For 25 years, John Mateyko has been a financial planner, but for more than 25 years, John Mateyko has had a love for basketball. His love of basketball is shown in his job at head coach of Division III St Joseph’s College in Patchogue, where he has been the head coach of the Golden Eagles for the past seven years.
His love affair with basketball started when he first played at Archbishop Malloy under the legendary Jack Curran. Coach Curran is celebrating his 50th year coaching at Archbishop Molloy. Among one of many of Curran’s disciples is George Mason Head Coach, Jim Larranaga, who also played for Curran at Archbishop Malloy, and later coached Mateyko at American International. As Mateyko says about Curran, “He’s it. That’s where you learn. Larranaga learned from him. I learned from Larranaga. I try to take as much as possible from them”. Coach Mateyko showed me a picture of himself with Larranaga, a good friend whom he talks to often.
After playing at American International, he was a graduate assistant coach there, where he coached former NBA guard Mario Elie, who played for the Houston Rockets during their championship teams. He became an assistant coach at St Mary’s Manhasset for his best friend Tim Cluess, who is now the head coach of CW Post (the Pioneers are also having a great year at currently 23-4), then he became an assistant at SUNY Maritime for four years, two as associate head coach. Then he was hired as the St Joseph’s coach in 2001. Mateyko notes “Our first year we only had five guys who played high school ball. We had six guys on the bench who never played in high school.”
His team this year, along with CW Post and Farmingdale State, is one of the few college basketball teams in the local New York area that has had a successful season. Coach Mateyko commented, “There’s a lot of teams with a lot of losses. Well, we’ve been working on this. This is something that is growing. Last year 17-10 (which included their first ever trip to the ECAC tournament). Year before that 16-10. This year we’re 18-5 (at that time).”
Mateyko goes about recruiting players in a different way. Mateyko talked about his pipeline, connections with finding players who transferred out of schools who came home. “We actively look for kids that have been out of ball or leave colleges and return home”. His star guard, Junior David Acree, who averages nearly 20 points per game, didn’t play for three years. Acree next year will set the St Joseph’s scoring record, the three point record, and probably will for a career average 5 rebounds a game. “He’s a walking statistic.” Acree is among seven kids coming back for next year, as Mateyko puts it, “the nucleus of the program”
His incoming class next year includes a transfer from Malloy College, Joe Zola a 6-6 240 pound kid. Another is Brandon Anderson a 6-8 transfer. Then finally his best transfer, J..J. Walsh, a 6-5 former NAIA player of the year, who is a good friend of Acree and who wants to play his last year with him.
However, he also does recruit freshman. Mateyko recruited star seniors Brandon Freeman and Phil Lipari from high school. Lipari was his first big high school recruit, a former Nassau County Player of the Year. “I knew with Phil once he decided to come to St Joe’s we’re going to get good. Because he was the first player we recruited that everyone else in the league was recruiting.” Mateyko finishes talking about Lipari stating “Lipari is great. He’s been the backbone of this program”. Freeman, was different, a former honorable mention all Long Island who “fell through the cracks” who Mateyko states has the same talent now as he did as a senior in high school.
Mateyko’s offensive philosophy is simple. “We like to run. We score 85 points per game.” However in their first game I saw them, a win over Yeshiva, they played a very methodical game in the sixties due to Yeshiva’s zone defense. “We decided that we’re going to pass the ball four or five times before we take that 20 footer”, And they did, often getting the ball inside for easy layups.
The night I interviewed him, they were playing for first place in the Skyline Conference against Farmingdale State, a team they lost in their first matchup. When asked about what adjustments he was going to make against Farmingdale, it was a very simple, straightforward yet smart answer. “We didn’t shoot particularly well. The adjustment we’re going to make is we’re going to shoot better”. Well, the adjustment worked as Acree scored 37 points in a 91-81 win.
They would finish tied for the regular season conference championship and as Coach Mateyko predicted to me that night, Farmingdale won the tiebreaker based on strength of schedule. After a semifinal win over Yeshiva, the two teams would meet again for the championship of the Skyline Conference at Farmingdale and the automatic bid into the Division III championship tournament. It wasn’t meant to be as the Rams downed the Golden Eagles 91-71 to win the championship and the automatic bid.
Coach Mateyko thought they had a chance at an large bid with 21 wins and a co-regular season championship with the Rams. “The Skyline conference is a good conference. Its well organized and its consistent. The last few years, five years, our skyline representative has gone to the field of 32 or 16.” Unfortunately, the Division III committee didn’t see it that way and left the Golden Eagles out of the tournament.
St Joseph’s did get selected for the ECAC tournament and hosted a game tonight vs. NYU. Again the results were not what the Golden Eagles hoped as NYU came back from a halftime deficit to beat St Joseph’s 83-79. Still it was a very successful season at 21-7. Acree was First Team All Skyline, Lipari was named second team All Skyline, and for his work, Coach Mateyko was named Skyline Coach of the Year.
But if you asked John Mateyko what his proudest moment as a coach was, you would be pleasantly surprised. “We have had some great moments, some great wins, 4-5 wins. One of the proudest moments is my assistant is one of the kids who started with me as a player, Tim Trava. He’s been with me five years now. So watching him grow up as a man, that’s been kind of the best part I think, besides the program coming from 5 wins a year to now 18 wins a year. So that’s really one of the nicer things, seeing one of your old players doing well but even coaching with you.”
As for the coach, well coaching for the Golden Eagles is only a “part time job”. His full time position is his financial planning. One of his clients is a famous movie star (no I didn’t ask who it was). So how does he balance his full time job, with a coaching position that really is more than a part time job. As he puts it, his wife had the best response. “She goes I don’t know how it happens”.
As for the possibility of coaching full time, Mateyko is realistic. “You always consider it, but it doesn’t always end up that way. You hope that opportunity will arise, but I am very happy here. This is a nice place.” And for that nice place, St Joseph’s, they have a financial planner/coach whose 25 plus year love affair of the game has given them a return on their investment with potential future long term yields.