Peter Hooley’s mother Sue passed away in Australia on Friday after a long fight against colon cancer. She was 52.
“This is a very sad day as we announce the passing of Sue Hooley,” said Albany head coach Will Brown in a released statement. “She was such a strong woman who endured a 4.5 year battle against cancer.”
Sue Hooley was initially diagnosed with colon cancer back in 2010, shortly after Peter had committed to play college hoops at Albany, halfway around the world from his hometown of Adelaide. At the time, Peter did not want to leave his mother’s side, but according to Peter, Sue insisted her son pursue his dreams of playing college basketball.
For the next four years, Sue inspired her son everyday from halfway around the globe as she fought against the terrible disease, never once allowing him to entertain thoughts of leaving school to come home.
“You never gave up. You never stopped fighting. You always put others first and you always loved us more than words. You were our guardian angel and you forever will be. You didn’t lose your fight, for every time I saw you smile while you were battling, it simply showed how you won each day,” Hooley wrote on Facebook on Friday.
While Sue was fighting cancer, her son was blossoming into a star for the Great Danes, leading Albany to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as a red-shirt freshman and sophomore in 2013 and 2014. Before the 2014 Championship Game at Stony Brook, Hooley learned that his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worst, and went out and drilled the eventual game-winner with a little over a minute left to play.
The Great Danes leading scorer this season at 14.5 points per game, Hooley and the Great Danes organized a pre-game promotion on Jan. 14 in Sue’s honor to raise money for the Undies Run for Bowel (Colon) Cancer awareness and research, an event held in Australia, raising $12,000 that night, plus even more in later donations. Hooley scored 16 points to help lead the Great Danes to a 73-58 win, the 200th of Brown’s career, and was visibly emotional when talking about his mother’s fight, and the effort to raise funds, following the game.
Just days later, Hooley received word that his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and took an indefinite leave of absence from the Great Danes to return home to Australia to be by Sue’s side.
On Friday afternoon, as the Great Danes were traveling to Bangor, for a Saturday contest against the University of Maine, Brown got the phone call he had been dreading: Sue had passed away earlier that morning.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Peter, his father Jeff, and his sister Emma. Peter was able to spend some quality and memorable time with Sue the past two weeks,” said Brown.
“You never gave up. You never stopped fighting. You always put others first and you always loved us more than words. You were our guardian angel and you forever will be,” wrote Hooley. “Love you forever. You’ve made me into the man I am today, and you’ve raised the perfect family, so for that I thank you. I know words can’t bring you back, but I know when I’m looking up at the sun, and get that warm feeling, that it’s just your arms around me. Rest in peace mum. I love you more than anything.”
According to Brown, Hooley will likely return to Albany at some point during the season, but there is no timetable. Out of respect for Hooley and his family, the Great Danes are asking that all questions about Hooley be directed to the Sports Information Department and Brown.
A note from OBW Editor-in-Chief Sam Perkins: Darryl Proctor (’09) was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County today. In my roughly 15 years of watching America East men’s basketball, I have never seen a tougher player than Proctor, who stood 6-foot-3 on his best days in his sneakers, yet thoroughly dominated players far larger than him. In the six years since he graduated, I have yet to see a player who left as much of themselves on the floor as Proctor, or a forward with a low-post game to equal his. In honor of Proctor’s induction, here’s a trip down memory lane with an updated version of an article I wrote many years ago.
Visiting UMBC was clinging to a one point lead with a half a minute against Albany on Feb. 20, 2008, and the host Great Danes were surging.
Having just completed a four-point play — the latest of a half dozen back-breakers they connected on over the course of the night – playing in front of a boisterous crowd with all the momentum behind them, Albany was on the verge of pulling the win over the first-place Retrievers.
“I told our guys that if we got one stop, the game was over because I had no doubt we’d score on the last possession down one, and win the game,” Albany head coach Will Brown reflected later.
With less than 30 seconds left it appeared that Albany would get the stop that Brown desperately needed, as Retriever gunner Ray Barbosa missed everything but the side of the backboard as the shot clock closed in on zero.
As Barbosa’s shot plummeted towards the floor, a trio of Great Danes closed in on the rebound from all sides.
But then Darryl Proctor, arguably the hardest working player in the conference, swooped – or, more accurately, barreled — in. The league’s smallest post player, standing well below his listed height of 6’4”, despite being hobbled by a mangled knee, Proctor fought his way through the sea of bodies, and in one swift motion, corralled the rebound with one hand, and banked a scoop shot off of the glass and in as the shot clock expired, all while getting fouled.
The play would prove to be the game winner, and encapsulate Proctor’s career in microcosm: All heart, hustle, blood and guts.
