PAWTUCKET — The 15-second video on YouTube shows Ruben Garces, then a center for a professional basketball team in Uruguay, trying to stop an opposing player from driving into the lane.
The six-year-old video ends with the player dunking over Garces, who turns around to inbound the ball as the crowd goes crazy. On a recent Saturday, Garces laughed as he mentioned that some of his young players have seen the video and tease him for getting “posterized.”
“They’re a good group of kids. For them, I’m just Coach,” said Garces, 46, a former Providence College basketball standout who played part of one season in the NBA and more than 14 years professionally in Europe and Latin America.
Garces just completed his first year as head coach of the St. Raphael Academy Boys Basketball Team. With an overall record of 3 wins and 19 losses heading into the Saints’ last game of the season against Cranston East on Feb. 24, this was a rebuilding year for the program.
“We weren’t teaching them X’s and O’s. We were teaching them fundamentals, things like how to set a screen, read the offensive plays and box out for a rebound, things that are normal for professionals or guys who played basketball in college, but for [his players], it’s like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’” Garces said.
Despite the lopsided win-loss record, Garces said he saw his players improve their skills, deepen their basketball knowledge and slowly learn the mentality needed to win close games down the stretch.
With four juniors returning next year and five freshmen starting on the JV team this season, Garces said he is optimistic about the 2020-21 season.
“Even though the record doesn’t show it, I think the season was a great one for the kids because of the things we taught them this year,” said Garces, who added that he also focused on helping them become better students, basketball players and people.
“This has been a season about finding themselves, finding out who they are and learning how to become better human beings and better versions of themselves,” Garces said. “It’s been a learning experience for me too.”
Garces has long had his eye on a coaching career. He coached the youth development teams of the European clubs for which he played.
He participated in the 2018 NBA Assistant Coaches Program, where he coached aspiring professionals in the pre-draft camp and in the NBA’s developmental league.
Garces, who lives in Smithfield with his wife and three children, spent last season as an assistant coach at St. Raphael Academy. His wife, Amy, worked at the school and his oldest son, Jayden, attended St. Ray’s until transferring this year to Tabor Academy in Massachusetts.
Garces said he learned from St. Ray’s longtime successful coach Tom Sorrentine, who retired after last season.
“I love Tom Sorrentine. He was a great guy to be around and a great mentor. Last year, I was just trying to learn and pick some things up from him,” said Garces, who applied for the head coach position when Sorrentine retired.
By then, Garces’ basketball resume was well-known in Rhode Island. As a 6-foot-9-inch power forward/center, Garces starred at Providence College in 1995-97. He led the team in rebounding and was a key piece in the Friars’ 1997 run to the Elite Eight. Garces still keeps in touch with several players on those teams, including standouts God Shammgod (who went on to play for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks), and Austin Croshere (who played for five different NBA teams before retiring and is now a TV broadcaster for the Indiana Pacers).
Like those teammates, Garces played professionally. In 2001, he appeared in 13 games for the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors.
He then played in the Continental Basketball Association before going overseas and playing 14 years for professional leagues in Spain, France, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.
Born in Panama, Garces was 18 years old, barely spoke English and had one suitcase when he arrived in the United States to play basketball at Navarro Junior College in Texas. He later transferred to Providence College after visiting Rhode Island.
Garces grew up Catholic, and is an active parishioner at St. Philip Church in Greenville, where he and his family attend Mass every Sunday and volunteer for parish activities.
“The Church is a big support system for my family,” Garces said. “It’s very important.”
Garces said he tries to pass on the values he learned from the Catholic faith onto his players, teaching them to respect themselves and their peers, to hold themselves accountable to high standards and to not let anyone tell them they can’t accomplish their goals in life.
“They need to believe in themselves, to go after their goals and to work hard every day for them,” Garces said.
Jaden Delomba, 17, the Saints’ junior point guard, said he became a better person and a better all-around basketball player under Garces’ tutelage.
“I wasn’t really that fundamentally-sound before,” Delomba said. But now I’m catching on, and he taught me a lot of things, on and off the court. He encouraged me to make things happen when I’m bringing the ball up the court.”
Paul Thompson, 15, a sophomore who played center this season, said Garces taught him and his teammates how to talk to each other on the court, to focus on fundamentals like boxing out for a rebound and filling in the correct lanes on the fast break.
“I learned a lot this year, especially how it’s important to play your hardest and keep a steady mindset as a basketball player and as a person,” Thompson said. “I think it made me a better player overall. I can’t wait until next year. It’s going to be fun.”
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