Clairton's Geletko named Daily News Coach of the Year
When Matt Geletko was hired as Clairton's boys' basketball coach during the summer, he called it his dream job.
Your first head coaching job is in the city that you were born and raised, yeah, that can qualify as a dream job.
But don't mistake a dream job for a dream situation … at least not initially.
Even though Geletko had a handful of Division I football recruits, along with a roster full of athletic football players that made history by winning a state-record 63 consecutive games, he never had access to them.
Not during the summer because they were taking part in 7-on-7 football tournaments.
Not during the fall because they were streaking toward a fourth consecutive state title.
Not even during the regular season because of the dragged-on recruiting process of Tyler Boyd, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb.
It wasn't until the last regular-season game against Monessen did Geletko's dream job turn into a dream situation that led to a dream season.
Clairton (17-8) won the section title, won four playoff games, advanced to the WPIAL title game for the first time since 2006 as they knocked off powerhouse Lincoln Park in the process and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
And for that, Geletko is The Daily News Boys Coach of the Year.
“We had a pretty good year when it was all said and done,” Geletko said. “To be honest, I didn't know those guys on the basketball court until football was over and really, not until the entire recruiting process was over for three of them.”
It surely complicated things for Geletko.
He would routinely sit down with assistants Josh Geletko and Remondo Williams to watch tape and create a game plan for an upcoming game.
“Then we would realize that so-and-so has to go here or someone else was going there,” Geletko said. “Not only that, everybody else we had played football, so they were trying to get their legs under them at the same time.”
That would explain Clairton's inconsistency during the regular season.
The Bears would beat Avella by 50 then come back the next day and lose to a then 4-6 Imani Christian team. They would beat Monessen and Burrell in back-to-back games then lose to OLSH and Wilkinsburg.
“We knew that if we wanted to be successful that we needed to know how to play in tight games and know how to execute an offense late in the game when we needed a basket or if we needed to make a stop late in the game,” Geletko said. “Talent can only take you so far.”
That talent returned for good Feb 8, or a day before the final game of the year, and Clairton went to Monessen the next day and won, 51-38.
“They were obviously good football players and obviously good athletes who have been playing together for a while,” Geletko said. “Any new coach coming into that situation is going to be nervous. You know it is going to take a little time for you to get to know them and them to know you.”
But Geletko didn't have time as the playoffs started six days later. Although he wasn't able to make sweeping changes, Geletko was able to move Bryon Clifford from point guard to shooting guard with the return of Boyd, and that's all what was needed.
Clairton beat St. Joseph, upset Union then was a heavy underdog against mighty Lincoln Park in the semifinals.
Clairton rallied from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to outscore Lincoln Park, 12-3, over the decisive final three minutes to stun the Leopards, 71-70, an advance to the title game.
“Looking back, I wish that was one game later,” Geletko said. “That game really took a lot out of us. We had to play an almost perfect game to beat Lincoln Park. We defended well, we shot well and overcame some adversity as well.”
Clairton ended up coming up short of the WPIAL title a few days later with an 86-74 loss to Vincentian.
“What people don't realize is that you just don't roll the ball out and good things happen,” Geletko said. “You might be able to win a couple games. To be able to maintain success, you have to have structure. Overall, I think we had a pretty successful season knowing what we were up against.”