At the Riverhead High School girls basketball team’s first team meeting before the start of the season, Dave Spinella delivered the news. He told his players this was it, his final season as the Blue Waves’ coach.
The decision was a difficult one.
“As weird as it sounds, it’s one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,” Spinella, 38, said. “Making a decision to get married was easier.”
Spinella, in his 14th season, said he wants to spend more time at home with his family. He and his wife, Tara, have three young children.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Walt Whitman, Spinella had a 159-97 (.621) career record. He will leave an indelible mark on the Riverhead program. In 2012 he guided Riverhead to the New York State Class AA semifinals. Under him, the Blue Waves won three league championships (2008, 2012 and 2016). Although it appears likely they will not reach the playoffs this year, they have made it to the postseason 10 times with Spinella, advancing a round in five of those 10 playoffs.
Spinella said he is most proud of his team being a state scholar-athlete team for 13 straight years and having 15 of his players advance to play at the collegiate level.
The coach, often referred to by his players as “Spin,” is well-liked by them.
“I know I’m going to miss him a lot,” sophomore forward Kristin Dunn said. “He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
Junior guard Faith Johnson-DeSilvia said Spinella’s approaching departure is “upsetting, very upsetting. He’s a good coach. If you need anything, he’ll be able to talk to you about it. He’s not just there to coach you. He’s there to help you. I love him. He’s just helped me a lot.”
Spinella, who played basketball for West Babylon, was 24 and the youngest coach in Suffolk County when he succeeded Jim Janecek as Riverhead’s varsity coach after running the junior varsity team for two seasons.
He is still a young coach. Can he see himself getting back in the game in the future?
“Maybe one day,” he said. “I don’t know. Who knows?”
Spinella, who is assisted by Paul Bertram and former Riverhead player Jalyn Brown, said he joked by telling someone, “I’m not dying. I’ll be around.” He said he expects to remain president of the Suffolk County Girls Basketball Coaches Association, a post he has held for a handful of years, for another year or two and stay involved in the game.
“It’s just the next phase,” Spinella said. “I love coaching the game I love with the kids I love. I’m so humbled by the opportunity I had.”
His love of basketball remains strong, he said. “I love everything about it. I still have a passion for it, but you got to prioritize.
“Fifteen years of developing and establishing these relationships with so many great people, it’s very difficult to let go, but I’m ready and my family is ready.”
Photo caption: Dave Spinella, who will step down after this, his 14th season as Riverhead’s coach, with guard Faith Johnson-DeSilvia. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)