Their title isn’t flashy, but Gaels assistant coaches play invaluable roles on their teams.
At the university level, both head coaches and their assistants are focused on developing talented players and winning programs — but they go about their jobs in different styles.
Women’s basketball assistant coach James Bambury has been on both sides of the coaching spectrum. Before joining the Gaels last season, he served as the head coach of the RMC Paladins women’s basketball team from 2012.
Other than a four-month stint as an assistant with Leeds Metropolitan University in England, Bambury has been a head coach his entire career. Shifting to assistant from head coach, Bambury said, allowed him to interact with players in a different way.
Head coaches, he said, don’t get the opportunity to coach individual players during games, since they have to focus on the overall action.
“All the small conversations I wanted to have with players during games, I’m able to do that now,” Bambury said. “Each time a player comes off, I do my absolute best to be able to communicate with them things they can improve on, things they did well and things we need to keep doing.”
Along with men’s basketball assistant coach Chris Aim and several football coaches, Bambury is one of only a few assistants employed full-time by the University. Full-time status gives him more opportunity to work with his players in individual on-court sessions to improve their skills.
Bambury said that he and women’s head coach Dave Wilson complement each other in their coaching styles. Bambury is more vocal, while Wilson takes on a subdued approach.
“I think I bring outward energy and he brings a quiet competitiveness that I think some of the players find themselves following,” he said. “Some like the more outwardly enthusiastic.”
For men’s hockey assistant coach Tony Cimellaro, serving in his position is about complementing the head coach and acting as an extension of them on the bench.
In hockey, assistants will often take charge of specific on-ice units, reducing the burden on the bench boss.
“I’m in charge of our defence during the game, I’m in charge of our penalty kill,” Cimellaro said. “Other things like practice plans, lineup decisions, recruiting, those are all things [head coach] Brett [Gibson] has sole confidence in me.”
With recruiting playing such a large role in the university game, assistant coaches such as Cimellaro take on additional duties in getting players to come to Queen’s.
“I have a lot of connections in the [Ontario Hockey League],” Cimellaro said. “The guys I have really close connections with, if they’ve got players, those are the guys Brett will give me to call.”
A former pro hockey player who spent two games on ice with the Ottawa Senators, Cimellaro said his experience helps him with coaching.
“I think when I use my experience from playing at that level and playing pro hockey, the kids see it is used at a higher level,” he said. “It helps with credibility. The kids know that it’s not a guy who’s reading it from a book and has studied it.
“The kids know I’ve done it first-hand, and I think that goes a long way.”
Cimellaro said one of the greatest aspects of his coaching experience is the relationships he’s formed with his former players.
“When the game is done, it’s the friendships that I have with these kids,” he said. “Somewhere along the way, I’ve done the right thing for these kids that they want to stay in contact with me.”
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