Rich Wrase continues to strengthen his basketball legacy.
For the past four years, the former Eastport and Westhampton Beach High School boys basketball coach has been an East Coast scout for the famed Los Angeles Lakers. After finishing up as the men’s basketball head coach at Suffolk County Community College in Selden in 2009, Wrase hooked up with longtime friend and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who offered Wrase the scout job.
Wrase said he has known Kupchak since the two were teenagers. Wrase played basketball at Half Hollow Hills, while Kupchak played at Brentwood. Also, Kupchak and Wrase’s brother Tommy were good friends, and that’s how the two met.
Wrase’s resume at the high school and college level are quite impressive, so that also helped when Kupchak hired him. Wrase compiled a 195-43 record at SCCC, including a 55-game winning streak and back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004. His high school accolades are just as impressive: he went a combined 263-98 at both Eastport and Westhampton Beach, with 10 league championships, four county championships, and one New York State Class B championship and New York State Federation title with the Hurricanes in 1998.
“I stopped coaching when I was 58, so I coached 32 years, and I was just tired,” Wrase said. “I think at this level, at the NBA level, you either have to be a former player or you gotta know somebody. It’s the only way you can get into something like this. It’s the highest level you can reach in basketball.”
Southampton varsity boys basketball head coach Herm Lamison has known Wrase for decades and is not one bit surprised that Wrase landed a job with the Lakers. “He’s got a tremendous amount of knowledge of basketball,” he said. “From his playing days to coaching high school ball and winning a federation title at Westhampton, which is very, very difficult and rarely done. Then he leaves high school basketball and goes to Suffolk and wins back-to-back national championships, all from a selection of local, East End talent.
“The love and the passion that he has for the game is just tremendous,” Lamison added. “You have to be in it to be able to evaluate talent, and he’s definitely a person who loves what he does, and that helps out tremendously. He’s just a basketball connoisseur.”
Wrase’s supervisor, Kevin Grevey, is one of those scouts who is a former player. After four years at the University of Kentucky, Grevey was drafted in the first round by the Washington Bullets in the 1975 NBA Draft. He went on to win a championship with the Bullets in the 1977-78 season.
Grevey is well aware of Wrase’s basketball IQ. “Being that they are close friends, Mitch Kupchak has seen Rich’s evolution, first as a player and then as a coach,” he said. “He had the opportunity to hire Rich, so the timing was right.
“Rich is like an encyclopedia of basketball,” Grevey added. “He knows so much about the game, and Mitch thought he would work well with us.”
Grevey also said that since Wrase lives in the Northeast—he currently lives in Rocky Point—he has the ability to watch a lot of college players. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan are hotbeds for NCAA tournaments, and Wrase is also a quick flight to Boston or Syracuse, where there are also a lot of college games being played.
“I love it,” Wrase said. “I’m lucky because I have the least amount of traveling. We have the Big East and Atlantic 10 right here in our area, so between those two conferences, there are some really good teams.”
Wrase likes to give homegrown products their due, so one of his favorite players whom he scouted and got drafted was former Stony Brook University player Muhammed El-Amin, who was selected in the fourth round of this month’s NBA Developmental League’s Draft by the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers affiliate. El-Amin was the 2010 America East Player of the Year.
Wrase, now 62 years old, was given some disturbing news about a month ago—he has prostate cancer. As someone who is quite active at his age—Wrase plays softball in a men’s senior league and competes in 80 to 90 games a year—he couldn’t understand how he contracted such a disease, but he will start radiation treatment soon, and the good news is that there is a 97-percent success rate associated with prostate cancer.
As always, Wrase is taking a positive attitude to the news.
“I feel fine, and every day I tell the doctor, ‘I am strong—I got this,’ and that’s what I say every day,” he said.