Knights appoint Rao as head coach
Chris Rao couldn’t believe his good fortune when he received a call from Niagara College offering him the opportunity to be the next head coach of the Knights women’s basketball team.
“It was no-brainer,” the 24-year-old Welland native said. “When I got the call I was in an airport and I was a little groggy so I took a couple of hours to make sure I heard things right.
“Being back home and near family is obviously very exciting. I’m extremely proud of my dad (Mike Rao) and what he has done with the Brock women’s basketball program and we will continue to support each other as we have all along.”
Rao takes over for former head coach Mike Beccaria, who retired after the 2018-2019 season.
Rao attended Notre Dame College School before heading to Cape Breton University. While working towards his degree in education, Rao became an assistant coach with the Cape Breton University Capers from 2014-2017. From there, he moved to Acadia University as an assistant coach with the men’s program for one season before returning to his alma mater in 2018-19 as lead assistant coach for the Capers.
“I’m really excited, but it’s not something I was really expecting. It wasn’t in the forefront of my thoughts,” Rao said. “I went to the east coast to start coaching and go to school and you never really expect these kind of jobs to come up in your back yard with a really great school.”
Rao has some specific ideas he wants to put into place.
“We want to play a brand of basketball the fans and the college are proud of and would like to watch,” he said. “We want to play fast offensively and play a tough defensive style. We want teams to not want to play against us. We want to be tough and not be an easy game for anyone.”
Rao also feels it is essential to recruit in Niagara.
“We have to be on top of the local scene for sure. You look at girls basketball in Niagara and the things these clubs are doing. They’re succeeding and placing well at OBAs and developing players. These players can play big roles on college and university teams.
“A big part of the recruitment will be making sure they feel comfortable and want to stay home and supplementing that with exceptional talent from across the country.”
Rao has also been involved coaching with Basketball Nova Scotia. Since 2017 he has been an assistant with both the under-14 and under-17 boys programs, and is currently at the helm of the boys 15 and under program.
Although Rao’s resume weighs heavily on the men’s game, he’s confident the transition to the female game will be a good one.
“Coaching is coaching. At the end of the day, it’s about connecting and working with individuals,” he said. “If you’re able to do that, success and positive culture will follow.”
The Knights will begin their quest for an Ontario Colleges Athletic Conference Championship under Rao on Nov. 1 at home against Sheridan.
Rao will officially begin Aug. 15, with women’s basketball tryouts and training camp set to begin Sept. 9.
Coverage of the Niagara Knights is made possible with the support of the Niagara College Department of Athletics & Recreation. For more information, please visit http://www.goknights.ca