Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Saints Meet One of Their Own in Hewitt

If you're a college basketball fan in New York's capital region, then Wednesday's Siena at Georgia Tech game is a big one.

It's MAAC vs. ACC, two uptempo teams. Georgia Tech is in the Top 25, Siena is striving to get there.

But, the meeting transcends all of that because Siena is playing one of its own.

Paul Hewitt coached at Siena for three seasons, 1997-98, '98-99 and '99-00. His era was the most-successful in the school's history (one NCAA appearance, one NIT) prior to current coach Fran McCaffery's

In fact, Hewitt's record at Siena (66-27) accounts for the program's best winning percentage (.709) by any coach with more than 10 games on the Saints' sideline. McCaffery has an 89-46 record at Siena, a winning percentage of .659.

Hewitt's stay at Siena was his first experience as a head coach. He is in his 10th year at Georgia Tech, but still speaks readily and glowingly about how his time at Siena couldn't have been better preparation for moving on to a higher level of college basketball. Many of the team and individual-related policies he put in place at Siena are still part of phis coaching philosophy at Georgia Tech.

He remains close to dozens of individuals in the Siena community, and the phone line between Hewitt and many in the capital region is still active.

Clearly, Hewitt is an individual who hasn't forgotten where he's from. Wednesday's game is testimony to that, as much as it is an opportunity for a local product, 6-foot-11 forward Brad Sheehan (Shaker High School, Latham, N.Y.) to play before his home-area supporters next season.

There will be a sizeable contingent of Siena fans making the trip for the game, and what they'll see from Georgia Tech is exactly what Hewitt's teams looked like when he coached Siena. His current squad has nine players averaging at least 9.2 minutes per game, 11 averaging at least six minutes per contest and none with a per-game average of more than 27.6. Hewitt's teams need fresh troops to play his preferred up-tempo style, and he's got them this year.

Here's one more interesting point. It is believed the first time in Siena history that it is playing a game against one of its former head coaches now serving as a head coach elsewhere.

The Saints did play a game against Northwestern when Bob Beyer, who preceeded Hewitt as Siena's head coach, was there but Beyer was an assistant coach for that meeting. Siena also participated in Marquette's tournament when Mike Deane was the head coach there, but the two teams did not meet in that event.

It's definitely a rare occurrance for any MAAC school to tangle with one of its former head coaches. Thanks to the research of MAAC sports information directors, here are the only times those meetings happened:

Canisius played against its former coach John Beilien twice (2005-06 and '06-07) when Beilein was coaching at West Virginia.

Loyola played against its former coach the late Skip Prosser (1994-95) when Prosser was at Xavier.

Manhattan played several games against its former coaches Fran Frascilla and Brian Mahoney when those two former Jaspers moved on to coach at Saint John's.

And ... that's it. Rider did play games against one of its former coaches Kevin Bannon when Bannon was the head man at Rutgers. But, we'll put an asterisk next to that one since Bannon left Rider before the Broncs joined the MAAC.

Rider's superlative sports information director Bud Focht also points out that his school had one other meeting with one of its former coaches.

Hall of Famer Clair Bee was Rider's first coach (1928-29 through '30-31) before moving on to Long Island University. The Broncs played LIU several times when their former coach was there.

Your blogger will admit to advancing years, but he most definitely wasn't around for those games.

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