Tom Rickard has coached here before, but this year has been different.
In his first season helming the SUNY Orange men’s basketball team since the 2012-13 season, Rickard has seen four children — ages 9, 7, 6 and 4 — grow up. He said he’s a bit more mellow than he used to be, remarking, “Having children definitely grounds you,” though he doesn’t know for sure if his players agree with that assessment.
Regardless, Rickard’s method of coaching has struck a chord with this particular group of men. For the first time since the 2005-06 season, SUNY Orange (20-10) has advanced to the District East A/B tournament. The Colts will face Essex Community College at SUNY Sullivan in the semifinals at noon, hoping to punch a spot into the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II tournament.
“Our top five against anyone’s top five,” Rickard said. “We have a chance.”
The leading man on that top five has been Zayne Watson. The second-year forward is averaging 20 points per game and 11 rebounds. Josh Parker is adding 17 points per contest. They have overcome a tough loss to point guard Tanner McFarlane early in the season when he tore his ACL, and now they don’t have reason to doubt their potential. “We could be very dangerous,” said freshman guard Mitch Kernizan.
The significance of the last time Orange reached this point in the season is not lost on Rickard. The 2005-06 season was the last time Tom’s father, Paul Rickard, coached the Colts. Tom was his assistant.
“My dad was everything to me,” Tom said. “He was my mentor. He was my hero. He lived right next to me.”
Paul died in 2017, and like a true basketball coach, Tom remembers the date — March 30 — because it was right around the weekend of the NCAA Final Four. As he nears three years since his father’s passing, Rickard isn’t satisfied with simply getting to the semifinals. He wants to win the championship.
SUNY Orange has been so successful this season because Rickard has treated his players like family. Part of that is after having children of his own, he’s more prepared to foster that culture at work.
Watson noticed a difference in his development from year one to year two, and commends Rickard for helping him grow.
“Him being here really helped me expand my game as a player,” Watson said.
Rickard is still learning too, still adapting as a coach to anything he might have missed during his seven-year hiatus from the sidelines. But he’s still his father’s son, the same one who reveled in bonding with Paul during games and looked forward to road trips in the van.
It’s those cherished memories that pushes him each day to make as many more of them with his family — both on the court and at home — as he can.