‘He will never be forgotten’

Mazzulla leaves lasting legacy as coach, community leader

By ALEX SPONSELLER
Posted 5/1/20

Longtime Johnston coach and former standout basketball player Dan Mazzulla passed away at the age of 61 last week after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The Johnston native enjoyed a hall-of-fame …

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‘He will never be forgotten’

Mazzulla leaves lasting legacy as coach, community leader

Posted

Longtime Johnston coach and former standout basketball player Dan Mazzulla passed away at the age of 61 last week after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The Johnston native enjoyed a hall-of-fame career playing basketball at Johnston High and was a second-team All-State selection in 1976. He was also a three-time All-League selection, and guided the Panthers to division championships in 1974 and 1975 while finishing with a career 1,217 points scored.

He would then play for nearby Bryant College, where he earned his second hall-of-fame career. Mazzulla helped lead the Bulldogs to consecutive 20-win seasons and the program’s first two NCAA Tournament appearances. He finished with 1,390 points scored and 761 rebounds, and is still among the all-time statistical leaders in numerous categories at the school.

After college, he traveled to Chile to play semi-professional ball. He returned to his hometown after five years abroad.

“He played for the high school, then we watched him play at Bryant, then he went on to play in Chile. He was a little bit older than me, so he was kind of the guy that we all looked up to. Especially when he came back to the town, he was a larger-than-life guy,” said Chris Corsinetti, who grew up with Mazzulla and coached under him from 1997-2011 before going on to coach the Johnston High girls basketball team. “We used to watch him play in the men’s leagues. It was a great experience watching him play. The Mazzulla name is synonymous with Johnston basketball. The entire family is filled with competitors. It was all about working hard and getting better. Playing with them at the playground and the Rainone Gym, it was a lot of fun.”

Upon returning to Johnston, Mazzulla immediately got involved with town athletics and coaching. He coached the Johnston High girls team for 22 years and led the Lady Panthers to Division II titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002. He also coached boys basketball, track and unified basketball at both Ferri Middle School and JHS.

He also took the reins as the town’s Director of Parks and Recreation, where he was devoted to providing both youth and adults with local sporting leagues and facilities.

“Danny is one of my closest friends, I’ve known him for 34 years. He’s going to be missed and I’m not sure if people have quite realized that yet. He was very involved and it was all for the kids, even more than just the kids. He always was working on athletic programs for both kids and adults. Adult softball leagues, adult basketball leagues, leagues for both the women and men, he was about everybody, the whole community. He wanted to keep people active. Seven days a week, he was always working on ways to help the town and he took pride in that,” said Ed Bedrosian, who also coached under Mazzulla for a number of years and worked alongside him in town recreation, specifically as the town’s Little League president.

“Danny was very passionate about our town. He sacrificed a lot to come back and help the community. He dedicated his life to the kids and the town. He’s done things for the kids in this town beyond just the obvious. He’d mentor kids, he’d take them in. When he would talk to other coaches or people in town, the first thing he’d ask is, ‘How are the kids,’ and would know them by name. ‘How’s this one, how’s that one?’ He really cared about the community and the kids in this town,” said Corsinetti.

One local kid that Mazzulla mentored was Ed Bedrosian’s son, Mike. Mike, who is currently the boys coach at Ferri, has also worked in the Parks and Recreation Department under Mazzulla for the past eight years and began working with him as a teenager.

“I remember the first time I went into his office, I was 18 or 19 years old, and he told me, ‘There’s one word that goes into this job and into life, and it’s assertive,’ and I will never forget that word, assertive,” said Mike. “He would always ask, ‘Do you remember the word I told you?’ He asked that because he knew that that is how you gained respect from people. Everyone respected Danny, whether you liked him or not, you respected him because of the time that he put in and the knowledge he had. You felt his presence when he walked in the room.”

He added: “I learned so many life lessons from him, how to handle different problems, situations. I spoke to him nearly every day for the past eight years. He was one of the most important people in my life. He treated me like a son and I saw him as a second father. I was lucky to be able to tell him that last week, I told him how much he meant to me. He always had the right things to say and I went to him for advice with everything. Whether it was life itself, things I went through in college, things like relationships, dating, I went to him for everything because I trusted him. I looked up to him, we were best friends. When he was coaching, I would just sit back and watch him and just learn. He has touched so many people, he’s impacted people that he’s never even met.”

As a coach, Mazzulla was known for his tough brand of basketball and demanding the best of his players on a daily basis. Although he would push the kids, he was always looking to help his players reach their full potential.

“Danny always had principles that he lived by. He was a no-nonsense guy. He expected you to work hard ... show up to practice and work hard, it was non-negotiable. That was one thing about Danny, it was consistency, striving to bring the most out of the kids. It didn’t matter if it was the boys or the girls, they were athletes and he wanted to teach them to work hard. That’s something he taught me as a coach, how to make sure kids are giving 100 percent,” Corsinetti said.

“First, he emphasized giving it your all more than anything. Then with other things, for example, if I was struggling with shooting, he would always tell me to just keep going. He wouldn’t let me sulk, he wouldn’t put up with that. He also preached respect. If you gave him respect, he would give you even more respect. That’s why so many people loved Danny. He could be a tough guy to play for, but he was a great coach. He knew his stuff, never came unprepared, he never backed down. He was very disciplined,” said Dylan Durante, a former Johnston High standout that most recently played for CCRI.

Ed Bedrosian also appreciated Mazzulla’s leadership and his willingness to get everyone involved, both players and coaches.

“The one thing about Danny as a coach is that he knew how to get the best out of the kids. He understood that every kid had different skill sets and skill levels, but he was always able to get the most out of them. As his assistant, he always gave me a lot of responsibility, which I was grateful for. He would let me make substitutions, we would talk through things, he allowed me to be involved. He was really the only coach that ever made me feel involved 100 percent of the time, he made me feel important to the team,” said Ed.

Mazzulla also made sure that his players were involved in the town and contributing to their community. As the parks and recreation director, he would often hire his players in part-time roles to help the town and make some money during their time at Johnston High.
Beyond that, and perhaps what he will be remembered for most, was his dedication to his players’ overall well being.

Whether it be on the court, off the court, in school, at home, professionally, personally, Mazzulla always made it his duty to help his players be the best they could be.

“He would always get the kids involved with the rec programs, he would always have them working part time and would get them involved when they weren’t playing basketball. About 90 percent of the kids on the team were working for the town,” Ed Bedrosian said. “He would always see the kids, spending time with them, keeping them busy. He took care of those kids. It was a family more than just a team. He would always ask the kids at practice, ‘What’s going on in school? What’s going on with this?’ He cared so much. And he could be hard to play for but that’s because he wanted them to reach their potential. If he saw you playing at 60 percent, he would ask why you weren’t playing at 100. Not to belittle you, but to help you be the best you could be.”

“He cared about his players on and off the court, 100 percent,” Durante added. “If you needed a ride to practice, he would come and get you. If you were failing school, he would help you or find help. He was such a caring guy and it did not matter what you needed in life. If you have family problems, he would be there for you, if you were hungry, he would feed you. You don’t find many coaches like that. That’s why this town is feeling this loss, there are people that never even met him or played for him that are taking this loss very hard. He will never be forgotten.”

Mazzulla leaves behind three children – Joe, who is currently a member of the Boston Celtics’ coaching staff, Justin, who will be playing for the University of Vermont, and Gianna, who played for her father at JHS.

“Thank you for all of your kind words and support through this difficult time,” Gianna said in a statement last week. “We appreciate each and every one of you.”

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Robert

Too bad he died. Proof you never take Chemotherapy.

Monday, May 4