By VINCE PELUSO
Matt Vespa knows what he’s getting into when taking over the Geneva boys basketball program.
The Eagles have won just two games over the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean Vespa is any less excited about the prospects of returning Geneva to the winning program it once was.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I did actually hear (warnings) from a couple people when I received the offer. They were supportive, but surprised (I took the job). I take that as a challenge and I embrace it. I think we can win here. I kind of have an idea of how we wanna play and they’ve done a great job responding (this summer).
“If you wanna be great, and I wanna be great at coaching, you have to face challenges. Nothing comes easy.”
Vespa comes to Geneva from South, where he served as a varsity assistant for the past four years.
A 2002 graduate of North, Vespa is certainly familiar not only with the Eagles’ program, but also the competition he will be up against playing in the always-difficult Premier Athletic Conference.
“The PAC is a pretty good conference,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good teams and I know a lot of these coaches so I get a sense about what these schools have. North has tough kids, South typically has athletes, all these teams kind of have an identify.
“A couple of these guys are coming back as coaches that I played against. So I’m familiar with these guys not just as player but now as peers.”
As an assistant at South, Vespa had a front-row seat to see the Eagles play twice a year over the last four seasons.
While he didn’t always see a winning team, he saw players who had the qualities of a winning team.
“I saw kids that play hard all the time, I know that’s kind of a cliché, but we would talk all the time on the bench at South, like, ‘man, these kids play really hard,’” he said. “I think they can win. There’s not a ton of size but I’ll take hard-working kids over tall kids any day.
“In the little bit of time we’ve been together it’s been a very pleasant surprise. Anything we ask them to do they’re ready to go.”
While he knows his team won’t be the tallest, Vespa does know how he wants them to play under his watch.
“We want to be disruptive when we play,” he said. “We can’t do that with size per say, but they’re pretty quick, athletic, hard-nosed kids. The word VCU uses, and we’re going to use, it’s ‘cause havoc.’ Whatever other teams do, we wanna cause havoc. That’s a style they’re embracing.
“It takes a while to learn how to do that and play like that for an entire game but they’re doing a good job.”
To play that style, Vespa said his players need to learn how to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
“I use the word process all the time with the kids because we’re learning how to play basketball hard,” he said. “I know that sounds easy, but most don’t’ know how to do it. We gotta learn it. We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and pushing ourselves. There’s not a lot of players willing to do that.
“We’re learning how to practice then you learn how to compete. Then you learn how to beat teams you’re better than and eventually, you learn to beat teams you’re not better than.”
Vespa said he feels his time as an assistant coach has him well prepared to take over his own program.
“It was a great experience, I worked for two different head coaches and learned a lot from both of those guys about basketball and how to run the program,” he said. “That’s kind of the most shocking thing — just learning how to run a program.
“But it’s been great for me. I played in the PAC, now I coach in the PAC. I see different things from different teams and I’ve learned a lot.”
While Vespa hasn’t put any win-loss goals on his team for his first season, he said his biggest goal is to have teams not look forward to playing the Eagles.
“I don’t want people to look at Geneva and say, ‘OK, good, we get to play Geneva,’” he said. “I want teams to not want to play us. If that happens, then you’re winning and you’re playing the right way.”