Tom Hamel has dibs on the last seat on the bench

In four years, Tom Hamel (center) has never scored a single point in a college game, but he has left his mark on the program. Courtesy photo / Harvard athletics
In four years, Tom Hamel (center) has never scored a single point in a college game, but he has left his mark on the program. Courtesy photo / Harvard athletics

On a November night in the underbelly of Boston’s TD Garden, seated in rows of folding chairs facing an elevated table at the front of the makeshift pressroom, a group of reporters listened to Tommy Amaker. The Harvard head coach, credited with transforming an Ivy League also-ran into a national competitor, delivered his post-game statement. His Harvard team had just played its season opener on the home court of the Boston Celtics in the Coaches v. Cancer Tipoff, beating Holy Cross.

“First off,” Amaker began, “it’s such a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in this Tipoff Classic.”

The reporters didn’t care; instead they wanted to know why Kenyatta Smith was on the bench in a foot brace rather than starting at center.

“Kenyatta will be out indefinitely,” Amaker said. “It’s probably going to be a bit longer than we’d like.”

Amaker exited, and the reporters turned off their tape recorders, satisfied.

No one from the media corps asked about Tom Hamel. No one queried why the 6’9” senior wasn’t in uniform. No one wondered when he would be healthy again.

A Snowy Saturday
When I meet Tom Hamel in Harvard Square five weeks later it’s 14 degrees. The winter’s first snow is falling, and Hamel is bundled in a puffy overcoat bearing a Harvard basketball logo—the same logo appearing on his sweatpants. (His Nikes, though bright Crimson, are logo free).

Hamel pulls on his hat, and we head south toward the Charles River. It’s exam period, and for a Saturday afternoon Harvard Square is unusually empty.

We reach the river and cross the Anderson foot bridge, our destination Harvard’s training room. It’s a destination with which Hamel has become all too familiar.

Most days, he spends 90 minutes in that room— which is exactly 79 more minutes than he has accrued in playing time in four years on the Harvard basketball team.

Hamel opens the backdoor into an empty hallway. The door to the training room is closed.

“Maybe we can sneak in,” he says. Continue reading “Tom Hamel has dibs on the last seat on the bench”

OBW Ivy League Power Rankings, v8

Things are about to get real, real fast. The Columbia-Cornell and Harvard-Dartmouth appetizers were meh, but now Ivy League play is getting serious. Columbia has to play two solid teams—Yale and Brown—on the road, and Harvard gets a well-rested and hungry Princeton team and a talented and (finally) healthy Penn team. If you’re just dropping in on the 2014 Ivy League season, here’s how the teams have shaken out thus far:

1. Harvard (15-3)
Results: W 80-50 at Dartmouth
This week: Friday vs. Princeton; Saturday vs. Penn
Dartmouth’s Leede Arena has typically given the Crimson problems. But not this year. Harvard shot 65.9 percent from the field and 10 of 14 from beyond the arc, and the Crimson rolled to its first 30-point win since Dec. 1. Brandyn Curry provided 14 points off the bench, and Laurent Rivard scored 15. It’s a good time for the Crimson to hit its stride with Princeton and Penn next up on the schedule. Harvard has split the season series with both Princeton and Penn each of the last two seasons, and this year’s series should prove similarly challenging. Outside of Cambridge, the Tigers likely boast the Ivy League’s best team while the Quakers boast the most talented starting lineup. And with 6’5” senior TJ Bray starting at point guard for Princeton, the Tigers pose a particularly difficult matchup challenge for the Crimson as well. Continue reading “OBW Ivy League Power Rankings, v8”

UNH’s Jacoby Armstrong is a mean mother… on the court

UNH freshman Jacoby Armstrong soars to the hoop for an authoritative dunk plus the foul against UMass Lowell. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
UNH freshman Jacoby Armstrong soars to the hoop for an authoritative dunk plus the foul against UMass Lowell. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Around this time last year, I was sitting in the back room of a smoky Irish Pub in West Hartford, CT, quaffing a few pints and engaging in a heated exchange with my friend, then Hartford director of basketball operations, Brian Glowiak.

The subject of the debate was low-post play. Specifically, the propensity of America East coaches to recruit front court players with high-major size and skill, which more often than not translates to playing softer than butter on a hot summer’s night.

