WATERTOWN — When Riley Luckie texted her family to tell them that she would be the next head coach of the Jefferson Community College women’s basketball team, they were beyond proud and ready to support her in her first head coaching job.
“Well, another coach Luckie in the family,” was their response to Riley.
After spending last year as an assistant coach of the JCC women’s basketball team under then-head coach Josh Woodward, the 24-year-old Luckie was named Friday as the interim head coach of the Cannoneers this season, after Woodward stepped down from the position last week.
Luckie first began her JCC career as a player, from 2015-17. She then left Watertown to play two seasons at SUNY Potsdam.
As a Cannoneer, she helped take JCC to the NJCAA Region 3 Final Four and earned Region 3 and All-Region Team honors.
Before college, she played at Ogdensburg Free Academy.
Luckie hails from a basketball and coaching family: her father, Tom Luckie, is a longtime youth basketball coach in Ogdensburg; her aunt, Elizabeth “Bippy” Luckie, was the longtime softball coach at Sacred Heart and a JCC Hall of Famer; her uncle Jamie Luckie is a Division I basketball referee; and her cousins, Kinnon and Cavan LaRose, both played Division I basketball at Sacred Heart University.
So, it’s no surprise that she found herself at the front of the bench, coaching a college basketball team. Though she was surprised the opportunity has come so soon.
“I had planned on being an assistant coach for a few more years, but obviously I’m so grateful for the opportunity from coach Woodward and (Jeff) Wiley for trusting me and handing the job over to me,” Luckie said.
In her playing days, Luckie was a point guard and one JCC athletic director Jeff Wiley described as having an “outstanding” basketball IQ. She also possessed that crucial quality that any good point guard has: leadership.
In 2018, SUNY Potsdam women’s basketball coach Brittany Cohen said, “Riley is kind of like a coach on the floor.”
But there are some key leadership differences between having a coach-like persona as a player and being an actual head coach.
“I think the way you treat and talk to people,” Luckie said. “As a coach you have a bigger responsibility, obviously recruiting-wise and talking to players and parents. Whereas a player you don’t really see that.”
She went through a coaching crash course last year under Woodward, who had been with JCC as the women’s head coach for nearly a decade.
“It was just amazing to see what goes on on the sideline,” Luckie said. “I’ve played for so long, I’ve never really sat on the sideline. It was amazing to see everything that goes into coaching on and off the basketball floor.”
Despite being only 24 years old, Luckie has accumulated a lengthy resumé, including running multiple basketball camps where she mentored young players.
“Her experience with camps and her family has grown up with the boys and girls club in Ogdensburg,” Wiley said. “She’s been around the game forever, her uncle is a D-I basketball official. I think she’ll do a great job.”
Luckie is beginning her head coaching career in an abnormal circumstance, times that not even seasoned coaching vets have experienced.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc worldwide and in the sports world it has canceled schedules, practices and games.
JCC, which typically begins its basketball season in November, is slated to play its first games on Jan. 23, with official practices beginning on Jan. 11.
There’s no established way to navigate this unprecedented situation, so Luckie is taking it slow and in stride.
“I guess right now we’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to have a season or not,” Luckie said. “I went into practice this week and told the girls that we’re just going to take it day by day and try to get better everyday. There’s not much you can do, you just have to try to take it day by day and see where it goes.”
Practices now are basic, there’s no contact and little sharing of equipment, if any. Girls keep to their individual hoops in the JCC gym and work on their own games.
The team will have nine freshmen to go along with its two returning players, Bailey Zicari and Izzy Soluri.