We were roughly the same size and we played the same position on the basketball court in much the same way: focusing on defense and ball handling, making the extra pass and sinking late free throws like old-school point guards.
But I was no Pete Carrera.
He never let me know that, of course. That was one of his many gifts, his rare ability to convince others to believe in themselves.
I lacked his confidence, his big-game experience, his unshakable faith in his ability to control things on the court. But he always tried to convince me otherwise.
“Philip, you’re better than I was,” he would tell me, even though I knew it wasn’t true. That was just Pete being Pete.
He would always add, in classic Pete fashion, “You know why you’re better? Because you have me as a coach. And I’m the best bleeping coach around.”
He was always around in an unofficial capacity during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, always encouraging me and critiquing my play in the most positive way. I strove to make him proud and hoped to have people say, “You remind me a little of Pete Carrera.”
But he was there every day when I was a junior, as he served as Gloucester Catholic head coach Putt Powers’ top assistant. He was just 21 but seemed so much older, so much wiser — my guide to basketball and the world.
That 1974-75 season was a dream for most of us, and nirvana for me: to work with him on a daily basis, to have him show me different moves, to discuss strategy, to hear his voice above the din during the loudest of games, to feel some (just some) of his swagger swell inside me.
Even to talk music — mostly the hard-edged brilliance of the Rolling Stones or the genius of Elvis, since Pete loved the King — when we weren’t discussing basketball.
Many people will remember the late, great Pete Carrera, class of 1972, as a player, the pride and joy of the Dribble Nuts from that magical era in Gloucester sports. He was peerless lead guard on the last two state championship teams in Gloucester Catholic boys’ basketball history. He was so quick, so smart, so skilled, so tough.
But I was one of the lucky ones: I got to know him as a coach, a mentor, a friend, a guy who grasped basketball so well but understood people even better.
If there’s a heaven, Pete’s in a gym up there now, strutting around the court and showing somebody that inside step move. His language will have St. Peter sticking his fingers in his ears and humming a hymn.
But Pete also will be convincing some people they’re better than they think, building their confidence, massaging their ego and bringing out their best.