When Jay Gast played for the University of Toledo basketball team, he led the Rockets in steals for his final three seasons. Gast now works for the Toledo Police Department - investigating thefts.
Life is full of that kind of irony.
Gast was one of the career leaders in steals at UT, and when Toledo senior Keith Triplett moved by him near the top of that list this season, the former Rocket never noticed - he was too busy looking into those criminal-type thefts during the day, and maintaining his relationship with basketball at night.
Gast, who is 12th on the UT all-time scoring list with 1,328 points, played in 112 games for the Rockets during his career (1982-85), averaging 12 points per game over the four years. He left UT with a degree in criminal justice, and was later hired by the police department.
Moving up through the ranks, Gast started on patrol, and has also done undercover work. He has worked in various units dealing with vice, narcotics, special task forces, and been the police department representative with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
But through those 20 years of police work, basketball kept calling Gast back. He has coached the junior varsity at Central Catholic for the past two seasons, but Gast said he has had an interest in teaching the game ever since he used to help with the younger teams as a high school player in tiny Maysville, Ky., just across the river from Ohio.
He worked basketball camps at the University of Kentucky with coach Joe Hall, and then played for UT's winningest coach, Bob Nichols, and UT assistant Jim McDonald.
“I got to be around a lot of quality coaches as a player, and they all influence you a lot, and have an impact on how you value the game of basketball,” Gast said.
“I'd say probably about 99 percent of what I do as a coach comes from my association with people like coach Nichols and coach McDonald. Between the two of them, they were just tremendous at teaching you how to play, but they also taught us how to teach the game. They let us know why we were doing what we were doing.”
Shortly after leaving UT, Gast spent two years as an assistant to former Rocket Tim Reiser at Springfield High School, but gave up coaching when his son Ryan was born. Eight years later he was back at it, coaching his son's teams up through the junior high years at St. Rose in Perrysburg. Gast's son is now a freshman on the junior varsity at Central Catholic.
Gast, who shot 52 percent from the field for his career at UT, led the Rockets in the 1983-84 season, shooting 60 percent from the field. He was the lone team captain in the 1984-85 season, and helped Toledo win 66 games in his career.
“It certainly helps in coaching to have spent time as a player, but when you get down to it, the job is more about communicating than anything else,” Gast said. “Basketball is not so much X's and O's as it is about the players grasping what you're telling them, so they will follow you. Coach Nichols was always able to do that.”
UT recruited Gast as a high school junior with a reputation as a shooter and scorer. He said he did not arrive on campus as a great defender, but the coaches soon impressed on him the value of guarding people.
“By my second or third game here, they could have asked me to run through a wall and I would have done it. Coach Nichols and coach McDonald just had that way about them,” Gast said. “You hope that as a coach you get to see a player do some little thing you didn't see before. You want to watch them play and see that they understand you. You want to be there when that light bulb goes on.”