In new varsity boys’ basketball coach Ken Mantia, Saratoga Central Catholic is getting both a Saint and a Volunteer.
“He is a great candidate. He’s everything you’d look for in a coach,” Saratoga Catholic athletic director Phonsey Lambert said Thursday, after announcing Mantia’s selection as John Catone’s replacement. “I go back a long time with Kenny, and he’s a very good basketball coach who emphasizes fundamentals, but better yet, he’s a good family man and a person of great character.”
A former Spa Catholic player, Mantia began honing his craft as a student and ardent basketball fan at the University of Tennessee, watching the greatest women’s coach in college basketball — Pat Summitt. Summitt led her Volunteers to their second straight and eighth overall NCAA championship Tuesday night with a win over Stanford.
“He learned from the best,” Lambert said.
“When I was in college, I knew I wanted to get involved in coaching,” said Mantia, who graduated from Saratoga Catholic in 1982 and from Tennessee in 1986. “I went to Pat Summitt’s practices and [then-men’s coach] Don DeVoe’s practices, and I kind of got hooked.
“To this day, I use a lot of Pat Summitt’s defensive drills.”
Mantia is a coach who places great emphasis on defensive execution, and he’ll be stressing its importance to the Saints in November, just as he had for 15 prior seasons at the school. Mantia led the Saints’ junior varsity the last two seasons, spent the 10 before as a varsity assistant under Catone, and three before that as a JV assistant under Catone.
“Defense is ultimately what wins games. You can have an off shooting night and still be in it if you play defense,” said the 44-year-old Mantia. “It’s all about intensity, communication and hard work.”
Mantia will be taking over a Saints team that was 16-6 overall under Catone, and 11-1 in the Western Athletic Conference, good for a share of the Northern Division championship. The Saints went 148-91 overall in Catone’s 12 seasons.
“Guys like [former coaches] Bob King, Don Britton and John Catone have built a great tradition here,” said Mantia, who played for King. “We’re a small school, and we’ve always been competitive. All of those guys stressed defense and intensity, and I want to build on that.
“I’m very excited about this,” he added. “It’s a dream opportunity because of my love for this school, and the chance to work with these kids. I’m familiar with most of them, and it’ a great group.”
“I think he’s going to have a very successful career at Spa Catholic,” Lambert said. “He knows the game. He knows the school. He knows the kids.”
Mantia said he will be pushing more than X’s and O’s.
“I want my players to conduct themselves the right way,” said Mantia, who works with Children Services of New York State. “I don’t want kids kicking the bench or yelling at the referee. I want them to play hard, but also display sportsmanship.”
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