Columbia Senior Alex Rosenberg Out Two Months With a Fractured Foot

Senior forward averaged 19.5 points during conference-play and was an All-Ivy League first team selection.

October 31st, 2014 by Doric Sam

Columbia was expecting to be a team on the rise in the Ivy League this year, but the Lions will face a tough road to start the season as senior Alex Rosenberg will miss significant time with a foot injury.

The Columbia Spectator reported that Rosenberg suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot, the same injury that sidelined NBA MVP Kevin Durant, during practice last Friday and is expected to miss at least six to eight weeks. If all goes well with his recovery, it is likely he would be healthy enough to return for Columbia’s conference-opener against Cornell on Jan. 17.

“It’s hard, a lot of emotions in that, but he’s a strong kid,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said in the report. “We feel bad for Alex, obviously, because he’s worked so hard and he’s been really important to our team. But these things happen, and we’re going to adjust.”

Rosenberg averaged 19.5 points during conference play last season to earn All-Ivy League first team honors. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds he was a matchup-nightmare at the small forward position and his versatile offensive attack gave opposing defenses fits.

Rosenberg shot 43 percent from beyond the arc on the year and was fearless when attacking the basket, which allowed him to get to the free throw line where he shot 82 percent. He put up a career-high 34 points in a double-overtime loss to Harvard in what was arguably the best mid-major game of the year.

Columbia was picked to finish third in this year’s preseason poll. The Lions are returning all but two players from last year’s squad that won 21 games and played in the postseason for the first time since 1968. Sophomore forwards Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby and Chris McComber will all likely see a bump in their playing time, though it will be tough to replace Rosenberg’s scoring production.

Doric Sam is a New York City-based writer who covers the America East and Ivy League for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @doricsam83.

Herrion’s Highway: Three decades later, New Hampshire’s head coach remains driven

October 30th, 2014 by Sam Perkins
New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion. OBW photo / Sam Perkins

New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion. OBW photo / Sam Perkins

Basketball has been a very long, winding, and lately, rocky road for New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion.

“It’s been a pretty long run. It’s been a pretty rough, long run, if you hear what I’m saying, and I know that – I’m not totally blind to that,” said Herrion, reflecting on his 29-year Division I coaching career on a recent Thursday morning.

Herrion has spent parts of four decades in the college coaching ranks, starting as an assistant to newly-hired Boston University head coach Mike Jarvis in 1985, the last 23 years of which as a head coach. It is a head coaching career that has been defined by skyrocketing successes early, including six 20-win seasons, three NCAA Tournament berths, three America East Coach of the Year awards and an NCAA Tournament shocker over heavily favored fifth-seed Memphis over his eight seasons as the head coach of Drexel.

And it is also a career that has been defined frustrating seasons of futility as of late, with losing records in 13 of his last 14 seasons, spread across stints at Eastern Carolina and UNH – two notoriously tough programs to win at. Coming off a 6-24 season, the worst record during his nine years in Durham, and staring down the final two years of his contract, Herrion would seem to be in a precarious position. But according to the head coach, his focus remains solely on the court and on his players.

“I totally understand our situation when you look at contracts and you look at things of that nature, I’ve got one more year left. We know what we’ve got to do, no one needs to remind me of that, I’m not blind to it,” he said.

After nearly three decades on the autobahn that is the head coaching highway, and the mental and physical grind of disappointing seasons and the growing volume of discontent from his fan base, one could hardly blame the 56-year-old if he took the next off ramp onto the slow, scenic route and pulled over onto the shoulder for some rest — a cushy gig as a high major assistant, or a small college athletic director, or even prep school coach or AAU director, or even some time to simply relax and enjoy retirement. But that just isn’t in Herrion’s DNA.

Basketball is.

“I think the first thing that keeps me going, and I really mean this, is I’ve got an unbelievable passion for the game – basketball is in my blood,” said Herrion. “If I let that (losing, criticism and an expiring contract) dominate me, I wouldn’t be here – I would have gave this up. “

While the highlights of Herrion’s journey may have been his three NCAA Tournament appearances, the win over Memphis, and his discovery and mentorship of future NBA Malik Rose, some of his fondest memories are of his first steps in his basketball journey, which began almost as soon as he learned how to walk.

“I grew up in a basketball family,” said Herrion, whose late father, Jim, was a legendary high school coach in the New York City Catholic League, before a stint as an assistant at Holy Cross and a head coaching career at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and whose brother, Tom, is a current assistant at Georgia Tech.

“When I talk about being brought up in basketball, I’m not talking about just being in a gym when my father coached and shooting around on a side hoop, this was like 365 days a year. It’s something that got into my blood.”

According to Herrion, the defining moments of his coaching career weren’t cutting down championship nets or setting foot on the NCAA court, but long summers spent under the sun on cracked and sweltering blacktops.

“From age four years old to 15 years old I would go to summer basketball camp, and I’m talking not to like a college or a showcase, with an air-conditioned dormitory and an indoor court,” he remembered, palpable excitement in his voice. “I used to go up into the Catskill Mountains, to these old-time, outdoor courts, cabins, that was my life. We would leave after school got done in June, and we would come home right before Labor Day and the start of school. I would spend every summer there.” (more…)

Lessons from Mike Alvarado, George Beamon, Rhamel Brown have Manhattan set to reload, not rebuild

October 29th, 2014 by Ari Kramer
Mike Alvarado ran out of eligibility at Manhattan, but he is still making an impact on the program.

Mike Alvarado ran out of eligibility at Manhattan, but he is still making an impact on the program.

Steve Masiello loved knowing where his production would come from in 2013-14.

“The thing I realized about last year’s team was you knew what you were getting every night,” the Manhattan coach said on Oct. 22. “George was going to get his 17 [points] and seven [rebounds], Rhamel was going to get his 12 [points] and four [blocks] and Mike was going to be Mike.”

He was, of course, referring to George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Mike Alvarado, a trio of holdovers from the Barry Rohrssen era that blossomed into MAAC stars under Masiello.

With their collectively diverse skill set and leadership, the seniors carried Manhattan to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004. Now, they’re gone.

Sort of.

Brown is playing professionally in Israel, and Beamon is entering the NBA D-League draft. Alvarado, however, is still on campus, finishing up his last semester of classes and working out with the team as he prepares for his pro career.

Masiello and Alvarado each shared the same wistful response when asked in jest if the NCAA had granted the point guard an extra year of eligibility: “I wish.”

But even an ineligible Alvarado has impacted the team this fall.

“It’s been great for the young guys,” Masiello said.

Alvarado has no position to fight for, yet he doesn’t just perfunctorily run through Manhattan’s sets in a practice 24 days before the Jaspers open their season at Florida State. He hustles. He sprints. He does the dirty work, which at one point includes running into a hard Masiello shoulder of a screen, set to show sophomore Carlton Allen how to compete physically with the ostensibly bigger, stronger Seminoles.

That’s just Mike being Mike.

“I’ve always said Mike was our culture. Mike was our toughness,” Masiello said. “The intangibles he brought were just phenomenal.” (more…)

The Leader: Chad Holley

UMass Lowell senior guard has made an impact on his team far larger than his numbers

October 28th, 2014 by Sam Perkins
River Hawks senior Chad Holley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

River Hawks senior Chad Holley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Chad Holley saved the River Hawks’ season — not with a game winning 3-pointer, a deft assist or a defensive stop, but with a smile.

“It was probably the make or break moment for us; the time when a team either completely falls apart and the season is lost, or pulls together stronger than ever before, and he was the guy who really pulled us together,” remembered UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette of Holley.

The defining moment in UMass Lowell’s improbable inaugural season of Division I basketball came in arguably it’s lowest moment and worst game of the season: a near 40-point loss in an empty gymnasium, set against the backdrop of a bone-chilling breeze blowing in off the Hudson River and a backbreaking losing streak.

Entering that frigid, fateful night in New York City on Dec. 9, the River Hawks’ stood at 0-8 against Division I opponents (their lone win coming against Division III Mount Ida). But Lowell had showed spark and spunk, taking a brief lead in the second half of their season opener at defending National Champion Michigan, giving Atlantic-10 squads URI and St. Bonaventure everything they could handle, and taking Ivy League contender Brown to the wire.

But from the opening tip-off against Columbia, it was apparent that the bus-lagged and tired-legged River Hawks, playing their third road game in seven days and eighth road game of the young season, just didn’t have anything left in the tank.

“That was definitely the lowest point of our season,” said Lowell wing Mark Cornelius.

For Duquette, the goals of that night quickly changed from trying to manage the game and grab his first Division I win, to trying to manage his players’ spirit and try to keep them from mentally checking out. That’s when the generously listed 5-foot-10 Holley, who averaged 10.3 points, 3.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds, showed his true worth.

“Chad isn’t a flashy player. He isn’t a guy who puts up big numbers, or who is physically imposing, but his presence in those huddles was immense. I had to be pretty strategic with my timeouts the entire game as far as saving them for as long as I could and then using them to try and pick our guys up off the mat. And every single timeout, Chad was the guy who was calming the guys down, telling them not to lose focus of the long term goals, and knowing the exact perfect times to be serious, and the right times to break the mood with a joke or a smile. Something as simple as his smile made all the difference. He’s just a leader – it’s that simple,” said Duquette.

“I just like to be positive in the huddles, especially in that game. It was the end of a road trip, they were beating us up real bad, we couldn’t get any lower than that – there was only one way to go but up – and I wanted to be positive. I told people to just play hard and give it your all,” said Holley, whose soft voice and shy smile would seem a sharp contrast to his bulging biceps and tree-trunk calves, which seem more fitting of the gridiron than the hardwood.

“It was one of those moments when you find out everyone’s true worth – who you truly want in the huddle with you. And he is a guy that you want in the huddle with you no matter where you are or what the odds are that are stacked against you,” said Cornelius of Holley’s actions during the 78-39 loss. (more…)

2014-2015 America East Games To Watch For

October 27th, 2014 by Adam Reiter

The 2013-2014 America East season ended much like the 2012-2013 season did, with the fourth-seeded Albany Great Danes riding home court advantage to wins over the #5 and #1 seeds in the Conference Tournament Quarterfinals and Semifinals, respectively, then going on the road and knocking off the #2 seed to win their 4th America East Championship since 2006, the most in the America East over that time.

With a new tournament format featuring all games being played at the home arenas of the higher seeds, let’s look at five match-ups this season that will go a long way in determining who’ll aim to ride home court advantage themselves towards a conference championship:

Vermont at Albany (Saturday, Feb. 28)

If there was ever a series that fit a “Jekyll and Hyde” mold, UAlbany vs. Vermont would best fit the description. The Danes have lost their last 11 regular season meetings with the Catamounts, dating back to the ‘08-‘09 season. However, over that same period, the Danes are 3-0 in America East Tournament games against the Cats, including wins AT Patrick Gymnasium in the 2013 Conference Championship Game, and over last year’s top-seeded squad in the tournament semis. Expect the last regular season game of the year for both teams to be a close one, as the last four regular season SEFCU Arena meetings between these two have been decided by an average of seven points.

Vermont/Stony Brook (Saturday, Jan.10 @ Vermont; Sat, Feb. 7 @ Stony Brook)

These two squads have finished 1st and 2nd in the conference three straight years, and four of the last five. Last year’s loss on Long Island kept the Catamounts from a 16-0 regular season. Vermont lost a lot of talent from that near-perfect team, with the graduation of six seniors, so expect Ethan O’Day and Hector Harold, the Catamounts top two returning scorers, to try and counter Stony Brook’s 1-2 attack of juniors (and pre-season all-Conference selections) Carson “Tre” Puriefoy and reigning Player of the Year Jameel Warney.

Hartford @ Stony Brook (Wednesday, Jan. 28) 

On paper, this is one of the best teams Hartford has fielded in years. Five of their top six scorers return, including Player of the Year candidate Mark Nwakamma, as well as three point specialists Wes Cole, Taylor Dyson, and Corbin Wroe. Hartford struggled against Stony Brook last year, losing both times during the regular season, as well as in the America East Conference Tournament semi-final. Some will say Hartford is the team to beat in the America East this year, thought the pre-season poll slightly favored Stony Brook. The Hawks will look to prove voters wrong in this clash right in the middle of conference play, while Stony Brook will look to back up their Number 1 pre-season rank.

Binghamton vs. UMBC (Wednesday, Jan. 28 @ UMBC; Saturday, Feb. 28 @ Binghamton)

This game is about the clash between Jordan Reed and Rodney Elliott. Last year, as a sophomore, Reed, in conference games, was first in rebounding, T-3rd in scoring, 4th in steals, and was among the top 10 in blocks. Elliott, the conference’s unanimous Rookie of the Year, was 2nd in scoring, 5th in assists, and finished among the Top 10 in steals in conference play. Neither Binghamton nor UMBC were in the Top 4 of the pre-season poll, but if either one of their stars gets hot at the right time, as Peter Hooley showed for 4th-seeded UAlbany last year, anything can happen.

Stony Brook/Albany (Monday, Jan. 19 @ Stony Brook; Tuesday, Feb. 17 @ Albany)

This may be the best rivalry in the America East right now. These two in-state foes have met in each of the last five conference tournaments; Stony Brook won the first three of those meetings, while the Danes have taken the last two, including last year’s Conference Championship Game AT Stony Brook. The loss was Stony Brook’s third in four years in title games, with two of those coming at home. The teams split last year’s regular season meetings, with each squad winning in their own arena. Both teams have their share of Player of the Year contenders with Puriefoy and Warney for the Seawolves and Aussies Sam Rowley and Hooley, the 2014 America East Tournament MOP, for the Great Danes.

Adam Reiter is a Connecticut-based writer for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @thereitstuff.

For Quinnipiac, crashing the glass is a strategy that can’t be shattered

October 27th, 2014 by Ari Kramer
At 6'4" Quinnipiac senior guard Zaid Hearst crashes the glass with the ferocity of a far larger player. Courtesy photo / John Hassett Photography

At 6’4″ Quinnipiac senior guard Zaid Hearst crashes the glass with the ferocity of a far larger player. Courtesy photo / John Hassett Photography

Quinnipiac’s identity has been welded on the glass ever since Tom Moore took over in 2007.

The Bobcats will crash hard. They will bang with anyone and everyone. They will grab rebounds — lots and lots of rebounds. You can bank on it.

Moore, a former UConn assistant, instilled in his team Jim Calhoun’s philosophy that rebounding teams are stoic, capable of tapping their strength regardless of variables that change by game.

For Quinnipiac, it’s a strategy that cannot be shattered.

“[Calhoun] always said rebounding traveled well, meaning that you could take it on the road and pretty much rely on it,” Moore said. “If it was something you did, you could do it every night. It’s not affected by a shooting slump or referees’ calls or even the opponent.”

Few teams have posted better rebounding numbers than Quinnipiac since Moore replaced Joe DeSantis in 2007. Even fewer have done so since 2010-11.

The Bobcats, who have led the country in offensive rebounding every year in that span, and topped the national charts in offensive rebounds per game (16.8), defensive rebounds per game (28.6) and total rebounds per game (45.5) last year. Their offensive rebounding percentage has ranked in the top four in the nation each of the last six seasons.

“To lead the country in all three categories last year, for a school our size is something [the players] are real proud of,” Moore said. “They put a lot of hard work into getting that. It’s something they’re very proud of and they believe in it.”

Of course when you play at a pace like Quinnipiac did last year, there will be plenty of misses to corral. The Bobcats ranked 31st in adjusted tempo with 69.9 possessions per game. They shot 42.4 percent from the field (No. 264 nationally), clanking more than enough shots to create their own second chance opportunities on offense(opponents shot 43.1 percent, good for 152 in the nation).

So are the rebounding numbers somewhat inflated? Yes.

Should that alter Quinnipiac’s strategy? No, probably not. (more…)

Bryan Dougher Joins Stony Brook’s Coaching Staff

Program's all-time Div. 1 leading scorer named Director of Basketball Operations, replacing Ricky Lucas.

October 25th, 2014 by Doric Sam
Dougher led Albany to two regular season championships and two championship games

Dougher led Albany to two regular season championships and two championship games

After playing professional basketball for two years, Bryan Dougher will be returning to Stony Brook to join Steve Pikiell’s coaching staff as Director of Basketball Operations. Stony Brook’s athletics department announced the news on Saturday afternoon.

Dougher was a four-year starter for the Seawolves from 2008-2012 and became the program’s all-time leading scorer in its Division I history. The New Jersey-native will be replacing Ricky Lucas, who held the position for five years after graduating from Stony Brook in 2008 and will be working at a job outside of college basketball near his hometown in Virginia according to Stony Brook’s athletics department.

“I heard Ricky was leaving and then I obviously checked. I called (Coach Pikiell) and he said, ‘Yeah Ricky’s leaving we’re looking to replace him. If you’re done with playing then we’d like you to come up and interview,’ stuff like that,” Dougher said in an interview with OBW. “So I had a decision to make and I talked it over with my family. I decided to apply for the job and go through the whole process and get started on my coaching career, which I’ve wanted to do for a while now.”

“Bryan exemplifies everything we want in a role model for our student-athletes and will fit in perfectly on our staff,” Pikiell said in a press release. “I am so excited to welcome Bryan back and look forward to working with him as we continue to strive for excellence on and off the court.”

After graduating Dougher signed a professional contract with the Ringwood Hawks of the Australian Basketball Association, earning team MVP honors in both seasons he played. He led the league in three-pointers in both seasons and helped lead the team to the Big V State Championship final twice, earning runner-up status in 2013 and winning the championship title in 2014. In his first season, he averaged 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists, was an All-Star 5 Guard and was a finalist for league MVP. In his second season, he averaged 21.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists and was again a league MVP finalist.

Dougher said the injury he suffered at the end of this past season wasn’t the only reason he retired from professional ball, but also the chance to return to Long Island.

“It was more the opportunity to go back and coach at Stony Brook,” he said. “I had broken my collarbone in the championship game, so I was just trying to recover from that and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna get completely back in game shape by the time the season started. And then Ricky left and I got wind of the job, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

Dougher said he hopes to work his way up the staff and eventually achieve his dream of becoming a head coach. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground — Rose Park 26th and O: Stacey Dash, the orthodox shul and Washington D.C.

October 23rd, 2014 by Noah Perkins

washington

The shot goes up and rims out, spelling out H-O-R-S. The sun is down by now, it must be at least 8:45 p.m. The bats are out, feeding on the mosquitoes caught in the sticky Boston dog day air. Most everyone has gone home. Only the four of us remain: I’m 16, they’re all young in their own right, but through my lens 27 might as well be 65. If only everything could stay this simple.

Remember when the dad from 7th Heaven was all like: “There’s always going to be somebody who’ll try to take your dignity and self-esteem. Just never let them take your voice,”

And we were all like: “I wish Eric Camden was in my life; he’d know what to do when the foreign kid who sits next to me in 7th grade history starts drawing naked people again.”

Little did we know at the time that the dude who played Rev. Camden, Stephen Collins, was a serial child molester.

Of course, this all came out during my people’s High Holiday season — nothing spoils the kugel faster than the tarnishing of 90’s pop culture (I’ll never be able to enjoy Melissa Joan Hart and her wonky eye falling in love with Vince from Entourage in Drive Me Crazy again).

What’s next? Did the voice of Hey Arnold do something terrible back in the day?

Seemingly, if it’s not Ebola, the Ukraine, or Malaysian Airlines, it’s typecast, middling actors from 20-year-old crap sitcoms — the Stephen Collinses, Kirk Camerons, Victoria Jacksons and the Stacey Dashes — making the world a worse place. Movies like Clueless are supposed to take my mind off of the world, not remind me of how horrible it is. (Side note: Alicia Silverstone once fed her son via regurgitation, you know, like a mama bird. Side note two: Alicia Silverstone named said child Bear Blue Jarecki).

Basketball is how I make sense of things. Unfortunately, given the soul crushing nature of adulthood, run as of late has come few and far between.

At least I have the memories of anatomical oddities, head of broccoli eating homeless jump shooters and New York City trash talkers to keep me company while I sift through spread-sheets and navigate the high powered world of… honestly, I’m not even sure what my job title stands for.

With the retirement of Israeli superstar David Blu and the passing of Yom Kippur, my mind has been wandering back a few years to summer days spent in Washington D.C. — a trip highlighted by the former student body president of Columbia University chasing a pack of deer; unloading a stomach full of Eritrean food into the bathroom of a half-bar-half-bookstore; and playing a lot of ball at Rose Park on 26th and O street.

The first thing I noticed abut the court was that the majority of the players shared certain physical traits. They all kind of looked like they enjoyed washing the taste of Gefilte Fish out of their mouths with a tall glass of Manischewitz. I don’t have an answer for why Jews flocked to Rose Park — after all, it’s located in Georgetown, not Newton, Massachusetts.

Whatever the reason, it was like Tel Aviv East — to quote the aforementioned deer chaser “the whole orthodox shul definitely showed up.”

Playing there again six or so weeks later, the Ashkenazi were still out in full force. This Dude Donnie ran with us the first go round; upon our return, he was sitting in the same spot like we never left, rocking his Hebrew school basketball jersey — weekend warriors’ rep a lot of eclectic gear; that was the first time I ever saw a guy playing in rabbinical apparel.

The Boston crew plus Donnie ran the court that day, despite the blue-top soaking up the 90 degree D.C. heat. At the time I was a pastier, heavier, post operative, Peanut-Butter-Pie, as such my need for Central Air was far greater. (more…)

OBW announces addition of Ari Kramer, expansion to the MAAC

October 20th, 2014 by Sam Perkins

One-Bid Wonders is extremely excited to announce the addition of Ari Kramer to its staff as its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference beat writer.

“I have had the pleasure of following Ari’s career as a writer throughout his college career covering Binghamton for the Pipe Dream, and to say that I was impressed was a massive understatement,” said OBW editor-in-chief Sam Perkins. “Ari is dedicated to his craft, passionate, extremely knowledgeable, and churns out fantastic copy.”

A 2014 graduate from Binghamton University, Kramer covered the first two years of the Tommy Dempsey era for the Pipe Dream and created a following for the @bingbballblog twitter handle.

“I haven’t seen a student writer dedicate more time, effort and energy to his craft than Ari,” said Perkins. “What really impressed me was that, although he was writing for the Binghamton student paper, he didn’t limit his scope to just ‘his team,’ he was a student of the entire conference.”

While Kramer cut his teeth covering Binghamton’s rebuilding period in the America East conference, he will be returning to the roots of his obsession with college basketball at OBW, where he will be spearheading the publication’s expansion into the MAAC (he still believes that Manhattan-Iona is the best rivalry in the northeast). Based in New York City, Kramer will also contribute to OBW’s coverage of the Ivy League and aid in its expansion into the NEC. (more…)

Coaches Q & A series: UMass Lowell’s Pat Duquette — enjoying the last laugh (and the Orioles)

October 14th, 2014 by Sam Perkins
Pat Duquette. Courtesy photo / UMass Lowell

Pat Duquette. Courtesy photo / UMass Lowell

-Your cousin just signed Delmon Young, Matt LaPorta and Jack Cust to the Orioles… Killing me!!!!!

-Those guys are no good?

-If this was 2003 maybe.

-Shared your thoughts with the Orioles GM. He laughed.

