For a long time, Jason Nese was happy coaching basketball at the junior high level at Riverside, becoming vice-president in running a recreational league that featured mostly seventh- and eighth-grade girls.
Eleven years into his coaching career, he sought new challenges, hooking up with an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) program conducted at Riverfront sports complex across the street from Scranton Memorial Stadium.
That move accelerated his coaching career as, less than six years later, the 38-year-old Nese is on his second high school head coaching position, taking over the boys program at Lackawanna Trail.
The road to coaching the Lions, his first boys’ job, has had a series of twists and turns that have combined to make him the coach he is.
“When I met with Lackawanna Trail, I decided to take the challenge [of taking over a boys program for the first time],” Nese said.
The path to getting Nese to Lackawanna Trail got a boost from his time at Riverfront, which kept him in touch with some of the area’s coaches, and gave him a heads-up when a position became open.
“I found out that Pittston Area was looking for a JV coach,” Nese said. “I talked to Kathy Healey, the head coach there, and she brought me aboard four years ago.”
It turned out to be a short stay.
“The next spring, I was coaching AAU and there were a few girls from Mountain View,” Nese said. “I talked with the parents, and they told me the girls varsity position was open. I told them that I was from Old Forge and I didn’t even know where Mountain View was.”
Undaunted by that, he applied and was hired at Mountain View, where he continued to expand his connections.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Nese said. “I got on the board of the local Coaches vs. Cancer, and got to know Andrew Kettel [the boys head coach at Lackawanna Trail who was the leading organizer of the group].”
Kettel left Lackawanna Trail in 2013 when he was hired to coach the varsity team at Scranton Prep, leaving an opening with the Lions.
Again, uncertainty was in his mind as he had never coached a boys team before.
“He [Kettel] told me about the opening,” Nese said. “I met with the people from Lackawanna Trail, and decided to take the challenge.”
He entered his new job intent on staying with what he wants his teams to do, and that was run.
“I’m not going to change the way I coach,” Nese said. “With the girls, it seems to be a little more instruction. The boys, you tell them once or twice, and they’re doing things the way you want them to.”
The first few games were eye-opening experiences for Nese, who admitted that he may have underestimated the differences between boys’ and girls’ basketball.
“The speed of the game and the physicality are different,” Nese said. “I’ve been coaching girls for so long, the first few boys’ games, everything was going so fast. [Play] was a lot more physical. Boys are more aggressive and have a lot more disregard for their bodies; they’ll dive all over the place, take charges against much bigger players. Someone is always trying to get the ball.”
The Lions are running and Nese is seeing the game a little better now with a few games under his belt.
“I feel pretty comfortable, but I still have a few things to adjust to,” Nese said. “The flow of the game; I like to play up-tempo and push the ball upcourt. It’s what I wanted to do with the girls teams, but the boys are better able to carry it out.”
Defensively, it’s another challenge for Nese to get used to.
“On the defensive side, there are far more shooters in the boys’ game,” Nese said. “With the girls, you can play a lot more zone and dare them to make shots.”
As Nese gets more used to coaching the faster, more physical boys’ game, the Lions players will have a better understanding of exactly what he wants from them. It may take a little time for everybody to get on the same page, but Nese has been around long enough to know how to get everybody playing his brand of basketball eventually.
After all, he has coached at the junior high, junior varsity and varsity girls levels, making him adept enough to make the slight adjustments to a different level of basketball.