Cluess’ relationship with Iona: More than just basketball

Head coach Tim Cluess has led the men’s basketball team to 162 victories during his time at Iona.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

Note: This article was edited to fix “162-91” to “182-92.” 

There is no denying that Iona College men’s basketball head coach Tim Cluess has formed an impressive resume during his eight years at the college.

The Long Island native has guided the Gaels to five Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships, five NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the National Invitation Tournament while supporting a 182-92 record, which is good for second place in Iona’s all-time coaching list.

As Iona prepared for its NCAA Tournament matchup against Duke on March 15, there were questions on why the 2013-14 MAAC Coach of the Year never ventured off and try coaching in a bigger conference.

“What kept me at Iona is probably the same thing that’s kept me on Long Island my entire life — family,” Cluess said. “I’ve had a couple of opportunities where people have called me and I really haven’t expressed much interest in it. It wasn’t something that I thought would be the right fit for my family at the time. I’m thrilled to be at Iona and we’re just trying to get better there.”

Cluess grew up knowing Iona’s rich basketball tradition under Jim Valvano, who coached the Gaels from 1975 to 1980. When Cluess took the coaching job in 2010, his main focus was follow that winning tradition and honor Valvano’s legacy.

“I grew up in New York, so Iona had a great reputation back in the Jim Valvano days,” Cluess said. “When I got [here], that was one of the things I wanted to do is keep the legacy of those coaches and successful programs before us and that’s what we’re striving for every year.”

Iona has done that, compiling eight straight 20-win seasons under Cluess.

It was a struggle this season for Cluess and the coaching staff as they had to help seven new players adjust to Iona’s fast-paced tempo.

“[The] guys didn’t know each other at all,” Cluess said, in regards to the beginning of the season. “I don’t think they came with an expectation to work as hard as we asked them to work.”

Iona saw multiple lineup changes and went through a stretch where the team lost four out of six games. The Gaels battled through adversity to win the MAAC and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“By the end of the season, they took a lot of pride in their effort,” Cluess said. “[They] came together as a group, trying to care about each other, trying to help each other good and bad.”

Despite playing in a small conference, Iona’s development into a basketball powerhouse in the New York area has received high praise.

“Tim’s program is one of the best in the northeast,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said at the press conference following the NCAA Tournament game in which Duke beat Iona. “The Iona name in basketball is huge.”

Cluess’ biggest message to his players over the years has been hard work. Cluess constantly drills the team to set goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them. It’s a philosophy Cluess wants his players to use on the court and in life.

“I preach to my guys all year is about working hard,” Cluess said. “If you work hard, you can have goals that you never dreamed of.”

Cluess has received more joy and appreciation to the game when current and former players buy into his philosophy and try to accomplish something out of life.

“I have so many players that come back and point to all of the hard work and discipline they had because of programs and how successful they are now in life,” Cluess said. “That’s where my pride comes. Watching them have better lives and be able to prove something good happens.”

Every time Cluess is at practice or standing on the sidelines coaching his team during games, he knows that he is there for a reason.

“I do believe that God put me here to coach and help other people better their lives,” Cluess said. “I truly believe that.”

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