LIVINGSTON — During his basketball playing days, Angelo Naldi had a unique way of doing a layup.
As he went up toward the rim, Naldi would turn his body. By the time he shot the ball it would look like a backwards jump shot.
“We called it the Livingston layup,” said former Merced coach Vince Clemons, who has been friends with Naldi for close to 40 years. “He learned how to do it playing basketball in front of his garage. He had to turn his body 180 degrees so he wouldn’t hit the garage door when he came down.”
It came out of necessity, Naldi says. The garage door would inflict damage if you ran into it. According to Naldi, the “Livingston layup” drove legendary Merced College coach Don Reid nuts when Naldi played for the Blue Devils.
Naldi and Clemons met when they were in the early 20s as teachers at Washington Elementary in Winton. They both later taught at Merced High’s East Campus. Little did they know they both would become Merced County coaching icons.
Clemons coached at Merced for 21 years, leading the Bears to four Sac-Joaquin Section titles and 445 career wins before retiring after the 2002-03 season.
Tonight, Clemons will be watching from the stands at Livingston High as his buddy Angelo coaches his final home game. After 33 years, Naldi is retiring at the end of the season.
There will be a short ceremony honoring the Livingston seniors and Naldi before the start of the varsity game against Ceres. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
“When he retires, Livingston is going to miss a great man,” Clemons said. “There isn’t anybody around like Angelo. He’s unbelievable, everything he does. He’s a salt-of-the-earth type of guy.”
Naldi, 62, is believed to have the longest current tenure as a basketball coach in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to Will DeBoard, the section director of communications.
After 33 years, however, Naldi feels the time is right to walk away despite an ongoing passion for the game. Retirement will allow Naldi to spend more time with his wife of 35 years, Nina, and his four daughters and four grandchildren.
“It’s starting to sink in,” Naldi said. “It’s going to be a transition. I’m sure it’ll be hard at first. We need some time to ourselves. We need to go travel. At least that’s what I’ve been told.”
In Naldi, Livingston High is losing one of the great guys in high school sports, friends say. If you ask them they’ll tell you Naldi epitomizes not only Livingston High, but what the town is all about, with his work ethic, dedication and knack for always doing the right thing.
When you played for Naldi it was always about the team first – and his players quickly learned that.
“It’s going to be extremely hard when Angelo leaves,” said Livingston High principal Ralph Calderon said. “Just everything he does, not just as a basketball coach or an athletic director. In a sense, a big part of Livingston High School is leaving us. He’s done so much for the kids, the school and the community. Who is going to step up and do all those things when he’s gone? I don’t know if I have the answer to that. He put 33 years into a program and a school. I don’t know if that happens anymore.”
It’s rare to see a coach stick around for a decade, let alone three. Naldi has watched as kids have come in bigger, stronger and faster. He’s seen basketball change with the addition of the three-point line and shot clock.
Naldi took over the Livingston varsity program in 1982. One of the things Naldi quickly learned about coaching basketball was that it opened up an opportunity to meet some interesting people. Through the game he made some great friendships with coaches such as Clemons, Lloyd Hobby (Mariposa), Dave Morgan (Denair), Gary Parreira (Atwater) and Bob Schanze (Atwater).
“I believe you learn from every coach you coach against and have played for,” said Naldi, who credits his own high school coach at Livingston Ralph Coughran for helping foster his passion for the game.
Naldi led the Wolves to the Division 2 section title game in 1986-87. After defeating Oakmont 65-63 in overtime in the semifinals, Livingston lost to Manteca 43-38.
Livingston has won two league championships and made 16 playoff appearances under Naldi.
“For me, coach Naldi’s impact was more than just as a basketball coach,” said former player Brian Alvarez, who graduated in 2011 and played three years for Naldi. “He was always there to talk you through life lessons, whether it was with school or something going on in your life. He was a figure to look up to. He showed what stability was about with how long he’s been in the community.”
Of course Naldi couldn’t have coached 33 years without the support of his wife.
“She has been a part of our basketball program the entire time, feeding kids, driving kids in the offseason and during the season and keeping my scorebook for the last seven years,” Naldi said.
Naldi said some of his proudest moments during his career at Livingston were watching his daughter Luciana coach the girls basketball team for nine years.
“It was real pride during that time,” Angelo said. “To see your daughter coaching. Then she went and won three titles in four years and put me to shame.”
Naldi hasn’t kept track of his win-loss record over his career, but he’d likely tell you he’s lost more games than he’s won. If winning titles and chasing personal goals were what Naldi was after he could have left for another school, friends say, but Livingston was home. He still lives on the farm he grew up on.
Instead, he used different offenses and defensive schemes based on the group of kids he had. Naldi has never been afraid to think outside the box. For example, over a couple of years he used an offense based on shooting as many 3-pointers as possible, as quickly as possible to go along with a non-stop, full-court press.
“My assistant Dean Way took three years to convince me to try it,” Naldi said. “He was the brains behind that offense. We had some success. That first year we used it we started 2-5 in league the first half and went 5-2 in the second half. People came out to watch that offense. Win or lose by 20 points, they were entertained. The swings were unbelievable. I remember we scored 14 points in 17 seconds once.”
How can you measure Naldi’s success?
“Count every single one of his players,” Calderon said. “That’s how many wins he has. His success can’t be measured in wins. A lot of times we were just outgunned. He felt attached to this community and our kids. We have a special kind of kid here. There’s a tremendous work ethic and he appreciates that. He can work with that.
“He could have gone to any (Central California Conference) school and won more games. I think he could have been on par with Vince Clemons, but he decided to stay here and make this his life’s work.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.