BY DAVID RUSSELL
During the 35th Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden last week, the conference honored 35 individuals—including several Queens coaches—who have served the city or the conference.
“These individuals have been selected for recognition because they represent the best of New York City and the Big East Conference,” said Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. “Many have worked behind the scenes for many years without public recognition, and we look forward to honoring them and thanking them for their contributions in front of our great fans.”
Among those honored was Pat Torney, who has been a coach for 41 years. Torney led Newtown High School to the 1997 PSAL title game at Madison Square Garden where the team lost to Paul Robeson.
“It took me 20 years to get back to the floor,” Torney said. “It’s tough when you’re on the floor when you lose. This time it was only a win-win situation.”
Torney had appendicitis right before basketball season in his sophomore year of high school and it kept him out for a month. He asked his CYO coach, Vinny Cannizzaro, who was later the head coach at Christ the King, if he could help out his eighth grade team.
Torney won a city championship in cross country as the head coach at Richmond Hill High School in the early 1990s and led Bayside baseball to a city title in 2016. He has also coached soccer teams in Flushing.
“When you’ve been around the block, if you haven’t figured it out by then, then you aren’t going to,” Torney said of his four decades in coaching. “It’s like ‘The Matrix.’ I see things much quicker.”
Coincidentally, Torney was honored at halftime during the St. John’s-Georgetown game. Torney was St. John’s coach Chris Mullin’s teacher in health and physical education during Mullin’s freshman year at Power Memorial High School.
Another honoree was Carla Nasso, who has coached for 32 seasons.
“It was awesome,” Nasso said. “I don’t want to say we were like celebrities, but seeing ourselves on the jumbotron was very cool. We coached programs on that court and now we’re being honored on the court that the greatest players play on.”
Nasso is currently the basketball coach at Flushing, having previously coached basketball and volleyball at Bayside. She played volleyball, basketball and ran track in high school and also participated in field events. She was top shot putter in the late 1970s.
Coaching followed her playing career.
“It was one of my dreams,” Nasso said. “I had great coaches [who] inspired me. I wanted to give back and share my love and knowledge with my students.”
Nasso has never thought about trying to move up to college coaching, preferring to work with student-athletes at the high school level.
“As coaches, we teach them life lessons,” Nasso said. “As you get older, it’s not always about the wins and losses, but goals and lessons.”
Basketball coach John Demas was also honored during the tournament.
“To be on the court is always a great feeling,” said Demas, who coached boys basketball at Bryant for 30 years and girls basketball at Maspeth for the last two. “You feel completed. You’ve been on a lot of courts, but that’s the ultimate court.”
Demas told his junior high school coach that he wanted to coach and teach. After decades at Bryant, Demas is enjoying coaching young women.
Demas’ son, Jason, followed his father into the coaching ranks, most notably leading Queensborough Community College volleyball to the nationals in Minnesota after winning Region XV.
John Demas said that coaching has kept him in the sport.
“This way, you can stay alive in your sport after the playing days are over,” he said.