Rizzo calls a time-out

Rizzo calls a time-out

Paul Rizzo, shown instructing his team during a time-out in a regular-season game that took place during the 2016-17 season, has taken a year of absence as the boys’ basketball team’s head coach. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Veteran boys’ hoop coach takes leave of absence for 2018-19 season

NORTH PROVIDENCE – When the North Providence High boys’ basketball team began its workouts for the upcoming season on Monday afternoon, it did so without a mentor who had been with the program for nearly three decades, the last 18 seasons as its head coach.

Paul Rizzo, who had won 203 games and three Division II championships as the Cougars’ head coach, reported to The Breeze on Monday morning that he will step aside from the program for a season, explaining simply that his “hours of work have changed” at his job with the R.I. Department of Transportation.

Rizzo, who is also an assistant coach on the school’s baseball team, said that he was granted a one-year leave of absence, “and after that, I’ll make a decision,” he said. “I’ll have a good year to think about if I miss (coaching basketball) or not. If I miss it, I’ll come back, but if I don’t, then I’m done. I’ll still coach baseball with (head coach) Dean (Garganese).”

Taylor Rabbitt, who has served as Rizzo's assistant coach the past two seasons, will head the team this winter.

A North Providence native who went on to enjoy a superb baseball career at La Salle Academy and Providence College and spend the 1986 season in the New York Mets’ organization, Rizzo began coaching at the high school as the softball team’s head coach in 1991, and for the next 14 seasons, the Cougars went on to win state titles in 1991, 1993, and 2001 and reach the state finals on four other occasions.

Rizzo also spent four seasons as the Cougars’ freshman basketball coach and the next five as the junior varsity coach before taking over the team in the 2000-01 season. Playing in the then-tabbed Division I-A ranks, the Cougars went 6-12 that year, but only endured one more losing campaign over the next 14 seasons.

The Cougars also began a string of 15 straight playoff appearances in the state’s middle division that included their 2010-11, 2013-14, and 2014-15 championship seasons. The 2014-15 season was a magical one that saw the Cougars win their first 24 games before suffering a 67-50 loss to D-I foe Mount Pleasant in the “Elite 8” of the Open Tournament.

When asked what he would miss most about being away from the program, Rizzo didn’t hesitate to answer.

“I’m going to miss being a part of those kids’ lives for those three or four months (of the season), practicing every day and gearing up for games,” answered Rizzo. “And I’ll miss that hour and a half coaching (games). Almost every play, on offense and defense, you’re constantly giving guidance and chirping out something and giving guidance. There’s nothing like it.”