The Eastern Commerce Saints have been a power in Toronto boys’ basketball for more than 30 years.
And Lou Sialtsis is a major reason why.
Since 1974, Sialtsis has helped lead the Saints to eight OFSAA gold medals, four silver and 21 city championships.
Some of that success even came when he had supposedly left the school.
“Officially, I left in 2002 when I went to Birchmount Park,” Sialtsis said in a recent telephone interview. “Unofficially, I haven’t left. They’re nice enough to let me sit on the end of the bench and pretend I’m helping.”
During his time at Eastern Commerce, Sialtsis has done more than “pretend to help.” He established foundations for the way the team would play during his tenure and for years to come, while also transforming how basketball in Toronto is played.
“[Basketball in Toronto] used to be a very static half court, stand-up, run this play, run that play style of play,” Sialtsis said. “We went into a more free flowing style of game built on defence and athleticism.
“Running the floor and running transition offence, as well as running motion offence. It was a much more creative style of play and much more suited to the way the game had evolved.”
That style of play has become his legacy and a defining trait of Eastern Commerce basketball.
But Sialtsis has also excelled on the motivational side of coaching.
“The interpersonal side of it is most important,” Sialtsis said. “How you relate to players, how you relate to your subordinates, your fellow teachers, the administration and everyone involved in the game is what matters.
“You can learn most of everything else you need to know by attending coaching clinics.”
In addition to motivational skills, Sialtsis believes there are two other areas in which a coach needs to excel.
“The major qualities you have to have as a coach would be, you have to be smart enough to do it well and stupid enough to think it really matters, and I have both of those qualities in abundance.”
There is another key area, however. Through all of the success on the court, Sialtsis never compromised his duty as an educator.
“Before practice, or in the morning, before school starts, [the players] have a one-hour study homework session,” he said. “That’s to make sure their academic house is in order and it works because I think close to 98% of our kids have graduated and gone on to post-secondary education – many of them on scholarships.”
“We’ve defined success in broader parameters than just winning. We’ve defined it in terms of graduation, we’ve defined it in terms of the quality of person that represented the school.”
According to Sialtsis, you need four elements in order to build a good program: the facilities, the curriculum, the coaching staff and the players. He believes Eastern Commerce has been successful in all four categories.
“Championships are a product of the talent that’s on the floor,” Sialtsis said. “Success is what the coaches have done with that talent. I would like that to be the legacy that Eastern Commerce represents.”