By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL—There’s a new varsity boys basketball coach at Lewis Mills high school this year. And, boy, he certainly looks awfully familiar. That new coach is Ryan Raponey, who left the Bristol Eastern program to take over the head position at Mills.
Raponey was hired at the beginning of November when outgoing coach Jim Barone resigned in September.
Barone walked away from a 9-13 program and Raponey—a veteran of several Central Connecticut Conference wars himself—brings in a boatload of experience that will help elevate the program into first year CCC action.
Raponey, a graduate of Bristol Eastern in 2003, worked his way up from the freshman ranks—starting his coaching career for the Lancers in 2010. Then in 2016, Eastern coach—and Raponey’s godfather—Mike Giovinazzo retired and JV coach Bunty Ray took the varsity job.
That meant Raponey was elevated to JV head coach and lead varsity assistant position, doing an excellent job under Ray’s regime.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” said Ray. “I’ve known him since he was really, really young and I’ve watched him come up as a player, I’ve watched him go through college, I’ve watched him as an assistant coach and he’s definitely put in the time. He learned from a lot of different people and when you’re young and your eyes and ears are open and you’re able to work hard and put it all together, you get a heading coaching job.”
“That’s where he is and I wish him all the luck.”
But a varsity job has been on Raponey’s radar from time to time. In 2014, when Mark Wesoly stepped down from the boys basketball position in Plainville, Raponey was on a short list for the job. He had support for the job but ultimately, the program went in another direction and Raponey happily remained with the Lancers’ family.
However, the Lewis Mills job opened up late this summer and Raponey applied for a very appealing position. He has absolutely paid his dues and has all the credentials of a well-round, experienced coach.
Mills, for the first time ever, will play under the Central Connecticut Conference banner and joined up with Eastern, Bristol Central, and Plainville in the brand new CCC South, Patriot division. And the disciples of Giovinazzo are all over that conference.
With Ray at Eastern, Tim Barrette at Central and now Raponey at Mills, Giovinazzo has influenced them all and expect some exciting local battles between very familiar coaches.
“You always want assistant coaches that aspire to be head coaches to be successful—except against Eastern,” said Ray. “But every other game, I’m rooting for him.”
Raponey has certainly put the work in and now, he’s a full-time varsity boys basketball coach—looking to take the Spartans back to the postseason.
Bristol Observer Q&A: Ryan Raponey, a different perspective
The Bristol Observer recently caught up with the newly minted head coach and asked all the tough questions:
Bristol Observer: “Officially, how does it feel to be the varsity coach of the Lewis Mills boys basketball program?”
Ryan Raponey: “I couldn’t be more excited. The opportunity to have your own team, your own program, instill your values in terms of not just basketball but in terms of education and developing a student athlete and trying to develop young men, it’s an exciting opportunity for me to have right now. I’m ready for it.”
B.O.:“I wanted to back up to the time you applied for the Plainville boys head coaching position that eventually went current head coach Jim DiNello five years ago. You narrowly missed out in getting that job. Do you feel that you are more prepared to lead a varsity program in terms of then and now? Do you feel a bit more seasoned with all that experience from your stint at Bristol Eastern?
R.R.: “At the time was disappointing but in the end, I think all these things happen for a reason. And when Coach Giovinazzo decided to retire, and Bunty decided to move up to the varsity position, that put me in a position of more responsibility as the JV coach and the lead assistant on the varsity level. Bunty was an excellent mentor for me as was Coach Giovinazzo obviously. Bunty and I worked very closely over the past few years and I think I’ve been able to develop as a coach a lot more. I’ve learned, not just about myself, but about directing a program and leading young men. It’s not just about the X’s and O’s and it’s just not all about basketball on the court. There’s a lot of things outside the court that people don’t see that need to be done in a daily operation of a program. And I think that being able to work with Coach Ray over the past few years put me in a much better position and be more well equipped to go into this opportunity and really feel ready for it.”
B.O.:“Is this biggest challenge at Lewis Mills just a change in league? Or do your think there are bigger challenges that await this team besides just moving from the Berkshire League to the Central Connecticut Conference?”
R.R.: “It is a different level of competition on a nightly basis. There are very good teams in the Berkshire League. And there are very good coaches in the Berkshire League. But Lewis Mills has always been one of the bigger schools in that league and kind of the top dog with sharing that with a couple of teams and [Mills] was circled on everybody’s schedule. Lewis Mills was a big game for everybody else whereas they were probably looking at a few games as their marquee games during the course of the season. Now, when you come into the CCC, everybody on your schedule needs to be circled every single night. There isn’t any rest [and] there aren’t any nights you’re just going to put the uniform on and go out and win. And I think in practice, we are going to have to have a certain level of intensity and competition every day. There’s no play, no offense or defense I can run that replace the culture of improvement and we need to get a culture of improvement in there—not just getting better as a team but individually, making yourself better every single day so then you can contribute to the team in these games every single night.”
B.O.:“The CCC South, Patriot Division certainly has the ‘disciples’ of Coach Giovinazzo with head Coach Tim Barrette at Bristol Central, Bunty Ray at Bristol Eastern and now you at Lewis Mills. Three out of the four Patriot division mentors are from Bristol Eastern.”
R.R.: “It’s pretty awesome to have the opportunity to be a head coach and then coach against those guys. I played with Timmy Barrette. He’s got a few years on me but I was on the same team as him—we played in the same middle school team at Northeast. He’s a great guy, a great teacher and a great coach so it’s an honor to be on the floor with him. And obviously Bunty, who is a very close friend of mine. I’ve had the opportunity to coach with and against him. I’ve coached against him in baseball [at Plainville] so we’ve gone through that before. It’s going to be little different when we step out onto the hoop court and we’re going to be that close in proximity next to each other coaching against each other. I look forward to competing against those guys. It’s going to be tough but it’s going to be fun as well.”
B.O.:“And you’ve certainly had a great mentorship under some outstanding scholastic coaches, including Giovinazzo.”
R.R.: “I can’t thank my godfather enough for the opportunities he provided me to become a coach, playing for him, and then coaching under him and just having him there as somebody to give me some guidance—ready to have a conversation about the game and about coaching. It’s been an incredibly great experience and I owe a lot of my success as a coach to him bringing me up in a certain way.
B.O.:“What should opponents expect when going up against Lewis Mills boys basketball this year?”
R.R.:“I mean our goal is to compete to the best of our ability every single night we take the floor and we’re going to battle you for thirty-two minutes. We want to make a commitment to playing good solid hard team defense. We’re going to need to make a commitment to team rebounding. We’re not going to be the biggest team in the league but that’s okay, I’ve experienced that being at Bristol Eastern [where] we’ve traditionally never had the most size in the league. You kind of bring your lunch pail when you play. We’re going to try to run good offense and we’re going to try to get good shots. They’ll be some nights, I think, we’re going to have to push the tempo a little bit when we’re out there. Other nights, we’re going to have to scale it back and possibly limit possessions. Everything comes down to the schedule, comes down to scouting, what are personnel is like and where I’m getting a feel for our personnel in the preseason by just kind of watching them when they played in the fall league and what not. At the end of the day, you’re going to see everybody fight for thirty-two minutes a night, giving their best effort together as a team and we’ll walk away and hopefully, we’ll have some success.”