Robert Morris women’s coach builds program’s foundation on more than basketball
The reporter wanted to shoot video during the interview, so Charlie Buscaglia quickly excused himself.
“I have to make sure I look alive,” Robert Morris’ women’s coach said, returning to his office after splashing water on his face. “I’ve been in a cave all day watching video.”
But that wasn’t his only excuse for what he perceived to be a bedraggled look.
“When you have a four-month-old baby, you’re up all night. Do I look like death?”
Actually, Buscaglia and his Colonials (14-8, 11-0 Northeast Conference) are more alive than any basketball team in the region, after the fastest start to a league season in school history. As a result, Robert Morris leads the conference by three games with only seven to play.
Robert Morris, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 30, has won 11 games in a row by an average margin of more than 18 points. The march toward a third consecutive NEC regular-season championship resumes Saturday when the Colonials visit Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., before playing St. Francis (Pa.) in Loretto on the way home.
It didn’t always look this easy.
A season after setting the school record for victories (25), Robert Morris started 1-7, playing an ambitious schedule and losing at Iowa, 92-63, and James Madison, 57-36. Iowa (20-5) is ranked 14th in the nation; James Madison (19-4) leads the Colonial Athletic Association.
“Things were happening that we could have gotten very negative and miserable over,” Buscaglia said, “but we continued to stay in our faith that we’re going to get better and we’re going to keep working at it and keep coming to work after a win or a loss with the same steady mentality.
“I’m not one to panic and change. Don’t get negative. Stay positive.”
The NEC proved much less daunting for Buscaglia’s young team – nine of the 13 are freshmen and sophomores – and a team without a star started to jel.
Junior Nneka Ezeigbo, 6-foot-2, leads in scoring, but only at 10.6 points per game. She shares the rebounding lead (7.2) with sophomore Ire Ozzy-Momodu, also 6-2, while 5-8 freshman Isabella Posset contributes 7.9 points and 2.7 assists.
“Some players may have 20 (points) and then have six,” he said. “In our culture, it doesn’t bother us.”
Buscaglia finds players almost anywhere a car or airplane will take him. Ezeigbo, Ozzy-Momodu and Posset are from New Jersey, London, England, and Beaver, respectively. In fact, Buscaglia needed a passport to recruit six of his players.
• Esther Castedo, who has 30 3-pointers, and Laura Carrasco are from Spain.
• Nina Augustin, second on the team with 52 assists, is from Finland.
• Honoka Ikematsu, who leads with 42 3-pointers, is from Japan.
• Nadege Pluviose, second with 65 offensive rebounds, and Julia Chadwick are from Canada.
Buscaglia said he recruits selectively, leaving nothing to chance. He said watching video of a recruit on the court, doesn’t reveal the important stuff.
“What she wants to study, how much she studies,” he said. “Does she have any structure back home? Is she a hard worker? Is she thankful? Does she live by the pillars we live by?”
The pillars upon which he bases his program — servanthood, thankfulness, unity and humility — he learned from Virginia men’s coach Tony Bennett. Those words appear on a small plaque in Buscaglia’s office and a bigger one in the locker room.
One of Buscaglia’s best friends is Johnny Carpenter, who is Bennett’s director of player personnel. Buscaglia talks basketball and coaching with Bennett and Carpenter as often as possible.
Of course, there has been less time for some things these days since Saso was born Oct. 1 to Buscaglia and his wife Roseline.
“You go to bed at night, hoping you can get a few hours in a row,” he said.
It’s hard work balancing family and coaching, but Buscaglia said, “There’s joy in working hard.”
“I’m doing this for a higher purpose,” he said of his long work days. “We put a lot of time in to go out there and win. But what we’re doing here is developing young adults into adults.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.