Jason Leone, the basketball program’s all-time winningest coach, eyes more wins this season
By Stefan Yablonski
Coaching, for Jason Leone, was meant to be.
In 2011, Leone was named the 17th head coach of men’s basketball at SUNY Oswego.
“I grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in 1994,” the coach said. “I played college basketball at Lafayette College and then the University of Rochester.”
He grew up in a coaching family.
“So basketball has always been in my blood,” he added.
Leone said he was fortunate to get the Oswego job in 2011 — when he was previously the coach at a small D3 school in La Plume, outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, called Keystone College.
He led that program to an overall record of 71-35 over four seasons.
In 2010-11, Leone guided Keystone to an overall record of 21-6 with wins over NCAA qualifiers SUNY Oswego (“nobody’s picked on me about it; probably helped me get the job here,” he quipped) and Gwynedd-Mercy, en route to achieving the program’s first-ever NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional ranking.
Coming to Oswego
“The previous Oswego coach, Adam Stockwell, left his position in late August and Oswego had a nationally ranked team returning,” Leone said. “Tim Hale, the AD at the time, had a prior relationship with me when he was the track and field coach at University of Rochester while I was a student-athlete there in the late 1990s. I worked for Tim as a work study employee at Rochester.”
“Jason Leone has a proven ability to recruit outstanding student-athletes and develop a winning program. We look forward to Jason continuing our winning tradition in men’s basketball at SUNY Oswego,” Hale said in 2011.
SUNY Oswego family ties
Leone has multiple ties with SUNY Oswego. His brother and sister are also Oswego alums and played basketball for the Lakers.
His brother, Joe, was a captain of the men’s basketball team in 2000-01.
“My brother was the kind of player that did things, to help the team win, that don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet,” the coach said. “He was a great teammate; he played with great effort and enthusiasm. That is something we certainly value in our program. He would be a value to us, I know that.”
His sister, Lindsay, is an alumna of the college. She also played basketball for a year.
“So, there were multiple connections that lead to this being a good fit,” he laughed. “Growing up in Syracuse, I enjoyed the idea of being able to move back to CNY and raise my family here.”
Being a native of Central New York, he was excited to be back in an area “that I love and have a lot of pride in,” he added.
In his first season at Oswego, Leone led the Lakers to the school’s first SUNYAC Championship title since 1965 and an automatic berth to the NCAA Championship for the second-straight year. Oswego finished the season with a program-best record of 26-4, which included a 17-game winning streak and the program’s first undefeated SUNYAC season on record at 18-0.
“It was pretty special — first time as a head coach that I was a part of a team that won a championship. We hadn’t won one since 1965,” he said. “There had been some heart-breaking losses in the conference tournament in previous years. You feel a sense of responsibility with those teams and you share the victory with them.”
Leone led the Lakers to a historic season in 2021-22 — including a program best 27-3 record, its highest final national ranking in program history (#11) and its third Sweet 16 appearance in the D3 national tournament in the past six seasons.
In 2022-23, Leone led the Lakers to its most wins (28) in school history for the second consecutive season. They won the SUNYAC Championship for the second consecutive season and for the sixth time in Leone’s 11 seasons.
SUNY Oswego also made its deepest NCAA Tournament run in its history by qualifying for the Elite 8. The Lakers had a historic 74-63 Sweet 16 victory over the #1 nationally ranked Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets on their home floor, in which they snapped Randolph-Macon’s NCAA record 64-game home court winning-streak.
SUNY Oswego (28-3) finished the season ranked #5 nationally, which was their highest national ranking in program history. The Lakers competed in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the eighth time in the past 12 seasons.
“Some of my favorite memories in coaching are winning conference championships and cutting down the nets with my players,” he said. “Also, hosting NCAA tourney games at Laker Hall — including the sold-out Sweet 16 game vs. Wooster in 2016. Lastly, upsetting #1 nationally ranked Randolph Macon on their home floor last season in the Sweet 16 and ending their NCAA record 64-game home court winning streak.”
During his first 11 seasons, Oswego has the most wins in any 11-year period in program history (236-81) and ranks first for total wins in the East Region during that time.
Oswego also has a winning record against all nine of its SUNYAC opponents.
On Nov. 12, 2022, Leone became the program’s all-time winningest coach following a victory over Eastern Connecticut State.
