By Michael James LeClair
For the second consecutive year, a Nashoba Regional basketball coach is walking away with some hardware.
On July 28, the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association took to Twitter to announce the winners of this year’s Basketball Coach of the Year Awards.
A total of 28 recipients from across the state were announced on Tuesday with Nashoba boys’ varsity basketball coach Bryan Riley receiving the honors for Central Mass. Division 2.
“Bryan and his staff, assistant Coaches Mike Mercuri and Brent Routhier, have done a great job over the last two years with our boys’ basketball program,” said Nashoba Athletic Director Tania Rich. “The team bought into his system and core values and played very well this past season — especially with a huge win on the road during playoffs when the team upset the No. 2 seeded Medway.”
In that Central Mass. Division 2 Quarterfinal matchup, the seventh-seeded Chieftains pulled out a thrilling 43-42 upset win over Medway on Feb. 28. “In terms of the award, it means a lot when you are recognized for a successful season,” said Riley by email. “I think more so it speaks to the people we have at Nashoba. We have the best Athletic Director in the state who gives unconditional support and guidance to all of her coaches and players. She really allows her coaches to foster winning programs.”
Last year, Nashoba girls’ varsity basketball head coach Tina Seabury received the Central Mass. Division 2 COTY award for her work with the Chieftains girls’ basketball program.
“Our coaching staff was upgraded this year with the addition of Mike Mercuri who was worth probably 2-3 more wins for our varsity team this year,” said Riley. “As well as Brent Routhier who is so committed to improving our program every day. But at the end of the day this award is won by our players who made this season one to never forget.”
For Riley and Mercuri, their relationship goes back to the days when they were sitting on opposite benches.
“I’ve known Bryan since his days at Marlborough High School when I was the head coach at Hudson High School. He did an amazing job there and has done an equally incredible job at Nashoba,” said Mercuri on Sunday evening. “This was my first year working with Bryan and it was a season I will cherish as one of my all-time favorites. Bryan is an amazing coach who is incredible at the X’s and O’s of the game but does an incredible job getting the most out of each player. I learned an incredible amount from him this year and he’s helped make me be a better coach.”
It’s the second time Riley has received the award, taking it home back in 2015 as the head coach of the Marlborough High School boys’ basketball program. That year, he led the Panthers to a district title and a berth into the State championship game. “To be selected for it a second time is very humbling, personally and professionally,” said Riley. “The way we teach the game has really evolved, but the core values we impart on these student athletes have not changed in the 7 years I have been coaching varsity. I think I have been fortunate to have coached so many great players that have made our programs successful.”
Riley continued, “At the end of the day it’s the players who win the games, all we have tried to do as a coaching staff is set a high standard that we require all of our players to meet. This time around is more rewarding because nobody expected our team to be in the position we were at the end of the year. And it is a testament to the hard work and leadership we had on our squad.”
In his second season at the head of the Chieftains bench, Riley led the Chieftains to the 2019-2020 Mid Wach B title and a trip to the Central Mass. Division 2 Semifinals before falling to Wayland at Clark University on March 3. The Chieftains finished the winter campaign with a 12-9 overall record.
“When Bryan reached out to me shortly before the season, I jumped at the chance to work with him as it was a great step in my development,” said Mercuri. “It’s hard for people outside the program to understand how much time and effort he puts into this. He sets the bar high, like a great leader.”
Following his time in Marlborough, Riley was an assistant coach on the mens’ basketball team at Worcester Polytech Institute (WPI). He began his coaching career as a junior varsity coach at his alma mater, Wachusett Regional in Holden.