By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- For the wretched final five minutes of Friday's first half in Amsterdam's Big 10 game against Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, Running Rams head coach Tony Orapello sat motionless in his chair.
As his team committed five turnovers in its final seven possessions, he did not offer a substitute.
With ND-BG on an 11-0 run, Orapello did not call a timeout.
At halftime, Orapello barely spoke to his club, only letting them know he was disappointed with the first-half effort before leaving the locker room to let assistant coach Charles Beekman speak with the players for a minute.
Then, in the second half, Orapello came alive, pacing the sideline and working his team. In the end, the Rams had manufactured a comeback victory, an 11-point Senior Night win.
All in all, a pretty normal performance from Orapello, whose steadfast commitment to certain coaching ideals and various peculiarities has taken his team a while to get used to in his first season back as the Rams' head coach.
The blame for that does not rest with the players -- at least, exclusively. Asked if he thinks he is a tough guy to figure out and get to know, Orapello does not hesitate before answering.
"Oh, yes. Definitely," he says, grinning. "I'm demanding."
"I'm very demanding," he clarifies.
Early in the season, Orapello made his level of intensity apparent to his club. Seemingly any and all early-season mistakes in practice led to sprints, with Orapello's rising voice imploring his players to run faster with each one. Watching Orapello work his team over during those sprints, one got the feeling the head coach could have found fault with a lap turned in by Usain Bolt.
Those early practices established two things.
First off, the Rams' old way of doing things -- "Last year, we more did our own thing," senior forward Robbie Sherlock says -- was dead and that Orapello's reign would be a bit more heavy-handed than former head coach Joe Agresta's style.
Secondly, that Orapello was not going to be shy about letting himself be heard -- loudly -- when he was unhappy.
See, Orapello can be a bit of a yeller.
"Yes, he definitely is," senior guard Billy Carr says, a matter-of-fact tone to his voice.
Carr's been the focal point of more than a couple tongue-lashings from Orapello -- sessions which usually begin with the coach calling out to the guard: "Bill-ee ... get over here."
Experiencing an up-and-down senior season, there have been times this season when Carr's playing time yo-yoed between 10 and 25 minutes.
"But I never blamed Coach because he always showed confidence in me," says Carr. "He always pushes you and it might not be in the best way, but he always shows you that he cares."
Carr was removed from the regular playing rotation for a pair of games a couple weeks back when his struggles reached their highest point. But, after giving Carr some time to re-wire himself on the bench, Orapello re-inserted the senior back into the regular rotation, playing Carr more than 20 minutes this past Friday. The senior responded with six points and steady ball-handling.
It was not the first time this season that Orapello showed signs of faith in a struggling player and was rewarded. When senior Luis Laboy registered just six scoreless minutes in an early-season game, the first thing Orapello told Laboy after that game was that it had not been his night, but that the coach still wanted him in his starting lineup.
Now, Laboy is the Rams' consistent leading scorer.
Sometimes, the Rams do not understand their coach, who breaks them down to build them up. But they are becoming OK with that arrangement.
"Throughout the year, we've grown to each other, us and the coach," says Sherlock. "He wants what's best for us and he's taught us to play through things -- to be mentally tough. ... We're more comfortable with him and he's comfortable with us now, too. He pushes us to do our best and he's done that all year, and we appreciate that."
Part of pushing his players to do their best was on display at the end of Friday's first half. Orapello says watching his team go through its struggles was not easy for him, but that he thinks it is a necessary evil for his squad to reach its potential.
"They've got to learn to solve problems themselves. I'm into that concept," says Orapello. "If I keep protecting them all the time, they won't learn how to think on their own."
That, and he hates calling timeouts. He views calling timeouts as a show of weakness, a sign that the opposing team has him rattled.
"I don't like to show that (and call timeout) unless I absolutely have to," he says. "That's just the way I am."
Of course, figuring out what exactly that means has been an ongoing process for the Rams.
"But I think they get it now," Orapello says.