After coaching basketball at Bishop England, Jeff DiBattisto moved up the ladder to take the athletics director job at Cardinal Newman.
But after two seasons as AD at Cardinal Newman, another irresistible opportunity presented itself — the Dreher boys head coaching job opened up in the spring of 2013 when Jon Richards joined the staff at River Bluff.
“It was not that I was looking to be a coach again, necessarily, it was just something you have to consider,” he said. “It meant a lot to be able to come to a place where basketball matters, and basketball is very important at Dreher.”
In his first season, DiBattisto has led the Blue Devils to a 15-6 (9-2 region) record and a share of the Region 4-3A title.
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A good friend had told DiBattisto something like this was possible.
“When he was exploring the Dreher job, he called and asked my opinion and I told him it was a great job,” said Nate Livesay, who had been friends with DiBattisto since working with him at an Eddie Fogler basketball camp years ago. When DiBattisto took the job, and went about building his staff, former Sumter coach Livesay was one of his first picks for an assistant.
“Once you’re a coach, you’re never really done being a coach,” said Livesay, who also had taken time away from the sideline.
If DiBattisto had lost a step, it was not obvious to his players.
“He’s definitely more fired up than any coach I’ve had in the past and he pushes us more than anybody has pushed us before,” junior star Tevin Mack said.
“We knew from the summer that we had a core of very talented guys,” Livesay said.
The team had a solid nucleus with juniors Grayson Stiglbauer, DeAndre Nathaniel-Lee and Mack, the state’s top 3A player and one of nation’s leading juniors, along with senior role-players Bradford Lemmons and John Myers returning.
“The real question was whether we were going to be able to get them to buy in and do the little things that would be needed to win in a region like this,” DiBattisto said.
That is where DiBattisto’s history comes into play.
Having coached on the college level at Gardner-Webb and Miami-Dade at the start of his career, DiBattisto said he is a different coach than he was years ago.
“I was all about the Xs and Os when I was a young coach, and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is about how important the relationships are. Once they know you and trust you as a person, they start to trust you on the court,” DiBattisto said.
No one knows that better than assisistant coach Joseph Tecklenburg, a Wofford alumnus who played for DiBattisto at Bishop England.
“He came to Bishop England when I was a sophomore, and he was pretty strict. He laid down the law. But I think he’s learned to let up off the gas a little bit. He’s a little older. He had his first kid about a year ago and I think that kind of mellowed him out,” Tecklenburg said, laughing.
“I can tell that he really wants to be our coach,” he said. “He has built a relationship with us more than any coach we’ve had. He’ll just text to see how your day is going, and you can tell that he cares about us.”
And as much as he is enjoying being on the sideline, DiBattisto said the biggest reward of being back in coaching comes from seeing his players achieve their goals.
“I’m just happy for them, because they work very hard, and I can see how much they want to be successful,” he said.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419