GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Ryan Creighton, Greenport’s all-time leading scorer, started his coaching career last Wednesday with the school’s junior varsity team.
Over the course of his 14 years as the Greenport High School boys basketball junior varsity coach, Ev Corwin often attended Suffolk County coaches meetings with Al Edwards, who coached the Porters for 34 years before retiring this past spring. As Corwin tells it, the two of them would walk into the meeting room together, and he would instantly feel like Claude Rains.
“We went and I walk in, and as usual, I’m invisible because when Al walks in the room, it’s like Michael Jordan walks in the room,” Corwin said. “Everybody’s, ‘Hey, Al! Al! Al! Al!’ ”
Corwin suspected things might different two weeks ago when, as Greenport’s new varsity head coach, he attended a coaches meeting at Longwood High School with Greenport’s new junior varsity coach, Ryan Creighton.
“I’m the new coach of Greenport, man,” Corwin said. “I got my chest out a little bit, and all of a sudden: ‘Ryan! Hey, Ryan!’ ”
Corwin was upstaged again.
“First Al Edwards, now Ryan Creighton, man,” he said, chuckling as he recounted the tale.
The glare of the spotlight has a way of finding Creighton. Edwards was a legendary coach. Creighton was a legendary player for the Porters, and is embarking on his new basketball life as a coach.
In succeeding Corwin, Creighton, 23, finds himself in the unusual position of taking on his first interscholastic coaching job in Greenport High School’s Richard “Dude” Manwaring Gymnasium, the same gym where he delighted home fans with his outstanding play. By the time he graduated from high school, Creighton had led the Porters to three straight trips to the New York State Class D final four and their first state championship game. He finished his high school career as Long Island’s all-time scoring leader and the state’s No. 2 scorer with 2,799 career points. Creighton’s purple No. 34 jersey hangs framed next to Edwards’ white No. 33 jersey high on a gym wall for all to see. They are the team’s only two retired numbers.
As a player, Creighton was a savvy, skilled veteran. As a coach, he’s a rookie, and Wednesday was Day 1 for him as he presided over his first practice.
“It’s exciting,” he said after the practice. “It gives you a sense of joy because they want to learn.”
Creighton said he remarked to Justin Moore, the Porters’ new assistant coach, recently that it seems unreal that he played in this gym only four years ago. What was once his playground not all that long ago, is now Creighton’s workplace. “Now you’re coming in here and it’s like you mean business,” he said.
Make no mistake, fun is also in Creighton’s playbook. During Wednesday’s practice he admonished a player, saying: “Don’t goof around. We’re going to have fun, but we’re also going to work.”
Later, in an interview, Creighton, bearing his trademark smile, said: “You got to go in and basically lay the rules down and everything, but also you want to have fun. That’s what I want. As long as these kids come and they want to work hard and learn the game and have fun, I’m all with it.”
Creighton said it finally hit him that he is a coach the night before the first practice, while he was preparing his schedule plan for the first practice, pen and paper in hand.
Coaching is not exactly new to Creighton, however. In addition to being surrounded by coaches during his playing days, his uncle, Rodney Shelby, is a coach. Creighton did some coaching for Shelby’s AAU team, the Boulevard Boys.
Greenport’s senior center, Austin Hooks, was in junior high school when Creighton was wearing Greenport purple and gold, but he played AAU ball for him. “He’s a pretty good coach,” Hooks said. “The thing with him is he’s just like Coach Al. He’s very calm.”
Creighton said he felt some nerves before the first practice. “You get the nervous butterflies because it’s different now,” he said. “You’re not dealing with yourself and a coach. You’re dealing with 12 different personalities.”
“You’re not going out there and performing,” he continued. “You’re trying to get kids better at the game. You’re trying to teach them fundamentals to help them become better players, so it’s definitely a lot more you have to bring to the table.”
Creighton acknowledged that he has to adjust to the coaching life. He said he is blessed to have the job.
“Once you’re on the other side,” he said, “you definitely feel for the coaches because there’s a lot they have to really deal with, and it definitely takes a toll on them, so you kind of got to tip your hat to the guys who have been doing it for years and give them that respect.”
What does Creighton ask of his players?
“Just come to practice every day and work hard,” he said. “Don’t get down on your teammates. We’re all in this together as a team. Together, everyone achieves more.”
And for all of those points that Creighton scored, he has an appreciation for the value of defense.
“Anybody can put the ball in the hole,” he said. “I want to play defense, though. That’s what’s going to win games for us.”