South Xtra: New coach keeping Clairton on top of Section 3-A title race
Clairton's Jojuan Bray blocks a shot by Monessen's Nickodemes Payne during a Bears victory last Friday.
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People often have a plan for their life, a way that things are supposed to work out, a natural order where one step follows another.
Sometimes, though, a loop is thrown into those plans and dreams, an alteration that can be debilitating for some to readjust when things don't work their way.
For Matt Geletko, he couldn't be happier he was forced to change his dream.
After spending most of his basketball coaching career at his alma mater, Serra Catholic, Geletko is in his first season as the boys' head coach at Clairton and is hoping to make his mark while leading an already successful Bears' program to new heights.
Thus far, it's been a rewarding experience for him, even if there have been adjustments for the first-time head coach.
"It's been fun, it really has. I scouted for the football team, so I got to know these guys through football and being around them, so I didn't come in as just a stranger," Geletko said. "It's been a little bit of an adjustment so far, just putting in a whole new offense and defensive system, but it would be like that anywhere you go."
Though Geletko grew up in Clairton and has some connections to the school, much of his basketball identity is rooted 11 miles away at Serra in McKees-port.
He played basketball and graduated from there in 1992 before working as an assistant for coach Bob Rozanski, a position he held for 12 years. With Geletko playing a key role on their bench, the Eagles experienced a very successful stretch, going 136-26 in his last six seasons working under Rozanski.
It was a span in which Serra won at least 20 games five times, won numerous section titles, made the PIAA playoffs each season and even captured both the WPIAL and PIAA Class A championships in 2008.
When Rozanski and another longtime assistant, Mickey Kotun, retired following the 2010-11 season, Geletko stood in an enviable position -- as a veteran assistant who was there for so many of Serra's triumphs, as well as being an alumnus and former player, no less. In many ways, he was a natural and obvious successor.
Serra's administration chose another of Rozanski's assistants, however, selecting Vince Gibbons for the job. Like Geletko, Gibbons was also a former Serra student (Class of 2003) and a former player under Rozanski.
After so many years putting in valuable work for a school he cared about deeply, it was a decision that stung Geletko.
"It was ... I'm not going to lie," Geletko said when asked if that moment was a blow to him. "It definitely was. I don't know who all of the other candidates were for the job, but ... it was definitely disappointing, it definitely hurt. But I'm past that now and I'm happy to be here."
While he was passed over for the job at Serra, Geletko's goal of becoming a head coach was realized after last season when he took over Clairton's program from Theron Pitts.
New coaches often look to implement changes that will build the program more in their image and for Geletko, that retooling starts with the Bears' offensive system. He said that he wants Clairton to play with more discipline -- in particular, less forced shots and more ball movement -- especially when playing against the zone defenses often seen in the WPIAL.
Now 11 games into his first season, the results have been promising. The Bears are off to an 8-3 start, a mark that includes a 5-0 record in WPIAL Class A Section 3 play.
For the players, it's been a smooth and enjoyable transition.
"So far it's been good because he's really the type of coach who lets us play our style of basketball," senior guard Bryon Clifford said. "He likes to play an up-tempo kind of offense and we're a very fast team and I think that fits us great."
At a small school where the school's über-successful football program often cuts into basketball season, Geletko and his staff are moving through challenges this season with a roster featuring standout seniors such as Clifford, Titus Howard and Tyler Boyd.
As for the future of his new program? Geletko, a Clairton native and lifelong resident, is decidedly optimistic about what the Bears can do in the coming years.
"I think the sky's the limit," Geletko said.
First Published January 24, 2013 12:00 am