NEW CASTLE —
Blundo and his staff continue to evolve as coaches and build on their successes and experiences.
“Over time, you just take a little bit of everybody and you think about things that will make your team better and make your system better,” he said. “Really, for us, I kind of had to change. The last time I was a head coach (at GJR), I had a 6-11 guy and a 6-7 guy. I ran all double post stuff.
“Then, I get the job here and the guys walk into the gym and the tallest guy is 6-1. At that moment, I knew I had to get out there and find a system that was right for this group. I called around, talked, read and settled in on a system that fit our personnel perfectly. The combination of all that, plus great players, led to our success.”
Sarandrea has enjoyed watching Blundo establish a strong identity.
“What I see from Ralph is a maturity and a combination of all of the coaches that have had an influence, certainly not just me,” he said. “He played for Don Ross and Ron Galbreath and coached under me for a number of years. I think you take from each coach the qualities and characteristics that you like and you form your own system and your own style based on that and I think that’s a good thing to do.
“Over the years, that’s what I’ve done. The people who have had great influence on me in the coaching realm, I’ve tried to take on the characteristics I thought made them successful and make some of those your own as you go. You have to be yourself, your own man. At the same time, you learn from the coaches what you didn’t like as well. As long as you’re learning and constantly willing to learn and change and get better, you’re always going to be in pretty good shape.”
Sarandrea knows life experiences outside of basketball help shape a coach’s personality, too.
“I think a lot of things happen to you along the way. I know, for me, when I became a parent, it really impacted the way I coached and how I talked. Whereas, before that, I didn’t have as much regard as I do now. I think, probably parenthood, has had some effect on Ralph,” he said.
“Knowing your players and how they respond to you being upset. If you’re upset, then they will normally follow suit. If you are calm, they will normally follow suit. Good coaches learn that over time – how players are going to feed off of them. I see a lot of that from Ralph. That’s especially important when you have young teams, not to lose your cool or to panic. I do see that from him, too. I just see, overall, really, really good things from his game coaching.
“I am not at practice, but I know they have to practice hard because, if they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t be able to do this in the game. Games are probably easy for them because practices are probably 10 times harder than any game they play. I mean that sincerely. Ralph knew that as a player and from working with me. We were the kings of the three- and four-hour practices. Nobody left the gym until we were done. He is really the complete package when it comes to coaching: He played; he coached successfully as an assistant and he’s making his own mark.”
Practices are one area where Blundo has made adjustments. Notoriously intense physically, the practice sessions ease up a bit as the season unfolds.
“We scale them down as the year goes on because it’s so much more important to be healthy and I learned that,” he said. “I thought that, my first year, maybe our run might have been cut a little short because I overworked the guys. I don’t ever want to make that mistake again. We believe in hard work, but I believe you have to temper it sometimes.”
While some things may change, Sarandrea can still pick out some characteristics that have been part of New Castle basketball for years.
“Oh absolutely. They run a lot of their own sets, but certainly they run sets that we had a great deal of success with over the years. I see them out there. In fact, he even calls them the same name in a lot of cases,” he said with a laugh. “There are what we would call ‘staple’ New Castle plays that we’ve run over the years. Some you put away on the shelf for a couple of years for when you have a team it will work well for.
“The playbook has a lot of similar things, as it should. The style of basketball has been the same for the last 20 years. You want to push it; you want to run; you want defense to be your signature; and you want to try to put some points up on the board when the opportunity is there. There are a lot of different things that are similar.”
Overall, Blundo and his coaches work the long hours and sacrifice time with their families and loved ones for one common goal — improving their players as human beings. The gold medals are a byproduct of that effort. They take great pride in it.
“I am born and raised from New Castle. I am as deeply rooted in a place as anyone could possibly be,” he said. “What’s been great for me is being able to watch my players continue to grow and get better and mesh and jell as a unit and seeing the success that comes with all the hard work.
“Looking at their faces Saturday, those are the best moments. Those are the moments you work for.”