MIDDLETOWN — It’s a Sunday afternoon in May and some four dozen former Rogers High School boys basketball players are gathered on the front lawn of Jim Psaras' home, reminiscing and swapping stories about the glory days.
They’re here because Psaras was facing the darkest days of his battle with cancer and his condition was worsening. This makeshift get-together provided them an opportunity to honor the man who coached them and taught them so much during their formative years.
For many, it was their last chance to say goodbye. Psaras died on Saturday at the age of 58.
"He's a guy that was about his kids," said Mike Newsome, who played for Psaras and took over for him when he stepped down in 2014. "And to see all these guys here, that's how much he meant to us. This is to show him that being a Rogers athlete, being coached by him was important to us."
Psaras grew up in Newport's northern end of the city, surrounded by fellow Greek families. He graduated from Rogers High in 1982. After attending the University of Rhode Island, he returned to Newport and started a career in education.
He became head coach of the boys basketball team at his alma mater in the fall of 1988 and steered the Vikings to three state championships — in 1990, 1991 and 1993. The 2007 team reached the Division II title game, and the 2012 squad advanced to the state semifinals.
In all, Psaras’ teams won 421 games over 26 seasons and missed the playoffs just three times. In 2021, he was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I feel immense pride,” Psaras told The Daily News before the ceremony. “You get a lot of help. I’m going in because of all the players and assistant coaches, and I thank them.”
That appreciation was mutual. Newsome served on Psaras' staff for 10 years before being elevated to head coach.
"I was lucky to be his assistant on the varsity team," Newsome said. "To be able to coach with and spend time with the guy that coached me, I'm lucky. But those were big shoes to fill. For me, as long as he's proud of what I'm doing, that's good enough for me."
Randy Butler and Newsome were teammates on the 1993 championship team.
"On the court, he had a huge impact on me," Butler said. "I was all about scoring before I got to him, and there were more parts of the game that I had to learn. He definitely made me learn those parts of the game. Off the court, too, he had a huge impact. He was like a father to me. He's a great inspiration."
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Frank Newsome won a pair of state titles as a guard for the Vikings. Before he joined the staff of the Rogers football team, he got his coaching start on the bench with Psaras.
"Coach was super disciplined about everything, from being punctual to how your shirt was tucked in, to how you presented yourself," Frank Newsome said. "Coach taught us about all of the little things in basketball, and then taught us competitiveness and how to be a team. As a coach, he taught me how to run a practice and how to relate to kids."
Arthur Bell, who is facing his own bout with cancer, worked alongside Psaras as a physical education teacher at Thompson Middle School.
"He was a great teacher, and obviously that carried over into his basketball coaching," Bell said.
Psaras truly enjoyed teaching the game of basketball, and he began developing great players long before high school through his Viking Hoops camp, which he ran for 25 years. Joe Saunders, who graduated from Rogers in 2007, played for Psaras, then worked as an instructor at his camp.
"When I got out of high school, he kept me on the straight and narrow," Saunders said. "I went in the right direction because of him. Being on time, being responsible, he really groomed me."
Psaras was not only a great coach, he was also a dedicated family man. He leaves behind his wife Kit Psaras, who last year ran the Boston Marathon for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and two children, daughter Julia and son Will. This past spring, Psaras was thrilled to see his kids walk across the graduation stage — Julia at Providence College and Will at Middletown High School.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Rogers High School, Newport, basketball coach Jim Psaras remembered