Long Islander Jared Grasso goes dancing this week and he’s hoping for a Cinderella story.
The fourth-year Bryant University head coach from Syosset will lead the Smithfield, Rhode Island, program Wednesday night into its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bulldogs’ “First Four” matchup against Wright State is in Dayton, Ohio; the game streams live on Tru TV at 6:40 p.m.
Bryant has shown improvement in each of Grasso’s four seasons as coach, culminating this year with a 22-9 record, a first-place finish in the Northeast Conference (NEC) and an NEC tournament championship.
The team was 3-28 the season before Grasso — a St. Anthony’s High School graduate — began his tenure.
Grasso, 41, received NEC Coach of the Year honors earlier this month and is now considered one of the nation’s most highly regarded young coaches. He’s savoring every moment of his first opportunity to coach in the NCAA tourney.
“I’m excited for our guys. They’ve worked really hard and they’ve earned this moment and I want them to take it all in,” Grasso told the Providence Journal. “But it is a business trip. We’re going [to Dayton] to win; we’re going to compete.
“But I want them to take this in,” he continued. “It’s a special moment, they should enjoy it, they should play with a smile on their faces, but once we get there, we’re going to lock in and we’ll be ready to play.”
No. 1 seed Arizona awaits the winner
Should Bryant win Wednesday night, Grasso and his team would travel to San Diego to play again on Friday against Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the tournament’s South Region.
Only once in 144 tries has a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed to advance to the tournament’s round of 32. That happened in 2018, when University of Maryland, Baltimore County crushed Virginia 74-54.
At St. Anthony’s, Grasso earned honorable mention All-American honors as a senior, averaging 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists per game. He played college ball at Quinnipiac.
Bryant clinched its tournament berth with a 70-43 win over Wagner in the NEC championship game. The Bulldogs talented and experienced starting unit boasts the nation’s leading scorer, Peter Kiss, who on average pours in 25.1 points per game.
Grasso dipped into the Long Island talent pool for one of his starters. Hall Elisias, a senior forward who graduated from Valley Stream South High School, averages 8.9 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. He’s also good for more than three blocks per game, on average.
In high school, Elisias played on two Nassau County championship teams in 2014 and 2015. Valley Stream South won the Long Island championship in 2015 when Elisias was a junior. In his senior season in 2016, Elisias earned All-State honors.
Timmy Kiggins, an alum of Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, has played in 10 games off the bench for the Bulldogs this season. A four-year varsity basketball player at Holy Trinity, the Westbury native also played football, soccer and lacrosse in high school.
NEC Coach of the Year
Top photo: Bryant University men’s basketabll coach Jared Grasso. Facebook/Bryant Basketball