There’s plenty to like about Iona’s basketball team this season.
Point guard Scott Machado continues to earn plaudits as one of the game’s premier playmakers, forward Michael Glover was the MAAC preseason player of the year and Arizona transfer Momo Jones helped the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight last season.
The Gaels (8-2) just missed out on the 2011 NCAA tournament, but have that aura of a Big Dance charmer this season. When you’re filling out your bracket this March, they’re a good bet to pull off a win or two.
But the best reason to root for Iona may be its coach, Tim Cluess.
The Cluesses were the Kennedys of Long Island basketball, and yet the youngest child, Tim, doesn’t carry himself as any son of Irish-Catholic royalty at Iona, maybe the one school in the area with a team strong enough to win an NCAA Tournament game or two in March.
His parents wouldn’t tolerate even a hint of arrogance from one of their own, and Tim is driven every day to honor their working-class legacy and to coach in the name of the two brothers who died long before their time.
Greg was 26 when he succumbed to lymphoma in 1976, four years after the New York Knicks picked the 6-foot-9 forward in the sixth round and five years after the New York Nets took him in the American Basketball Association draft. Greg tried out for the Nets instead of the Knicks, and just his luck, the Nets brought in a budding doctor by the name of Julius Winfield Erving II.
Kevin was 33 when he succumbed to leukemia in 1986, 11 years after the Kansas City Kings drafted the 6-foot-5 St. John’s star in the fourth round, cut him, and ignored the scouting report delivered by their own Tiny Archibald, who called Kevin the best guard not in the NBA.
For every game at Iona, Tim wears Greg’s old NIT watch, one that hasn’t kept time in years. He wears a pin of an angel and a basketball in memory of Greg and Kevin, and half of a Mizpah charm that reads, “May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are apart from one another.”
The other half rests inside Kevin’s suit in his casket.
Years later, Cluess still says his brothers “are my life,” clearly carrying their memory with him at all times. He’s a guy who’s about more than just personal glory and success. He’s about family, his players and about making life mean more than just wins and losses.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.