The Making of a baller
During his time at UMBC, Proctor’s head coach Randy Monroe constantly referred to him simply as a “basketball player; a ‘baller’,” without a true position. Proctor’s game, and his accent, can be traced directly back to growing up in District Heights, Maryland. Proctor grew up surrounded by athletes, and it was only natural for him to follow suit.
“My whole family is athletes,” reflected Proctor. “My mom ran track and played basketball in high school and ran track in college, my father played basketball in high school, my uncles played college basketball, it sports were all around me.”
Darryl’s stepfather, Levi Franklin, is currently the head basketball coach at the Potomac School in Maryland, and spent decades as an assistant and head coach across the AAU, high school and college ranks. Growing up, Proctor played both basketball and football with a passion, and as a standout outside linebacker and tight end, drew serious interest from college recruiters on the gridiron.
However, his heart always belonged to basketball, in no small part because of the bond he shared through the sport with his older brother, Steve, who would go on to play for America East rival Binghamton.
“My brother was the biggest influence on me, in my life,” said Proctor. “Growing up, watching him, I just wanted to do everything he did. From watching him play, I wanted to play basketball with all my heart because of him, and if I ever didn’t want to play he made me play.”
When Proctor stepped on the court in high school, he was a man among boys, but still a man without a position. Despite being undersized, with his stocky-strong build and linebacker’s mentality, he was thrown into the low post as an underclassman, something which hindered his status as a recruit, but ultimately paid off down the road.
“Darryl’s low post game is so advanced, because he developed it at a young age, and being younger and smaller than his opponents forced him to find ways to adapt and succeed,” explained Monroe at the time. “He had to play inside, and he’s developing post moves, learning how to use his body, and develop his hook shot.”
During Proctor’s senior season his team needed him to move to the point guard position. Despite having found his niche in the low post.
“My sophomore and junior year, I was a low post player, but my senior year what my team needed was for me to bring the ball up the court. I did whatever my team needed and played all positions,” said Proctor.
While adjusting to a new position may have hurt Proctor’s numbers and recruiting status, Monroe felt that in the long run it greatly helped to develop his unique game.
“His senior year he’s playing away from the basket and developing an inside-outside game, and a lot of players can’t do that.”
Despite putting up good numbers, Proctor was very lightly recruited, as scout after scout found fault with his game.
“Coming out of high school people said ‘your too big and too slow to be a guard, your undersized to be a forward, you can’t jump, you can’t shoot, you should have gone D-III or D-II,’” reflected Proctor.
But Proctor had his mind set on playing Division I basketball, and landed at Coppin State. A Coppin State, Proctor used all the doubts about his size and game to motivate him, and used and inside outside attack to put up 801 points and pull down 435 rebounds during his two years there (averages of 13.6 and 7.4 a game). Proctor earned the conference Rookie of the Year award in 2004-2005 and had 10 double doubles over two seasons.
Moving on and up
After two years at Coppin State, things fell through for Proctor, and he felt that it was no longer the right place for him. Two people played a large role in Proctor landing at nearby UMBC. One was childhood friend Brian Hodges, who was starring for the Retrievers, and the other was Don Anderson, the assistant coach who recruited Proctor to Coppin State and had since moved on to coach at UMBC.
When Proctor arrived, the Retrievers were desperately in need of a leader, and Proctor’s work ethic and effort quickly filled that role.
“The team put me in that role,” said Proctor. “I was a little shaky coming over here, because I was a captain for my two years at Coppin, but I didn’t want to come over here and tell everyone what to do. I was a new guy and it wasn’t my place, and I’m not that type of a leader anyways, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I’m not going to tell you what to do anyways, if I see something wrong, or that I can help you with, I’ll make some suggestions, but I’m not going to tell anyone what to do or get on anyone. I’ll lead by example but not by being loud or commanding.”
For Monroe, it has been equal parts Proctor’s work ethic and nature that have made him a player that everyone looks up to and follows, as well as his refusal to put himself above anyone else on the team.
“His heart makes you want to do the same things, in terms of getting out and leaving it all on the court, and it makes your team so much better, because everybody is following his lead.”
Monroe added, “He’s got the personality that he can get along with the devil. He get’s along with everybody, he can fit in with the most difficult of personalities to the most pleasant of personalities. He’s part of a group that very unselfish.”
