While America is watching the March Madness games on TV and filling out their brackets, one North Central College trustee and alum is watching from the bench and hoping his team comes out on top.
La Salle University’s head coach John Giannini wasn’t always making headlines leading his team in the Division I NCAA tournament, in fact he started out by making headlines here in the Chicagoland area.
Giannini came to North Central from Fenwick High School to play basketball. By his senior year in 1984, he helped his team, coached by NCC Hall of Famer Bill Warden, to their first appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“I was one of those slightly delusional kids that thought maybe I’d have a chance to play professionally,” said Giannini. “I was a very good player here, but I wasn’t good enough to be a professional basketball player and it didn’t dawn on me till a little bit later as an upperclassman here that I was going to have to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life rather than play basketball.”
After graduating, he decided to pursue a PhD in Sports Psychology, and began his full time coaching career at New Jersey’s Rowan College, leading his team to the NCAA Division III Final Four and to a national title in 1996.
“When John was in college, he wasn’t one of the people I would have picked to go into the coaching position,” said Warden. “He was very studious and very serious about what he was dong. He began his coaching career as a volunteer JV coach in Texas, and from there really blossomed into really a fine college coach obviously.”
Giannini took over as head coach at La Salle in 2004 and this year took the Explorers on their deepest run in decades, falling short against Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen.
“A few of us here at the college have really been following him really closely,” said Rick Spencer, Vice President for Insitutional Advancement. “Then all of a sudden we see him really break out and become this Cinderella team and this rock star, it’s been a lot of fun.”
And Giannini hasn’t forgotten his Alma Mater. He is currently on the North Central College Board of Trustees, and when his team recently made it to the Sweet 16, he only spoke with Mike and Mike on ESPN, Duke University’s Head Coach, and North Central. In fact, when the Cardinals recently made it to the Final Four in Division III, he was in contact with Spencer.
“After he beat Kansas State Friday afternoon, we were all there watching the game and jumping up and down and cheering and I text him saying ‘Awesome, John,’ and giving him all these accolades about how great him team was. A few hours later we’re playing, and the text I get from him, it’s nothing about him, it’s just ‘What’s the score?’ and so I was giving our updates from the NCC game,” said Spencer.
Though he’s moved up in Divisions, Giannini credits North Central’s athletic program for giving him his start.
“The highest level of coaching, and I think teaching and all that, is when you touch a person’s heart and you can inspire them to be the very, very best,” said Al Carius, former Athletic Director and current coach at North Central. “North Central isn’t just about the facts and figures. It’s about the mind, the body, and the spirit combined together to maximize a person’s God-given ability.”
“Whenever I recruit a kid, I say ‘Don’t think about Division 3,2, or 1. Don’t think about what conference you’re going to,’ because those are all really just labels,” said Giannini. “Go where you’re going to be happiest. Go where you think you can be most successful. I think for a lot of kids, myself being one of them, that place was at a Division III school like North Central.
The last time La Salle University won the NCAA was back in 1954 against Bradley.
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