Al Morales has come to expect this: That any coaching change is accompanied by a certain amount of dissension.
“That pretty much comes with the program,” Morales said. “Any situation you fall into, you’re going to have some negatives and some positives. That coach that was there was a great guy, so I think it’s going to cause some adversity.”
It has, but Kennedy Catholic has decided Morales is the man to weather it. He was named the school’s new boys basketball coach Monday afternoon, succeeding Frank Kelly, who was abruptly fired this summer.
Kelly’s dismissal created a firestorm around the program. Parents petitioned the school for information about its decision and requested a thorough interview process with multiple candidates after learning that Morales would be named the new coach immediately. Their wish was granted, but Morales ultimately emerged as Kennedy’s choice.
He has coached in the program previously. He was an assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach under Tom Nelligan when the Gaels won the Class B state and Federation championships. Morales left to coach the boys varsity at Somers for three seasons and was the Kennedy girls coach the last four seasons.
His teams made the County Center two of the last three years, losing to eventual state champion Irvington both times in the semifinals.
“Coaching girls has made me a better coach,” Morales said. “That time definitely increased my knowledge of basketball.”
Still, coaching Kennedy’s boys program had appealed to Morales since he worked under Nelligan, who retired but has since coached two seasons at John Jay.
“It was a dream job for me,” he said.
Morales will have to live that dream with a rebuilt roster. In addition to the graduation of leading scoring and rebounder Thiago Randazzo, Kennedy is in the process of losing several transfers. Among the defectors is the team’s top returning player, junior Mike DeMello, who started at point guard as a sophomore on Kelly’s co-league champs.
“The way everything worked out, the firing of a coach for no rhyme or reason, we just couldn’t understand that,” said Mike DeMello’s father, Lou, the former Rice coach who previously worked with Morales at the Brewster Sports Center. “He was a person who devoted himself, not only financially, but to the school.”
The DeMello family has established residency in White Plains and the younger DeMello has registered at the high school. He will still need to be approved by Section 1 in order to play basketball this winter.
One other member of last year’s varsity, sophomore Mike Del Guidice, transferred back to Brewster, his home district.
“That comes with the territory, I think,” he said. “You move forward with whoever is there. It’s going to take time to build a program.”