More than a man among boys
“He was a man among boys.” — Dennis Wolff, Boston University head coach, 1994-2009
In his two years of eligibility at UMBC, Proctor was, quite simply, an absolute monster, beating up and bullying post players who stood a half a foot taller than him en route to scoring more than 1,100 points during that period and averaging 17.5 point per game (the highest figure in school history according to UMBC). A two-year team captain, Proctor was a two-time First Team All-Conference selection, a two-time America East All-Tournament selection and the 2008-2009 UMBC Male athlete of the year.
During UMBC’s magical 2007-2008 season, Proctor led the Retrievers to a 24-9 overall record, a 13-3 record in conference play, and the program’s first – and thus far only – America East regular season and tournament championships. Proctor scored 57 points and ripped down 22 rebounds in the Retrievers’ three-game run through the America East Tournament and Championship, including 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting in an 82-56 romp over Hartford in the championship game.
In an opening round loss in the NCAA Tournament against second-seed Georgetown, Proctor led the Retrievers with 16 points and eight rebounds, and tied an NCAA Tournament record with seven steals.
As a senior during the 2008-2009 season, Proctor set the UMBC single-season record, scoring 639 points. His 20 points per game led the America East conference and ranked 26th in the nation, and his 8.8 rebounds ranked third in the league. Despite playing on a drastically undermanned UMBC squad that struggled to finish sixth during the regular season, Proctor led the Retrievers back to the America East Championship Game, almost single-handedly knocking off three-seed Boston University in the quarterfinals, by scoring 33 points and ripping down 11 rebounds in an overtime win – a game in which he played all 45 minutes.
“Until the trainer tells me that I can’t go back out, I’m staying in the game, and if they tell me that I don’t think I’m going to listen. If I can walk, I’ll be on the court, as long as I can breathe I’m going back out on the court,” he said at the time.
Life after the final buzzer
After college, Proctor headed overseas, where he starred as a rookie for Danish League heavyweight Bakken. But Proctor, who had gotten married to his college sweetheart, Amber, and started a family, started before heading abroad, decided to hang up his sneakers after one year abroad and dedicate himself to being a father and family man.
“Life changes your priorities, and being around my wife and my child means more to me than playing professional ball,” he said shortly after deciding to retire.
For the past five years, Proctor has lived in the greater Baltimore Area with his wife and child, working for the Metro while enjoying life. Word is, on some hot summer nights, you can still find him dominating some of the best young players in the “DMV” in open runs and summer leagues.
Going on six years after leaving UMBC, Monroe’s summation of Proctor’s career still stands today: “Everything he’s accomplished, he’s done himself,” said Monroe. “He didn’t have any hype, no one has handed everything, but he’s gone out there and accomplished everything everyone said he couldn’t, and that is a testament to the tremendous heart in his chest, and I think everyone who ever steps foot on the court can learn something from Darryl Proctor.”
Some players have a hard time traveling away from home and adjusting to college basketball.
Elon’s Elijah Bryant, a CAA Rookie of the Year candidate, is not one of those players. For the Georgia native, home never really went away. Bryant’s mother Israel, father Tyree, stepfather Reginold Strother, as well as his grandma and uncle, come to all of his home games and most road games.
“I obviously feel more comfortable,” says Bryant. “You’re out there and your mom has been watching you play your whole life, so she understands it’s just another game. It helps you calm down, and it’s a confidence builder.”
Confidence is definitely not lacking in the guard. In 22 games, Bryant leads Elon (11-11, 3-6) in scoring at 13.9 ppg on 37-percent shooting. The rookie had one of his best performances in Elon’s season opener against Drexel with 32 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
His performance off the court has also been impressive. A biology and chemistry major, Bryant visits a tutor two to three times a week, often after his practices.
In addition to his family’s presence, Bryant and Elon head coach Matt Matheny, credited his decision to go to prep school for his great start.
“My ability to focus on basketball and not have that period of home sickness, since I played at prep school, I’ve already dealt with that,” says Bryant.
Bryant averaged 13 points, four rebounds and four assists at New Hampshire’s New Hampton School. The season was enough to get offers from Vermont, Gardner-Webb, Loyola, New Hampshire and Elon. When it came time to make a decision, Bryant was certain on going back down south.
Not just because his family would be there but Elon’s system also seemed perfect for the point guard.
“They had four 1,000-point scorers leaving,” says Bryant. “Some scoring had to be taken care of, so it’s a nice opportunity to step on the floor and be a threat.”
Of course, prep school wouldn’t have even been an option if not for the effort of Bryant’s family. Tyree sparked the passion by making sure Bryant always had a ball in his hands. As a young boy, Bryant played in recreational leagues in Athens but his mother realized he needed to be in a more competitive league.
“My mom knew I was a big fish in a little pond so she had to take me out of Athens and then took me to Atlanta,” says Bryant.
