Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Green, Tanksley Secure Releases From Niagara

When your blogger spoke to new Niagara coach Chris Casey exactly a week ago, all seemed well at Monteagle Ridge, at least in personnel terms.

Casey believed then that there would be none of the occasional player defections that often accompany a program's coaching change.

But, now, that's no longer the case. As Bob DiCesare reported yesterday in the Buffalo News, all-MAAC first-team guard Juan'ya Green and team rebounding leader Ameen Tanksley, both sophomores, have been granted transfer-request releases and are leaving the program.

DiCesare reports that the two are Philadelphia natives and lifelong friends.

Their departure is a blow to Niagara which, now, not only faces the transition of its first coaching change in 15 years, but the loss of two very key players. It means that Niagara, the early choice to be this coming preseason favorite to win the MAAC title, probably will fall to the middle of the pack in the preseason prognostications.

Green, in this scribe's opinion, was the MAAC's best player this past season although the top individual award, as voted on by league coaches, went to Iona's Momo Jones.

The 6-foot-1 Green averaged 16.5 points, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game this past season. Tanksley, an athletic 6-6 swingman, averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.

Traditionally there are restrictions placed on a release related to programs players cannot transfer into. Typically schools block players from transferring within their geographic footprint and within their conference (although transfers within the conference are not unprecedented). The likelihood is that Niagara will also prohibit the players from transferring to Hofstra, where former Purple Eagles' coach Joe Mihalic moved to several weeks ago.

But, player defections don't always indicate a considerable drop in success will follow.

When Siena fired Rob Lanier after the 2004-05 season, guard Jack McClinton transferred out (he eventually became a 2,000-point career scorer after three seasons at Miami) and three committed recruits opted out of their scholarship agreements.

Siena had a 6-24 record when McClinton was a freshman and, then, finished 15-13 the following year after he left the program when Fran McCaffery took over  the program after Lanier's firing.

And, the Saints lost another key player to transfer the following year when all-league guard Kojo Mensah left for Duquesne, yet the Saints improved again, finishing 20-12 the following year.

Losing players, even ones as good as Green and Tanksley don't necessarily mean the proverbial bottom will drop off for Niagara. Three other starters from this past season's 19-win team are expected to return as well as the team's top two reserves.

And, when we spoke to Casey he was on the recruiting trail seeking out players to join Niagara.

Still, there are more holes to fill at Niagara now than there were just a short time ago. But player defections after a coaching change are relatively common place. And, despite the loss of Green and Tanksley, the cupboard is far from bare at Niagara for the coming season.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Niagara Coach Chris Casey Off To Fast Start

If you manage to connect with new Niagara men's basketball coach Chris Casey right now, you might reach him by phone as he's driving to Philadelphia to do some recruiting.

Or, you might not reach him as he's at the Niagara campus meeting with or getting to know the players on his new team. Or, because he's around campus, meeting students in the school's cafeterias or other public places, drumming up program support for his program.

Or, because he's working the phones ensuring his staff from LIU Post, the successful Division II program where he was head coach for the past three seasons, would join him at Monteagle Ridge. Or, because he's locked in his office watching this past season's game tapes to familiarize himself with his new team.

You get the point. When you get hired so late in college basketball's off-season (the school announced his hiring on April 22), there's a lot of catching up to do.

"With everything else, I haven't even had time to get on the court (for individual workouts) with our players," said Casey, via phone recently. "I told the players that the calendar wasn't our friend."

But there isn't much doubt that Casey will catch up quickly, and that he's already been taking all the requisite steps to do just that, including this weekend's trip to Philly for recruiting.

"We've got a couple of scholarships available ... we need to add some players," said Casey.

But, there are plenty of good players left behind by former coach Joe Mihalich who, after a terrific 15-year run as Niagara's head coach, moved on to take over at Hofstra.

The team's entire starting five, plus some key reserves, will return from this past season's team that won the MAAC's regular-season championship.

One of the first things Casey took care of after his hiring was to meet his players, allow them to get to know him. It appears to have been enough to ensure there weren't any of the player departures that often come with a coaching change.

Mihalich left something else behind at Niagara that might help Casey's quest to keep the Purple Eagles strong.

He created and left behind a tradition of excellence, 12 winning seasons of his 15 ... an additional "era" to a proud Niagara  program that had suffered through more than two decades of mostly mediocre performances prior to his arrival.

It wasn't just winning seasons, though, that helped attract a strong array of talent to the conference's northern-most outpost. It was also the style Mihalich used, an up-tempo strategy that produced high-scoring games, the type any player desires to play.

It probably didn't hurt Casey's attempt to build relationships with returning players by stressing his intent to have a similar playing style as Mihalich's.

"I like to have a team that gets up and down and presses on defense," said Casey. "Really, you have to be able to play both ways. If your fast break doesn't work and you get into a half-court situation, you have to be able to play that way, too. Defense and rebounding have to be constant, particularly in a league as good as the MAAC. "But if the players work hard, you have to give them the game opportunity to have some freedom, and I definitely talked (to the players) about my intent to play fast."

It probably didn't hurt that players could look at Casey's resume and see the numbers that confirmed his desire for fast play.

His teams at LIU Post put up scoring avverages of 78.1, 83.4 and 78.5 points during his three seasons as head coach, more points in all three seasons than Mihalich's Niagara teams scored.

It probably doesn't hurt, either, that players could see Casey's past success, records of 18-9, 23-6 and 21-10 in his three seasons at Post, a program that now has produced two MAAC coaches. Casey's predecessor at LIU Post (formerly C.W. Post) is Tim Cluess, who has taken Iona to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons.

Casey, at 49, doesn't fit the once tried-and-true mold of MAAC programs filling coaching vacancies with hit-and-rising young assistants from higher-level programs.

A combination of economics (salaries for conference head coaches have increased significantly in recent years) and philosophy have made it feasible for conference schools to attract more-experienced possibilities to fill coaching openings.

This year alone Siena's new coach, Jimmy Patsos, was the head coach at Loyola for the past nine seasons; Marist's new coach, Jeff Bower, got some experience as a head coach in the NBA; And, now, Casey with three years of experience as a head coach at the D-II level.

:Any experience you get as a head coach, whether it's at the D-II or D-III level (he was also the head coach at Rutgers University-Newark, a D-III program, for three seasons) has to help," he said. "It puts you in situations where you have to figure out how to be a head coach, where you actually have to make the decisions involved with the position. It helps you be ready when if you get a chance at this level (D-I)."

Casey not only has six years running his own program, but has considerable experience otherwise, too. Prior to taking over at Post, he had been an assistant at St. John's for six seasons, at Central Connecticut for three seasons and at Saint Peter's of the MAAC for eight seasons (six under Ted Fiore, two under Roger Blind). He has also been an assistant at Western Connecticut State, and St. Francis (N.Y.).

But, Casey knows the opportunity to be a Division I head coach is different and special.

"I'm very excited about this opportunity," said Casey. "Every coach in this profession works at trying to become a Division I head coach. I'm not only excited about being a Division I head coach, but about having it at Niagara."

Casey also knows that he has something else new coaches don't always have when taking over a program ... a strong returning group.

"I know when an opportunity opens up there are times when it's because the former coach didn't have a lot of success ... or, did have success and moved on (before a program's down cycle)," said Casey.

"But, that's not the case here. There's a strong group of players here, and it's clear that winning is very important to them ... that Niagara basketball is very important to them.

"My goal is to get out there with them and help them get better every day. I'm a day-to-day guy. I believe you do something every day that helps makes your players and your team better. If you do that, you can compete in the MAAC, which I know is a a terrific league with terrific coaches.

"If we can do that, we can compete for MAAC titles every year and compete to get to the NCAA tournament. Those are the goals for this program, and I'm excited about the opportunity to try to do that."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Former Siena Coach Castelli Moves To Le Moyne

Good things happen to good people, and there aren't many better anywhere than former Siena women's basketball coach Gina Castelli.

Siena administrators decided on a change at the top of their program after the 2011-12 season, despite the fact that Castelli's teams, in her last two seasons, had each finished fourth in the MAAC's regular-season standings and had advanced to the league's post-season tournament's semifinal round in both seasons.

Castelli wasn't out of coaching for long, serving last year as the director of player development for Rhode Island.

And, it didn't take long for her to find another opportunity to be a head coach.

Castelli was introduced on Friday as the head coach at Le Moyne, a Division II program, in Syracuse.

Castelli had been at Siena for 23 years, one year as an assistant and the last 22 as head coach and accumulated a 336-296 won-loss record (225-146 in MAAC play). Those hardly seemed like numbers to precipitate a parting of the ways.

But Castelli lost her job at Siena, in no small part, because her last eight seasons there resulted in sub-.500 overall records. Those records, though, included an annual 10 or 11 non-league games against the most-difficult schedule Castelli could find.

She viewed non-league games as a chance to test her players against superior opponents, to tough them up for the league season, and not to pad her own resume with any number of meaningless victories against lesser opponents.

Division II isn't Division I, but Le Moyne's league, the Northeast 10 Conference, is one of the strongest nationally. It produced a national champion (Southern Connecticut in 2007), and another championship-game team (Bentley in 1990) ... that's two more teams that have played for a national title than the MAAC has ever had.

MAAC teams aspire merely to get a berth in the NCAA tournament. Northeast 10 teams actually aspire to win a national championship.

The ultra-competitive Castelli admitted, in a recent conversation, to being more than a little excited about an opportunity to potentially chase a national championship.

At Siena, Castelli was named the MAAC's Coach of the Year five times and her teams won seven MAAC regular-season championships, including one in 2004 which was the last year any team other than Marist has captured the conference's championship.

Local and MAAC connections abound at Le Moyne.

The athletic director who led the search that resulted in the hiring of Castelli is Matt Bassett, who is the son of legendary area coach Don Bassett, who is now a volunteer assistant coach for the UAlbany men's program.

The men's coach of Le Moyne is Steve Evans, who served two years on the Siena staff under Paul Hewitt.

And, don't be surprised if Castelli's staff at Le Moyne eventually includes a couple of her former Siena players.

"I can't imagine a better pair of hands to place the future of Le Moyne women's basketball in than in the hands of Gina Castelli," said Matt Bassett, in a press release issued by his school. "From day one of this process, Gina has demonstrated a passionate, limitless vision for what Le Moyne women's basketball can and should be. We have hired a truly successful coach, a driven coach, a coach who has a proven record for going about things, and achieving things, the right way."

"I am absolutely thrilled and excited to be a part of Le Moyne," said Castilli. "I understand the responsibility of a head coach and I am committed to giving my full all to building a winning team and a program that encompasses the Le Moyne mission."

Castelli, for sure, has plenty to give. And, no one who ever followed Siena's program during her years there, would ever doubt that.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Marist's New Men's Coach Bower Has Strong Resume

From the outside ... and I can't begin to say that I know Jeff Bower beyond what a few people who know him have passed on ... Marist's decision to hire Bower looks like a very good one.

The school announced that decision earlier today, and Bower will be on campus Monday for an introductory press conference in the Cabaret of the school's Student Center.

It has to open up players' eyes, it creates instant credibility, when a MAAC-level team's coach has NBA experience, and Bower has plenty.

Bower had been in the NBA for most of the past 14 seasons in a variety of positions, even serving as the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, most recently, for the last 73 games of the 2009-10 season (34-39 record). He has also been that organization's general manager for most of his NBA years.

This past season, though, he was a talent evaluator for the Dallas Mavericks

It never hurts, either, when a new coach already has a little of the proverbial lay of the land. Bower had already been at Marist for nine seasons, as the program's top assistant under Dave Magarity for the first four of those and, then, as Magarity's associate head coach for the last five before moving on after the 1994-95 season.

And, it doesn't hurt when school administrators already have a pretty good idea of a candidate's personality, and Marist had that, too.

A source passed along the fact that Bower and Marist athletic director Tim Murray became close friends when they shared an apartment for a couple of years back in the 1980s.

So, why come back to Marist?

Bower told the search committee that he wanted to get back to hi scoaching roots.

Bower also told school administrators that he was on the staff the last time the program went to the NCAA tournament, and wanted to be the coach who got them there again.

Plus, he met his wife (an athletic trainer at the school when they met) during his previous time at Marist and they both have family in the Poughkeepsie area.

Bower also told the search committee that he has a summer home in nearby Oneonta and he believes the Poughkeepsie area would be a great place for his 10-year old daughter to grow up.

Bower also assured Marist administrators that he has kept in touch with the AAU and high school coaches and other connections that would be beneficial to recruiting at the mid-major level.

"I'm excited to join the Marist community and have high hopes and expectations for our basketball program," Bower said, in a release issued by the school. "My family and I hope to make positive contributions to Marist and the Poughkeepsie communities ...

"The facilities (at Marist) re first-class and provide our student-athletes with an environment to pursue excellence."

During Bower's previous time at Marist, the Red Foxes won the ECAD Metro Conference regular-season title in 1987 and '88, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1977. He aided in the development of 7-foot-0 center Rik Smits, during that player's time at the school.

MAAC's Coaching "Dean," Mihalich, Goes To Hofstra

For years he has claimed the title of "dean" of MAAC coaches.

No one ever coached in the conference longer than Joe Mihalich, who has been Niagara's head coach for the past 15 years. Before that he was an assistant coach at La Salle for 17 seasons, 10 of those years when that program was a league member.

That's 25 of the 32 years years the MAAC has been in existence. No one, to my knowledge, has been connected to the conference for so long. No coach has been a greater cheerleader, a better promoter, for the MAAC than Mihalich.

He ingrained himself, endeared himself to a Niagara community that had been watching on-court mediocrity in the years between Frank Layden (who left in 1976) and Mihalich (who took over in 1998).

Your blogger's trips to Western New York always resulted in finding Mihalich admirers, whether they be border security, local business owners or just about anyone within reasonable proximity of the Niagara campus.

Mihalich revitalized a once-proud program that happens to be located, just south of Canada, in a snowbound area where -- let's be honest -- it isn't the most-desirable place to which to bring in recruits.

But, somehow, Mihalich found good players and built good teams. His preferred up-tempo style of play appealed to players who might otherwise not have came to Monteagle Ridge.

He had just three sub-.500 records in 15 years, an accomplishment made all the more remarkable because of the challenges related to his school's geographic location. He had a 265-203 record at Niagara, more wins than any MAAC coach in the league's 32-year history.

But, like every good coach Mihalich is moving on. A variety of reports indicate that Mihalich will be announced, later today, as the new coach at Hofstra.

It's surprising in the sense that it felt that Mihalich would always be around the MAAC. At his age, 56, he was getting close to that time when bigger programs would look elsewhere for concerns over just how many more years he would go on.

But, Mihalich is as enthusiastic and as vibrant as ever. The move brings a reported six-year contract that will be worth more than double what he was being paid at Niagara. Those numbers, the years and the salary, bring the type financial security one rarely finds in the MAAC.

Mihalich leaves a program that couldn't be in better shape, coming off a regular-season league title with a starting lineup that returns intact, along with a few key reserves also coming back.

It was a situation that brought out the best of Mihalich, who was asked if such a young team having so much success was surprising, if things were ahead of schedule.

"I didn't know there was any schedule for this," quipped Mihalich.

Those with long memories will recall how MAAC history might have been drastically changed when, in 1994, Mihalich was one of the finalists to replace Mike Deane as Siena's coach.

That school's search had identified Mihalich, still a La Salle assistant back then, as one of its two final candidates. Mihalich was so certain he would be offered the Siena job that he quizzed this scribe about the merits of local school districts and where he should enroll his then-young children.

Instead, Siena hired Bob Beyer.

Bad move for the Saints, but a great turn of events for Niagara. Still, Mihalich didn't get his first opportunity to run a program for four more years when the Purple Eagles brought him aboard.

The result was the best era of Niagara basketball, in terms of on-court success, since Taps Gallagher stopped coaching there in the mid-1960s.

For sure there are mixed emotions. It's never easy to see a good guy, an individual who was such a terrific ambassador not only for his own program but for the conference, to move on.

Yet, those are the ones we root for to have success, to find bigger and better opportunities.

And, so, it's now Mihalich's turn to try bigger and better.

But, that's not to say he won't be greatly missed at Niagara, in the Western New York region, and throughout the MAAC.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

MAAC's Presence is Prominent on National Scene

John Beilein couldn't quite outdo Paul Hewitt. He could only join Hewitt as former MAAC men's coaches who have made it to college basketball's championship game.

But, like Hewitt whose Georgia Tech team  lost to UConn in the 20044 title contest, Beilein's Michigan team couldn't get past Louisville in Monday's final game of this year's event.

Hewitt coached at Siena for three years (1997-98 through 1999-00), while Beilein began his Division i career at Canisius where he coached five seasons (1992-93 through 1996-97).

Those weren't the only MAAC connections to make some memorable accomplishments this season.

Siena's 6-foot-8 forward O.D. Anosike became the sixth player to lead all Division I players nationally in rebounding for two straight seasons.

Anosike averaged 11.4 rebounds per game, just slightly ahead of the 11.2 per-game average of Colorado's Andre Roberson, and became just the second MAAC player to be the national rebound leader. Former Fairfield standout Darren Phillip led in the 1999-00 season.

Anosike also led the nation in rebounds last year when he averaged 12.5 per contest.

Others who have won back-to-back rebound titles since the NCAA began keeping track in 1950 are Leroy Ellis (1958-59, 1959-60), Jerry Lucas (1960-61, 1961-62), Artis Gilmore (1969-70, 1970-71), Kermit Washington (1971-72, 1972-73) and Paul Milsap, a three-time rebound champ (2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-060.

Iona's Momo Jones finished third nationally in scoring average at 22.6 per contest, and teammate Sean Armand finished sixth in made three-pointers per game (3.29) and eighth in free-throw percentage (88.8).

Manhattan's Rhamel Brown finished 10th in blocked shots (2.97).

In team statistics, Iona finished first nationally in points per game (80.6), Niagara was ninth in turnover margin (committing 4.3 fewer per game than opponents), Canisius was third in made three pointers per game (9.2), and Rider was sixth in three-point percentage defense (28.8).

On the women's side, Iona had two players to rank in the top 10 nationally in a statistical category. Guard Damika Martinez's three-point shooting percentage of 42.2 was eighth nationally, while Sabrina Jeridore ranked seventh in blocked shots (3.09).

Marist was fifth nationally in free-throw percentage (79.1), Iona was eighth in three-point shooting percentage (37.2), Marist was eighth in fewest fouls committed (12.4), while Fairfield was eighth in that statistic (12.5).

One more game tonight with a MAAC connection, the women's championship game that has former Siena men's assistant coach Cameron Newbauer on the sidelines as an assistant coach for the Louisville women's team.

After that, it's the off season and, then, six more months until the official start of practice for the 2013-14 season.

That can't get here fast enough.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Newbauer, from Siena, Part of Women's Title Game

Michigan's John Beilein isn't the only coach with a past MAAC connection playing for a national championship this season.

He might be the only head coach doing so, but an assistant from the Louisville women's staff, which plays UConn on Tuesday night in the championship game for the ladies, is also seeking a national crown.

That would be Cameron Newbauer, who spent three years on the men's staff at Siena College. Newbauer was at Siena as that program's director of basketball operations from 2001-03 and, then, back with that school as a full-fledged assistant in the 2004-05 season.

Newbauer went from Siena to Georgia where he was the director of basketball operations with that school's men's program from 2005-07.

In June 2007 he joined the school's women's program and played a significant role in helping bring in one top 10 national recruiting classes in 2008 and 2009. There, he was also part of the staff that helped direct the Bulldogs to five consecutive NCAA women's tournament appearances and back-to-back Sweet 16 advances, getting there in 2010 and 2011.

Newbauer then moved over to his current position with Louisville prior to the start of this season.

Louisville, which entered this season's NCAA event as a No. 5 regional seed, claims the tournament's most-surprising victory, a one-point shocker over Baylor at the Elite Eight round of play.

Beilein, of course, coached five seasons in the 1990's at Canisius. He is just the second former MAAC head coach to play in the NCAA championship game, joining former Siena coach Paul Hewitt, who played for the 2004 national title.

If Michigan wins tonight, Beilein would be the first former MAAC men's head coach to win a national championship.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Iona's Good News: Men's Coach Cluess To Stay

Good news at Iona: The men's head basketball coach Tim Cluess is staying, after flirting with Hofstra in recent days for the vacant position at that school.

News of Cluess' decision to remain with the Gaels came from the school's publicity branch in this form:

"Iona College is pleased to announce that men's basketball coach Tim Cluess has recommitted to coaching the Gaels for at least the next five years," said the release issued by the school.

So, what does that mean?

Multiple reports indicate that Cluess was Hofstra's top choice for its opening, but that the coach's Iona contract had a large buyout clause that, possibly, Hofstra wasn't willing to meet.

It also means that Cluess got a contract extension from Iona, assuredly with a considerable raise financially.

But, the five year expectation?

Yes, the contract will cover Cluess for the next five seasons. But, when coaches get wooed by a higher-level program, remaining years on a contract are, basically, meaningless.

Very few, if any, MAAC coaches have ever "honored" the remaining years on their contract when a major level program comes calling with a job offer. Very few, if any, MAAC schools would force a coach to honor remaining years on a contract when a high-major program offers a job.

What does it mean for Iona?

It means the program is able to maintain, for the time being, a very good coach. Cluess has revitalized the Gaels and has won 70 games over the past three seasons (more than any other MAAC program), while going to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years.

It ensures a level of continuity for a program that has a nice nucleus coming back (guards Sean Armand and Tavon Sledge, and forward David Laury, among others).

The return of Cluess all but ensures there won't be many, if any, player defections from either the current roster or from incoming recruits.

It assuredly keeps Iona in the top half of next season's standings, right up there with early 2013-14 favorites Niagara and Manhattan.

It's never a bad thing when a coach from the MAAC is able to move on to bigger and better things.

But it's even better when a good coach who has already accomplished much is able to stay within the league and accomplish much more in future years.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Beilein Perfect Example of MAAC-Like Qualities

John Beilein's run to this year's Final Four, including his Michigan team's semifinal-round game tonight against Syracuse, is about a lot more than one of our own making good,

Beilein got his first opportunity to coach at the Division I level at Canisius, where ran that program for five seasons (1992-93 through 1996-97).

His story is also about a good person making good. But that, in many respects, epitomizes what often comes out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Beilein is the living example of having an exemplary moral compass and a do-it-right philosophy that usually gets developed by experience at a mid-major level, like the MAAC. Those who have those qualities don't suddenly forget about all that as he, or she, progresses up the sport's ladder to the so-called big time.

Beilein's best qualities are well described by the terrific New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, who got to know the former Canisius coach a little better in recent days.

Vaccaro tells us of about when, in 1995 in the consolation game of the NIT, Beilein's Canisius team was playing Penn State. Beilein was three years into his work turning around the Buffalo school and a victory over the Nittany Lions at that point certainly would have enhanced his resume.

"If you're a climber," Mike McDonald, Beilein's assistant at the time (and, eventual successor at Canisius), told Vaccaro, "then that's the perfect place to start padding your resume."

Instead, Beilein's starting lineup that night included senior walk-on John Gorman, who scored a grand total of four points that season.

:What the hell," McDonald remembers Beilein as saying. "He (Gorman) deserves it."

Penn State beat Canisius that day by two points.

There aren't any who know Beilein as anything but a class act, a guy who does things the right way. Who always did, beginning at Newfane High School in Western New York when he was the head coach of that school's JV program, to four years at Erie Community College, one at Nazareth College (Rochester, N.Y.) and nine at Le Moyne (Syracuse, N.Y.) before he came to Canisius.

Beilein is a a relative rare individual in that he has never been anywhere when he hasn't been a head coach. And for the first 22 years of his progression through the ranks his experience came at levels far below the big-time level.

Even now he exhibits the qualities he learned during his younger years. Vaccaro relates that even during the build up to the Final Four, the busiest week of his life, Beilein sent text messages to friends, telling them he had arranged to have a private Mass tomorrow morning. He had reserved a priest and a room at his team's hotel, and needed a few volunteers to help as alter servers and lectors.

And, how many other coaches that ever made it to the Final Four have ever done that?

But, Beilein is not alone in carrying the core values learned in the MAAC to the next level.

When Paul Hewitt was at Siena (1997-98 through 1999-2000), he required not only that his players attend class but that they sit in the front of classrooms and participate actively in class discussions, that they dress respectfully (no collarless shorts), that they be cleanly groomed.

Hewitt talked about how, at the MAAC level, he thought it was as important, if not more so, to prepare his players for life when their basketball careers ended.

Hewitt took that philosophy with him to Georgia Tech where he coached for 11 years and, again, to George Mason, his current coaching position.

When Mike Deane, another former Siena coach, got to Marquette, he told administrators of that relatively small Catholic college, that his aim was to bring in the "right kind" of students to play basketball there. If it meant the program wouldn't be going to the NCAA tournament every year, so be it. The NIT isn't bad, either, Deane reasoned.

But when Deane's teams only made it to the NCAA tournament once in his five seasons there, that wasn't good enough. Despite 100 victories, including four 20-win seasons, over five years, that wasn't good enough either and Deane was fired after his fifth year. He made it known that the school's administrators had a higher  competitive vision for their program than Deane did, that it was willing to take some "risks" in terms of bringing in players that Deane wasn't willing to take.

It certainly didn't hurt Jimmy Patsos' pursuit of the Siena job, to which he was named earlier this week, that he is well known for his efforts to enhance his players' educational and cultural knowledge beyond the court. Patsos uses road trips to take players to museums, historical sites, landmarks and tourist attractions. He uses movies to send messages. He engages his players in conversations that have nothing to do with basketball. Imagine that.

Yet, isn't that what college sports should be all about?

At the MAAC level, the "student" description of student-athlete still deservedly come first. That's not always the case at the higher levels.

But, it is at Michigan, with Beilein in charge.

And, maybe, those administrators at big-time programs should take that into consideration.

Coaching change goes on for some MAAC coaches. Hofstra is rumored to be heavily involved with Iona coach Tim Cluess.

