HUDSON — Joe Ross was fully aware of the challenge he would face when he was hired as the Columbia-Greene Community College men’s basketball team’s fourth coach in as many years over the summer.
Ross inherits a team that hasn’t had a winning season in seven years and hasn’t even played a game since Feb. 2020 because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Still, the Twins’ new coach feels good things are about to happen.
“I’m a rebuild guy,” Ross said. “St. Joseph’s College (Brooklyn) was a club team when I started with them. We eventually joined a league and I started the process for them to become NCAA. Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville) was a club team. I was there for a little while, I helped them join a league and eventually they joined the NCAA.
“So I’m used to working and building and sweeping floors and getting guys and teaching guys that maybe aren’t D-I superstars, but who still want to work hard and love basketball like I do. That’s kind of what I do and I ended up at Columbia-Greene. It was the right call.”
Ross brings a wealth of coaching experience to Columbia-Greene. A Poughkeepsie native, Ross is a two-time Hudson Valley Men’s Athletic Conference (HVMAC) Coach of the Year and brings over 20 years’ experience at the collegiate, high school, and AAU levels. He is currently a full-time professor at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and resides in Putnam County.
“I’m right on the line of Putnam and Dutchess Counties, so I’m about and hour and ten minutes from Columbia-Greene and just under two hours from Brooklyn and I’ve been going there for over 20 years,” Ross said. “Some days I’m doing both Brooklyn and Columbia-Greene, and those are long days. Some days it’s just one or the other and things work out for me. It was my choice and I love what I’m doing.”
Ross took some time off from coaching to re-charge the batteries and is happy to be back teaching the game he loves. He plans on being at Columbia-Greene for the long haul.
“At this level, there are guys at some places that are just looking to be there for a year or two, build a resume and then move on,” Ross said. “I’m not that guy. I have a career and I’m here to build a prgoram. I’m not looking to move up to a better coaching job. I’ve coached at a pretty high level, I’m a college professor and I’m lucky. I have a pretty good life and I’m not looking to move on. I’m looking to help and do whatever I can for this program.”
One factor working against Ross this year was the timing of his hiring. Because he came on during the summer months, he didn’t have much time to recruit new players.
“I got hired late and everybody was gone,” Ross said. “Everybody who was going to play ball was gone. High schools were basically closed because of Covid, plus all the real ball players were already committed. So I have a few really good guys that were already in the school that kind of fell to me and we’re going to go out and grind this year, but it’s going to be a process.”
Ross has a small, six-man roster to work with, but is excited about what each player brings to the table.
Sophomores Bryan Bathrick (6-5) of Germantown and Tayy Gordon (6-2) of Hudson are the Twiins’ co-captains.
“Bryan Bathrick is 6-5 and he’s going to play one through four for us,” Ross said. “He can shoot it, he can handle it, he’s got a great high basketball IQ, which is super important.
“When you have new guys you need a guy like that who is going to be in the right spot and understands what you’re trying to do. He’s really the first person player I met when I came on as coach. He’s a sophomore and wanted to play last year, but he came to me, we went to lunch and I was like ‘Wow, give me a few more kids like him. Terrific young guy.
“Tayy Gordon is going to do a lot of the dirty work. He’s 6-2 and he’s long, he’s smart and he’s a great guy.”
Former Catskill standout DeVon Haye (6-7) will be the Twins’ center, but Ross feels he is more than just a low-post guy.
“Devon has got such a nice, soft touch for a big guy. He’s 6-7 and he can hit the three with anybody. He’s got a nice, soft touch from the elbow and he has a nice basketball IQ, too. He can handle the ball, he can shoot and he’s going to be a key guy for us.”
Another player Ross is high on is Alex Curtis, a tremendous athlete from Greenwich.
“Alex Curtis is 6-2 and is just an all-around athlete. he’s going to be able to play inside when I see certain matchups where I want him to bring a guard down low and score on him and he’s also a good ball handler with a trememdous outside shot.
“He set a record at his high school where he made 10 three’s in one game. He’s got an edge to him. Alex Curtis is not messing with you. Probably the best all-around athlete on the team. He’s going to do a little of everything for us.”
Ross is also expecting key contributions from sophomores Nasiaha Jones (6-0) of Brooklyn and Suman Humagain (6-2) of Hudson.
Ross likes what he’s seen from the team so far, especially its ability to shot the ball.
“We can shoot it. Bryan Bathrick can shoot it, DeVon Haye can shoot it, Alex Curtis can shoot it. If I put a guard on the low block and I just drop it down and everybody else relocates and I have DeVon, and Alex and Bryan outside relocating getting shots, we can shoot it.
“We’ll play some conservatice tight D and make people beat us. I wish I could go baseline to baseline and press people, but I’m not going to be able to this year. Next year I’ll have a different squad with a couple of these guys, but right now it would be silly for me to try to go baseline to baseline just because Joe Ross used to do that.”
Ross explained wat fans can expect to see from the Twins this season.
“I believe in pushing the ball even if you don’t have the best athletes or the fastest team,” he said “My belief is you always run a transition break and make good decisions and make the other team play defense twice. So we always run a transition break and if we don’t get a shot off that’s fine because that means the other team has to rush back and stop us once, then we can run our stuff.
“I’m the kind of person that doesn’t need 1,000 sets, but the five sets I have we’re going to do perfectly. If we do things right, we’ll beat better teams. We’ll run our transition break, we run our stuff smart and strong. I’m the guy that says there’s no bad days on defense, so even if we’re not shooting it well there’s no reason for us not to play defense hard all of the time.”
The Twins have been putting in work at practice in preparation for Tuesday’s opener at Broome County Community College.
“We practice at 6 a.m. most of the time,” Ross said. “I don’t have a million guys, but these guys care and they show up every day. I give them a lot of credit. I get up at 4 a.m. to be there by 5:30 to open the gym and they’re usually there before six, so they deserve to have somebody there with them.
“They like each other, they like to play, they listen, they’re good guys. I’m the kind of guy that likes to have fun with them, but they also know I’m not messing around. They see both sides and they just do it and I just like them. They’re good guys.”
Ross expects the first half of the season to be a learning process for he and his players, but feels the team could b running on all cylinders by the second half of the schedule.
“I’m new to this league, but I’m not new to New York basketball,” Ross said. “What my deal is now is I want to spend the first part of the season learning the league and learning the guys. The second half of the season I want to make some noise. I want our guys to get used to one another as they learn about each other and I expect to be successful. If that means I lose by 20 to the best team in the league, that’s OK. But I expect to be a lot better in the second semester than I am in the first semester.
“There’s no excuses. If we get beat, we get beat. It’s not because I’m new or they’re new. No excuses. It’s their five against our five. I want you to see a different team at the end of January than what you see in November. As I tell the parents, I want the kids to graduate and enjoy this thing, but nobody hates losing more than I do. I’m a competitive guy, too, and you can be both. We’re going to go out there and do the best we can.”
Ross will be assisted by Dan Ward, who played and coached at Cairo-Durham while also volunteering as a referee.
“He’s a tremendous asset to me,” Ross said. “He knows the entire area. He knows every playground, every high school every coach. He knows everybody. He’s a good guy, knows the game and he’s really an asset to me in a lot of ways.
After opening on the road with Broome on Tuesday, the Twins will play at Tompkins-Cortland on Thursday before returning home to host Cayuga Community College on Saturday (1 p.m.) and Onondaga Community College on Sunday (1 p.m.)