March Madness has descended upon us. For the next two and a half weeks, 64 Division I basketball teams will fight it out for the NCAA national championship title. The Cooper Union men’s basketball team will be watching – already with a title under their belt. The team won the Northeast Art School Basketball Invitational that culminated their season last month. While the student-athletes on both the men’s and women’s teams bring a lot of talent, their coaches also have helpful experience. All are Cooper Union alumni: the men’s team is coached by Rami Said ME’01 and assistant coaches James Collins CE’12, Dominic Goj CE’13, Demetri Ingilis CE’13, and Josh Mayourian ChE’14, and the women’s team is coached by Ghazal Erfani ChE’14 and Yoon Shin AR’14.
Head Coach Said has been involved with The Cooper Union basketball team since first stepping foot on campus. He was a player for four years, an assistant coach to Dean Baker for thirteen years and now, just wrapped up his third season as head coach. He received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from Cooper then completed his doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia. By day, he is the senior physical therapist at The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York.
“Sports are a release from the reality of life,” Said says. “Basketball at Cooper was just that. I always knew that I would have balance in my life if I worked hard in the classroom and hard on the court.” While coaching is now related to his work – he has experience rehabilitating professional and recreational athletes – it provides a welcome respite from his office responsibilities.
Mr. Collins began coaching in 2015. He moved back to New York City that year after completing a master’s in finance at MIT to work as the manager of strategy and business development for HBO. “The athletes can learn from our experience the same way we learned from the alumni before us,” he says. “We were in their same shoes. We studied for the same demanding courses while balancing our school and personal priorities just as they are doing now.”
Balancing the rigorous curriculum with practice and games is a priority for the coaches. “The first thing we do every season is talk about their classes – what they may be worried about, how many credits are they taking, and if there are any conflicts in practice or game schedule,” Said says. “Above all else – their classwork comes first.” Playing basketball at Cooper is a substantial time commitment. The season lasts for six months and requires practice or games two to three nights a week. “We like to tell all the members of the team that academics come first, but that they also have a commitment to their friends on the team,” Ms. Shin says. She and Ms. Efrani both commend their team for achieving good time management skills and the ability to balance school and sports. “Working with these scholar-athletes, I have the privilege of witnessing and contributing to the process of growth—both on an individual basis and at a team level,” Efrani says.
The 14 students on the men’s roster were led by co-captains Adam O'Connor Jamia, an electrical engineering forward from Astoria, and Andrew Keane, a civil engineering forward from Wayne, NJ. The team finished the season with a 14-4 record. The women’s basketball team is newer to Cooper. It was in its early days when coaches Efrani and Shin began as players. Playing basketball helped Shin feel part of the greater Cooper community. “There wasn't much intermingling of students among the three schools but playing basketball was one way I could leave the studio and meet other students at Cooper,” she recalls. A former track and field runner, she learned a lot from the dynamics of a team sport. “The camaraderie I've developed with teammates throughout my basketball career at Cooper is invaluable to me.”
Shin is now a junior designer and assistant project manager at Kouzmanoff Bainton Architects. Efrani graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and works as a data analyst for VTS, Inc. The two became co-head coaches in 2014 and have led the team for three seasons. “I was honored when Dean Baker suggested that I help coach the women’s basketball team,” Efrani says. “Grateful for all the relationships I had built and valuable lessons I had learned on the team, I knew I wanted to enable others to have the same experience.”
Both Said and Collins view coaching as an opportunity to pay forward the valuable lessons they learned as student-athletes. “While I was in school, many alumni came to practices, games and other events held by Dean Baker to offer their time and experience or to contribute with monetary donations,” Collins says. “Basketball at Cooper helped me develop into the person I am today and I’m incredibly thankful for all the alumni who helped Dean make it possible.” Said was also inspired by coach Dean Baker. “When I knew I’d have the opportunity to be the same inspiration or role model to the student-athletes who would come after me, I couldn't pass it up. So, I do it for the love of the game – but even more importantly, I do it for the love that the student-athletes continue to have for the game,” he says.
All of the alumni basketball coaches also contribute to Cooper Union athletics financially. “Giving back to Cooper is almost a part of your acceptance to the school,” Said says. “If I can give back financially and give my time, it’s a small demonstration of my eternal gratitude to the school.”