By Chris Villani, Milford Town Crier (@ChrisVillani44)
It's been a strange sight for area basketball fans to see someone other than Steve Manguso roaming the sidelines at Milford High. But MHS's loss is Clark University's gain, and the Hall of Fame coach is liking the collegiate experience as the Cougars' associate head coach.
"It's been fun," he said. "You are working with a talent level that is much better than high school and I enjoy the recruiting part. It was an adjustment not being the boss, but I have a lot of responsibility."
Manguso coaches with close friend Paul Phillips, who has been the head coach at Clark for 17 seasons. The former Milford coach handles various duties including recruiting, planning practices, and helping to break down game film. He's also continued to teach two of his former charges at MHS, Joseph Atkinson and David Mercier.
"They have both made great strides, I'm so proud of them," Manguso said. "Joe has become a terrific defender and he can handle the ball and rebound well. I can't believe how much David has improved in his scoring and offensive rebounding. They are both having a lot of fun playing basketball."
Atkinson is among Clark's leaders in rebounds and steals while Mercer averages around 11 points and six rebounds per game, the third and second best totals on the team, respectively. Both plays say having their high school coach join them in the collegiate ranks has been beneficial.
"It's been really great, I definitely like having him around," Atkinson said. "He made the transition easier for me and I definitely learn a lot from him because of how much he knows and understands the game."
"It's been interesting to see him in a different role, but with him and Coach Phillips it's been like having two head coaches and that helps the team," added Mercier. "He knows my game well and my shot and he pays close attention to the way I'm shooting the ball or moving in the post."
Manguso agrees his knowledge of Atkinson and Mercier has allowed him to evaluate their progress in a way most other college coaches would not be able to.
"I know what they can do," he said. "Nobody knows players like their high school coach, you know every nook and cranny so I think that helped them a bit. We did a lot of winning in high school and had fun, so that makes things even easier."
"Though who knows, maybe they were ready to be done with me," he added with a chuckle.
Atkinson and Mercier were key cogs in Milford's Central Mass district title squad in 2013 that included a memorable comeback from 18 points down in the semifinal against Wachusett. Mercier and Atkinson scored a combined 29 points in that win.
"That run our senior year was special," Mercier said. "We never counted ourselves our, even when we were down 18 in the third quarter, we knew we would never quit."
That's the kind of tenacity Manguso inspired in three decades of Milford High players over a career that included more than 400 victories, a dozen league titles, and two sectional championships. And a tenacity now enjoyed by the fans at Clark.