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Grandfather knows best

February 08, 2007|by TIM KOELBLE

Cokey Robertson has coached many basketball players during his 33 years at St. Maria Goretti.

There have been great players, average players, black players, white players and players from various nations across the globe - all of whom he has mentored.

But Robertson has had an especially rare opportunity this season - to coach his grandson, Mitch Belella.

Belella, 17, is a 6-foot-1 junior and the oldest of three children by Robertson's daughter, Stephanie, and her husband, Paul. Belella has two sisters.

"It's definitely a thrill to coach Mitch," said Robertson. "We've tried to be able to do this since he was in eighth grade."

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Belella's trip to Hagerstown came by way of Purcellville, Va., and Newark, Del., where his parents were employed.

"I played in ninth grade and then junior varsity at Loudoun Valley, but we never liked the coaches there," said Belella.

The "we" in his comment referred to Goretti teammates Evan Henderson and John Duhring, who also made the move from Virginia to play at Goretti.

"I've always wanted to come to Goretti," said Belella. "When I was a kid I can remember going to Goretti's (Baltimore Catholic League) games every so often and I was their waterboy. And during the summer I would go to their camps."

When Goretti opened the season with its annual Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament, Belella came off the bench.

"That first game, it was the biggest adrenaline rush," he said. "It was hard to keep the smile off my face playing for Goretti and my grandfather. It was a sense of accomplishment."

Another accomplishment came when he moved into the starting lineup, where he stayed for a good part of the season until a recent bout with mononucleosis kept him on the bench. He returned to action Tuesday after missing five games.

The love between coach and grandson is often tough love on the court.

"I might have taken it for granted that I would start right away, but by not starting, it made me work harder," said Belella. "And (Coach) always pushes me harder. I know he loves me more.

"To be playing for him is different than any other coach, with all of his wins and all of his knowledge, and I'm learning to become a better player."

Since moving into the starting lineup, Belella has averaged seven points and three assists per game.

"I think the other players have no trouble with Mitch," said Robertson. "They are very accepting of him and he blends in well and knows he has the ability to play and make us a better team."

Henderson's desire to move away from Loudoun Valley and enroll at Goretti sort of force-fed Belella's desire.

"Evan made the first move, but Mitch had to do the convincing on his father," said Robertson. "They had just built a brand new home in Virginia, but his mother didn't need much to sway her to come to Hagerstown."

Belella's parents relocated to Hagerstown late last summer. As part of the sacrifice made to come to Hagerstown, Belella's parents now commute to work - his mother to Rockville, Md., and his father to Tyson's Corner, Va.

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