The Man From Our Lady of Lourdes Transforms Marist Into a MAAC Power

After going 451-44 in 19 years at Our Lady of Lourdes High, Brian Giorgis, 51, has helped Marist become the first MAAC team to reach the round of 16.
After going 451-44 in 19 years at Our Lady of Lourdes High, Brian Giorgis, 51, has helped Marist become the first MAAC team to reach the round of 16. (By Al Behrman -- Associated Press)
By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 25, 2007

DAYTON, Ohio, March 24 -- In 2002, when Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray needed a new women's basketball coach, he didn't have to look far. Across town was one of the most successful high school coaches in the country. Brian Giorgis had built Poughkeepsie, N.Y.'s Our Lady of Lourdes into a powerhouse, winning four consecutive state championships and rising to fourth in the national rankings.

Now Murray wanted him to do the same at Marist, which had only one winning season in the 11 years before Giorgis's arrival. The Red Foxes' metamorphosis under Giorgis has been astounding. The three-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coach of the year has led 13th-seed Marist (29-5) to a berth in the Dayton Region semifinals, becoming the first MAAC team, men's or women's, to reach the round of 16 and only the third No. 13 seed to advance to the second weekend in the 26-year history of the women's tournament. The Red Foxes play top-seeded Tennessee (30-3) at noon Sunday.

"I knew when I hired him he would win," Murray said. "I didn't expect this, I'll be honest with you. But I knew he would be successful because he wins at everything he does."

Before Murray called, Giorgis wasn't getting many college-level job offers despite compiling a 451-44 record (a .911 winning percentage) in 19 years at Our Lady of Lourdes. Pittsburgh Coach Agnes Berenato tried three times to hire him as an assistant when she was at Georgia Tech, but he turned her down each time.

When Murray approached him, it was a chance he couldn't pass up. Three of his high school players and one of his AAU players were on the Marist team, and Marist was offering more money.

"If you've ever worked at a Catholic high school, sometimes you get a lot of blessings, but you don't get a lot of pay," Giorgis said. "I felt like if there was any time to go it was then."

Murray also offered something no one else could, the chance to remain in Poughkeepsie, and Giorgis got a promise from assistant principal Sister Lois Dee at Our Lady of Lourdes that if things didn't work out the school would take him back.

"That was the key because when you get to my age a little security is helpful," said Giorgis, 51. "I've always wanted the challenge, and I didn't have to go anywhere."

Not many college coaches are hired directly from the high school ranks, and Murray knew he was taking a risk. His biggest concern was recruiting. Could Giorgis lure quality players to Marist, a school of about 4,000 students?

"I said to him, 'Brian, the day I hire you, you will be the best coach in the league,' " Murray said. "We've got to make sure the recruiting is something you really engage in because at this level, you're a really good coach, but there are other really good coaches. You've got to make sure you have as good or better talent."

To that end, Giorgis brought in Frederick native Megan Gebbia, a former assistant at American, Towson and UMBC, who is now the Red Foxes' associate head coach.

"She's the one who should be credited with saying to Brian, 'Okay Brian, here's where we have to be recruiting-wise,' " Murray said. "She's really been critical in terms of getting him in the right gyms."

Gebbia barely knew Giorgis when she went to work for him, but she felt sure she could learn a lot from him. What has impressed her the most is his ability to teach and to bring out the best in his players. That -- not his pep talks -- has gotten Marist this far.

"He's not a great motivator," Gebbia said. "That's not his thing. He never gives these great, pumped-up motivational speeches. If you watch our team, they're like that. They're not real rah-rah or anything like that."

Marist is probably the least athletic and least talented of the 12 teams remaining, yet the Red Foxes might be among the better-coached teams still playing. They don't make many mistakes, and they do what they do well.

"The way he works with these girls, it's amazing," Murray said. "They just respond to him."

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