ALBANY — Gina Castelli laughed when asked to recall the memory.
“Colleen tells the story about that,” said Castelli, the former longtime Siena women’s basketball head coach who retired earlier this year from her post as Le Moyne’s coach.
That story is how Castelli first met Colleen Mullen, the head coach of the UAlbany women’s basketball program that announced Tuesday the hire of Castelli as its executive coach for program development and player relations.
“It’s an ongoing joke that we still talk about,” Mullen said.
As UAlbany’s fourth-year head coach remembers it, Castelli and Mullen met approximately 25 years ago when Mullen was a 15-year-old point guard and Castelli was the head coach at Siena. The two had spoken on the phone prior to their meet-up on Siena’s Loudonville-based campus, but hadn’t seen each other in person. A colleague, though, had hyped up Mullen to Castelli as a strong point guard prospect Castelli should consider for the Saints’ lineup.
And, then, Castelli and Mullen met . . . and Castelli couldn’t help but laugh, just as Mullen and she did Tuesday when thinking back on how Castelli — eventually — managed to say something along the lines of “You don’t look like much of an athlete” to the 5-foot-2 Mullen.
Castelli apologized for the remark, but Mullen said that wasn’t necessary.
“My dad thought it was the best thing he’d ever heard in his life,” said Mullen, who played college basketball at Rhode Island and New Hampshire. “She was honest, and we knew we could trust her.”
Castelli did end up actively recruiting Mullen to Siena, and the trust always remained between them. Mullen has long counted Castelli as one of her coaching mentors, and they stayed in touch throughout the years and often crossed paths on the recruiting trail as Mullen worked her way to becoming UAlbany’s coach and Castelli led her programs.
“She’s somebody that I’ve always looked up to and has been a role model for me,” Mullen said of Castelli, who earned a program-best 336 victories in 22 seasons at Siena before later coaching eight more seasons at Le Moyne.
Several years ago, Castelli congratulated Mullen on her hire at UAlbany. Castelli — jokingly — said that day about how the two coaches should try to work together some day, and Mullen took that idea seriously and kept it in mind.
As Castelli wrapped up her head-coaching career at Le Moyne earlier this year, Mullen let Castelli know there might be an opportunity for the coach with the Great Danes.
“To be able to bring her on staff and bring this full circle, it’s an honor for me and a privilege for my coaching staff and players,” Mullen said.
Castelli was named MAAC Coach of the Year on five occasions, and led Siena to seven regular-season MAAC titles and one MAAC tournament championship during her time leading the Saints from 1990 to 2012. At UAlbany, Castelli’s role is “strictly [an] administrative position,” and one that Mullen described as still a “work in progress” in terms of figuring out its day-to-day responsibilities. What Mullen knows, though, is she wants to use Castelli’s years of coaching experience as a resource for UAlbany’s coaches and players.
“Her main responsibilities are going to be helping me manage the program and bigger-picture thinking,” said Mullen, whose program returns four starters from a team that made it to last season’s America East Conference semifinals. “Another big responsibility for her is going to be mentoring and leadership development with my staff, and helping them excel in their positions.”
Most of all?
“I want to make sure I’m helping them win,” Castelli said.
Castelli called her role at UAlbany a “retirement job,” but it’s a part-time one she plans to take very seriously. In between her coaching stints at Siena and Le Moyne, Castelli spent a season at Rhode Island as the program’s director of player development, and Castelli had hoped to find a similar position after leaving her post at Le Moyne.
The chance to do that at UAlbany, not far from her home in Saratoga Springs, was ideal — especially since it meant she could work with Mullen.
“She’s a real student of the game and wants to learn a lot,” said Castelli, who started in her role at UAlbany late last month. “That’s what I love about her.”
And, in drills during the Great Danes’ summer workouts that started last week, Castelli — again with a laugh — noted how the 41-year-old Mullen has impressed when demonstrating on-court skills for her players.
“She’s still got game,” Castelli said.