For longtime basketball coach and West Hempstead native Tim Cluess, coaching players means more than getting them to sprint back on defense or to dive for every loose ball. Whether at the high school or collegiate level, Cluess said, his goal is to prepare his players for the game of life. The Catholic Youth Organization of Long Island will honor Cluess, who is currently the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Iona College, for his work on Sept. 16 at the Hempstead Golf & Country Club.
The CYO annually honors people who learned to play basketball through its program, and those who embody the organization’s values of serving others. “The caliber of the man as a father, husband and person of faith far surpasses his accomplishments on the basketball court, which is the message CYO strives to convey,” Executive Director Paul Echausse said in a news release. “Coach Cluess has lived his life conveying those values to the young men he has coached and played with over the years.”
Cluess’s journey began when he played CYO basketball at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead in the late 1960s. He later played at St. Agnes High School, in Rockville Centre, from 1973 to 1977. Shortly after he graduated from St. Agnes, his coach, Frank Morris, urged him to join the coaching staff. “He knew how much I loved the game, so he thought I’d be a great fit,” Cluess said. “Mr. Morris is one of my biggest inspirations.”
The youngest of five children, Cluess, 60, grew up in an athletic, competitive family. Tim and his brothers Hank, Greg and Kevin played for St. John’s University, on basketball scholarships. His sister, MaryAnn, won a gold medal in women’s doubles racquetball in the 1981 World Games at Santa Clara.
“Having them to look up to as a child . . . they all pushed me to become a better player, but we had fun,” Cluess recalled.
Now a resident of Long Beach, Cluess coached at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset from 1991 to 2005, and led the team to eight consecutive league championships, four state titles and two state federation championships. He then went to Suffolk Community College for a season, and then LIU Post for four years before he arrived at Iona. His record at the collegiate level is 297-131.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of hardworking players throughout my coaching career,” he said.
Greg Barry, who coached alongside Cluess at St. Mary’s from 1999 to 2003, and at Suffolk, said that Cluess studied his opponents. During a playoff game against Chaminade High School in 2001, Barry recalled, there was a pivotal moment at which Cluess identified every play that Chaminade’s coach called. “At one point, the point guard from the other team yelled, ‘Coach, he knows our plays,’” Barry recounted. “He was a creative person when it came to basketball, and that’s why he’s excelled at every level.”
More important, Barry said, Cluess managed to develop lifelong relationships with his players. “He was a very passionate coach on the sidelines, but he treated everyone with love and respect,” Barry said. “Most of the players he’s coached appreciate him for that.”
Cluess’s most memorable moments as a high school coach were when his players earned athletic scholarships at Division I programs. Among the 50-plus players who have earned scholarships was Danny Green, now of the Los Angeles Lakers, who attended the University of North Carolina from 2005 to 2009. At the collegiate level, Cluess said, it was rewarding to prepare players for the next stage of their lives.
“There’s only a small percentage of athletes who go on to play in the pros,” he said. “Helping them succeed in life and paying it forward should be the goal for every college coach.”