After 7 years of walking the sidelines in the Gannett gym, home of the HAC varsity boys basketball team, Paul Liotti is stepping away from coaching. During that time he has helped rebuild a program that won just 1 game in the 2015-2016 season, by finishing 14-7 overall this year while earning Finger Lakes West Coach of the Year honors for his efforts. Liotti has been influential in shaping and impacting over 80 different HAC student-athletes during his tenure and his presence will be missed in the coming seasons. Get to know coach Liotti better below as we wish him all the best in his next endeavors.
“It’s been a tremendous experience for me,” said Liotti (pictured left with Honeoye head coach Trevor Gage) who resides with his family right in Rochester, N.Y. “Seeing how far the program has come and getting to know the HAC community – the student-athletes, the teachers, administrators, it’s all just been a rewarding experience.”
Liotti had previously spent 27 years coaching basketball with stints at Aquinas and coaching multiple CYO teams before arriving to HAC in 2011. During his tenure, Liotti’s direct, no fluff demeanor brought toughness, energy and unity to the boys basketball program.
“The program’s cohesiveness is one of the things I’m most proud of, “said Liotti. “the inclusion of the modified and JV teams with the varsity team has been one of the biggest changes since I’ve been here.”
Liotti created events such as ‘modified night’ that gave the opportunity to the modified boys basketball players to sit on the bench with the varsity team during games, while also highlighting their season and individual achievements at halftime. He also installed program-wide practices so that varsity athletes could work with the modified and JV boys basketball players in the program.
The one moment during his tenure that Liotti is most proud of was the ‘Jamir Avery‘ basketball night that raised funds for Jamir Avery (The Harley School class of 2013) and his family. The money raised went towards constructing a wheelchair ramp at Avery’s home.
“To see the outpouring amount of support and love – and seeing the hard work come back for someone like Jamir is something I’ll never forget.”
Working at HAC has been all that much more rewarding as his wife, Kristin Liotti, is the Administrative Assistant to the Upper School Head at The Harley School and his youngest son Owen is currently a senior at Harley, while his oldest son Dominic graduated from Harley in 2016.
Liotti plans on spending more time with his family, traveling and writing as a contributor for Pickin’ Splinters.
Q: What makes an athlete successful? What makes a team successful?
A: For an individual athlete, it’s the mentality that you have to put in extra work. For a team, it’s doing what it takes to get better. Having a competitive juice and fire within the belly.
Q: If you could go back and give yourself 1 piece of advice your first year coaching, what would it be?
A: I’d remind myself that winning is not the most important thing. That coaching and playing is for the love of the game. To keep in mind the importance of reveling in the kid who couldn’t dribble, that then learned how to dribble. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about being there for the kids.
Q: What are some things your team/players have taught you?
A: The body of work and the kids I’ve coached are all unique, yet their all the same. They all have love for one another, they want to compete, but also they know their limitations. Most student-athletes strive to be the best they can be. The players’ personalities at HAC helped shape my approach towards preparation and coaching. I always wanted to tailor coaching to the team, as opposed to the individual. It is important for the team to let them succeed on their own and to progress at their own pace.
Q: What teams do you root for?
A: Oklahoma Sooners, Boston Celtics and the Buffalo Bills.
Q: Who is a coach that you admire?
A: Brad Stevens – he approaches his job as a business and passion. He never gets heated, never gets hot and stays level-headed.
Q: What is a special talent or surprising thing about that your players might not have been aware of?
A: That I’m a handy man around the house.
“We are incredibly thankful and very much appreciate all of coach Liotti’s hard work and dedication,” said Allendale Columbia School Athletic Director Ray Istas. “During his tenure, (Liotti) coached at the highest level of integrity, while always putting his student-athletes and team in the forefront of every decision. His impact extended far beyond the basketball court and his personality, love of the game, and most importantly his love for his players will be missed. We wish Coach Liotti all the best in his future pursuits and he will always have a home here at HAC.”
– Ray Istas, Athletic Director at the Allendale Columbia School
“When I think back, coach (Liotti) really allowed me to mature a lot. I was barely 16 and wasn‘t necessarily ready for a vocal leadership role at the time, but he identified me early on as a leader through how I approached practices and games and put me in a leadership role.
I appreciate the way he would make everyone on the team feel equal, especially the JV players who were pulled up for sectionals. It really stands out to me how he made all the players on the team feel important and valuable.
Coach did a lot of stuff outside of coaching the team that I really have come to appreciate. Our team dinners he helped set up I always enjoyed. He helped install fundraising through things like CYO to help us get new jerseys, warm-ups, new chairs and basketballs and stuff that helped make everything feel more ‘professional.’
He wrote me a recommendation letter and other players recommendation letters for our college applications which meant a lot to us and we were thankful for. HAC basketball is definitely something I missed and enjoyed experiencing.”
– Eric Tolhurst, Class of 2015
“Looking back at my junior he (Coach Liotti) changed my perspective of the team, how to play the game and how to improve as a player. I remember our single win from that season was our game at Romulus – after the game in the locker room, coach (Liotti) told us how proud of us he was and that it didn’t matter about wins or losses, just to keep working and trying to improve each day – that was what was most important. For me, he taught me it was more about the progress than our record.
Coach always asked me to go to watch basketball games with him, he’d invite me come over to the house to talk about anything, not just basketball. I was always welcomed to his house and he’d say ‘my house is your house.’ He was just always there for me and that motivated me to go above and beyond and push myself. He gave me the opportunity to play AAU ball and would drive me all the way to Marcus Whitman – it showed me how much he cared about me as a person and how much he wanted me to be successful. I’ll always be thankful for coach.”
– Jamarr Paisley, Class of 2017
“I’ll remember the moments he would pull me aside and tell me not to think too much, to just play my game. He would tell me that I see the game well, and to trust myself when it came making decisions with the basketball.
Coach always spoke to us with his Mt. Everest analogy. He’d explain that during preseason we were at base camp 1 and show us all the benchmarks it’d take to reach the peak, our ultimate goal, this just made a lot of sense to me and is something I’ll remember from the (past) season.
Coach taught us life lessons through basketball. Be on time. Be accountable. Respect the team. As a senior, I’ve really come to realize how valuable these are and appreciate coach teaching us things outside of basketball.
Since knowing each other, our relationship has definitely grown, and I’ve come to understand he was hard on me because he knew how good I could be.”
– Xavier Israel, Class of 2018