When the Gill St. Bernard’s School girls basketball team overcame a 23-point second-half deficit to upset top-seeded Shabazz in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals in March, John Slackman was part of the cheering section.
The next time that Gill St. Bernard’s plays a game, Slackman will be in charge of the sideline.
Slackman takes over the reins from Aaron Gratch, who joined the Colgate University women’s basketball coaching staff in August, after spending the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the nationally relevant Gill boys team. He inherits a girls team which has won three of the last four Somerset County Tournament titles, is coming off its first ever state title and appearance in the T of C final — where it lost to Manasquan — and returns its top player in junior forward Taylor Rooks.
“It’s a challenge and I have big shoes to fill,” said Slackman, whose resume includes time as a Division III player and later an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford, a girls AAU head coach and a manager at Hoop Heaven in Whippany. “I understand there is pressure. The girls and the fans want to get back to that final game. If I didn’t feel I could handle it, I wouldn’t have applied.”