Cecilio Gomez Develops Coaching Acumen Through USA Basketball Programs
Path to coaching high school varsity basketball started with USA Basketball coaching clinics
When Cecilio Gomez was on the playground with other kids as a child or participating in youth sports, he usually was at a disadvantage due to a vision impairment he’s had since birth. As he grew older, he turned the challenges caused by that condition into motivation to succeed and help other people in his life.
Now 31, Gomez is entering his second season as the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Norman Thomas Campus High School in New York City. He has a master’s degree in physical education from Manhattanville College and a blossoming career thanks to hustle, determination and loads of education from participating in USA Basketball coaching clinics and becoming a USA Basketball licensed coach.
“Without my involvement in USA Basketball, I definitely wouldn’t have as much knowledge as I do now, and I think as a result, I would not be the confident teacher that I am,” Gomez said. “I’m definitely a lot more confident than I was three, four or five years ago when I first started. I learned from all these different people who told me to, ‘Do it this way. This works. Give it a shot.’”
Gomez was born with coloboma, a condition where tissue is missing in or around the eye at birth, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He has been blind in one eye his entire life, and that often affected his hand-eye coordination and his ability to compete, but it never stopped him from trying and it certainly didn’t dampen his passion for the game he loved.
He grew up in New York rooting hard for the Knicks, especially the playoff teams of the late 1990s. That passion for the game stuck with him and led him to serve as the team manager for the men’s program at Manhattan College. It also led him to coaching after earning his master’s degree in 2012.
He started out coaching a fifth grade girls
’team. He worked hard at the craft of coaching while pursuing a position in teaching and eventually moved into the middle school ranks and on to high schools, coaching both girls and boys along the way.
Gomez said he always is trying to learn as much as he can, and in 2016 he became a USA Basketball licensed coach. Later that year, he attended his first USA Basketball Coach Academy. He has attended a total of five academies or clinics over the past two years and was invited to work as a coach at two of them.
He hopes to one day move up to the college level. But first things first, he wants to build a winning program in his current job after the team managed just a single conference win last season.
“I think, No. 1, I didn’t really do a good job of getting the players to buy in,” Gomez said. “The year before with JV, they kind of bought in real quick, without me having to do much, but I think last year I didn’t really do a good job of getting last year’s team to buy in and want to be a part of a team and help the team win. They were kind of more in it for themselves.”
Gomez said Don Showalter, USA Basketball Junior National Team head coach and youth division coach director, has been one of the big influences on him. Showalter is a 10-time gold medalist while serving as head coach of USA Basketball men's U16 and U17 national teams.
In July, Showalter led the U17 national team to a 7-0 record and gold medal at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina.
“I would say 90 to 95 percent of everything I’m doing now is because of stuff I learned through USA Basketball, either through their clinics or the regional camp working with Coach Showalter,” Gomez said. “I’ve taken away so much from all those events that it has definitely impacted my coaching in a positive way, and now I’m teaching it to my kids.”
Gomez said two of Showalter’s philosophies have stuck with him most. Showalter often says the game of basketball is over-coached and under-taught. To Gomez, that means that too many coaches are interested in winning first before developing their players’ skills.
Gomez said he is emphasizing skill development and a commitment to defense in his program.
He also is fostering a positive environment for his players to learn. He said he borrowed another method from Showalter in using a trust circle after practice.
Players stand together and give each other feedback. They tell each other something they did well that day and something they think their teammate can continue to improve. Gomez said he is hoping this helps his group buy into the team-first concept it didn’t quite grasp last season.
“I’m seeing this now,” Gomez said. “There are a lot of kids who come to me as a varsity coach, and I’m seeing while they like basketball, they really don’t know as much about the game as you expect a varsity level player to know. You really see how little coaching there is at the youth levels.”
But thanks to programs like the ones Gomez has taken from USA Basketball, expect that to change.