Brian Schnee
Equinox Staff

Everybody has a positive influence in their lives, someone who inspires and motivates, and pushes them to achieve their best.Keene State College senior and member of the men’s basketball team Anthony Mariano is no different.
Mariano grew up in Naugatuck, Conn. Mariano is the sole male in his household. Growing up with three sisters and his mother Mary Jane, Anthony’s father figure left his life when he was just two years old. It didn’t take long for another strong male figure to appear in Mariano’s life. Unfortunately, that male figure, Josh Ruccio, passed away a year ago.
Ruccio, 35, died suddenly on Jan. 16, 2012 of unknown causes. The death rattled the town of Naugatuck. And more specifically, it rattled Anthony Mariano, who was a junior at the time.  Anthony was in practice when the news broke, that his former coach, mentor, friend and most importantly “big brother” figure had passed. “I looked at my phone after an early practice and had a text from my cousin,” Mariano said. “I remember it like yesterday, it said, ‘Ruccio passed away.’”
“It was a really tough day, probably one of the hardest things I ever been through,” Mariano said.

©Berthiaume_Mariano-1Josh Ruccio was a well-known man around town. He worked locally, coaching in the town at every youth level and even attended Naugatuck High School as a student-athlete, playing baseball and basketball. Ruccio was married to current Naugatuck High School Varsity Girl’s Basketball Coach Jodie Ruccio. Anthony Mariano’s athletic endeavors began on the baseball diamond, where the journey started for Ruccio and Mariano. Mariano first met Ruccio while trying out for a competitive baseball team during his middle school years. “We developed a relationship right then, he ended up picking me first in the draft,” Mariano said. While coaching the baseball team, Ruccio was also the freshmen basketball coach at the high school. “I wasn’t so much into basketball at the time,” Mariano said. “He was always busting on me, telling me to play basketball. I didn’t end up playing basketball until the eighth grade.”
Mariano’s current coach, Rob Colbert said that it’s uncommon to find a player who started playing so late in his childhood. “Nowadays it’s very rare with the AAU scene how it is and the travel programs,” Colbert said. “Starting early [at] like five or six years old is becoming more of the ‘norm’ than the case like Anthony [Mariano].”

However, come freshman year in high school, Mariano finally stepped on the hardwood to be coached by Ruccio. This would be the only year that he would be involved with Mariano’s basketball career as a head coach. “That year we went to Crosby in Waterbury, [Conn.] one of the city schools who we hadn’t beat in almost ten years.” Mariano said. “We went to Crosby and we beat them and I remember he [Ruccio] started crying after the game.”
“He was just so passionate,” Mariano said of Ruccio. “He’ll get in your face when you’re doing something wrong, but he’ll be the first one to smack you on your butt when you do something right.”
“He made me work hard with everything I did,” Mariano said. Ruccio was a vocal and animated coach according to Anthony and his mother agreed. “He was a very disciplined coach and passionate but also focused on keeping the kids on track,” Mary Jane Mariano said. “He watched over them with their grades too, which was always number one.”

With no father figure in his life for the years growing up, Anthony’s mother, Mary Jane had the sole responsibilities of watching her son grow as a person and a player but always had Josh there to help. “He was more of a big brother to Anthony because he wasn’t [much] older,” Mary Jane said. “He was always giving a lot of time and would always call me to check up on Anthony.”
“[Ruccio] was that male role model, I guess you could say,” Mariano said. “I guess he was that older brother I never had.”
“There were so many life lessons aside from basketball,” Mariano said. “Even when something was going wrong or I needed advice on something before the game, he was someone you could always go to talk to. It wasn’t just so much like a coach. He would tell you what you were doing wrong. He’s not going to tell you everything you want to hear.” As Anthony started looking at colleges, Josh Ruccio was there by his side to help him along. “[Ruccio] came with me to my recruiting visit here [KSC],” Mariano said. “He knew this would be a great fit for me. It was almost his dream for me to go here.”

“From the beginning he wanted Anthony to go here, he saw a great opportunity with a lot of playing time and a good education,” Mary Jane said. Indeed Mariano came to Keene State College. Mariano has transformed his game starting from a swingman, 3-point marksman to a more versatile and defensively toned, all-around player. “I’ve seen him grow from a skinny, 3-point specialist to a kid that can rebound very, very well,” Coach Rob Colbert said. “We’ve kidded him, but we’ve seen him grow into a serviceable defender.”
Mariano made it through a few seasons at Keene State College with Ruccio attending games in the Connecticut area when he could. Ruccio had still been coaching at the time until his life spiraled from a local sports figure to a man struggling with addiction, according to the Republican American. However, many had still reached out and showed love for a man who touched so many. On Jan. 12, 2013, almost a year after Ruccio’s death, Anthony broke free on a stolen basketball at Rhode Island College, took it the length of the court and sunk the ball in for his one-thousandth point in a KSC uniform. Anthony’s mother was in attendance that day. “He [Ruccio] was one of the first people I thought about when it happened,” an emotional Mary Jane said.

Mariano said that Ruccio would have been stern and somber with his congratulations after the milestone moment. “He probably would have said that it’s earned and not given,” Mariano said. “You know he always told me to put in the work and then you’ll see results.” Mariano became the twenty-ninth member of the men’s basketball 1,000 point scoring club. However for Mariano, the legacy of Josh Ruccio will always be a part of him. His messages, advice and hope will guide Mariano on his path to further success whether it be on or off the court.
“He always wanted the best for me,” Mariano said. “He was always telling me never to be satisfied, because the moment you get comfortable is when you miss out on opportunity.”

Brian Schnee can be contacted

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