Probably a good way to measure the immediate success of second-year Anne Arundel Community College men's basketball coach Mark Amatucci is in terms of hot dogs.
Now before you jump to conclusions and think I mean someone or a team with the tendencies of a turkey -- a hot dog with extra mustard a la Rickey Henderson -- that's not what I mean at all.
I simply mean plain old Esskay franks.
In just one season Amatucci has generated enough interest in what was a dead program that hot dogs and sodas will be sold in the lobby of the Anne Arundel gym this season. That might seem like a trivial thing, but believe me it's a big deal.
When you're used to drawing your players, coaches, a couple of refs, stat people and maybe a parent or two to your basketball games, you don't need to lay out the hot dogs, relish and mustard.
But after a 23-12 inaugural season under Amatucci, a former Division I coach at Loyola College in Baltimore, the Pioneers expect to see some faces in the gym this winter for the first time in recent memory.
Thus, a concession stand is needed and it will be manned by athletic director and lacrosse coach Buddy Beardmore's players. It's exciting to think that there is going to be a men's basketball team worth watching this year at the community college.
I remember when Paul Evans, now the University of Pitt hoop coach, joined Navy, and he fought with the athletic administration to open the concession stand and sell hot dogs at his home games. The sale of hot dogs is a true indication of a program on the move and it's happening in Arnold.
And while hot dogs might be down the list of Amatucci's priorities, the guy has done a few important things to build a winning program overnight, and one that people want to get out and see.
The guy knows catering, and, no, this is not a "gallopin' gourmet" column. He knows the three main groups a coach has to cater to: the kids, the media and the fans.
As assistant athletic director in addition to head basketball coach, Amatucci is not one of those "I've got titles" men. He's a self-proclaimed hands-on kind of guy, and the kids love and respect that.
He didn't jump into the Anne Arundel job by living off his impressive past. He had national high school championship teams at Calvert Hall in Towson, where in three years his Cardinals went 28-3, 29-2 and 34-0, and at Loyola, he led his Greyhounds down to the last shot in a game at South Bend, home of Notre Dame, and later missed the NCAA Division I Tournament in a heartbreaking overtime loss.
Instead, Amatucci came to Anne Arundel to work and hope that others would follow. They did.
"Last year we actually had to go into physical education classes and ask the kids to come out," laughed Amatucci earlier this week. "We ended up with about 10 players and finished the year with nine."
This year Amatucci and his former Loyola player turned assistant coach Mark Healy started with 27 candidates and have pared it down to 17. Tough decisions, yet pleasant problems, to get down to 12 will follow.
Last year's group exceeded expectations by winning 23 games.
"Let's face it, we didn't expect to win nine games," said Amatucci, "but the kids worked hard and kept improving. We set out to develop some team chemistry and a winning image and it came faster than I thought it would."
That winning chemistry and image also was developed off the court by the same concepts and contributed to the Pioneers' success. The Amatucci philosophy of hard work, time management and commitment went hand in hand on and off the court.
"A coach has to be a hands-on person, someone who gets involved and doesn't give the responsibilities of student monitoring to others as if you do with a baby-sitter," said Amatucci. "To get the respect of the kids, you've got to do it yourself.
"It's been a great experience for me working with someone like (Athletic Director) Buddy (Beardmore), who has won a Division I national championship (in lacrosse) and knows the importance of time management for successful student/athletes. You have to get the kids' attention and you do that by the hands-on approach."
That approach was Amatucci's insistence that his players either go to class or be history with the basketball team. The Anne Arundel student-athletes, under what has developed into an impeccable monitoring system, are required to go to study hall 1 hours per day, Monday through Thursday, and once a day for an hour to study in the testing center.
It is mandatory to sign in and sign out, and Amatucci keeps on top of not only his players, but the school's other athletes as well.
"Mark amazes me the way he has preached and made work the importance of time management and academics to the kids," said Beardmore. "He spends a lot of time making sure it works, and in the long run it benefits the kids, who go onto four-year universities."
That's the goal of Amatucci and those in the Anne Arundel athletic department to see the kids move on to bigger things in terms of education and athletics.