In his 23rd season leading the St. Edward Eagles basketball team, Eric Flannery has reached 11 state final fours, won two state championships and got to coach both his sons, leading one to the 2014 title. Grace, left, Abagail, Lori, Eric, Sean and PJ Flannery have all thrived in what Eric calls a “basketball family.”

Eric Flannery with more than 30 years of success at St. Ed’s

The green and gold of St. Edward High School runs deep in Eric Flannery’s blood. It has for more than 30 years, dating back to when he played for the Eagles basketball team.

Flannery has been at St. Ed’s since 1986. As a player and student, he graduated in 1990. He went on to Cleveland State University, where he started on the freshman team and worked his way up to head coach of the college’s varsity team by the 1996-97 season.

“It was one of those progressions of playing all sports and loving all sports (and) specifically focusing on basketball once I got into high school,” Flannery said. “I really felt like if I wanted to play in college, that was the sport that I was gonna play.”

He took over coaching the Eagles prior to the 1997-98 season and is in his 23rd year coaching St. Ed’s. Coming into this season, Flannery had accrued a 443-126 record with 11 state final four appearances and two Division I state championships (1998 and 2014). When he took over, the Eagles were not known for their basketball prowess, having won just one district championship in 50 years, with Flannery playing on that team.

“It was my dream to turn this program around and build it into a successful program,” Flannery said. “To realize where it is right now is just a dream come true. Kind of one of those things I thought would never really happen.”

The basketball lineage doesn’t stop there, though. Flannery, who lives in Westlake with his wife Lori, has four children, all of whom are playing or have played basketball locally. His two sons Sean (class of 2016) and PJ (class of 2018) both played for him at St. Ed’s and are now playing collegiately at John Carroll University.

His two daughters, Grace (class of 2020) and Abigail (class of 2023), currently attend Saint Joseph Academy in Cleveland and play on the basketball team.

Sharing the court with his sons and watching his daughters excel in high school is something Eric Flannery has treasured. He never pushed any of his children to pick up a ball but growing up in what he called a basketball family, there’s little surprise they all did.

“It went too fast,” he said of his time coaching Sean and PJ. “(With) Sean, we experienced and won a state championship together … which is just a memory you’ll never replace. With PJ, we went to final four as well when he was a junior. Just to experience those moments … you can’t put it into words.”

Flannery said the key to the success he’s had at St. Eds is the relationships he’s built. Those relationships have paid off not only during players’ time with the Eagles but also for many that have gone on to play collegiately and professionally. He still stays in contact with numerous former players.

Among those players that have played at the next level include 2010 graduate Matt Stainbrook (currently playing professionally in Spain), 2013 graduate Tim Stainbrook (former professional player in Spain) and 2001 graduate Jawad Williams who spent three seasons (2008-2011) with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Steve Leopore, a 1998 graduate and assistant coach of Eastern Kentucky basketball, said what he learned in his time playing under and eventually coaching with Flannery stuck with him through his college (Northwestern and Wake Forest) and professional days playing overseas in Italy and the United Kingdom.

“He’s a great coach as far as X’s and O’s, he’s a great in-game coach,” Leopore said. “But he was able to develop relationships to the point where he could be honest with you. He would develop the respect first and then he could coach you hard. He wanted us to become better players and better people.”

Leopore also said coaching with Flannery helped teach him how to handle his own coaching experience.

“Real coaches get to know their people and they find out a way to motivate a guy,” Leopore said. “Every player’s different. Every player has different buttons to push. Coach (Flannery) could relate to an inner-city black kid, he could relate to a suburban white kid, he could relate to anybody. He knew that you couldn’t treat everybody the same but at the same time, everybody had to be held to the same standard.”

It’s not just current and former players that have embraced the coach at St. Ed’s. The basketball student section is affectionately named “The Flan Clan.” That community interaction and support has been one of the most important things for Eric Flannery.

“That’s a testament to coach’s character,” said Samario Clancy, a 2003 graduate who currently works with the Dallas Mavericks. “He’s a professional, he’s one of the most respected high school coaches in the country but he had to build that way. That’s just a testament to how brings kids from all different areas together to accomplish one goal.”

Beyond St. Ed’s, Flannery has also worked with USA mens basketball junior national team winning three gold medals. But no matter how far he travels for the game he loves, it always comes back to Saint Edward High School.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Flannery said. “I’ve traveled the world now with basketball. I’ve coached at Madison Square Garden and I’ve coached at the McDonald’s All-American game (among others). I’ve had so many different opportunities just because of basketball and being at St. Ed’s. I always tell myself I’m just a kid from Lakewood, that now live in Westlake, (and) that I’ve been very fortunate to be able to experience these things and basketball has taken me there.”

Contact this reporter at jkopanski@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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