Story by Mario Rossi
Photo by Joel Venzke
If this were a game of “Jeopardy!” the category might read “Random Midwestern Cities.”
Instead, these are destinations in the journey of Drake head men’s basketball coach Ray Giacoletti.
Giacoletti played his first basketball game at East Peoria High School, graduating in 1980.
He then faced a choice between staying around home for college or doing something different. Giacoletti went with the latter, traveling nearly 1,000 miles to attend Minot State University in Minot, N.D.
“It toughened me up,” Giacoletti said. “When it got tough, you couldn’t go home. It was a good chance for me to grow up and not have to depend on my family. I’d make mistakes, but I’d have to get myself out of it.”
Born in the city and toughened by the North Dakota tundra, Giacoletti made many more stops before reaching Des Moines last spring.
Giacoletti graduated and worked as a graduate assistant at Minot State in 1985 with a degree in physical education.
The following year, he headed closer to home, working in a similar position at Western Illinois University.
Giacoletti would leave for jobs at Oral Roberts University and the Fresno Flames (World Basketball League) before becoming an assistant coach at Illinois State from 1990-93.
It was then that Giacoletti first saw Des Moines, a city that back in the early 1990s was quite different from the bustling city of today.
“I don’t remember a whole lot, about all I knew was that Des Moines was the capital of Iowa,” Giacoletti said.
Drake used to play its home games in Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Giacoletti’s final year as part of the Redbirds’ staff saw the Knapp Center’s inaugural year.
Giacoletti headed to the University of Washington, then to Fargo, N.D., where he got his first head coaching job at North Dakota State.
It was not until his coaching career made stops at Eastern Washington and Utah as head coaches, and Gonzaga as an assistant coach, that Giacoletti made his way back to the Midwest.
When Giacoletti visited Des Moines last spring before his March hire, the city’s changes were a revelation for a coach ready to build a lasting basketball program.
“I was shocked at the city, how prosperous it was, how it had grown while there were a lot of other Midwest cities dying,” Giacoletti said. “It was in Forbes Magazine as a top city for a bunch of different things. It really impressed me.”
Evansville. Springfield. Terre Haute. What are “Missouri Valley Conference Cities?”
Don’t look past Des Moines. Giacoletti has found Iowa’s capital to be a place unparalleled in promise, a growing destination for student-athletes.
“You look at other communities in the Missouri Valley, Des Moines is just different than every place else,” Giacoletti said. “I think there’s a huge upside to where we’re at right now. I don’t think there are a lot of places today with that kind of upside.”
Although Iowa is often considered a “flyover” state, Giacoletti knows Des Moines grows on you once you give it a chance.
“This city can play a huge part in developing men through job shadows, internships and how committed the community is to Drake,” Giacoletti said.
Arlington Heights (Illinois). Iowa Falls (Iowa). Cahokia (Illinois).
What are “Even More Random Midwestern Cities?”
More accurately, they are the cities that Giacoletti has drawn his 2014 recruiting class from, with, you guessed it, states from the Midwest comprising it completely.
It is becoming more and more apparent that the Midwest is not just a location for Ray Giacoletti, but a way of life.
He has invested himself in Des Moines and knows the city will return the favor.
After all, where he’s at now could be considered the Daily Double.