OSWEGO — Jason Leone has been reflecting on his decorated tenure as Oswego State men’s basketball coach, from packed gyms to solo conversations, and all the moments that have added up to a sustained run of unprecedented success for the Lakers.
Leone was named the SUNYAC Coach of the Decade for men’s basketball on Feb. 4, a recognition that he believes is more a nod to the collective hard work displayed throughout the program over the past 10 years than solely a reflection of his individual contributions.
Leone has posted a 181-75 overall record since his debut to start the 2011-12 season, which represents the highest win total and best win percentage along with the most NCAA Division III Tournament appearances of any NABC East Region team during the past decade, including 2010-11.
“It gave me a chance to reflect on some great memories over the last decade, some great players and a great assistant coaching staff that has accompanied me on this journey,” Leone said. “We’ve accomplished a lot of firsts for the program.”
The Lakers, who are not playing this year due to COVID-19 concerns canceling the SUNYAC campaign and all winter sports on campus, have reached the NCAA Tournament five times in Leone’s nine seasons.
He guided the squad to NCAA Sweet 16 berths in 2016 and 2019, which is the farthest the program has ever advanced in the postseason. Oswego is the only team in the region to reach the Sweet 16 twice in that span.
Oswego has won four SUNYAC titles under Leone, including three on its home court at Max Ziel Gymnasium and all against different opponents, and has made the SUNYAC championship tournament every season on his watch.
Leone has won four SUNYAC Coach of the Year awards, is a three-time BCANY Coach of the Year and has twice been named NABC East Region Coach of the Year. He has guided four players to All-American status and eight to NABC All-Region honors.
“This is really, truly a team effort,” Leone said. “One person may get recognized with their name on a trophy, but my assistant coaches that have been here and contributed so much of their time for little money, and so many players that have really given up themselves. The team atmosphere just doesn’t work without everybody sacrificing and playing a role and giving of themselves, and this award is more about all that our program has accomplished.”
Leone was hired in Sept. 2011 after four seasons as head coach at Keystone College and previous stints as an assistant at Mercyhurst (2003-07), Clarkson (2000-03), and Potsdam (1999-2000).
His twin siblings — brother, Joe, and sister, Lindsay — are each Oswego alums. Joe Leone was a former Lakers basketball captain and Lindsay played one season for the women’s team.
Leone also had strong connections to the past two Oswego men’s basketball coaches, Kevin Broderick and Adam Stockwell, and a strong respect for each that made the position even more appealing.
Leone played youth basketball in the Oswego area before becoming a career 1,000-point scorer for Syracuse-Christian Brothers Academy. He went on to play for Division I Lafayette and Division III Rochester.
“Knowing the past coaches and the history of the program, and being from the area growing up in Syracuse, I played a lot of youth basketball at St. Paul’s Leprechaun League (in Oswego) growing up, so having a tie to the area and to the school was an influential part of me taking the job,” Leone said.
Leone has enjoyed looking back since garnering the SUNYAC All-Decade recognition, all the way to his first meeting upon taking over a team that went 24-5 and made the NCAA Tournament the previous year.
He expressed to the incumbent players that he was ‘the new guy,’ and not trying to change them, and credits their welcoming response for Oswego claiming its first SUNYAC championship title since 1965 later that year.
The program has remained on the rise since, culminating in hosting the Sweet 16 in front of a packed Max Ziel Gym in 2019.
Much of Leone’s recent reflection has also been personal, both in terms of watching his players grow into life after graduation and his own family. Leone was married during his first season as Oswego head coach. He and his wife, Amber, have two daughters, Sophia and Gianna.
“When you get into coaching at the Division III level, you’re not exclusively doing it for the money, but there are a lot of perks at coaching at this level,” Leone said. “I’m coaching a lot of kids that I really enjoy being around away from just basketball, and my colleagues in the athletic department, I’ve worked for some very good people who have supported our program.”
The Lakers were also recognized with three former All-American players on the SUNYAC All-Decade Team — Brian Sortino (2017 graduate), Hayden Ward (2013) and Chad Burridge (2012).
Oswego has had 26 athletes recognized on the SUNYAC All-Decade teams released thus far in various fall, winter, and spring sports. Here is a look at all the Lakers honorees.
Men’s ice hockey: Paul Rodrigues (2012), Bobby Gertsakis (2015), Shawn Hulshof (2017), Stephen Johnson (2017), Mitch Herlihey (2018), and junior Max Novick.
Baseball: Brendyn Karinchak (2015), Tim Cronin (2017), Eric Hamilton (2017), Robert Donnelly (2018), Myles Kutscher (2018) and Mike Dellicarri (2019).
Women’s lacrosse: Teresa Shattuck (2019) and Danielle Walker (2019).
Women’s soccer: Georgia Traynor (2015).
Softball: Rebecca Vilchez (senior).
Men’s swimming and diving: Daniel Rodriguez (2018), junior Walker Snowden, and sophomore Cameron Ellis.
Track and field: Men’s, Matt Wagenhauser (2015) and Ben Griffin (2017); Women’s, Sarah Yensan and Catarina Burke (seniors).