That was an exact text exchange between myself — an Orioles fan (or an extension of my brother’s Oriole fandom) — and UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette back in March. The cousin in question was, of course, Duquette’s older first cousin, Dan Duquette, the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.

Throughout the offseason and much of the early summer, I sent many a snarky text to Duquette in regards to his cousin and the Orioles. After all, other than a berth in the ALDS (which seemed like a massive outlier), the Birds had been nothing short of abysmal for nearly two decades, and I felt like after 2012’s miracle Wild Card, the elder Duquette along with Orioles owner Peter Angelos viewed themselves as playing with house money and had very little invested in keeping the O’s competitive.

Seven months later, the Orioles had dominated the American League East, destroying the high-spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, along with the always dangerous Tampa Bay Rays and the star-laden Toronto Blue Jays, swept the Detroit Tigers and their trio of Cy Young award winners in the ALDS and punched their ticket to the America League Championship Series for the first time since 1997.

In other words, both Duquette’s are having the last laugh at my expense.

In the basketball world, Pat Duquette is already well versed in the art of the last laugh.

Last season, in the America East preseason coaches’ poll, and in just about every basketball publication on the planet, UMass Lowell, competing in its first season of Division I hoops, was the unanimous pick to finish last. The question entering the season wasn’t “how many games would UMass Lowell win?” but rather, would they win a single game at all?

Fast forward to the end of the season and Duquette’s team – comprised of an entire roster of Division II castoffs and spare parts — stood at 8-8 in conference play and fifth place in the America East standings.

No one was laughing at the prospects of playing the River Hawks anymore.

It’s been a busy offseason for Duquette and his team. Star seniors Akeem Williams (OBW First Team All-Conference) and Antonio Bivins (OBW Third Team All-Conference) graduated and have moved on to pursue dreams of playing professional basketball. In their place, nine new players – fifth-year transfer Marco Banegas-Flores and eight freshmen – have joined the River Hawks’ ranks (for a feature on how Banegas-Flores relationship with Duquette landed him in Lowell, read here).

Somewhere in between the cold breeze blowing off of Lowell’s Merrimack River and the bright lights of October baseball at Camden Yards, Duquette sat down with OBW to talk about year two of building a Division I program in the Mill City. Amongst other topics of conversation were his goals for year two, what he sees as changes in the team’s overall scheme, the leadership qualities of his returning upper classmen and who among them had particularly impressive offseasons.

Duquette also spoke about the incoming freshmen class, the pride he takes in having former players on his coaching staff, how the baseball careers of his cousin Dan and older brother Jim (the former GM of the New York Mets) influenced his own career, and his own career (and inability to hit the curveball) in baseball.

OBW: When we talked before last season, you said that your focus and your goal was to build the culture, the mindset, and the work ethic needed as a foundation for success. What are your focuses for year two?

Pat Duquette: There’s two big things going on right now. First, we want to approach it the same way as last year, in the sense that we’re trying to build the same foundation that we did last year in terms of establishing out identity, our work ethic, our style of play, what we expect from our players. All those things are going to carry over from last year and we’re going to continue to build on those before we even talk about wins and losses. And then I think the challenge this year is much different from last year: we have nine new guys, eight really young guys, so I think the challenge is getting the young guys up to speed and blending them with our returners.

How do you feel about the program heading into year two?

I feel very good about having the staff back and adding Louis Hinnant (director of basketball operations and a former BC point guard) – we’ve got great continuity in our staff and I think we have a better sense of each other and how to do things, and now it’s just about learning what the new guys can and can’t do and blending them with the returners.

We hear a lot about the first year for a coach can be sort of ‘playing with house money’ – there are no expectations. Did last year’s unexpected success set the bar too high for this year? Is year two harder than year one?

I think in some ways it is going to be harder because we’ve got more young players who aren’t used to playing with each other, so in that sense I think it’s going to be tougher. It’s a totally different challenge.

But I do think that our returning players developed a sense of confidence from last year’s success and I hope that carries over. I’m really putting a lot of focus on the same things I did last year. (more…)