Pete Strickland has coached basketball for 31 years, spanning the professional, collegiate and high school ranks and amidst the development intensive high school ranks, Pete would say that he has mentored, tutored and been an extraordinary example to countless student-athletes and their families, their friends and their associates. THIS is the 'evidence' - as Pete calls it - that means the most to him as he reflects on his coaching career, and where he feels he has most indelibly left his mark.
Pete Strickland began his coaching career by coaching DeMatha High School's finest in the summer leagues of Washington, DC when he'd return home from the University of Pittsburgh. He was at Pitt enjoying a stellar four year career there under Head Coach Tim Grgurich - thought to be the Gold Standard, i.e., the absolute BEST teacher of the game in the NBA right now. Pete was a three year captain under Grgurich and left Pitt as their all-time career assist leader.
He also left Pitt as a Speech and Theater Arts major with a 3.3 g.p.a, and was an undergraduate who was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship. ("Juuuust missed," says Pete jokingly).
Buoyed by his playing experiences, Pete earned an opportunity to play professionally in Ireland. Excited to play, his club, Neptune Basketball Club in Cork, Ireland, soon saw a unique talent and asked Pete to be player-coach. Pete accepted and, at the age of 23, found himself coaching a professional team in the Irish National League whose average age was 28. Pete maintains he learned as much about coaching THAT year as he did in any ensuing year.
Neptune went undefeated in regular season play that year and swept the 4 team Final Four as well. COACH Strickland was off and running.
From there it was a return to America to go to graduate school at New York University (NYU), where he started work towards his Master's in Acting at the Tisch School of the Arts. Soon, though, he wandered over to the gymnasium and asked Mike Muzio, the AD and Head Basketball Coach, if he needed any help. Within weeks, Pete was running practice while Coach Muzio recruited for the year to come.
The next year Pete stayed in New York and coached Mount Saint Michael in the Bronx where he was the JV Head Coach and Varsity assistant to John Miller. There Pete met Mary Catherine Freeman a confident and talented young guidance counselor at the school. Within six weeks of meeting, Pete asked her to marry him. She said "Yes!'" though Pete says the exclamation point may be his. Soon, as she had never done so before, Mary Catherine would see her first live basketball game. Little did she know....
At this point Morgan Wootten, Pete's DeMatha Catholic high school coach, and one of but two high school coaches in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Pete spoke. Morgan said that if you are going to coach, you need to come back to DeMatha.
Pete had been helping Morgan run his legendary summer basketball camp for years - a camp where Pete had learned so well how to TEACH from Mr. Wootten, one of the finest teachers OF ANYTHING ever known - so Pete and Coach Wootten were in constant contact through the year. THIS conversation, however, hit home with Pete, and he headed back to DC, soon to be married to Ms. Freeman, and soon to be coaching DeMatha's JV - where he was the head coach - and assisting on the varsity with Mike Brey, as both Mike and Pete joined forces to help Coach Wootten win a few more championships at DeMatha to go with his gaudy amount already assembled - league, city and national titles among them.
Without a doubt, having been a First Team All-State player for Morgan and returning to coach with him for those three years, Morgan has been and will forever be the biggest influence on Pete's 31 year career as a coach. Morgan is an extraordinary communicator, an ethical and hard-charging leader and competitor, and Pete could not have learned enough from such an accomplished man. A man who Pete says "is what he seems to be."
Three years there at DeMatha learning countless lessons and coaching incredible student-athletes, soon saw Pete take the job as the Head Basketball Coach at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, NC. Pete spent a year in Raleigh (though he would return!) before the college game and Joe Cantafio, the Head Basketball Coach of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) lured him to Lexington, VA and NCAA Division I basketball.
Coach Cantafio, like Coach Wootten before him, had his priorities straight, modeled the same for Pete and taught him the college game. VMI was a hard sell, for sure, but Joe, Pete and Dave Manzer enjoyed three very good years coaching the Keydets, and Pete took his next step in coaching when he joined Oliver Purnell at Old Dominion University (ODU).
At Old Dominion, Coach Purnell, Pete, 'Tic' Price, Frank Smith and Steve Trax led the Monarchs to the NCAA Tournament in their very first year, where they trailed mighty Kentucky by but 4 with under 4 minutes to play. Two MORE straight years of postseason play earned Oliver a chance to coach the Dayton Flyers of the University of Dayton (UD). Pete, after attempting to get the vacant head coaching job at ODU (a real learning experience), soon thereafter joined Coach Purnell at Dayton for four growing and incredibly impressive years. The team that the staff inherited at UD had won 6 games in the T-W-O years prior to Coach Purnell and staff taking over. Soon, that changed.
With postseason success in the rearview mirror at Dayton, Coach Strickland was sought and signed by Coastal Carolina University (CCU) to be their head coach in April of 1998. A program wracked by scandal and NCAA probation, THAT became a distant memory for Coastal fans, and soon Coach Strickland was named Coach of the Year in the Big South Conference (1999 - 2000), and the program was rolling.
Four Big South Players of the Year were developed by Coach Strickland and his staff in their seven years in Myrtle Beach, along with three Big South Rookies of the Year. In all, despite coping with four Athletic Directors in seven years, Coach Strickland left CCU as their second winningest coach in school history.
Onto NC State it was, where Pete worked for Sidney Lowe and the Wolfpack. There they counted wins over Duke and North Carolina amongst some of their more memorable wins, and a march through THREE consecutive Top 25 teams - Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Duke - in the 2007 ACC Tournament to face another nationally ranked team, UNC, in the final was one of the more memorable runs for Pete and for Wolfpack fans the world over.
Coach Lowe resigned and Pete landed, 24 years later, back in the same Washington, DC area he had departed from when he left DeMatha in 1987 to join George Washington University (GW) in Foggy Bottom. There he assisted as the Colonials rebuilt their program with an incredible freshman class of Joe McDonald, Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino and Kethan Savage, a class that would lead GW to two postseasons - NCAA and NIT - in their first three years.
BUT, Coach Strickland had always been known as a great recruiter, so the GW signings were not a surprise to anyone.
Throughout his coaching career, Coach Strickland's penchant for building lasting and genuine relationships allowed him to constantly attract quality student-athletes to the successful programs he represented. ALL of these schools that Coach Strickland represented got better for his having been there. Significantly better while he was there and continued improvement even after Coach Strickland left, with those that he left behind.
So, it has been a career of 'lives changed' as much as its been a career of 'games won'.
Ask any of his players. They'd love to be asked. (Link to every player that played for me).