By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 26, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE–A four-year tradition on the sidelines of Our Lady of Mercy’s hard court is ending.
Coach Tony Caruso and his son, Rob, a team captain, wrapped up their third wining season together where the two prowled the sidelines and the basketball court. The long-time coach next year won’t have his senior son in the game.
“He sees things on the floor that even I on the bench don’t see,” said Tony, a six-year coach at the archdiocesan high school south of Atlanta.
The Caruso duo is part of the success for the Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats. When the younger Caruso suited up as a freshman, the team lost more games than it won. The team posted a winning record in the last three years.
Rob, 18, will be shooting hoops for Berry College next fall. The college in Rome is where his father has spent most of his coaching career.
“Every now and then, as a coach, you get lucky,” said Coach Caruso, who is 45 and a teacher at the school.
The two talked while sitting under the backboard in the gym. The regular season is behind them. They ended with an 18-11 record. For the first time the team earned a place in the state basketball tournament.
They still have another sport’s season to share. Tony leads the baseball team where Rob plays shortstop. In fact, the coaching relationship started in the Little League dugout.
Coach Caruso was an assistant college basketball coach at the time, gone nearly nightly during the season, recruiting, watching game tapes, practices. During the spring, he traded that pressure for a fun-focused baseball season.
Rob later took an interest in basketball. He’d spent a lot of time around the sport, watching his father coach the Berry College basketball team for 11 years. He played during his middle school year. He tried out for the high school team his first year and has been a starter ever since.
The father and son kept to an unspoken rule: Everything stayed on the field.
Coach Caruso said he has seen coaches with children as players become too focused on the sport.
“When we left the gym or the field, I was going to try and make sure we left it there,” Coach Caruso said. He said if Rob wanted to talk or join him in watching game tapes, he was welcome to, but he tried not to push the issue.
He and his wife, Donna, have two younger boys, but they have other interests besides sports. The family worships at St. Gabriel Church, Fayetteville.
Coach Caruso and Rob have worked side by side during the past four years. Each has seen qualities not often witnessed by parents and children.
“This year, he’s stepped up,” Coach Caruso said.
Rob, along with others on the team, became dedicated to the team in the preseason and showed leadership, he said. The seniors matured during the season to help younger players become better on the court, he said.
For his part, Rob said he has seen his father spend extra time on the team.
“I have just seen the time and commitment he puts in to make things go right,” Rob said. “He cares about the players and not just me. He’s looking out for their best interest.”
Rob averages five assists and eight points a game, grabs seven rebounds, and hits about 80 percent free throws, the best on the team.
His value on the court really comes from knowledge of the game.
“His strength is he understands the game so well,” said Coach Caruso.
Rob picked up the game’s details by watching from the stands as a youngster during his dad’s college coaching career.
During a recent home game, Rob saw what his father missed. The team needed a defensive change to put a stop to two Fellowship Christian players’ well-placed shooting.
“It did well. It was good insight on his part,” said the coach.
Both said the end of the season closes a special chapter.
Coach Caruso said, “It’s just been fun having him. We have experienced something that’s pretty special.”