ROCHESTER — On March 3, somewhere inside the Blue Cross Arena, Mike Dianetti delighted in watching the Aquinas Institute boys’ basketball team claim the Section 5 Class A title.
Much as he wished otherwise, Dianetti wasn’t at his customary spot on the Little Irish bench. That absence was due to the cancer that would claim his life two months later.
Joseph B. Knapp, a close friend and colleague, said he didn’t even know until two days later that Dianetti had attended the win over Franklin. In Knapp’s estimation, it was vintage Mike Dianetti — not wishing to draw the spotlight upon himself in any way.
“He wanted it to be about the kids,” said Knapp, who serves as Aquinas’ director of admissions and public relations.
Dianetti, a Gates resident, died May 5 at age 45. School was closed on the day of his funeral Mass May 9 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, as the Aquinas community mourned a man who had spent half his life working for the school.
Prior to his time at Aquinas, Dianetti was a high-scoring star guard at Greece Arcadia High School where he also played baseball and ran cross-country. He now belongs to that school’s Sports Hall of Fame. Though roundly described as a fierce competitor, Dianetti’s humble nature was already evident upon his being named 1979 Greece Male Athlete of the Year. A newspaper article at the time quoted him as saying, “I don’t like competing against those other (finalists). Any one of the five of us could have won it.”
“He was the first special player to come out of Arcadia,” said Doug Childs, who served as the high school’s head coach from 1977 to 1996. “In the course of my 38 years of coaching, he’s one of the most memorable as far as ability and being a classy person.”
Dianetti went on to enjoy a solid career at Nazareth College, where he played on a full scholarship and was one of the school’s first male athletes of note — Nazareth was an all-women’s college until the early 1970s. He received his bachelor’s degree in education at Nazareth, and also earned master’s degrees there and at Canisius College.
He began working at Aquinas in 1985, where he was a business-education teacher and later assistant principal. In addition to basketball, he coached junior-varsity baseball. Even though Dianetti was not an Aquinas alumnus, Knapp and Patrick Connelly — a religion teacher and former athletic director at Aquinas who was close with Dianetti as well — said the late coach was passionately dedicated to the Catholic school.
“He is a guy who’s incredibly well-respected in the community, deservedly so. He did things the right way,” Knapp commented.
Dianetti’s basketball team finished as sectional runner-up in 1989; ironically, the Irish lost a thriller to his alma mater Greece Arcadia. His squads endured some lean years in the rugged City-Catholic League, but reached another sectional final in 2000. This time the Little Irish came through with the school’s first-ever basketball championship by defeating Victor. Just for good measure, AQ earned another sectional crown for Dianetti the following year by downing Pittsford Sutherland in the final. Over that two-season stretch, the Little Irish posted a cumulative record of 41-10.
Dianetti became ill during the 2004-05 school year and coached sporadically over the next couple of seasons while continuing to work at the school. Yet he was unable to start coaching this past season.
“It was the first time since he was 10 or 12 years old that he didn’t have basketball to prepare for,” Knapp said.
Connelly, Knapp and Childs described Dianetti as very private, especially during his illness. They added that he loved to crack jokes in social situations, but was all business when it came to basketball.
“After a tough loss he’d beat himself up. He expected a lot out of his kids, and expected a lot out of himself,” Knapp said. “His favorite times were the practices, the teaching.”
“Mike was always teaching during the game, not giving pep talks,” Connelly added.
Knapp, who coached under Dianetti from 1993 to 2000, said what he misses most about the experience “is coaching with Mike Dianetti.” He and Connelly recalled that after many a basketball contest, Dianetti would love to stick around the school chatting until well past midnight, reviewing the game and discussing life in general.
“He was so much fun to be around,” Connelly said. “What a good man he was. What a loss.”
EDITORS’ NOTE: Donations may be made in Mike Dianetti’s memory to Aquinas Institute of Rochester, 1127 Dewey Ave., Rochester, NY 14613, or Lipson Cancer Center at Rochester General Hospital, 1425 Portland Ave., Rochester, NY 14621.