Aquila is back on the bench Howard assistant hooping it up, too

January 17, 1993|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

He's a Jim Valvano-type bench coach -- animated and mentally astute.

When his basketball players play up to their ability, he gives them high-fives and hugs. He speaks loudly to them.

"I guess it's my Italian blood, but I'm emotional and that's how I get the best out of my players," Howard High School assistant coach John Aquila said.

Aquila, 44, had been out of the county coaching loop for three years after six years as Oakland Mills' assistant coach.

His teaming this season with boys coach Kevin Broadus has been a happy stroke of fortune for Lions basketball players and fans.

Howard is off to its fastest league start since 1989, when it went 10-4 and missed winning the county title by one game.

"We work really well together," Broadus said. "He's fun to work with, and our strengths and weaknesses balance out."

Both coaches are disciplinarians, and Howard is a team playing its most disciplined ball in years.

"John is good at seeing what is going on during a game," Broadus said. "Sometimes he's hard on the kids, but he explains things excellently, shows them the whole picture and what the results will be if they do things right. I've learned a lot about basketball from him. We really share the coaching job."

Aquila has had a varied coach ing career that began in 1972 with a Woodlawn recreation team and continued for five more years with Catholic Youth Organization teams.

He was graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School, where he was a frustrated player who did not make the freshman team.

"I thought I was cut unfairly and decided that when I coached I'd be as fair as possible," he said.

After high school he spent two years in the Navy, aboard the USS Belknap assigned to Vietnam.

Education beckoned after the Navy, but he apparently wasn't ready to hit the books at Catonsville Community College and dropped out. He did make the basketball team at CCC as a reserve guard for part of a season.

He worked in a meat house in Washington while his wife earned her master's degree, and then went back to school full-time at Morgan State. where he earned a bachelor's degree in physical education.

"Morgan was a good school. I loved it," he said. "I learned a lot about people, life and education."

He and Broadus try to pass on what they've learned about life to their players, stressing that success in life is more important than success in basketball.

Aquila gets on his players when they make mental mistakes, but not when they make physical mistakes. He wants them to follow game plans and learn sportsmanship -- two skills he says will help them succeed in life.

Aquila's first high school coaching job was as freshman head coach and varsity assistant coach at Mackin High in Washington in 1981. That school merged with Carroll four years ago. Mackin is memorable because Aquila helped coach Johnny Dawkins, who went on to play at Duke and is now with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Aquila coached two years at Mackin before moving to Oakland Mills, where he was junior varsity coach and varsity assistant to Dave Appleby for six years.

Two of his junior varsity teams posted 14-0 league records. The ** Mayfield Middle School teacher doesn't take the credit, however.

"I could have fallen asleep on the sidelines, and they still would have won," Aquila said of those talented squads.

He praises Appleby for teaching him a lot about man-to-man defense. He also praises Broadus.

"Kevin designates authority well and is secure enough that it doesn't bother him if I go over Xs and Os with the team," Aquila said. "I love working with him. And the players know he really cares about them as people."

Aquila, who lives in Ellicott City, has ambitions to be a head coach. But for now he's found a niche for using his knowledge of basketball and of life.

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