Mars Area High School boys basketball coach Rob Carmody had plenty of conflicting emotions as his team prepared to take on Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic at the Don Graham Classic this past Saturday at the latter school's Troy Hill campus.
Carmody has been Mars' coach for 16 seasons. But when he walked into Graham Court for one of the final games to be played there as the school will be relocating to southern Butler County for the 2014-15 school year, Carmody's emotions began to surface.
"At the end of the game, I got a little misty-eyed," said Carmody, a 1990 North Catholic graduate.
His team's come-from-behind 74-65 victory against the Trojans improved his team's overall record to 6-4. The Planets were 3-0 in Section 1-AAA going into Wednesday's home game against Indiana.
"I've been in this place since 1986 [as a freshman]," he said. "Hot days in the summer practicing and cold nights coming to play and watch games. [Trojans] coach [Dave] Long means so much to me. This was a tough game emotionally.
"You want to win. I kept looking over at coach Long, and I expected to hear him yell at me and say 'It's time to get in the body shop and do some work.' I wouldn't have been the basketball player I was or the coach that I am without my experiences here with coach Graham and coach Long."
Carmody said that his coaching philosophy was developed by both Graham and Long. He played at North for both coaches, and also was on the staff with both coaches. He said that when he was going over the scouting report, one of his players noticed that one of North's plays was identical to the one his team uses.
"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here," he said. "Coach Graham won a lot more games than I did, and I took so much from these guys that our offense is based on ball and player movement and that's coach Graham and coach Long."
Carmody believes Graham would be pleased with the way his team has responded to a tough schedule, which has featured games against Seneca Valley, Hampton, Montour, defending Class AA state champion Beaver Falls and Aliquippa. The Planets were 1-4 against those teams, but Carmody is encouraged with his team's effort.
"We haven't hit our stride," he said. "We're still very inexperienced, and we had a lot of mistakes [against North Catholic]. The kids have to do a better job of cleaning it up, What I like is that our guys fight. With this schedule, they haven't backed down from anybody."
John Castello, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, matched his scoring average with 17 points against the Trojans. Carmody said Castello has performed very well under trying circumstances.
"He's played against [Hampton's] Ryan Luther, [North Catholic's] Dominic Robb, [Montour's] Dustin Sleva and the big kids from Beaver Falls and Aliquppa and [Zach] Snyder from Seneca Valley. He's gone through the gauntlet of the WPIAL's big players, and he's really good. He's only going to get better, and when he's on the floor for us, he changes our team around."
Balance was a key factor in the Planets' win against the Trojans. Owen Nearhoof, a 6-0 senior guard, scored 17 points. Senior guard Ethan Lewis and sophomore guard Christian Schmitt added 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Carmody loves coaching at Mars. But a big part of who he is can be traced to the years he spent as a student-athlete and an assistant coach at North Catholic.
"This place is in my heart," he said of North Catholic. "I've been at Mars for 16 years, and I love Mars. But there is always a special place in your heart for the school that you went to.
"When you go to a place like North Catholic, you know how special it is. I was very blessed as were all the kids who went to school here. It really is a special place to go to school."