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EH's Petrie: 'The John Wooden of LI hoops'

East Hampton coach Ed Petrie guided his teams

East Hampton coach Ed Petrie guided his teams to 754 wins, by far the most in Long Island history. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

In the cozy den of his immaculate ranch home in a woodsy section of East Hampton, with his dog, Jackson, flopped lazily on the floor and his wife, Nancy, in the adjacent kitchen just a shout away, Ed Petrie comfortably reflects on a basketball life and an East End lifestyle.

"I had never heard of it," Petrie said of answering an ad for a coaching position at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor in 1959. "To me, growing up in Westchester, Long Island was Jones Beach. I got out a map and saw it was on the tip of Long Island. I said, 'wow, that's way out there.' "

Petrie made the long drive for the interview, and was offered the job. He was shown a gym "that was only 55 feet by 40 feet [about 30 feet shorter than a regulation high school court] and looked like a closet it was so small." He said to himself, "I'll stay here for a couple of years and get some experience under my belt."

Instead, Ed Petrie never left. "I fell in love with the East End," he said. And the small towns on the South Fork fell in love with the masterful coach who produced championship teams from a small talent pool, sent numerous players to college and professional basketball and built a hoops legacy.

Petrie, 78, announced his retirement in October as the coach at East Hampton High School, capping a wonderful 52-year career that included 41 years and 588 victories as the Bonackers' head coach, 10 years at Pierson and one at Bridgehampton. He won a total of 754 games, by far the most in Long Island history.

The number of friends Petrie has won is countless. "He'll really be missed. He set the standard for coaches," said Jack Agostino, the Amityville coach and Petrie's frequent rival for league and county supremacy through the years. "If we could all just emulate him a little, we'd have a really great game. He was always an educator."

Victories were a major part of Petrie's lesson plans. He won 20 league titles, three county championships and two state titles. His winning percentage was .745.

Like his idol, legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, Petrie's image was one of scholarly coolness on the bench, but his inner furnace sizzled. "People don't realize that because they see his calm demeanor on the sidelines," Agostino said. "The thing I took from him is that you can be a fierce competitor but still be an educator and a gentleman."

One of his former star players, Kenny Wood, recalled his old coach's attention to discipline and details. "He yelled at me more because he expected more out of me. I took it as a good thing that he cared enough to get on me," said Wood, who scored 2,613 points at East Hampton and led the team to the state title in 1989. "He helped me be a better person and to take what I do seriously."

Wood, who had an outstanding college career at Richmond and played professionally in Europe, said of the man he always has called, simply, Coach, "I played for dozens of coaches all over the world and he is by far the most knowledgeable coach I've ever been around. We didn't always have the best talent out there, but look what he did."

Wood, whose older brother Howard also starred for Petrie before playing at Tennessee, recalled visiting Petrie during semester breaks while at Richmond. "Coach broke down my shot better than anyone I ever worked with," Wood said. "I'd come home from playing in college or playing in Europe and I'd go see Coach. Then every time I'd go back, I'd be shooting better than I had been."

More than a shot doctor, Petrie loved to operate on defense. He said his coaching philosophy was "to take away the strength of the other team. If I had to do it by mixing things up with a combination of man-to-man and zone, that's what I did. Sometimes, I'd put in a new defense on Wednesday in preparation for Friday's game. I was constantly changing."

Maybe that's what kept him fresh and in step with a changing game. He was a high school star in Westchester, a college star at Seton Hall and a late cut by the Knicks in 1957. After that, he went directly into coaching. "When I was in high school, I had determined that was what I was going to do," Petrie said.

He cherishes much about his Long Island coaching career, but just like Wooden, will not rank his favorite teams or players. Naturally, he loved coaching his sons at East Hampton, Mike ('76) and Eddie Jr. ('78), both of whom earned Division II scholarships and whose photos occupy prime space on the den wall. "It wasn't hard coaching them," Petrie said. "Fortunately, they were talented enough that there wasn't any question about whether they should or should not be starters."

He cited his teams from 2000-03 that couldn't get past Amityville on the road to Glens Falls because the Warriors strung together four straight state titles. "We were close, but they were stronger," Petrie said.

He's fond of his Pierson team that reached the Suffolk finals in 1968, when it was an open tournament. "The county tournament had only started a couple of years before that," Petrie recalled, "and there was some question about whether the smaller East End schools could compete with the larger schools in Western Suffolk. It was answered very quickly."

The game never passed him by. In 2008 and 2009, Petrie guided East Hampton to the Suffolk overall titles, twice beating the Class AA champion. "That was quite an achievement, particularly to do it back-to-back," he said.

His bookshelves are lined with tomes befitting a man from his generation, including a biography of Frank Sinatra. One book has long since lost its jacket cover, and Petrie gladly pulled it down to show a visitor one of his prized possessions. It is John Wooden's seminal book, "Practical Modern Basketball," published in 1966.

Petrie holds open the inside cover to reveal the handwritten inscription: "Thank you, Ed Petrie, for wanting a copy of my book. May it please you. John Wooden."

From the Wizard of Westwood to the Wizard of East Hampton, from one old coach to another, a life in basketball is a life well spent.

Said Agostino in a fitting salute, "He is the John Wooden of Long Island basketball."

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