Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kentucky’s ‘Slice’ Paying Immediate Dividends As a Recruiter
NEW YORK — Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello remembers last spring when Barry “Slice” Rohrssen, always stylishly dressed, strolled into the New York City Catholic League playoffs while he was still on the staff at Pittsburgh.
“He walked into the CHSAA Brooklyn-Queens games and there was not one player who could play at Pittsburgh,” Arbitello told SNY.tv. “Not one.”
The memory sticks out for Arbitello because it helps define why Rohrssen is so well liked and respected by high school and AAU coaches in New York and New Jersey.
“Without a doubt, he’s the most well-respected coach I know,” said Arbitello, whose team has won three New York State Federation titles and four New York City Catholic crowns since 2010.
Slice, a Brooklyn native, was given his nickname by legendary Five Star Basketball guru Howard Garfinkel when Rohrssen played at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Legend has it that Rohrssen couldn’t shoot and kept slicing to the basket.
He went on to help build a pipeline form New York City to Pittsburgh under Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon, and later became the head coach at Manhattan.
To this day, everyone in New York and New Jersey basketball circles knows who he is.
“He’s honest, to start with,” Arbitello added. “He’s not one of these guys. Too many college coaches make the mistake of talking to you when you have a player. He’s truly a believer in buildling relationships. I told him they should videotape him and give it to all new assistant coaches and say, ‘This is how to recruit.’ He was working the entire room.”
Asked if he had seen other high-major assistant coaches show up at games like the ones in New York last spring, Arbitello said, “No, never. Never.”
Since joining John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky this summer, Rorhssen’s relationships have paid off.
Rohrssen, 54, was critical in Kentucky’s successful recruitment of Isaiah Briscoe, the No. 1 player in New Jersey in the Class of 2015. And he’s also a key contact point in Kentucky’s recruitment of Tyus Battle, Jersey’s No. 1 player in the Class of 2016.
Kentucky does not make assistant coaches available for interviews during the season, but when he was hired this spring he said this in a statement: “It’s an honor to be part of a program that has the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. I was humbled when John Calipari asked me to become a member of his outstanding staff. Coach Cal embodies the meaning of the word ‘success.’ The way he prepares young men for their future, in both basketball and life, is remarkable.”
Calipari has known Rorhssen for more than 30 years.
“We roomed together at Five Star as counselors, still in college, and have followed each others’ careers on the court closely,” Calipari said in a statement. “I’m thrilled with what he brings to our staff, both on court and off, in terms of coaching, recruiting and mentoring these young men.”
Rohrssen has a fascinating background. In addition to his coaching history, he has also acted in various movies. He appeared briefly in the 1992 classic Glengarry Glen Ross in which Alec Baldwin’s character Blake utters these famous lines when discussing a sales contest:
“As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now?”
On the recruiting front, Rohrssen helped land first prize when he secured Briscoe, the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2015.
Keep in mind that Kentucky didn’t begin actively recruiting Briscoe until August, after St. John’s had put in several years of work.
Assistant coach Kenny Payne developed a relationship with George Briscoe, Isaiah’s father, while Rohrssen made several visits to the school and home in the days and weeks leading up to Briscoe’s commitment on Nov. 13.
“[Calipari], Coach Payne and Slice sitting in my living room is just something that I dreamed of,” the 6-foot-3 Briscoe told SNY.tv. earlier this fall.
“I think Slice did a nice job [with Briscoe],” RC coach Dave Boff said last week. “He was definitely in our gym a couple of different times after Kentucky really started to come after Isaiah hard so I thought he did a job.”
He added: “The thing that Slice did was, he made sure that he was a presence at the school. Other coaches were also, but I thought that he made sure that he was a presence at the school toward the end of the school day, meeting with some Roselle Catholic people. Talked to the President of the school, the principal, it seemed like he made an effort to talk with them about Isaiah off the court and stuff like that.”
Having landed New Jersey’s No. 1 player in 2015, Rohrssen, Calipari and company are now on the trail for the 6-6 Battle of Gill St. Bernard’s, an elite combo guard who is also being courted by Duke, Syracuse, Michigan and others and who was featured in the recent SNY.tv documentary, “The Battle Plan.”
“I think it helps [Kentucky’s recruiting] because he understands the demographic,” Gary Battle, the player’s father, told SNY.tv. “He knows some of the coaches. Everybody knows Slice. In the basketball world that we’re in, everybody knows somebody that knows Slice if you don’t know him directly, so that’s kind of what I found.
“I didn’t know him prior to him showing interest Tyus, but [Gill St. Bernard’s coach] Mergin [Sina] and him know each other from New York, and he knows a couple other people that I know. So the comfort level and he talks the same talk we talk over here. He sounds like us, walks like us, talks like us. He’s a little different but we all know people like Slice. He’s a pretty easy guy to talk to.
“He really cares about the kids. When he recruits a kid, he really cares about him.”
Some will say, Kentucky is Kentucky and they will get top players no matter who is recruiting for them. Heck, Calipari could have two robots recruiting and McDonald’s All-Americans will still go there because of his track record of getting kids to the NBA. Right?
“You can’t say anything about Kentucky, they’ve gotten a majority of great players,” Arbitello said. “But he definitely helps, he opens up the East Coast. I can’t see a kid that they want going anywhere between [Calipari having] him and [it being] Kentucky.
“He’s like no other assistant coach, I’m teling you.”
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.