Mo Cassara still was an unknown figure late last spring, and a curious choice as new Hofstra basketball coach. Who was this guy? "I was still living in the dorm, and I can remember I was busy all day," he said, recalling the hours before his first Long Island public appearance.
He was asked to speak at the St. Agnes Fathers Club Golf Outing at Hempstead Golf & Country Club. It happened to go well. "Out of that day, I played golf with so many members, and so many people became season-ticket holders, companies became sponsors," Cassara said in his office this past week. "Before you knew it, I was kind of on the circuit."
Months before his first game and with a long way to go before he would make a name for himself with a 21-12 record, Cassara clicked with the Island on its courses. He returned to the Hempstead club a number of times. He played Garden City Country Club, Rockville Links, the Meadow Brook Club, Cherry Valley Club, Huntington Country Club, Woodmere Club and other clubs whose names he does not remember.
"Sometimes they'd just give me the name and I'd plug it into my GPS," the coach said. Once, he had just enough time to stop at a sporting goods store to buy a pair of golf shoes.
At every stop, he was a goodwill ambassador. On every tee, Cassara got to know the locale a little better, and vice versa. "Golf creates an environment for a little bit of competitiveness, a little bit of fun, a little bit of business and a lot of socialization," he said. "I was able to sit for three or four hours in a golf cart with an alum or a booster or a local businessman. We'd get to know each other. Every time I went out, it was a new place, a new opportunity."
It was through golf that Doug Mauch, former head pro at Wheatley Hills, realized that Cassara could turn a rough situation (the third Hofstra coach in two months) into a successful season. "The golf course is where personal relationships reach a whole different level," said Mauch, now a managing partner at JJT Energy, a Hofstra basketball sponsor.
Mauch became a close friend after having played a bunch of rounds with the coach. He was the one who had invited Cassara to that first outing. "I had known him for only a week," the former pro said, adding that he was surprised that Cassara said yes to the request, and another right after it. He saw how Cassara relates to people. "Mo has the gift," he said.
The coach is not a bad golfer, either, although Mauch believes he will get much better. Proving that a coach can be as adaptable as he asks his players to be, Cassara is considering switching from playing golf righthanded to playing lefty.
"That's how screwed up my game is," he said with a laugh, having just come from an extended meeting with athletic director Jack Hayes -- two days before the latter announced Cassara's five-year contract extension.
Cassara remembers being frustrated by a poor shot. He stood in the fairway and took a hard lefty swing. "I said, 'Whoa. That was perfect,' " Mauch said. The former pro is determined to shepherd him through the switch.
"When I was young, I had some lefty clubs," Cassara said. "As I got older, I didn't have any lefty clubs so I started playing with my dad's righthanded clubs. I'm a little bit ambidextrous that way."
He writes and shoots a basketball with his right hand. He hits a baseball and shoots a hockey puck lefty. It is anyone's guess which side he will hit from when he, Hayes and associate athletic director Danny McCabe ("They're terrific golfers," Cassara said) travel to New England for a June outing. "I'm going to let Doug make that final determination," Cassara said.
Mauch said, "He shot 90 to 95 righthanded, he can shoot 80 to 85 lefthanded."
Either way, Cassara can consider himself recruited by Long Island. "I've coached in Ohio, Boston and Charleston, South Carolina, places where there's great golf," he said. "But this is the best golf I've ever seen."