In early December, the Lakers hosted the Plattsburgh Cardinals for a late Saturday afternoon conference contest. Oswego pulled away with a 101-72 victory and rolled to a seven-game win streak. (7-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play).
The Lakers had some time off for the holiday season, before returning to action at the D3Hoops Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada. Oswego was set to open Classic play against Case Western Reserve University on Dec. 28 at 11 p.m. (EST).
“You gotta rely on their maturity level and you have conversations with the team about how important it is to get better right now,” he said of keeping the players game-ready during the long break. “Although we aren’t preparing for a game next week, we are preparing — this is an opportunity for us to hone our skills so we can be ready when we do play again. We are an older team, so we only have two freshmen; the majority of our team is juniors and seniors.”
In February 2021, Leone was named the State University of New York Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Decade by the conference office. He joins former Lakers Brian Sortino, Hayden Ward and Chad Burridge in earning All-Decade accolades.
“You know, there are always things that you think about as a coach. You’re looking for any type of motivation and experience that you can share with the guys,” he said. “Kind of the elephant in the room is everybody here is talking about our ability to make a Final Four. I’m very cautious not to label our season in just wins and losses; because there are so many things that can happen between now and the end. Of course there are mountains to climb.”
“From my seat, I have to make sure that we provide a fulfilling experience for our guys and not talk about things like post season advancement. Because if it doesn’t happen…,” he continued. “This particular core group of players has provided us with so much over the last three to four years — this group went through COVID together — so it’s been a very meaningful group of kids for me as a coach. I don’t think that anything that happens at the end of the year is going to dictate my thoughts on coaching this team one way or the other.”
Does he think he will ever catch Laker Men’s Hockey Coach Ed Gosek in wins? (376-124-32 .739 through last season)
“I don’t want to pass him,” Leone replied with a laugh. “He’s a great friend and a wonderful mentor. He’s someone I’ve enjoyed sharing a dialogue with about coaching, student athletes and development over the years. It’s one of my favorite parts of working at Oswego State. I pop in to see him; he comes in and sees me. We’ve gotten closer and closer as the years have gone on. He’s a great guy.”
Coach Leone at a Glance
As a player, Jason Leone began his college career at NCAA Division I Lafayette College. He played for two seasons before transferring to the University of Rochester.
The three-time Dean’s List honoree was a captain of the 1998-99 squad that qualified for the NCAA tournament.
On the court, he won the UAA individual scoring title with Rochester as a junior and was named All-UAA for both of his seasons with the Yellowjackets.
For his high school career, the Christian Brothers Academy graduate is the fourth all-time leading scorer at the school (1,223) and was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
Prior to Oswego, Leone brought Keystone College to the program’s first-ever NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Ranking. In addition to amassing a .670 winning percentage, Leone’s squads never finished below third place in the Colonial States Athletic Conference and qualified for the postseason in each of his four years at the helm. Under Leone’s guidance, 10 players were named All-CSAC and he recruited four of the top five all-time scorers in the program’s history.
Prior to coaching at Keystone, in Pennsylvania, Leone served as the assistant coach at Division II Mercyhurst College for four seasons from 2003 to 2007.
Before joining Mercyhurst, he served as the assistant coach at Clarkson University, where the Golden Knights earned an ECAC title game berth.
Leone is currently ninth nationally in the history of Division III Men’s Basketball in career winning percentage (.725) and number 1 in the East Region among active Division III head coaches with at least 10 years of head coaching experience.
He earned a degree in economics in 1999 from the University of Rochester.
Leone earned a master’s in instructional technology and media management from SUNY Potsdam.
In addition to qualifying for the postseason in each of his 11 seasons at Oswego, the Lakers have a 20-5 (.800) record in the SUNYAC Championship — including 11-consecutive semifinal appearances, seven championship title game appearances and six championship victories, as well as five regular season titles.
Oswego is 7-0 in first round games and 16-0 in conference tournament games played in Max Ziel gymnasium (Oswego’s home court).
The program has qualified for postseason play in 21-straight seasons, which is the second longest active streak in the conference.
Over the past 12 seasons, Oswego has played in eight NCAA Division III Championships. The Lakers have finished inside the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll on five separate occasions during Leone’s reign (2023, 2022, 2019, 2016 and 2012).