Jose Rebimbas will return to Seton Hall on Friday night with a heavy heart.
Mariana Goncalves, the aunt of the William Paterson men's basketball coach, passed away at 11:58 p.m. Wednesday night after a battle with ovarian cancer. Rebimbas, a member of the 1989 Seton Hall NCAA Tournament runner-up team, plans to attend his aunt's wake in Kearny, N.J. until about 6:45 p.m. Friday night before coaching his Division 3 outfit in an exhibition against the Pirates at Walsh Gym. Gametime is 7 p.m.
"I'm going to hustle to Seton Hall and try to catch tip-off," Rebimbas, 42, said Thursday night by phone.
Rebimbas, who owns a career 301-134 coaching mark in 15 seasons at the Wayne, N.J., school, said he hoped to use his trying personal experience as a teaching moment for his players.
"I tried to tell my kids today, we have to appreciate one another and be there for one another, not just on the court, but off the court," Rebimbas said. "Some of these relationships that you're formulating you'll be able to carry the rest of your lives."
Rebimbas, whose name appears with his '89 teammates on a white and blue banner in Seton Hall's Walsh Gym, should know. He still maintains close relationships with former Pirates coach P.J. Carlesimo and several of his old teammates.
"When I had kids, I called P.J. up and shared it with him," Rebimbas said. "I called my son J.P. [Jose Pantaleao] and I wanted to make sure he knew I wasn't naming my son after him and just reversing the letters."
Rebimbas also remains close with John Morton, now a Fordham assistant coach, and Mark Bryant. He has been to Puerto Rico four or five times to visit with Ramon Ramos, the former Seton Hall standout whose tragic car accident forever changed his life.
The all-time winningest coach in William Paterson history, Rebimbas has guided the Pioneers to five New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) titles and seven NCAA Tournament bids, including spots in the 2001 national championship game, the 1999 Final Four and the 2006 Elite Eight. Yet despite his success, he has never been able to make the jump to the Division 1 level.
Carlesimo, now an assistant with the Toronto Raptors, said he tried to hire Rebimbas after he was named head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, but things didn't work out.
"I tried hiring Jose when I was at Seattle," Carlesimo said. "I wanted to bring him into Seattle. He's an excellent coach, excellent recruiter, great work ethic. All he needs is the opportunity.
"He's somebody that I would always consider if I ever got a college or an NBA job. He's one of the first guys I would call. When a college job was open, if I spoke to a conference commissioner or an athletic director, I would give him an unqualified recommendation."
While William Paterson has been a bedrock of stability during Rebimbas' 15 years at the school, Seton Hall has had five coaches during that time. Rebimbas has won five conference titles and been to seven NCAA tournaments, while the Pirates have won no Big East crowns in that span and been to the Big Dance only three times.
"They've been through so many coaching changes," Rebimbas said. "Tommy Amaker obviously left. Louis Orr was pushed out the door. Bobby Gonzalez, they had to push him out the door. If they stay patient with a guy like Kevin Willard and let him grow into the position and let him grow the relationships with the AAU and high school coaches, they could have a very successful run."
Carlesimo said Willard faces some major challenges in coaching in the 16-team Big East.
"I love Kevin," he said. "I think it's a great hire. I've known him for a long time. I'm always hoping that they get it going again at the Hall. It's a very, very difficult job, more so nowadays because that league has gotten so big. It's a very challenging position."
Still, with a core of Jeremy Hazell, Herb Pope, Jeff Robinson and Jordan Theodore, the Pirates could challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth this year. And despite his heavy heart, Rebimbas will be there to help his alma mater kick off the Willard Era.
"Kevin's a great guy," Rebimbas said. "I approached him about playing this game. He felt very strongly about playing us because I'm an alumnus of the team. I just appreciate that he's given us this opportunity because it will be a great day for our kids. I hope we can give them a competitive game so they can work on some things and hopefully have an NCAA Tournament team."