T.J. Tibbs already looks, and acts, like a big-time college basketball coach.
He paces the sideline during games, working the officials and exhorting his players to work harder. That he is plying his trade at the College of Staten Island, his alma mater and a powerhouse in the Division III CUNY Athletic Conference, really makes no difference in terms of how he approaches the job — and it’s that big-picture thinking that has Tibbs well-positioned for future success in the sport.
“We treat the kids the same way coaches do at SEC schools,” Tibbs said. “The kids deserve that.”
And he would know.
Tibbs played at CSI for three years, after transferring from Division I Monmouth, and led the Dolphins to their best season in program history. In 2011-12 the Dolphins won 26 games and reached the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA Tournament.
As “interim” coach (for now) Tibbs is taking over the post of his former bench boss Tony Petosa, who won 459 games during a 27-year career at CSI. Petosa resigned abruptly over the summer, reportedly frustrated with the amount of administrative work he was doing. Coaches in the CUNYAC don’t have access to the same resources their Division I counterparts do, plus there are no athletic scholarships, meaning players are often balancing work and family obligations, in addition to school and basketball activities.
Tibbs, who is well aware of the size of the shoes he’s attempting to fill, said, “Nobody’s expectations could be higher than mine.” He sees Petosa as a mentor, and noted that his predecessor, who encouraged him to take the job, has been nothing but supportive.
It’s an opportunity the Staten Island native has wanted since being a player. Coaching has “always been in my blood,” he explained, thanks to his father, Thomas Sr., who works in youth sports.
At just 29 years of age, he’s already risen rapidly through the ranks.
His first coaching gig came while working as Director of Basketball Operations at NJIT under current Columbia head coach Jim Engles, a fellow Staten Islander and, like Tibbs, a St. Peter’s High alum. Later, after three years as an assistant at Baruch, Tibbs was hired as the interim coach at Mount St. Vincent’s in the Bronx last season.
“He relates well with the kids and he’s got a great work ethic,” Engles said. “CSI is not going to be his final destination.”
That may be, but — for now — Tibbs is focusing on the task at hand.
“I love this place and I love these kids,” Tibbs said. “I’m just trying to add on to what Coach Petosa has done here and do the best job I can for this program.”