Perhaps the only thing he’s done for a longer period of time is work within the community. At the age of 16 he did a stint at a summer camp. Then for eight years he worked as a summer counsellor at Joseph J. Piccininni Community Centre. Since then, he’s spent his summers as a camp director at Camp U of T.
For De Giorgio, who first got involved in community programs because he liked working with children, there’s no greater satisfaction than “teaching a kid a new skill and seeing them succeed.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way. The U of T basketball program has a strong tradition of community involvement. “Throughout the year, our team works with several different organizations to run one-day clinics for the youth,” he says. These organizations, which include North Toronto Basketball, East York Basketball and The Basketball Academy, just to name a few, “help our athletes give back to the community and allow for the community to get to know them as well.”
Mike De Giorgio (third from left)
A strong sense of community was also the key to the Varsity Blues’ success this year, as De Giorgio credits a preseason trip to the Bahamas, where the team played against NCAA Division 1 schools from the US, for starting their year off on the right foot. “[The trip] really helped us bond and get prepared for the season,” he says. “The guys played as a team and became really close off of the court, which helped with our performance on the court.” As a result, the Blues went 13-9 overall last year, their best record since 2010-11 and a vast improvement from the previous four seasons, when their single-season high was six wins.
Of course, the coaching staff, led by John Campbell, also had something to do with it. “The guys on the team really bought into what we were trying to do,” says De Giorgio, adding that he’s personally grown as a coach as a result of having worked with a number of different coaches over the years.
De Giorgio expects his players to work hard and get better, just like he did when he was on the team. In 2007-08, he led the Blues to their first ever top-five national ranking and was named a first-team OUA all-star, averaging the third-most assists per game (7.23) in the country.
A big part of his success – as a player, a coach and a role model within the community – is a direct product of his Italian background. “I definitely learned a lot from my grandparents and parents growing up,” he says, adding that his father’s side of the family hails from Simbario in Vibo Valentia, Calabria, while his mother’s side is half-Italian. “My family worked hard to establish a good life in Toronto when they first got here, and they taught me work ethic and perseverance.” He believes these tools are essential for student-athletes to excel both on the court and in the classroom.
Going into his ninth year as assistant coach of the Varsity Blues, De Giorgio and his team will look to build upon their stellar 2016-17 season. “We definitely expect to continue to get better and hopefully move up in the standings,” he says. “There are some teams ahead of us that we want to catch and some teams behind us that we want to stay ahead of. The guys will work hard this summer to continue to improve and hopefully it pays off next year.”