James Sorrentine’s basketball journey began more than 35 years ago, in a small gym in Pawtucket that no longer exists.
“As I’m learning to walk, I’m also learning to dribble. My father would have us going up the court dribbling right hand and dribbling back with my left hand,” said Sorrentine, now 37.
His father, of course, is the legendary Tom “Saar” Sorrentine, who coached multiple sports, including basketball – and even drove the infamous Purple School Bus- at St. Raphael for 40 plus years. His older brother is T.J. Sorrentine, the former Saints and Vermont star and now the associate head coach at Brown.
James is the youngest of the Sorrentine “team” and is now following in the footsteps of his father as the new head coach of Shea.
James spent nearly half of his life in the old Saints gym. It was in that Pawtucket gym that James learned the game from his father and watched his older brother and many others develop and achieve success. Like his big brother, James would go on to excel for his dad at Saints, where he was a 1,000 point scorer. He would achieve the same success in college, scoring over 1,000 points at St. Michael’s, where he became the all-time leader in career 3-pointers (340) and set both the school and conference record for 3-pointers made in a single game (10).
He was on staff at the college level (St. Michael’s, Rhode Island College and Bryant) before he returned home to Saints and served as an assistant during his father’s final years at the helm. James then headed down the street to assistant at Tolman before landing his first head coaching job at his final stop in Pawtucket – Shea High.
James insists each member of his family has had a hand in everyone’s success. He brings up his brother’s infamous game-winning shot in OT that gave No. 13 Vermont a win over No. 4 Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
“Watching that shot go in was one of the best moments of my life. It wasn’t just my brother who hit that shot. It was all of us. It was my father, who coached us and it was my mother, who instilled hard work and being good people. She’s an equal player. Everyone had a hand in all of our success,” said James.
Of all the success both his father and older brother have had on the basketball court, the impact his dad had on so many young men has proved to be most important to the youngest Sorrentine.
“You see the guys who played for my dad through high school and see them years later doing well,” said James. “I believe that is the result of playing with the team, having my father push them, teach them to be resilient and develop mental toughness. That is so important.”
Now, it’s James’ turn to make an impact in his first head coaching job at Shea.
“Having that position to impact on these young kids is so so important to me,” said Sorrentine. “They are great kids who have bought into what we are teaching them. They’re wide eyed and want to learn.”
“James is a wonderful young man and a great coach,” said Dino Campopiano, Pawtucket’s athletic director. “He brings a lot of basketball knowledge to our players, but more importantly he brings discipline and really cares about our kids. He’s going to be an outstanding head coach.”
James is off to a great start. In his first week as a head coach, the Raiders dominated the competition and won the 2022 Donaldson/Lynch Tournament convincingly – ironically- over James’ alma mater. (Saints).
“I love to see James carrying on the legacy that my father started,” said T.J., who was in attendance for his brother’s first game – and first win – as a head coach. “I’m thrilled for him. I can’t wait to see what he is going to accomplish. We had the greatest mentor to follow in my dad. James is going to be a great mentor to those players at Shea and make a huge impact on those kids just as my dad had on so many.”
James, who is a supervisor in the mortgage department at Washington Trust Bank, insists his players work even harder off the court than they do on the hardwood. Education, he said, comes first.
“My parents always instilled the importance of education. I was able to go to a great school like St. Michael’s through basketball. I put the time in in the gym, but I needed the grades to get in. I got these opportunities through the game of basketball, but also because of the hard work in the classroom” said James. “Eventually the ball stops bouncing. I am trying to instill that here.”
That is James’ focus as he begins his head coaching career.
“We want outstanding men who are learning that it’s not just about basketball. We want good students, good people who make the right decisions…even if the right decision isn’t always the easiest one. I want our players to be role models for the other students at Shea. I instill getting your work done, paying attention in class, being a good student. All of that translates on the basketball court. If you can do it in the classroom you can do it on the basketball court. If you can’t do it in the classroom, it’s nearly impossible to do it on the court,” he said.
He knows coaching in an urban city will have its challenges. He is ready to face each one.
“This is the community that made me tougher and who I am. I always wanted to give back to kids from Pawtucket. I love this area and the people in this area,” said James. “When opportunity is presented it is a dream come true. I’m a local kid from Pawtucket. It’s in my heart to be here, coach at Shea. I know I can have a much bigger impact on these kids than anywhere else.”