For the better part of the past half-century, including the last 30 years in the Hampton Bays community, Pat McGunnigle has been involved with the sport of basketball in some way, shape or form. Citing personal reasons, however, the 73-year-old hamlet resident has decided to retire from the sport he loves so dearly, leaving an enormous vacancy atop the Hampton Bays varsity girls basketball team roster.
McGunnigle had coached the Lady Baymen for the past five years, and the team reached its pinnacle last season when it went 20-4, en route to winning the Suffolk County Class B title and a Class B Long Island Championship before falling, 57-42, to Woodlands High School in the Regional Final at New Rochelle High School this past March.
The Lady Baymen went 46-40 with McGunnigle at the helm over the past five years. Teams coached by him—McGunnigle also led the Hampton Bays varsity boys basketball team for four years during the 1970s—sported an 321-93 overall record, accounting for an impressive .775 winning percentage.
“I can’t recall exact dates of when certain things happened—I don’t pay attention much to records, and a lot of the awards and stuff I’ve gotten, I usually just throw them all out,” he said this week. “I just coached basketball. I loved it and I did it as hard as I could.”
McGunnigle’s first coaching job came in 1964 at St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay. St. Dominic plays in the ultra-competitive Catholic High School Athletic Association, battling teams like St. Anthony’s, Long Island Lutheran and St. Mary’s.
It was at St. Dominic that McGunnigle took a young guard named Rick Pitino under his wing and taught him the intricacies of the game of basketball. Pitino graduated from St. Dominic, went on to play at the University of Massachusetts and is now one of the premier college coaches in the country. He utilizes a system that McGunnigle said he originated, called a multiple combination alternating press—simply called “black and white” by Pitino—which features a type of full-court press on defense.
Pitino was just one of a long line of players coached by McGunnigle who went on to star in the college and professional ranks. Jimmy Spillane went on to play for John Wooden at UCLA in the mid-1970s and Tommy Riker played at the University of South Carolina before being drafted eighth overall in the first round of the 1972 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks.
It was in 1972 when McGunnigle decided to move to the East End so he could better enjoy “the beauty of the area.” He planted his roots in Hampton Bays and started coaching boys basketball at Mercy High School in Riverhead. A few years later he wound up coaching the Hampton Bays boys varsity basketball team which, at the time, was led by Billy Harvey, an All-American and, arguably, the best player to ever go through the school.
McGunnigle also coached at Ward Melville High School and was one of the last coaches at Southampton College. In 2000, the women’s basketball team at Southampton won a school-record 21 games. McGunnigle won two Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships during his four-year tenure at the college.
Even with all of the high-profile names and teams he’s coached, McGunnigle said his most recent season with the Lady Baymen remains one of his fondest memories.
“What a group of kids,” he recalled this week. “I’ll definitely miss the kids. There was something special there. Every kid I ever had in Hampton Bays was a sweetheart. Every single one of those kids contributed at Hampton Bays.”
Theresa Carey, who graduated from Hampton Bays in 2012 and now plays at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, played under McGunnigle for three years and had trained with him since she was in the eighth grade. Working with him, Carey said, definitely made her a better player.
“He taught me the value of dedicating yourself to something and he instilled confidence in each one of his players,” she said. “He taught me everything. The basics I learned as a kid, he just took them and improved them so much.”
Carey said one of McGunnigle’s most memorable sayings was: “Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary.” And it has stuck with her for quite some time now. “He meant that not just in basketball, but in life,” she explained.
Hampton Bays Athletic Director Drew Walker said McGunnigle’s knowledge of the game is unparalleled, pointing to that as the main reason why he brought him aboard to coach the girls’ team five years ago.
Walker said he’s still looking to fill the open coaching position left by McGunnigle’s departure.
“He opened the doors any time of the year for kids that wanted to get better in the game of basketball,” Walker said of his former coach. “That affected many, many kids.
“He set the expectation for us years ago,” Walker continued. “When he first came in he said, ‘Let’s go to the New York State basketball tournament.’ He had high expectations for the program and he set high goals for them.”