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Mike DiMauro: Spellman feels blessed to wear the green vest

Jan. 9—NEW LONDON — Random facts about Dan Spellman: No other basketball coach has ever rocked the sweater vest better. No other basketball coach has ever been more aware of the favorite in the fifth at Santa Anita. No other basketball coach has ever gone Vesuvius with more effectiveness. And no other basketball coach has ever been a better dad.

It is this most recent point that rendered Spellman, a three-time conference champion coach at East Lyme High, to the bleachers for more than a decade. He watched Megan, Shea and Liam all honor the family name playing at Waterford (and then in college), leaving this basketball devotee away from maybe the place he loved the most. The sideline.

"Not gonna lie," Spellman was saying one night last week. "I missed coaching."

Spellman said as much standing outside the locker room at New London High, enemy territory for him and his teams for many years. Until now. His green vest was more than enough evidence that Spellman is a Whaler now, on new coach Dave Cornish's staff in Whalerville.

"It's just so great to be part of a program again," said Spellman, who led the Vikings for 15 years. "I was able to stay in, living vicariously through Liam for the last four years. I reached out to Dave and asked if he needed any help. And he was nice enough to let me join the staff. It's just been great being part of the program and the kids are great."

Spellman volunteered some, coached the kids in the summer with the "Hoosiers," his AAU program, through which went Dev Ostrowski, J.J. Brennan and Max Lee, among others. He even coached the Waterford kids in the summer for two years. But then tomorrow arrived for the coach when Liam, who played on two state championship teams for the Lancers, graduated from Ithaca. There were none of Liam's contemporaries left to coach. But the itch persisted.

"I was really happy with Danny called," Cornish said. "It's a no brainer. We have Danny and Ralph (Roggero, the retired, three-time champion at New London) on the bench with us. All that experience? Who wouldn't want that? Dan's been a great addition."

It's quite possible many/most of Spellman's former players are queasy if they've read this far. Coach Spell in green? Really?

"I had plenty of maroon and white clothing," Spellman said. "Plenty of blue and white. But no green at all. So yeah, Santa had to bring me a litany of green."

It hasn't taken Spellman long to understand that the rhythms of coaching in New London are mostly the same as everywhere else. Kids are kids.

"I used to hear a lot that all they did in New London was roll the balls out here and they win," Spellman said. "You know why? Because you couldn't beat New London. Maybe once in a while. But honestly, it's the same here. We've been imploring the guys to get back on defense, box out, move the ball, all those little things. We're super athletic, sure. That can cover a lot of our deficiencies. But we still have to do little things. Dave is very organized. He's very thorough and it's been great being part of this because he's very focused on all that stuff."

Spellman suddenly bears the responsibility of suggesting, as all good assistants do. The decisions are made elsewhere.

"I have no problem being an assistant, helping Dave out with whatever he needs," Spellman said. "The job of any good assistant is always to throw stuff at the head coach and not take offense if he or she doesn't use it. You're trying to give them things that are going to put the team in the best spot to win or to execute a plan."

What the New London kids probably haven't seen yet is a tremor from Mt. Spellman. He's had some epics over the years, from a summer league salvo to the Waterford kids a few years ago to a classic when he was coaching at East Lyme later in his career.

Seems the Vikings were 7-12 and in need of a win at Bacon Academy to make the state tournament. On the eve of the game, Spellman went full Knute Rockne as the kids stretched to get ready for practice. The message: Losing is not an option tomorrow. Period. The Vikes won easily the next night.

Note to the Whalers: It's doubtful your new coach has lost his fastball.

"I actually went to a Coast Guard practice and then to a St. Thomas More practice just to get back into the feel before we started," Spellman said. "The squeak of the sneakers and all that stuff. But the first couple of days, I was a little rusty. Dave has been great at delegating things to me.

"If I see some things, I'll make a suggestion. Hey, let's try this. Let's try that. We're a month in and the kids are getting it. 'Well, the coaches aren't going to leave this detail alone, so we better start doing it.'"

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro