Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Former Bronc Ali Heller Among Coaching Moves

It's always good to see one-time MAAC connections move on to bigger and better things, and here are a few recent "transactions" concerning coaching moves.

- ALI HELLER, a former standout for the Rider women's team (she was the MAAC's 6th Player of the Year for the 2010-11 season) recently was named an assistant coach at Jackson State in Jacksonville, Fla. She had previously been a graduate assistant for the 2012-13 season at Division II Lynn University in her Boca Raton, Fla., home town.

It's no surprise that Heller has transitioned from player to coach. Not many players, either men or women, worked as hard to improve as Heller, which made her one of my all-time players from the conference.

She shared with us the disappointment of a January 2012 ACL injury that cost her the second half of her senior season. Because she had already played more than six games in that season, her fourth with the Broncs, she wasn't eligible to take a medical redshirt. Her playing career was over.

The career-ending injury was a heartbreaking one for Heller, whose love for the sport was easy to discern. Your Hoopscribe recalls talking to Heller about her injury, and about how she was delaying necessary surgery in hopes of getting on the court in a limited role before the year ended.

She actually did get on the court one more time, as Rider coach Lynn Milligan put Heller into the starting lineup for the opening tap on the program's Senior Night contest.

How good was Heller? Certainly not a spectacular player. She only scored 450 career points in 90 games.

But, she was highly effective by her junior year after rarely playing her first two seasons.

Rider coach Milligan recalled that both Heller's physical conditioning and skill level were borderline Division I level when she arrived at the school.

But, there was no harder worker, and few players at any level who improved as dramatically as Heller did by her junior season, a testament to her hard work and dedication to the sport.

As a junior, she had developed the 3-point weapon, connecting on 43.3 percent of her shots from beyond the arc, the 10th-best percentage nationally in the 2010-11 season.

Her senior season was much of the same as she was even more productive, with single-game bests of 26 and 24 points and making at least four treys in four of the 17 games she played before the injury.

We also recall a Rider promotional video, with the song "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," playing in the background, that featured Heller and Rider men's player Novar Gadson.

Heller sank a long trey, while Gadson missed. So, Gadson challenged Heller to match his next move, a two-handed dunk.

After viewing the video, I asked Heller what would happen if she and Gadson, a very good perimeter shooter, had a three-point shooting contest.

Heller said that players on the men's team wouldn't try because they knew that she'd beat them.

It was that competitive spirit that enabled Heller to transform herself into a good college player. And, we have no doubt that the same dedication to the sport will serve her well as a coach.

Also ...

- PHIL SEYMOUR, who played two seasons (after transferring in from a junior college) at Canisius in the early 1980s was recently named the head coach at Division 3 Fredonia.

Seymour's playing career, as a standout point guard, came before the Golden Griffins joined the MAAC. But, he later had significant connections to the conference.

After his playing days, he served one season as a graduate assistant at Canisius (again, before the school was a MAAC member) and, then, coached four years at Turner-Carroll High School in the Buffalo area.

He then returned to Canisius (by then a MAAC member) for seven years, five of them under coach John Beilein and two under his successor Marty Marbach.

Seymour then moved to be an assistant coach at Providence for three seasons before he became that school's head coach of its women's program. Seymour was the Friars' women's coach for seven seasons before he resigned from the position after the 2011-12 season.

For the past year he was an associate director of athletics at the College of New Rochelle before returning to his Western New York roots to accept the job at Fredonia recently.

- STEVE DeMEO, long considered a top-level assistant coach, recently became head coach at Northwestern Florida, a high-powered junior college in Niceville, Fla. That program had a 62-8 record over the last two seasons.

DeMeo had most recently been an assistant for three seasons at Hofstra. Before that he was on the staff at Providence for 10 years.

His MAAC connection was as an assistant at Iona for three years (1995-96 through 1997-98). In his last season there the Gaels won 27 games and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament.

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