Conrad Head Coach John Kulesza has had a front row seat that many fathers would covet.
Kulesza watched as his daughters Julie and Stefanie celebrated winning the 2018 DIAA Girls Basketball Championship with their Red Wolves teammates, then joined them in cutting down the nets.
When younger sister Stefanie joined Julie in the 1,000-point club last week at the Diamond State Classic, it was just another series of milestones for one of Delaware’s best sister acts in girls basketball history.
One thing an outsider might worry about is whether John’s coaching role would bleed into his father role, but he says that hasn’t been a problem.
“Once we’re home at the dinner table, I put the ball in their court, so to speak. If they want to talk about what happened at a practice or a game, we’ll discuss it. They’re both students of the game, and many times it did bleed over to the dinner table, but it was never being upset whether it was player vs. dad or dad vs. player. It’s always been a workable type situation.”
Older sister Julie, who has signed on to play at Bucknell next season, said her father fostered her love of basketball at an early age.
“My dad was an AAU coach, and I would end up waking up in the middle of the night when I was 3, 4, 5 years old, going with him on these 3-4 hour trips. Just to be able to warm up with the older girls, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Stefanie, who has been rated by some basketball publications as one of the top 25 juniors in the country, said she quickly picked up the basketball bug from her dad and older sister, but despite spending that much time together with Julie, it remains special.
“During the summer we travel a lot. Travelling with her is always really fun. Some families they only have one child, and they’re all alone. But she’s always there for me, and she always helps me with a lot of my problems, she’s always someone to talk to.”
Julie and Stefanie create a duo that’s tough to match. Stefanie said having a sister-teammate creates an extra-useful bond.
“I think the best part is we just understand each other. I know where she’s going to be next play, she knows where I’m going to be. We just have this connection that no other people have.”
That’s not to say they’re completely similar.
“I’m the sister who’s more laid back, she’s the one who is up-tempo. I’m go with the flowy, she’s kind of the opposite.”
But they’re also successful because they have each other to push towards success. Last year, Conrad lost to eventual-champion Sanford in the semifinal, and Julie said it showed even still have four returning starters from the 2018 team, they can’t take anything for granted.
“During the summer, me and my team have been working non-stop. Getting in the gym ourselves, weightlifting, strength and conditioning, agility, all to get us ready for the season.”
It’s been a strong start for the Red Wolves, who enter 2020 at 6-2 after a third place finish in the main draw at the Diamond State Classic.
It’s the fourth and final high school season for John to coach his two daughters, and in 15 months, they’ll both be on to their collegiate careers, but the question is will he follow them out the door of Conrad.
“I don’t think so. I’ve done it for so long, I know I’m going to be doing something. People keep asking me if I’ll step down or resigning, at this point I plan to continue coaching. Obviously, I’ll make sure I’m making some of their games and balancing things myself, but honestly I haven’t thought that far down. I know I enjoy basketball; it’s been a big part of my life. It’s done a lot for me. It’s open doors for me as a student-athletes, and it’s opening doors for many of the student athletes I’ve coached like Ja’Nylah Whittlesey.”
Conrad’s first team state championship first returning to varsity high school athletics, and likely two Division I scholarships. The run of the Kuleszas at Conrad will go down as one of the best in Delaware high school basketball history, and there’s still 2 more months of the trio to go.