EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence High School girls’ basketball team started its preparations for the upcoming 2017-18 season earlier this week, doing so for the first time in a decade under the guidance of a new head coach, Russ Ferri.
Ferri takes over for Mike Solitro, the long-time and quite successful former leader of the program, who departed the Townies by mutual agreement with the administration at the end of the previous school term following some off-the-court issues late last season. Ferri, likewise, left his prior position as the head coach at Cranston West after both sides agreed it best to part ways on relatively good terms.
Of Ferri’s hire, East Providence athletic director Gregg Amore said, “Russ brings a great deal of experience at both the AAU and high school levels. He also brings a passion and enthusiasm for the game that I know will have an immediate positive impact on our student athletes.”
“It was a mutual thing,” Ferri said of his departure from the West girls’ hoops program, which he led from 2014-17. “I offered my resignation this past summer. I thought it was time to move on. And then the opportunity came upon me in East Providence. I heard so much about East Providence, the support system, the boosters, the alumni, the city in general as far as their backing of the school programs, so that intrigued me. I decided to put my name in for the job, and was very fortunate that I won that lottery. I basically told folks close to me that this was the prime job I felt was available. And I’m just so excited Mr. Amore and his assistants thought enough to hire me.”
A sales professional in the transportation industry, Ferri led the Falcons to one postseason appearance in his three seasons. That winter, 2015-16, was his best at Cranston West. The Falcons finished with a 7-13 overall record in Division I games, beating Smithfield in the opening round of the playoffs before losing to eventual league and state champ LaSalle in the D-I quarterfinals.
Before his stint at Cranston West, Ferri coached on the AAU circuit for some 20 years. He ran his own girls’ basketball program, the Rhode Island Thunder, and also coached for the noted Rhode Island Breakers. Ferri, 60, in a native of Providence and a graduate of LaSalle Academy, where he was an accomplished baseball player, but also a hoops connoisseur.
“I always played. Back in the day, you played all the sports,” Ferri said. “But I’m a basketball junkie. I have a basketball family. My daughter, Rachel, is a former All-State player at Cranston West. She got a D-II scholarship at Mercy College and is now an assistant coach at Springfield College. So basketball runs in our blood.”
Running is an integral part of Ferri’s coaching philosophy. He said he prefers an up-tempo tact, but is willing to adapt to the talents of his players.
“The style of play, I like to get up and down the court. I know a lot of coaches say that and fall into a half-court game, but I’m really committed to that. We’re going to try to put that into play,” Ferri explained. “I think that’s going to be the best style for our team with our athleticism, but not a lot of size. It makes the most sense to me.
“I’m a coach that tries to build the program around the assets I have on my team. However, I do like to try to impose our will on the other team. Part of that is having athleticism and some of the returning kids have that. And they also have good basketball IQ, so we’re going to put that to the test.”
As he gets to know his new players during the preseason, Ferri said he has some knowledge of the talent he’s inherited.
“I did have an opportunity as a fan to see East Providence play a couple of times last year,” Ferri said. “The first game, their Injury Fund, great comeback win, 17 points down against Bay View. The second one was back in the state tournament (a loss) against LaSalle. The one thing that stood out was there was a good amount of athleticism on the team, not a lot of height, but athleticism.
“I always build a program, and we got a lot of accolades at Cranston West for it, around playing 32 minutes. Playing hard the whole game and never giving up. And that’s part of what we’re going build into the structure here. We’re going to play 32 minutes. We’re going to have that never-give-up attitude. And we will impose our will. And I think we’re going to be exciting.”
Ferri said one of his goals is to generate a buzz around the girls’ basketball program at East Providence, hoping to draw in more fans from both the student body and the community as a whole.
“I love interacting with the students in the stands. I’m a demonstrative guy on a positive level,” Ferri continued. “They will hear me up and down the court, but in a positive manner, especially when I’m trying to get my team to play really good, aggressive defense.
“I’m really looking long term at building this program, and that means showing up at middle school games, maybe holding summer camps. I want to build a long term program here, but I want to do it the right way. I really feel we will do it the right way with fundamentals and basketball knowledge. And we have to build excitement about girls’ basketball here. I want to make it so the girls at the high school, at middle school want to give basketball a shot, see that it can be fun.”
Helping Ferri craft his vision will be varsity assistant/junior varsity head coach Len Palizza, whom Ferri called “another basketball lifer” and who is a former head coach at Bay View. In addition, George Hird and Brianna Thomas are volunteer assistants.
“As coaches we take the game home with us,” Ferri said of his staff. “We do a lot of homework. We scout. It’s an expectation of me and my staff, and the kids as well, that when we get out on the court we’ve got to be working, we’ve got to be learning. We’ve got to be like sponges, especially as we’re getting to know each other, get to know the system.”
Having previously been aware about the passion often associated with East Providence High School sports, Ferri said he is eager to become a full-fledged member of the athletic community.
“One of the things that’s been overwhelming is the support I’ve received from the staff and the other coaches here and, again, from Mr. Amore. They’ve been so helpful in getting this thing started. I’m really excited,” Ferri added. “I’ve heard about ‘Townie Pride,’ and I know now it’s real. And I’m as excited as anybody to be a part of that.”