NEW CASTLE — A year away from coaching was long enough for Larry Ondako.
The former Westminster College men’s basketball coach is keeping his talents in the local area after being named Monday night to coach the Union High girls basketball team.
“It’s exciting. I’m excited to be back coaching,” Ondako said. “I’ve been around coaching and coached my whole life, so I’m excited.”
The timing was right for Ondako to put his name back into the coaching circuit, a year after Westminster moved in another direction for its basketball program by not asking him back after the 2011-2012 season.
“Everything is just opportunity and timing. So much plays into it,” he said. “There were so many factors in taking the Union job. For one, one of my former players, Brian Fadden, was the previous coach there. He did an excellent job there. I loved coaching him as a player and I know he was doing things the right way. It’s a nice situation with how the program is set up.
“Second is the people from the top down, from the superintendent to the people I interviewed with and the athletic director. It’s been a strong athletic department and school district.”
Ondako coached the Titans for nine seasons as head coach, compiling a 96-143 record (.402), including a 6-20 mark he final year. He also spent five years as an assistant coach under Jim Dafler. Ondako’s 2003-2004 team won the Presidents' Athletic Conference title.
The drop from the college ranks to high school isn’t a step backward, according to Ondako, who is excited for the opportunity to do what he loves.
“To me, it’s coaching. I’m not a college coach, I’m not a high school coach, I’m not even a basketball coach,” he said. “I enjoy coaching. Coaching didn’t fit into my schedule last year and it happens to now. Again, opportunity, timing and location all factor in. I decided it was time to get back in it.”
Coaching runs in Ondako’s roots. He was an assistant under his father, Larry, at Leechburg High School and helped his mother, Julia, coach soccer teams.
“I think the biggest thing is my dad coached for 35 years. I’ve been coaching with his teams and watching him coach and observing the coaches I’ve had forever. I want to say you’re born to coach, but if you’re a coach it’s in you.”
Ondako brings 18 years of coaching experience, 15 of which he spent at Westminster, to the Lady Scots program. The team performed well under former coach Fadden last year, finishing the season 11-11 but losing to Winchester Thurston in the WPIAL Class A first-round, 45-36.
“I think it’s going to be a great fit with our kids and certainly for Larry. He’s full of energy,” Union athletic director Bob Natale said.
“His experience stood out to me. He was 15 years at Westminster. He comes from a family of coaches — his dad was a coach and his mom was a coach. His personality won you over. It suited me very well.”
Ondako’s goal won’t change much, despite going from coaching a group of college men to a team of high school girls. In fact, he already has met with his new team to give them an idea of what to expect.
“I think that’s the biggest thing and the very first thing I told my girls when I met with them,” Ondako said. “I’m not going to come down and wave some magic wand because I coached at the collegiate level. I kind of used the ‘Hoosiers’ line with them that the hoop is still 10 feet tall. There’s not a whole lot that changes. In the end, it’s just coaching basketball to me.
“I think all coaches are trying to get to the next level in life. (University of Kentucky coach) John Calipari is trying to get his kids into the pros. I’m trying to get these kids now into college. We’re just trying to advance the kids in life.”
With his wife Bess, Ondako has spent the past year taking over her uncle’s beer distributor in Hopewell, Brodhead Beer Distributors. The couple has lived on Sumner Avenue in New Castle for 12 years. They have a daughter, Zoey, 10, and twins, Sam and Casey, 6.