It was always basketball for Rob DePersia.
After the former Rowan men’s basketball starter got a degree in biomedical engineering from a top-tier engineering school, most people would expect him to start a career as an engineer — not DePersia.
Upon graduating from Rowan in 2019, DePersia instead became a graduate manager at one of the best college men’s basketball programs in the country — Villanova University. Three years later, he turned that into a full-time role on the coaching staff. It wasn’t an easy journey, but if there was one thing that DePersia knew, it was always going to be basketball.
DePersia’s life has been intertwined with the game for as long as he can remember. His father used to coach Pro-Am teams while he was growing up, and he was always at the courts or in the gym.
“That was my choice, though,” DePersia said. “I have always been driven to spend as much time as possible, either at the basketball courts or in the gym.”
As DePersia got older, the drive never wavered and the time at the court or in the gym increased.
When most kids reach the high school level, things like money and social relationships become more important, but the number one thing for DePersia was basketball. Even when he began working a summer job to make some cash, that didn’t mean he was taking his summers off from basketball. Instead, that just meant he had to find other time to devote to the weight room and basketball courts, which of course he did.
The hard work was never hard for DePersia. He’s the first to admit it’s all he ever liked, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
DePersia went to high school at Haddonfield Memorial, about ten minutes from Philadelphia in South Jersey. His coach, Paul Wiedeman, defined DePersia — or “Robby” as he calls him — as “the hardest working player in practice and games.”
“He was constantly working on his basketball skills as well as his speed, quickness and agility,” Wiedeman said. “Always chose investment over entitlement.”
DePersia was a 1,000-point scorer at Haddonfield, won All-Conference and, according to Wiedeman, had a lasting impact on the team.
“He changed the entire culture of Haddonfield basketball with his pure joy and desire to bring guys together for a common purpose by outworking the opponent and doing it with uncommon enthusiasm,” Wiedman said.
It was clear DePersia’s basketball career was going to extend far beyond the gym at Haddonfield Memorial High School. When he got to Rowan University, DePersia saw for himself that although he may not have a long future playing basketball, he was still going to have a future in basketball.
During the 2018-19 season, DePersia’s senior year, he tore his meniscus and PCL only five games into the season. Those injuries are season-ending for most people, but not for DePersia. He was still going to find a way to get back on the court to battle with his team and finish the special season that he started. After missing two games, DePersia approached the doctors and asked if the injury could get any worse. When they said no, DePersia saw it as a green light to get back out on the court.
He led Rowan to an eight-game winning streak against conference opponents and their first New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship in almost 20 years.
“He returned probably sooner than he should have and led us to winning our next eight conference games,” said Rowan men’s basketball Head Coach Joe Crispin, DePersia’s coach at the time. “He’s a tough kid who is committed to winning.”
Crispin had so much faith and trust in DePersia during his career at Rowan that he would tell him during games, “It’s really simple, just don’t let us lose.”
There was another time during his career at Rowan when DePersia battled through an injury to help his team win, but this time it was recognized by more than just his coach.
During the first half of one of his games, DePersia was cut so badly that he ended up needing ten stitches to close the wound and stop the blood. Instead of that ruining his game, DePersia decided to come out in the second half and put up 18 points to lead his team to victory. That caught the attention of Rowan Athletics Director John Giannini.
Giannini was previously head coach of the basketball team at LaSalle University for 13 years from 2005 to 2018. After that game, Giannini mentioned to DePersia that he should consider looking into some graduate assistant positions at the Division I level after graduation. Crispin loved the idea. He already joked with DePersia throughout his career at Rowan that he didn’t know why he was an engineering major.
“I knew he would be a coach,” Crispin said. “He was a coach on the floor and loves the game. It’s a natural fit for him.”
With that, DePersia believed basketball would take him further than his biomedical engineering degree ever could.
DePersia considered taking a graduate assistant position at about 20 different schools. Once he got that list down to about five, it was time to start doing in-person interviews. That’s when it became clear his future home was going to be Villanova University.
DePersia became a graduate manager under one of the best college coaches of this generation, Jay Wright, up until 2021. During his time there, Nova won two Big East titles, a pair of Big 5 titles and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2021. After the 2021 season there wasn’t a spot on Wright’s staff for DePersia and his time was up as in the graduate position.
It wasn’t the end for DePersia though, as assistant coach Kyle Neptune was also leaving the program to become Fordham University’s head coach, bringing a new opportunity.
“We didn’t have a role for him after he was a graduate assistant,” Villanova Associate Head Coach George Halcovage said. “But we all loved him so much that Neptune found a spot for him at Fordham.”
After a year at Fordham, both Neptune and DePersia returned back to Villanova. Jay Wright retired, allowing Neptune to return as the head coach and he brought DePersia back with him. DePersia was named, and still is, the Recruiting Coordinator and Assistant Director of Basketball Operations at Villanova.
When asked to describe his role, Halcovage described Villanova’s coaching staff as “one big family” and explained that the official titles don’t really mean anything. DePersia himself described it as “same status, different role.”
DePersia, however, has a little edge on the other coaches on the Villanova coaching staff because followed Neptune to Fordham and back to Villanova.
“He really adds to us because of his unique relationship with Neptune,” Halcovage said. “He helps the players get through the daily struggle of being a college basketball player.”
DePersia is still young for being a coach at a Division I program like Villanova, but when asked if he could see himself one day becoming the head coach somewhere, his answer was simple.
“Oh yeah, I am all in,” DePersia said.
Halcovage even went further.
“I would be shocked and disappointed if he didn’t continue to rise up the coaching ranks,” Halcovage said.
The plan is for DePersia to continue up the ranks of college coaching. But for now, he can be seen roaming around the Villanova bench assisting the staff and players in whatever way he can. It’s a job so good that DePersia often finds himself looking around whatever arena Villanova is playing in that night and simply saying to himself, “Wow.”
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