When it comes to recruiting, life on the women’s college basketball coaching carousel has enabled Linda Cimino to cast a wide net.
Currently the head coach at St. Francis Brooklyn, Cimino has made a career out of scouring the globe for talent during her nearly two decades on the sidelines. This year alone, the Terriers list five players who hail from overseas. What shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle is the location of a campus that’s within the heart of New York’s metropolitan area. If Cimino was so inclined, she could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and head to a nearby gym to check out a potential prospect.
No matter where the bouncing ball has taken her, Cimino – an all-state basketball player and 1997 graduate of North Smithfield High – has always made it a point to keep an eye on what might be the next big thing from her home state. It’s a simple creed that recently paid major dividends for one student at Johnston High – a 6-foot-3 tall senior who owns the kind of personality that can light up a room.
Her name is Sarah Bandoma. Like her future college head coach, this talented Panther is parlaying her playing career in the R.I. Interscholastic League into a college experience that will include the opportunity to author additional tales on the hardwood.
“I was grateful that she’s (Cimino) willing to give back to her home state,” said Bandoma prior to the start of a recent afternoon practice. “It’s really important who you have as a coach. You know how they say that first impressions are always very important. My first impression of her was that she looks out for people in Rhode Island. I can have that connection with her because she grew up here. That made it so much easier in terms of connecting with her.”
The willingness on Cimino’s part to look out for talented high school female hoopsters from Rhode Island is a promise that dates back to her own recruiting experience. From mailing out VHS tapes along with communicating with prospective coaches (limited to once per week), Cimino had to move mountains in order to get noticed.
There was a happy ending as Cimino went on to play at Adelphi University, a Division II school located in New York. She was one of the fortunate few from her high school-playing era who succeeded in making recruiters take notice of high school girls basketball talent in the Ocean State.
“Back then, opportunities for us were slim and few and far between,” said Cimino. “I always said that when I got into coaching, I would remember my roots and give young women an opportunity.”
How Bandoma landed on Cimino’s radar is largely due to the persistent efforts of Bob Reall, who happened to be the coach’s step-father. A well-known coaching figure, Reall, who sadly passed away recently, took a fond interest in Bandoma the first time he saw her walk into the gym. In Johnston, she became known as Reall’s honorary granddaughter – someone whose upside was worth sharing with those deeply immersed in the world of college coaching.
“He absolutely put the bug in Linda’s ear. On the other end, he suggested to Sarah that she should look into Linda’s school,” said Meghan Reall, Johnston High’s girls’ basketball head coach and actual granddaughter of Bob Reall, “If you knew my grandfather, you knew he would talk to anybody,” Meghan Reall added. “He was such a huge advocate for Sarah.”
Bob Reall may have helped to plant the seeds for Cimino to become aware of Bandoma, but things didn’t truly take a serious turn until a member of her St. Francis coaching staff made contact with a Rhode Island-based Division III coach .
“She’s got good hands and good feet. You should check out who she is,” was what Cimino was told.
Turns out this prospect was the same young lady who had been touted for months by Cimino’s late stepfather.
“You know how small Rhode Island is,” said Cimino with a laugh.
Bandoma is what you would describe as a basketball project. Her size made her a Division 1 prospect, though her lack of playing experience and raw skills made her better suited for the lower levels. The more Cimino engaged in conversations with Bandoma and talked to others in order to learn more about her, the more the coach saw beyond Bandoma’a ability to score points and pull down rebounds.
“At the end of the day, you can make mistakes with talent, skill, and ability. Right now, you really can’t afford to make mistakes as far as character, integrity, and academics. Everyone we talked to couldn’t have said better things about Sarah,” said Cimino. “She didn’t have much experience, but we looked at her potential. That’s what we were excited about. You can’t teach her size, but no matter what, she was going to be a good addition to our program.”
Bandoma doesn’t want to look too far ahead. After all, she still has a senior season to look forward to before heading off to Brooklyn. That said, she can’t wait to get to know all of the members of the Terrier women’s basketball family as well as continue to strengthen the bond she has with her future head coach – a person who can speak her language when it comes to rising through the RIIL girls basketball ranks.
“Coach Cimino made me feel like I was a priority and someone I could have a strong connection with,” said Bandoma. “I can at least give my all towards the [Johnston High] program and leave a legacy for the younger girls coming up. I want to stay in the moment and live out my senior season and make the most of it.”