”
Players understand the importance of hustle, too. Not hustling is something Grigonis doesn’t tolerate.
Anthony Klavas, a senior who can play center or power forward, was on Grigonis’ junior varsity team two years ago. Klavas advises his teammates to “put all their effort and especially never give up on a play. Specifically, if you never try on a play or you give up on the play, he’s going to bench you. He expects 110 percent from everyone.”
Grigonis’ remarks during an interview following last Thursday’s practice back that up.
He said, “I always say to my players, ‘If there’s one thing you’re going to do for me today, [it] is you’re going to work hard,’ and they know that and they do.”
Grigonis has some experienced players to work with. McFarland and Klavas are among six returning seniors along with Gus Klavas (Anthony’s brother), Doug Fiedler, Dylan Clausen and Matt Cardi.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Grigonis said. “I think we’re athletic. I think we have the ability to play a fast game, and actually in size, we’re actually taller than what we normally are. So, I think in that sense, we’re capable of doing a lot of things.”
One thing Southold doesn’t have that it had last year is excessive numbers. Reed carried a roster with 18 players. Grigonis expects to have 10 players on his team.
The first several days of practice have involved a lot of hard work in the Southold gym.
“We kind of went back to fundamentals and we kind of just beat them up this week,” Grigonis said. “We did a lot of core training and sprints and defensive positioning. I was telling kids, we kind of knocked down the old house and we’re digging a new foundation, essentially. We’re starting from the ground up.”
Grigonis said there is plenty of sentiment involved in coaching the team he used to play for. He said he would like see Southold restore itself to the days in the not-too-distant past when it regularly reached the playoffs. Step 1 will be the season that is to come.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting year,” Grigonis said. “I think there’s a lot to look forward to. Obviously, no one can tell what’s going to happen, but I know that by our first game, we’ll be ready to play.”
Of course, there can be some more twists and turns to come.
Photo caption: Southold’s new head coach, Lucas Grigonis, has rolled out the basketballs for preseason practice. (Credit: Bob Liepa)