Cluess is often maligned for taking the non-traditional route of relying more heavily on transfers and former junior college players than any MAAC coach in the league's history.

But, your scribe can't recall a single case of an Iona player being anything other than a good example of what a mid-major level player is supposed to be, a good representative of that particular institution.

Hofstra (and, yes, Rutgers right now) should take note.

It's time, now, that a search for a coach shouldn't be restricted to those who only know the sport's highest level because the do-everything-necessary-to-win attitude that exists in big-time college sports brings with it too many negatives.

It's time that big-time programs look to mid-major levels like the MAAC for coaches who are groomed to believe their athletes are students first. Its time to identify future hires from a pool of coaches whose moral compass points in the right direction, who believe in teaching academic and life's lessons as much as they teach basketball.

Who knows? Maybe they'll come up with the next John Beilen,

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Patsos Wins Over Fans at Siena Intruduction

Jimmy Patsos, as the saying goes, definitely won the press conference at his introduction as the new Siena men's basketball coach.

But, the loquacious Patsos loves a stage and, now, he has the biggest one in the MAAC if not one of the  larger ones at any mid-major level program.

And, Patsos actually won over program followers twice Wednesday, the first at a "formal" press conference in the school's Alumni Recreation Center lobby that not only included a couple dozen local media members but well over 100 Siena fans, and the second at a "pep rally" on the school's ARC court.

The pep rally came complete with cheerleaders, the school's pep band and at least 250, or so, interested students and non-student fans.

Patsos' message was pretty much the same at both events: Everything about his new job ... the school, the environment, the fan support, the support for the program, the area opportunities, the restaurants, etc. ... is great. He said people might thank him for taking the Siena job, but it's he who should be thankful, and grateful for being chosen for the job he has "envied" for the nine previous seasons he coached at league rival Loyola.

It was as grand and as large a reception for a new coach that, surely, any MAAC program has ever seen. There certainly never has been a larger red carpet rolled out for any previous Siena coach.

But, Patsos is a larger-than-life presence, and those around the double events Wednesday got a first-hand experience with that.

As did the members of his new team, earlier in the day.

"We talked, but not a lot of it had to do with basketball," said Patsos, in his getting-to-know-you session with returning Saints.

He told them, like he mentioned often throughout the day, that his teams run and press, that he likes the "first one to 80" philosophy of basketball.

He talked a lot about how he operates away from the court, too. He talked about scheduling a game in Washington, D.C. ... "I can't wait to get my players down there and give them the tour of the monuments."

Patsos enjoys getting his teams out of hotels on the road, using trips for both bonding and for educational purposes. He takes players to cultural and historical sites, to landmarks, to movies ... anything to enrich his players on life that doesn't directly involve basketball.

"John Wooden taught me that," said Patsos. "He said there's a lot more to the day than just two hours of basketball, that your players are students first who just happen to be talented players, too."

Wooden wasn't the only name dropped by Patsos.

On this day, in no particular order, he referenced Red Auerbach, Jack Bruen, Doc Rivers, Brian Cashman, Rick Dempsey, John Calipari, Eva Perone, Angela Merkel (German's Chancellor), Dan Paulsen, Fran McCaffery, Paul Hewitt, Kevin Plank (who invented Under Armor wear) and, of course, his mentor and former Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"I know a lot of people," he joked. "I was single for 20 years (during his coaching career), so I had a lot of free time. I'm married now ... I don't have any more free time."

It was one last name-drop, a mention of the late Dave Gavitt, the former commissioner of the Big East, that brought Patsos to a momentary stop in his narrative to compose himself.

"I get a little emotional thinking about Gavitt," said Patos. "He's the one who told me you have to get this type of job and stay with it. This is that type of job. I've been jealous of you for nine years, wishing I could coach at Siena."

He emphasized often about his up-tempo style of play.

"If we don't have guys who can do that, we'll figure out where to get guys to play that way," he said.

"If we don't win enough games, you can yell things at me that you did when I wasn't the Siena coach."

One of the things someone once yelled at Patsos very early in his tenure at Loyola was a reminder that his team wasn't very good. Patsos turned around to address the heckler with the response to wait until he was able to bring in his own players.

When asked about what he expects, Patos said his players would go to class, would play hard and have fun playing.

He mentioned the "rebuilding" word when referring to Siena's current situation, but it's not anywhere near as daunting a rebuilding job as he faced at Loyola.

"They were 1-27 when they offered the job to me," said Patsos. "Red Auerbach told me I had to take the job. He said, `They're 1-27, even you can do better than that.' "

Siena was 8-24 this past season, and the strong hope of the hundreds who came out to welcome in the new coach, and the thousands of others who attend games, is that Patsos not only can do better than that, but can do much better.

"I want to win NCAA games, and I want to go to the Final Four, but we've got to do well in the MAAC first," he said. "It's harder to build something and sustain it at this level than at the high-major level because you don't have the best kids in the country coming in here. Still, Butler and VCU are doing it pretty well ...

"But when I took over at Loyola they didn't have anything ... they didn't even have a band. We had to create an entire program. There's a program in place here."

Patsos talked about his optimism on future recruiting trails: "Guys want to play here," he said.

"Albany is a great place to live. Siena is a great job and a great place. This is a basketball town."

The greatest response to anything he said, though, came when a 7-year old in attendance at the pep rally was coached to ask Patsos if Siena would beat UAlbany.