After listening to the stream-of-conscious diatribe spewing from my mouth for several minutes, Glowiak, who spent four years in a Hawks uniform as a statistically-forgettable, tough-as nails two-guard, slowly put down his Guiness. Speaking calmly but with great conviction, he said “You can teach a mean mother-f*cker to ease up, but you can’t teach a coward to be tough.”

Glowiak’s words – blunt yet extremely insightful — have hung with me ever since. His point was simple: You can’t teach toughness, effort or energy. These traits serve as the great equalizers in the America East, where player’s stature is trumped by the size of his heart.

“The league needs to get back to recruiting brawlers,” Glowiak concluded, alluding to the likes of former UMBC Retriever Darryl Proctor, who stood somewhere in the vicinity of six-foot-three, but on the court was meaner than a pack of rabid junk-yard dogs, leading the Retrievers to two championship games and an NCAA Tournament while scoring more than 1,000 points in his two years in the America East.

Glowiak’s words flashed through my head as University of New Hampshire forward Jacoby Armstrong flashed to the hoop with 5:59 left in the first half against UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Arena on Sunday.

At that moment, Armstrong – who at six-foot-six and 230-pounds of muscle on top of muscle looks as if he were chiseled out of granite — caught the ball in the right corner. In a move that was pure instinct, Armstrong spun past his defender, took two sprinter’s steps along the baseline and exploded above the fray, flying in from outside of the paint for a monster two-hand tomahawk dunk while brushing off a hard foul like the defender had tapped him with a feather.

If you blinked you literally missed it – it happened that fast.

The backboard and basket support were still shaking from Armstrong’s dunk 33 seconds later when he took a pass at the top of the key and again exploded towards the hoop. Armstrong drove right down the lane and lifted off from well behind the circle. Standing in his way was Lowell forward Kerry Weldon, who had already punched two shots into the seats and appeared in perfect position for another rejection.

Armstrong hung in mid air, brought the ball back down to his waist, floated under Weldon’s outstretched arm, and then gently dropped it through the cylinder for another bucket.

He made it look effortless .

The pair of plays were minor moments from New Hampshire’s historic rout, quickly lost in the aftermath of center Chris Pelcher’s near triple-double, point guard Daniel Dion’s career high of 20 points, and the Wildcats record setting defense. But they were easily the two most spectacular plays of the day – equal parts toughness and tenacity, explosive power, ingrained skill and un-teachable intangibles. And they displayed the raw talent that Armstrong possesses. Continue reading “UNH’s Jacoby Armstrong is a mean mother… on the court”

Jordon Bronner: New Hampshire’s 40 minute man

Jordon Bronner shoots over UMass Lowell's Kerry Weldon during the first half of the Wildcats' 61-32 road win. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jordon Bronner shoots over UMass Lowell’s Kerry Weldon during the first half of the Wildcats’ 61-32 road win. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Thumb through any UNH Wildcats box score from the past four years and you are likely to see an efficient but unmemorable stat line next to point guard Jordon Bronner’s name. It’s when you look at the opposing box, specifically the stat line of the back court scorer that Bronner shadowed that night, that you see the senior’s true impact.

“I think Jordon Bronner does not get enough credit,” said New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion following the Wildcats’ 62-31 road win at UMass Lowell on Sunday. “He’s a very, very underrated player in this league, for four years, because he’s not a scorer.

“He’s as good an on-ball defender [as I’ve ever seen],” said Herrion, whose 23 year head coaching career spans stints at Drexel, Eastern Carolina and UNH.

During in his four-year career, Bronner has never averaged double-figures in scoring or more than 2.4 assists or 2.7 rebounds per game. . His single-season bests of 36.7 percent from the floor or 30.2 percent from behind the arc are pedestrian at best. He has never played for a team with a winning record or earned a single America East yearly or weekly award.

But for 107 games and counting, he has quietly left everything he has on the court, serving as one of the few threads holding together a Wildcats team that has seemed perpetually on the verge of flying apart at the seams.

“He’s really been a rock for us,” said Herrion of the unimposing six-foot 170-pound senior from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

During his final season of college ball, Bronner has been playing the way every senior should by quietly putting together the best season of his career. Bronner’s average of 9.7 points per game is nearly double that of his previous career-best; his 80.8 percent from the free-throw line is nearly 15 percent higher then his prior career-high and he is averaging nearly a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio for a fourth-straight season.

But Bronner’s biggest impact is once again coming on the other side of the basketball and in the locker room. This year, the Wildcats have been decimated by injuries, playing several recent games with only seven bodies in uniform. Bronner has battled a bad knee injury all season long, and endured a stretch in which the Wildcats lost 13 straight and 15 out of 16, but he suited up and left it all on the floor each and every night, while setting an example in practice for his young and impressionable teammates.

“He’s been playing all 40 [minutes] almost every game and he’s got a bad knee. He’s played every game this year and he’s never missed a practice,” said Herrion. Continue reading “Jordon Bronner: New Hampshire’s 40 minute man”

New Hampshire dominates Lowell with devestating defense in record-setting 61-32 win

New Hampshire freshman forward Jacoby Armstrong throws down a big two-handed dunk plus the foul. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
New Hampshire freshman forward Jacoby Armstrong throws down a big two-handed dunk plus the foul. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

(Lowell, Mass.) — There is smothering defensive pressure. And then there is putting the opposing offense in a choke-hold and suffocating them into submission.

And then there is what the University of New Hampshire Wildcats did to host UMass Lowell in a 61-32 win at the Tsongas Arena on Sunday afternoon, which amounted to kicking the host River Hawks out of an airlock into a black hole in the darkest recess of space.

One game after UMass Lowell senior forward Antonio Bivins had five dunks in a win at Maine, UNH held the River Hawks to just six made baskets in 40 minutes. In the same arena one day earlier, UMass Lowell’s hockey team found the back of the net as many times as the River Hawks found the bottom of the cylinder Sunday.

New Hampshire’s defensive effort and intensity held Lowell to just 6-of-49 shooting from the floor and 0-for-20 from behind the arc. Lowell’s 12.2 percent from the field set a single-game record for the lowest field goal percentage during the shot clock-era, which dates back to 1986.

“Probably as good an all-around win as we’ve had in maybe my time here at UNH, just from start to finish,” said New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion.

“It felt exactly like it was,” said UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette. “Our offense really struggled. I credit New Hampshire. As poorly as we shot the ball, there was plenty of good reasons. They played good hard-nosed defense, tough and physical.”

New Hampshire’s defensive domination began with 6’10” senior Chris Pelcher, kept the River Hawks high-flying front court duo of Bivins and Kerry Weldon grounded and completely shut down the low post. After swatting five shots in a win over Albany on Thursday, the 260 pounder rejected seven shots, alterered countless others and ripped down 14 defensive rebounds. Pelcher also added 13 points on the offensive end.

“Gutty, gutty game,” said Herrion of his center.

With Pelcher single-handedly turning the paint into a no-fly zone, the Wildcats were able to essentially flood the arc with their remaining four defenders, running Lowell’s shooters off the perimeter. Point guard Jordan Bronner spearheaded the defensive attack, holding UMass Lowell senior guard Akeem Williams, who began the night fourth in the league in scoring at almost 15 points per game, to just four points on 1-of-11 shooting. Continue reading “New Hampshire dominates Lowell with devestating defense in record-setting 61-32 win”

Ethan O’Day starting to get his groove back for Vermont

Before the season started Vermont’s Ethan O’Day was expected to have a breakout year after an impressive showing as a freshman. But the sophomore forward suffered a broken right thumb in the first game of the season that sidelined him for six weeks.

Even after returning, O’Day struggled to get back into a groove because of the discomfort he felt playing with tape on his shooting hand. But recently he’s been getting back into form, scoring in double figures in three out of his last five games including a season-high 16 points and eight rebounds on Friday in Vermont’s 67-64 loss to Stony Brook.

“As far as now, my hand feels great, I feel like I’m back to normal,” O’Day said. “It’s just a matter of getting my aggressiveness and confidence back that I had in the beginning of the year. I think I found a way to get that back.”

O’Day showed a lot of confidence in the second half, battling Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney in the post and knocking down a few hook shots and layups over him. When the Catamounts fell behind by 17 early in the first half, O’Day scored eight straight points to spark a 13-0 run and bring his team back into the game.

“He’s finally starting to get back into a rhythm and he’s gonna be a special player for us,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “Tonight he was awesome in the second half; we were able to get him shots, which is something we had been struggling to do. We’ve talked about trying to make sure we get him the ball more and he got 17 shots tonight, which was great. We have to continue to get him the ball.”

Once O’Day got it going on the offensive end, he became more active on the defensive end and his defense on Warney was key during a stretch that saw the Catamounts hold the Seawolves scoreless for over six minutes. Continue reading “Ethan O’Day starting to get his groove back for Vermont”

Stony Brook holds on for 67-64 win over Vermont, takes first place in America East

Stony Brook and Vermont have been the cream of the crop in the America East for the past five years. Both teams entered Friday’s matchup undefeated in conference play, and despite this being just their sixth conference game, both teams played with the intensity usually saved for mid-March when a bid to the NCAA Tournament is on the line.

In front of a sellout crowd of 1,630 at Pritchard Gymnasium and an ESPNU national audience, the battle of the unbeatens lived up to its billing as Stony Brook was able to stave off a fierce Vermont comeback for a 67-64 win. The Seawolves (14-6) are now 6-0 in the America East for the first time in program history and are now in sole possession of first place in the conference.

“We made some big stops down the stretch,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “I told the guys we only have to win the game by one. A win is a win, and we needed to win here at home.”

The Seawolves played arguably their best basketball of the season in the first half, shooting 54.5% from the field and outrebounding the Catamounts 23-10 to take a 44-28 lead into halftime. A fastbreak layup from Dave Coley gave Stony Brook its biggest lead of the night at 50-33 with 16:31 left.

During a media timeout, something shifted in the Catamounts (11-9, 5-1) and they came out looking like the team the coaches picked to win the conference before the season. Vermont went on a 13-0 run over the next 6:27, dominating the boards and playing excellent defense, to dwindle the lead down to 50-46. Sophomore Ethan O’Day played well in the post, scoring 10 of his 16 points during the run.

“We knew we still had a chance, even though we were down 17 we knew we’d be able to make run,” O’Day said. “Once I got a few touches I realized I needed to be more aggressive in there. Luckily, the shots kept falling and my teammates found me in great places to score.”

It was a back-and-forth battle from there as almost every shot seemed to find the bottom of the net for both teams. Anthony Jackson knocked down a pull-up jumper to give Stony Brook a 67-62 lead, but Hector Harold answered with a jumper of his own to cap the scoring with 2:21 left. Continue reading “Stony Brook holds on for 67-64 win over Vermont, takes first place in America East”

American emerges as new Patriot League favorite by blasting “new kids on the block” BU

(Washington, D.C.) — There’s a new Patriot League favorite and it is no longer the conference’s new kids on the block. American University recorded a knockout in Patriot League battle of unbeatens with a record-setting 86-56 win over visiting Boston University, leaving the Eagles alone atop the league standings at 7-0.

After the 30 point annihilation of the preseason Patriot League favorites, who entered Wednesday night’s showdown with a 6-0 conference record and an ACC scalp from an earlier season win over Maryland, American is now squarely the team to beat in the Patriot League.

Five Eagles scored in double figures to help American set a program single-game record shooting 71.4 percent from the floor (30-of-42), and a 40-20 Eagles run over the final 14:41 of game time to turn a hard fought affair into a romp.

“We knocked down a couple of shots to get the confidence up, and it makes you want to shoot more,” said sophomore guard Jesse Reed who led the Eagles with 20 points on an unconscious 8-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-3 from behind the arc. “We kept making them,” added Reed.

“We’ve got shooters,” said American junior point guard Darius Gardner, who scored 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-6 from downtown, “so shooting isn’t a problem.”

The game was supposed to be Boston University’s vaunted offense against American’s staunch defense. The Terriers entered the game ninth in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 49.3 percent on the season and averaging 71 points per game, while the Eagles ranked 15th in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 60.4 points per game.

In the opening minutes, it appeared as if it was going to be all BU, with the run-and-gun Terriers opening the game on a 13-2 run. From then on out, however, it was all American, as the Eagles outscored BU 84-43 the rest of the way, fueled by a smothering defense. The Eagles held the Terriers to a season worst 32 percent from the floor (16-of-50) and BU’s 56 points was its second-lowest scoring outage of the year. Continue reading “American emerges as new Patriot League favorite by blasting “new kids on the block” BU”

OBW America East Power Rankings, v7

There are only so many ways you can describe just how bad the America East has been this year before people start to tune you out, but, without dwelling on it, let’s just say that first-year DI UMass Lowell with an entire roster of Division II players — the same team that finished eighth in the Division II Northeaster-10 conference — outplayed Vermont for a half and took Stony Brook to the wire on the Seawolves’ home court. Yes, a glorified Division II team took the America East’s two best squads to the wire.

Ugh. Anyways, Stony Brook and Vermont are looking very respectable as of now. Albany has potential if they can get healthy and get their swag back. The rest of league should just go stand in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

1. Vermont Catamounts (10-8, 5-0 in AE)
W 83-46 at Maine; W 73-47 at UMBC; W 57-40 vs UNH
This week: Jan. 24 at Stony Brook; Jan. 26 vs Binghamton
So here we are – Vermont is back at the top spot in the OBW Power Rankings (at least for a few days), the Catamounts are defending the heck out of the ball and their offense is clicking – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Vermont passed the first of its two biggest tests of the regular season by sweeping three games in six days in what was the worst road trip in the league, playing at Maine, then at UMBC two days later, then back up at home against UNH. The Catamounts kicked the tar out of the Black Bears in Orono, playing their starters less than half the game – but not before senior forward Clancy Rugg threw down the hammer of Thor over Maine center Christian Ejiga (seen here at the 37-second mark). Vermont followed that up by walloping UMBC, with Jekyll-and-Hyde senior Candon Rusin exploding for 22 points. In the final leg of the Odyssey, the Catamounts appeared road weary and trailed a UNH team that suited up only seven players (and only six of them scholarship) 30-20 at the half. Then freshman Kurt Steidl caught fire, scoring 13 of his 16 points after half, and Vermont outscored UNH 37-10 in the second half. With sophomore forward Ethan O’Day doing work in the paint, Steidl coming into his own as perhaps the best shooter in the league, and the Catamounts sharing the ball on offense and defending every inch of the court on D, Vermont is looking like the team we expected from Day 1.

Which brings us back to second massive test for the Catamounts: Friday night’s showdown on Long Island with Stony Brook – the 1A to Vermont’s 1 as it were. The Seawolves should be favored on their home court, but if Vermont pulls out the W they will have established themselves as the clear-cut favorite. Continue reading “OBW America East Power Rankings, v7”

OBW Ivy League Power Rankings, v7

If last week’s loss at UConn wasn’t already the nail in #TwoBidIvy’s coffin, Tuesday’s loss at Florida Atlantic—Florida Atlantic!—surely was. The Crimson will have to get to the dance the old fashioned way. But if they keep playing like the team that shot 23 percent against 7-12 Florida Atlantic, the Crimson won’t be dancing at all. Here’s how the league shakes out:

1. Harvard (14-3)
Results: L 68-53 at Florida Atlantic
This week: Sunday at Dartmouth
The good news: Wesley Saunders is back. The bad news: Wesley Saunders shot 3 of 14 against Florida Atlantic. The rest of the Crimson’s starters went 5 of 25. Besides Saunders’ return, the only other bright spot for Harvard was the play of rookie Zena Edosmwan, who recorded 11 points and 9 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.

2. Princeton (11-3)
Results: N/A
This week: Sunday vs. Kean
The Tigers have yet to play since last week’s tight loss at Penn. Princeton will play Div. III Kean on Sunday, but the Tigers next real test will be their trip to Lavietes Pavilion on Jan. 31.

3. Columbia (12-6)
Results: W 71-61 vs. Cornell
This week: Saturday at Cornell
The Lions made it five wins in a row with a 10-point victory against Cornell. Columbia led by just three, 29-26, at the half, but outscored the Big Red, 42-35, in the second. Alex Rosenberg continues to have the hot hand for the Lions: the junior went for at least 20 for the fourth time in Columbia’s last five games. The Lions should pick up another win Saturday at Cornell. Continue reading “OBW Ivy League Power Rankings, v7”