Former Friar Ruben Garces Knows He Belongs Coaching at St. Raphael

Coach Garces and the St. Raphael Boy’s Basketball Team

Paul Thompson, a big 6’5″ sophomore on the St. Raphael Academy basketball team, never had a chance to witness his head coach Ruben Garces play basketball at Providence College.

In fact, neither did any of Thompson’s St. Raphael teammates. They weren’t even born when Garces, the 6’9″, 245 pound burly rebounder helped the Friars reach the Elite Eight in 1997. That was nearly 25 years ago.

“I’ve been looking up stuff,” said Thompson. “My dad and I watched some old clips from when he (Garces) played at Providence. I’ve looked into his professional career. It’s pretty awesome to find out my coach was a superstar.”

Practice had just wrapped up at St. Raphael where Garces, the former Friar great, is the new head coach. Garces was sitting in an office in St. Raphael’s new gymnasium wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants. PROVIDENCE was branded in white lettering across the front of the sweatshirt and when he pulled it off, the same lettering was branded in black on his gray t-shirt: PROVIDENCE.

“Always Providence,” said the 46-year-old Garces. “I’m a Friar for life…till I die.”

It’s been about 22 years since the Panama native wore a PC uniform.

“Crazy to think it was so long ago,” said Garces recently after wrapping practice during the first week of the high school basketball season.

The Panama native recently took over the reigns from Tom “Saar” Sorrentine, a local legend who coached multiple sports at St. Raphael Academy and even drove the famous purple bus to and from games for about three decades. Garces volunteered with the Saints last year and when Sorrentine stepped down, Garces stepped up

“I’m really excited,” said Garces after a recent practice. “This is what I want to do.

After Garces helped the Pete Gillen-led Friars to the Elite Eight in ’97 he went on to have a successful professional career, which included a stint in the NBA and a lengthy career overseas that took his game around the world and spanned 18 plus years.

The end of Garces’ professional career came just a few years ago in Uruguay where he felt he was still on top of his game. The league’s leading rebounder, he led his team to a championship at 42 and left the court with numerous awards – including First Team All-League and Best Imported Player.

“I could have played another two years,“ said Garces. “But it was time. My kids needed me.”

Garces said family is first and his children were becoming increasingly involved in their own athletic careers. He turned in his uniform and returned to join his family in Rhode Island, a place he has called home since he played at Providence. It’s where he met his wife, when he was a senior at PC. They now have three children: Jayden (16), Isabella (14) and Jaxon (6). Their 14 year-old daughter, Isabella, is an elite soccer player, the sport that was Garces’ first love growing up in Panama. His eldest son, who is 16, has followed in his footsteps on the basketball court. They both attend Tabor Academy.

“When I got done playing, I was the driver, the cook, the strength and conditioning coach and the trainer,” said Garces.

While he was helping his kids excel in their respective sports, Garces tried his hand at several careers, but the basketball court has always been home. The court is where he feels the most comfortable.

“This is where I belong,” he said.

Garces, who no longer plays basketball but works out daily, emphasizes conditioning.

“Conditioning and defense are going to be our identity,” said Garces.

“When my dad heard who my coach he said ‘oh boy you’re going to run,'” said Thompon. “He was right. We’ve been running since day one. We run a lot.”

“I’ve emphasized conditioning since day one. We going to outrun other teams. When other teams are tired, we’re going to still be running.”

Garces’ assistant coach is Corey Wright Jr. , the son of his former teammate who bears the same name.

“I’ve known Corey since he was 2 years-old and running around at our court at Providence,” said Garces. “He’s my nephew. He is super talented and knows the game. He’s from here, has coached AAU and knows all the kids. He wants to coach.. and he wants to learn. He’s here with a purpose. It’s great to have him.”

Rounding out his staff is Will Leviton, the former walk-on at URI who earned a full scholarship last year as a senior. URI coach David Cox surprised Leviton by presenting him with the athletic scholarship. The presentation followed by Leviton’s emotional speech was captured on video, went viral and won the hearts of Rhode Islanders – even Friar Fans.

“Will is a great kid,” said Garces. “He’s young, can run and jump with the kids and really relate to the kids. Corey, Will and I help each other. We’re a good mix.”

Saints, which competes in the state’s top division, has struggled the past few years, winning just two games last year. Garces knows it will take some time to turn the program around.

“We are going to be disciplined. That’s our focus. We come in and do 17s every day. Everyone arrives 20 minutes early. No one is late. No one comes in wearing jewelry. There are no bad words spoken. Everyone supports each other. Everyone is being responsible. That’s what we are teaching here,” said Garces.

“Devin (O’Malley) and Neiko (Ward) ) have stepped up and are good leaders. That is big for me. They are making sure everything is good with the team. They are doing a good job,” added Garces.

The discipline, hard work and conditioning was evident in Monday night’s season opener, a non-league Injury Fund game against Tolman. Garces earned his first win as the SRA head coach as Saints defeated its Pawtucket rival, 54-34. Ward led all scorers with 25 points in the Saints’ season opening win.

“It was great for the kids. They are figuring out what we are trying to teach them and are working really hard in practice,” said Garces. “We are pushing them like they’ve never been pushed before and the win is for them to see that hard work always pays off.”