"Yes, we're going to beat Albany," said Patsos, to loud applause.

When his remarks ended, Patsos stood in the middle of Siena's on-court gym, greeting fans who lined up like they were in a wedding reception line.

It was a great day for the new Siena coach, who clearly won over what very often is a tough crowd.

They loved him this day as he won the press conference and follow-up pep rally.

They'll really love him if he wins a lot of games.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Siena Makes Right Move In Hiring Jimmy Patsos

The white smoke appears to be coming out of a chimney at Siena's Loudonville, N.Y., campus indicating that a new men's basketball coach has been chosen.

As has a variety of local media outlets, your Hoopscribe's sources confirmed that Jimmy Patsos will be coming north, taking over at Siena after nine seasons as Loyola's coach.

Your blogger can't remember a single time when a MAAC program hired a coach from another program within the conference. But, Patsos' interest in Siena was predicated more than a little on Loyola's decision to leave the MAAC for the Patriot League after the current academic year.

Loyola is making the move for reasons that have little to do with basketball. Its lacrosse program is that school's primary sport, and the Patriot League offers a more-competitive league for that sport. Primarily, though Loyola's move is a business decision, one designed both to affiliate the school with others of high academic reputations as well as to bring Loyola's athletic teams to areas (Washington, D.C., Boston) where the school hopes to attract more admission candidates.

The Patriot League, though, is not only a step down competitively from the MAAC for basketball but presents the challenge of recruiting from a smaller pool of potential players due to that league's higher level of admissions standards.

While Patsos had been saying all the "politically correct" things about Loyola's move, he left little doubt that he didn't embrace the move from a basketball perspective.

Thus, Patsos to Siena came at the perfect time. The "Perfect Storm," if you will, a combination of Loyola's move and Siena's opportunity.

The league change made Patsos more likely than ever to look elsewhere for employment, and the Albany market has always been an attractive one to him. Patsos has never hidden his love for the Albany area and its diversity of non-sporting lifestyle benefits as well as for the opportunities Siena's basketball program can offer. What's not to like about a higher operating budget, a 15,000 arena home court and a large and passionate (as long as the Saints win games) fan base.

Your scribe has followed every Siena coaching search, in some form or other, since John Griffin left the program to try his hand on Wall Street back in 1986.

Siena's past coaching hires have been mostly of the hit and miss variety. There have been some solid contacts made in past hiring processes, as well as some egregious swings and misses.

This one, it says here, is the proverbial home run and all who read the words that often appear in this forum know that I haven't hid my preference for the hiring of Patsos.

It marks only the second time the program has hired a coach who comes in directly from being a head coach elsewhere. The first of those hires came eight years ago when Siena brought in Fran McCaffery from UNC-Greensboro, and that one worked out pretty well, didn't it?

Finances have a little to do with that. In recent years, Siena has been willing and able to pay its head coach an attractive enough salary to entice a candidate from another school to come to Loudonville. Heck, two of its three final candidates (Patsos and Andy Toole at Robert Morris) already had Division I head coaching positions.

That hasn't always been the case. When finances were a little tighter at the school, it was necessary to find the young-assistant-on-the-rise candidate chomping at the bit for a first opportunity to run a program and not requiring a break-the-bank salary.

But conventional wisdom tells us that the 18-inch move from the bench-seating position of top assistant to head coach is a significant one.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It's almost impossible to predict.

Mike Deane came to Siena after being an assistant at Michigan State, had eight successful years (1986-87 through 1993-94) and lifted the program from a fledgling Division I level to one that went to an NCAA tournament and three NITs. That was a hit.

His replacement, Bob Beyer, came in after a year as an assistant at Wisconsin (and several years before that as a Deane assistant at Siena), and failed miserably enough to get fired after three years. Swing and a miss.

Next came Paul Hewitt (1997-98 through 1999-00), previously an assistant at Villanova. Hewitt took the rubble that Beyer left behind and turned the program around immediately. His second and third seasons resulted in NCAA and NIT appearances, and he is arguably the best coach ever to walk the Siena sidelines. Another hit.

After Hewitt came Louis Orr, direct from an assistant's position at Syracuse. Orr lasted all of 49 weeks and, then, moved on to Seton Hall. Behind the scenes, Orr had an executive disconnect from his players and the perception here was that he wasn't ready yet to be a head coach. He didn't last long enough at Siena for that perception to be reinforced. A miss ... or, at best, a foul ball.

Orr was replaced by yet another assistant, Rob Lanier in 2001. The runner-up in that search was former Siena player Matt Brady. Lanier's resume was just a little better (he was a successful assistant at Texas, while Brady was an aide at St. Joseph's). Hindsight indicates Siena should have hired one of its own. Brady went on to four strong seasons at Marist and, now, is the head coach at James Madison University which made it to this year's NCAA field. Lanier went to the NCAA's in his first season, to the NIT in his second and, then, had two down seasons that resulted in his dismissal. A miss.

McCaffery, formerly a head coach, followed Lanier and, like Hewitt, quickly turned around what had been a less-than-stellar situation. If Hewitt wasn't the best coach in Siena's Division I history, then it was McCaffery. A solid hit.

McCaffery's top assistant, Mitch Buonaguro, was promoted when McCaffery moved on to Iowa. Buonaguro had been a head coach at Fairfield but had been an assistant for nearly 20 years before his promotion at Siena. A miss.

