Devils hire 2 new coaches
James Franceschelli considered himself lucky to be where he was the last couple of years.
The 2003 Struthers High School graduate spent his four-year basketball career playing for former Wildcat coach Joe Fuline, who mentored many teenagers on the court.
Franceschelli never forgot those lessons he learned — four years as Struthers’ boys basketball coach and the last two as a McDonald boys assistant.
Thursday, the McDonald Board of Education approved him as the next Blue Devils boys coach, along with Tony Matisi as the next girls coach.
Franceschelli replaces Jeff Rasile, who had a 386-98 record with the Blue Devils, including a 2011 regional final appearance. McDonald advanced to a regional semifinal last season.
Franceschelli said he has had two mentors since he has been coaching — Fuline and Rasile. Franceschelli contacts them almost every day for advice.
“This is a dream come true to take over a program in a school with so much tradition,” Franceschelli said. “It’s truly an honor to be considered for this job and follow someone like coach Rasile.
“I don’t really see as if I’m following him. I want to continue what’s happened in this program and keep it going. I’m excited to meet with the guys and find out who is interested in playing for me and shaping up our staff and getting those football and cross country runners involved. It’s a small school. We need everybody. We really do.”
Matisi comes to McDonald with a 479-187 record over 15 years at Lowellville, eight at Ursuline and six at South Range. His team went 14-9 during the 2018-19 season. Matisi had a 113-40 mark at South Range with three district titles in the last five seasons with the Raiders.
The 62-year-old coach looked at some other jobs last year and this year, but coming to a McDonald girls team that has its roster returning from a regional semifinal appearance last season was too enticing.
He takes over for Amy Dolsak, who won 113 games in eight seasons.
“I think it was real important these kids got to the regionals last year,” Matisi said. “You can have a really good team, but boy that’s a different monster out there. For them to get that feel and see what it was like and then to have it all coming back. I was lucky enough that did happen at Lowellville. I’m counting on that experience, along with all the seniors and a good group of underclassmen, to build on what Amy (Dolsak) has done — add some things and try not to screw it up.”
Franceschelli, 35, said he’d like to keep what Rasile has implemented in his program. It was not about an animated coach on the sidelines a couple days per week during the season. It goes much deeper.
“You get people all the time wondering how can you coach for a guy like that?” Franceschelli said. “That’s not how he is. You just see him on Tuesday and Friday night. His guys care about him. Guys that play for him care about him.
“That means a lot to a coach and a program. That’s my goal. I want my guys to know I’m going to be there for them through everything. We’re going to fight this battle and keep going as long as we can.”
Matisi wants to stress that there is still much to do for this McDonald girls team.
“The ceiling is so high for them,” he said. “Each girls has a different set of skills. We want to work on skills that are third or fourth on our list, ball handling, shooting. Maybe you’re a good defender, but we also want you to be a scorer. We’re going to get after them this summer and work on some things that will pick up the other part of their game.”
There’s no off-season workouts. The COVID-19 outbreak has social distanced everyone, and the Ohio Department of Health has closed school buildings until June 30.
Franceschelli said he’ll take this time to build relationships with his players before they reach the court. The Blue Devils will have Zoom meetings and bring in guests each week to inform the McDonald players about more than Xs and Os. It’s something to fill the void of not being able to go to camps next month and get valuable time together as a team.
“We’d be worried about the shootout we’d have on the weekend and different things like that. It’s a different time, but it’s a good thing,” Franceschelli said. “We’re going to know each other before this whole things starts going down.”
Matisi will be working with his team through video chats as well and giving his team links to workouts until the group can be together.
He hopes the group can get together come July 1.
“We’re going to throw a new offense I like to run,” Matisi said. “We’re going to do a little more transition up and down. They’ve got a great core of players. It’s so vital to develop a bench, especially if you want to go deep in the tournament. If we get a chance, that’s the first thing we’re going to do — throw in a new offense and develop those six, seven, eight and nine players off the bench.”
Franceschelli can’t wait until he gets started as McDonald’s new coach.
“I tell people all the time this isn’t a stepping stone for me, though,” he said. “It’s really not. This is where I want to be. I want to be into the community. I want to be a part of everything.”