As Greg Gamble helped lead Niagara Falls High School to a state championship and national prominence in 2005, Mike MacDonald was the first coach to offer him a scholarship to play college basketball.
Gamble wound up attending the University at Buffalo, and his debut came against MacDonald’s Canisius College team. Gamble started the game and received a standing ovation from the partisan crowd when he fouled out after playing 33 minutes in the UB victory.
Eight years later, MacDonald finally has Gamble on his side.
Gamble entered the coaching ranks this season as an assistant at Medaille College, where MacDonald has been the head coach since 2006.
A former first-team All-Western New York and all-Mid American Conference player, Gamble wasn’t planning to coach when he graduated from UB in 2009.
“I always went back and forth and wrestled with the thought of coaching and never really thought I would be that good of a coach. Sometimes it’s hard to make that transition from being such an intense player, to somebody who has to motivate players,” Gamble said after a recent Medaille practice.
“I really credit my wife (Adriana Viverette-Gamble) with helping me realize I have the gift of motivating people and helping them see the light as far as the game of basketball is concerned.”
Gamble enrolled in the master’s in business administration program at Medaille last fall with plans to pursue a career in athletic administration. He began to entertain the idea of coaching after working as a counselor at Medaille’s youth basketball camp the previous summer.
With no openings on MacDonald’s staff last season, Gamble apprenticed as a graduate assistant under former UB coach Reggie Witherspoon.
“Coach Witherspoon is a great teacher, a great mentor, and he allowed me to see what it was like behind the scenes of the operation,” Gamble said. “I did a lot with (assistant coach Jim Kwitchoff) on scheduling, player academics, things like that.”
Even before UB surprised Gamble and others by firing Witherspoon in March, Gamble had hoped to join the Medaille staff this season.
“Medaille allows me to be more hands-on,” Gamble said. “In addition to coaching, they allow me to do some recruiting, they allow me to watch film on the other teams we are playing.”
MacDonald said, “You could tell he wanted to get on the court. That’s where his passion lies. That’s what he is good at.”
MacDonald first hired Gamble to run a weekly clinic for at-risk youths this past summer at Packard Court Community Center as part of Game Changers, a program sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration and local police agencies and coordinated by MacDonald.
“He gave up three hours a week on Friday nights, and it was great for me to be able to see how he interacted with the kids and had a passion for teaching,” MacDonald said. “I knew he was good, but that definitely helped to get a window into seeing him teaching kids. He was outstanding.”
A spot opened up for Gamble at Medaille when former Bishop Timon and Canisius College player Corey Herring left to join the coaching staff at Union College, continuing a trend of Medaille assistants moving up in the coaching profession.
Niagara County Community College men’s basketball coach Bill Beilein, a Newfane native; NCCC women’s basketball coach Nate Beutel, a Sanborn native; and Williamsville South boys basketball coach Gabe Michael all worked for MacDonald at Medaille before becoming head coaches.
“Being around Coach Mac, morally and ethically, how he runs his program,” Beilein said, “if you are able to buy into what he is selling and reteach that in your own system, it is very beneficial.
“Coach Mac has a ton of clout and respect from other coaches, and even though Medaille is a Division III program, you are working for a Division I coach.”
The Mavericks are off to a rocky start in Gamble’s first season, losing their opening four games by a combined 12 points. Medaille began a four-game road stretch Saturday that includes a game at Hilbert College on Wednesday and will host the Knee Center Holiday Tournament on Dec. 30-31 at the Sullivan Center.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Gamble said. “We have a very young team. We have guys who are willing to learn. One of the things that we are missing is leadership. We have people who have the potential to be great leaders, and it’s been a real blessing to try and transfuse what I have inside of me, that desire to win, and try to help these players learn how to win.”
MacDonald said Gamble’s coaching style is similar to his playing style.
“He has great energy in practice, he hustles, he has a loud voice and he’s a very good leader,” MacDonald said. “Greg is a very good communicator, and guys are willing to listen to him.”
Niagara Falls High coach Sal Constantino said Gamble was a player “you hated to play against” and that coaching against him could prove to be just as daunting.
“He had that junkyard dog mentality, and that’s why he was successful,” Constantino said. “It wasn’t his shooting or his ball-handling that got him a scholarship, it was his work ethic and his grind-it-out attitude.
“If he sticks with coaching, as he progresses, and he gets his own team, he will have the type of team that plays like him.”