Buonaguro's poor won-loss record in his three seasons resulted in the current search that produced Patsos.

So, if you're keeping score of Siena's success rate in hiring individuals directly from the ranks of assistant coaches: Deane, Hewitt were major "hits." Beyer, Lanier, Buonaguro and Orr were "misses."

That's 2-for-6, a good batting average for baseball players but not necessarily for administrators who pick basketball coaches.

The program's 1-for-1 rate for hiring directly from the ranks of head coaches (McCaffery) is perfect.

And, now, comes another one in Patsos.

The benefits?

In nine seasons as head coach, Patsos theoretically has worked out all the growing pains. He knows how to do whatever it is that goes into being a successful head coach.

What else?

- He comes in from another MAAC program. He knows the league immeasurably better than any other candidate Siena had at any time in the process. We've seen new coaches come in, put up a large display board with names of every other MAAC program's players ... and not know much beyond the names, not really have any idea how good any of those players were. Patsos knows every player in the league from having coached against them, having directly scouted them. He knows every recruit coming into the league and, probably, knows every high school junior and sophomore on the recruiting lists of other MAAC programs.

- He has "big time" experience, having spent 14 seasons before his hiring at Loyola as an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland.

- He is extremely well-connected in the basketball "fraternity," enough so to have occasionally been invited to the famous weekly "Red Auerbach lunches" in the D.C. area the last few years of Auerbach's life. He'll have no problem bringing in quality assistants. His lengthy list of connections will serve him well on the recruiting trail.

- He has is a larger-than-life presence, which of itself attracts interest in a program by the force of his passion.

- A former sideline "wild man," he has considerably toned down his in-game theatrics. It's all part of understanding what does and doesn't work, part of the growth of a head coach.

- He is universally loved not only by those in his program, but might have been the most popular individual on the Loyola campus. By all accounts, he was appreciated by everyone at Loyola, from the maintenance crew to the school administrators.

- He knows how to restore luster to a program, and to attract interest and Siena needs that on both counts right now.

The year before his arrival at Loyola, that program finished 1-27 and had the nation's worst Ratings Percentage Index. The Greyhounds' previous coach, Scott Hicks, once revealed that high school athletes in the fertile Baltimore/D.C. recruiting area perceived themselves as failures as players if their best option for a scholarship was at Loyola.

Patsos quickly changed all of that. Loyola had a winning record in his second season. Interest increased from moms-and-dads-only attendees (literally fewer than 100 attended games) to near sell-out average crowds in recent years, often dotted with local celebrities. And his recent Loyola rosters were well-populated by players from the Baltimore area who passed up offers from elsewhere.

And, Patsos has won 47 games over the past two seasons, the most of any MAAC program. His teams have been to national post-season tournaments the past two years, the NCAA's in 2011-12 and the CIT this season.

As is always is with coaches of any sport, it all comes down to winning. Patsos knows how to do that, as his tenure at Loyola indicates.

He is the full package. By far the best candidate in the assembled field of candidates for this particular opening.

It says here that Siena has hit another home run in bringing in Jimmy Patsos as its new head coach.

The search is over. The white smoke has been seen.

Sit back and enjoy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Beilein Could MAAC Connection In Title Contest

Former Siena men's basketball coach Paul Hewitt is the answer to the trivia question of which former MAAC men's coach has taken a team the deepest into the NCAA tournament.

Four rears after his 2000 departure from Siena, Hewitt got Georgia Tech to the 2004 championship game where it lost to UConn.

That particularly trivia question, though, might soon have a new answer.

If Michigan can win one game (against Syracuse on Saturday), its coach John Beilein would join Hewitt as former MAAC coaches to get to the NCAA event's title contest.

If Michigan can beat Syracuse and, then, won Monday's championship game (against the winner of Saturday's Louisville-Wichita State contest), then Beilein would stand alone, the first former MAAC head coach to move to and win a national championship.

Beilein coached at MAAC member Canisius from the 1992-93 season through 1996-97.

He moved from the MAAC to coach at Richmond (1997-2002), West Virginia (2002-07) , and has been at Michigan since the 2007-08 season.

Beilein probably is the answer to another trivia question. He has to be one of a very select group of college head coaches to never serve as an assistant at any level.

After his 1975 graduation from Wheeling College, he became a head coach at Newfane High School in Western New York. After three seasons there, he moved on to become the head coach at Erie Community College for four season, served in the same capacity at Nazareth College in Rochester for a season and, then, was the head coach of Division II Le Moyne in Syracuse for nine seasons.

Canisius gave him his first Division I opportunity in 1992.

Beilein isn't the only former MAAC men's head coach in this year's Final Four.

Tim O'Toole, the former Fairfield head coach, is in his second season as director of basketball operations (albeit, a non-coaching position) at Syracuse.

O'Toole coached the Stags for eight seasons (1998-99 through 2005-06). Upon his firing from that program, he had been out of coaching, but kept his hand in the sport by doing broadcasting work for St. John's and for ESPN.

Midway through last season Syracuse's DBO position opened, and O'Toole, who had been a Syracuse assistant for three seasons in the 1990's, was hired.

Ironically, the respective teams of the former MAAC coaches meet Saturday, but it is believed they have never previously been on opposite sidelines in the same game.

O'Toole took over at Fairfield the year after Beilein left Canisius.

But their respective teams meet on Saturday and one of them will move on giving the MAAC a representative in the upcoming championship game.