By Rob Potter
SULLIVAN COUNTY As a youngster growing up in Liberty, Jon Tanous watched his father, Jim Tanous, coach football and basketball teams at the modified, junior varsity and varsity levels at Liberty Central School.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Jon Tanous said. “I decided in high school that I wanted to be a coach.”
Today, Jon Tanous is doing just that. He is in his first year as an assistant coach for the Ithaca College men’s basketball team.
Prior to taking the job at Ithaca, Tanous spent six years as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at SUNY Potsdam. Like Ithaca College, SUNY Potsdam is a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III team.
Tanous has an extensive basketball background. He played for the Liberty JV boys’ basketball team in eighth grade and ninth grade. In 10th grade and 11th grade, he played for the Liberty boys’ varsity basketball team.
He then transferred to Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School for his senior year and played on the school’s varsity boys’ basketball team. Tanous also competed in football, baseball and track during his high school career.
After graduating from Jeffersonville-Youngsville in 2001, Tanous enrolled at SUNY Potsdam. He played for the university’s men’s basketball team for four years.
“I was a role player all four of those seasons,” he said. “I was a shooting guard and my job was to come off the bench and shoot the ball. I averaged about 10 minutes a game.”
During the 2003-2004 season, SUNY Potsdam reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA D-III Tournament. The following year, the team made it to the Elite Eight of the tourney.
“That was the best experience I have ever had in basketball,” Tanous said of reaching the Elite Eight, only one step away from the Final Four. “To play in an atmosphere like that is very exciting.”
SUNY Potsdam Coach Sherry Dobbs Jr. knew of the passion Tanous had for the game and that he wanted to be a coach. After Tanous graduated, Dobbs added Tanous to the team’s staff as an assistant coach.
“My six years there were great,” Tanous said. “I learned a lot and gained experience.”
Dobbs even helped Tanous get the job at Ithaca College.
“We remain pretty close,” Tanous said of Dobbs.
Now Tanous is very happy to be working with Ithaca Coach Jim Mullins, the staff and players.
“This is a great position,” he said. “It’s one of the best assistant coaching positions in Division III basketball. Working with Coach Mullins is a great experience.”
But it’s a job that means long hours and plenty of time on the road recruiting high school players.
“I like to say there are 12 months in a year, but this is a 13- or 14-month a year job,” Tanous said.
For Tanous, the positives of his job far outweigh the negatives.
“My favorite part of the job is working with these players and helping them become the best players and people they can be,” he explained. “I want to be a positive influence on these guys. It is so important that they achieve all they can on the court and off the court.”
So what is the most challenging part of Tanous’ job?
“I would say it’s recruiting,” he said. “A lot of people think that when you’re a coach you spend time at your desk and then work with the players in practices and games. But they forget about the recruiting and the fact that it just keeps going on.
“When you are recruiting, you are casting a large net to catch a few fish,” Tanous continued. “You are looking for quality players and students. Academics plays a large part in recruiting. If you start out with 300 possible recruits, about half will be ruled out because of academics.”
Tanous has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Technical Education. A few years ago, he thought about becoming a high school teacher and basketball coach. But he has since changed his mind.
“I plan on making coaching my career,” Tanous said. “I want to become a head coach someday.”
Tanous has some advice for those who want to pursue a career in coaching.
“First, make sure you get your education,” he said. “Many college coaches have master’s degrees. Stay connected to basketball as much as possible. Stay in touch with coaches and players.
“And remember, not every coach is a former player,” Tanous added. “One of our assistant coaches here is a senior. He started out as a team manager and has worked himself up to be an assistant coach while he’s still a student here at Ithaca.”
Another county native has coached NCAA basketball
Jon Tanous is not the only Sullivan County native who has coached an NCAA basketball team.
Ben Newberg of Monticello was an assistant coach at SUNY New Paltz, an NCAA D-III team, for the 2010-2011 season.
Unfortunately for Newberg, he became the odd man out when Coach Bagan Nelson left SUNY New Paltz to take a coaching job in North Carolina.
“Most head coaches bring their own coaching staff with them when they go to another school,” Newberg said. “And that’s what happened in this case.”
At the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, Newberg got a job with an AAU company. But it wasn’t quite what he expected, so he left the company and moved back home to Monticello.
He is now an assistant coach for the boys’ basketball team at his alma mater, Monticello High School.
“I’m helping these players work hard and get better,” Newberg said. “I really enjoy that.”
He would also enjoy returning to the college coaching ranks.
“It was a great experience at New Paltz and I would like to be a college coach again,” Newberg commented.
Like Tanous, Newberg offered advice for prospective coaches.
“I would say they should maintain their focus on basketball,” Newberg said. “They should learn all they can about basketball and get to know as many players and coaches as they can. And gaining experience by coaching youth sports and AAU teams really helps.”