The biggest move in Rhode Island high school basketball this offseason was Eric Simonelli’s departure from Prout up north to La Salle.
Replacing him wasn’t going to be easy, but first-year Prout athletic director Mike Traficante thinks the school – and the program – have their man.
After a summer of searching, Traficante told The Times Wednesday that Westerly boys basketball assistant coach Jed O’Malley will take over for Simonelli this season, beating out two other finalists for the job.
“His philosophy about high school sports is in line with mine and the way he’s going to approach the players is in line with what I like to do,” Traficante said. “I do think the next head coach of this program is going to have be a strong individual because they’re replacing someone who is a very strong presence here, someone respected by a lot of people and someone that made Prout basketball.”
“The main thing I wanted [Traficante] to understand was I wanted to continue the trend of what they have going on at Prout,” O’Malley said. “[Simonelli] has gotten the program to a point where it’s in really good shape and I wanted Traficante to know that that’s the expectations we’ll continue to have.
“We want to play at a high level, attract kids who want to play at a high level and for some, kids who want to play at that next level.”
O’Malley, 38, was Westerly’s assistant coach for five years under Mike Gleason. He took last season off for the birth of his third child but was planning on getting back to coaching this winter.
He just wasn’t expecting it to be as head coach at one of the best Division III schools in the state.
“The goal was always to be a head coach, coaching at Westerly with the idea at some point of getting a head coaching job,” O’Malley said. “… This just popped up. I knew they were in good shape and geographically it’s right in my backyard and not too far from where I work.”
O’Malley is a science teacher at Westerly High School but has roots to the area. He was a three-year varsity player at South Kingstown High School and as a senior was a part of the Rebel squad that won a division title in the 1991-92 season.
He attended the University of Rhode Island and did a work-study program where he practiced and worked with the women’s basketball team before graduating in 1998.
O’Malley continued to play basketball recreationally, where he played with and against Simonelli; O’Malley also said he had a chance to play with and against players he will be coaching this season.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to a few of the kids,” O’Malley said. “I’m pretty close with Justin Bristol and Eric Rameika and a couple of the underclassmen. I’ve been to a couple of their [Narragansett Summer League] games to observe, not coach, just checking in to see where they’re at and to monitor their progress.”
The hire was the first move made by Traficante as athletic director. He said when he narrowed the field of applicants down to three, the school’s new principal – David Carradini – was in the process of moving from Long Island to Rhode Island and Carradini expressed he wanted to be a part of the decision.
“He said ‘I’ll leave it to you, but I want to meet the final three candidates,’” Traficante said. “But we were in agreement with who the next coach should be.”
It won’t be easy for O’Malley to come in and replace Simonelli, who won a Division III title in 2010-11 and likely would have won another last season if the D-III tourney existed, and O’Malley is more than aware of the catcalls he’ll hear if the team struggles.
“It comes with the territory. Coming into a winning program or losing program, there’s always going to be criticism,” O’Malley said. “… But if we lose two games in a row and people start talking, that’s just the way it is.”