Israel made the two-hour commute to and from all of Bryant’s practices and games with the AAU’s Atlanta Celtics.
Now in college, it seems Bryant is carrying on the family tradition of hard work.
“His work ethic is something for a first-year player that’s a joy to be around, a joy to coach and he listens too,” Matheny said. “He’s very coachable.”
After all the sacrifice they made, Bryant it just trying to make his family’s time worthwhile.
“I don’t want to say ‘oh, I could have went harder there,’” Bryant said. “That’s my worst fear. I want to leave it all out there on the floor.”
Towson men’s basketball had its fans on the edges of their seats Thursday night, narrowly knocking off the College of Charleston Cougars, 74-70.
With the win, Towson moves to 10-12 on the year and 3-6 in league play, moving them into a three-way tie for seventh place in the CAA standings.
Towson came out of the gate ready to play, grabbing a very early advantage on a 10-2 run followed by a 14-0 run. The Tigers shot 50-percent in the first half and also won the rebounding battle 24-10, including six offensive boards, while holding the Cougars to only just 19.2-percent from the floor (5-of-26). Cougars’ star guard Canyon Barry was held scoreless in the first half, missing all six of his field goal attempts, and Towson went into the locker room up 33-19.
“I’m really proud of the way our guards rebounded the ball,” Towson head coach Pat Skerry said. Towson was all over the boards for the entire game, winning the rebounding battle 42-26, including 13 offensive rebounds.
For most of the second half, Towson maintained their lead, keeping the Cougars from breaking any big runs. However, as the game drew closer to the end, Towson’s defense began to get exposed, with Barry scoring all 16 of his points in the second half, including three 3-pointers, and Charleston cut the Tigers’ lead to 51-49 with 6:42 left.
But Towson never surrendered the lead, and managed to stay one step ahead of Charleston at all times, thanks in large part to clutch free-throw shooting from star guard Four McGlynn, who hit 12 of his 13 attempts, most of which were in crunch time, and finished with 20 points in the game.
Barry kept the game interesting, hitting two of his 3-pointers late in game and Towson managed to finish strong. Towson freshman guard Mike Morsell had a strong effort, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I think [Morsell] has an incredibly high ceiling,” said Coach Skerry, who spoke very highly of his young player. Morsell has continued to improve over the course of the season, and his playing time has increased dramatically.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone bulk up during a season as much as [Morsell],” Skerry explained.
They attend every practice, every film session but never will suit up in a game jersey. The public mostly identifies them with water bottles and towels. Every college basketball program has a team manager and their efforts are rarely in the spotlight.
“On his best day, he’s behind the scenes and not noticed at all,” said Northeastern University basketball coach Bill Coen. “If he’s not noticed, he’s done everything right.”
The Huskies coach of nine years said it takes a particular type of individual to fulfill the covert backbone of a Division 1 basketball program. The college student must be selfless and their love of the game must outweigh any potential reward that might come down the line.
Coen has seen some blossom the opportunity into a professional career but the duties and benefits of the job wouldn’t exactly appeal to most.
“You have to be ego-less,” Coen said.
The responsibility for rookie managers include rebounding balls at practice, preparing water and Powerbars, working out with a player whenever they want and preparing film of opposing teams. By the time the manager is a senior, or a head manager, they additionally must supervise the usually three younger managers and maybe, if they’re lucky, arrange travel for road trips.
This all must be juggled with missing classes due to those road trips, coming into the office early for work, all while remaining behind the scenes.
Most coaches would say the dirty work is just as important as any game-winning shot.
“A good manager can be almost as valuable as having another coach on your staff,” said UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette. “They can have that much of an impact.”
While Coen was an assistant coach at Boston College and even now at Northeastern, some of Coen’s managers have proven the sacrifice can turn into a career in basketball.
Steve Scalzi, a 2006 BC graduate, was a head manager under Coen for four years while at BC. When Coen moved to Northeastern, Scalzi did with him as his director of basketball operations. Last year, Scalzi was hired by the NBA Development League’s (D-League) Tulsa 66ers, the affiliate of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
One of Coen’s first managers at Northeastern is his current director of basketball operations, Matt Holt. The 26-year-old Providence-native said he never minded the lack of fame that comes with the gritty job.
“That’s really not what it’s about,” Holt said. “I was just happy to be a part of such a great tradition at Northeastern and especially working for someone like coach Coen.”
Northeastern’s current head team manager, Danny Young, was inspired to sign up because his older brother served as manager at Ithaca College and went on to work for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Young, a 21-year-old senior at Northeastern, knows he wants to work in sports in the future but doesn’t know in what capacity yet. He’s just trying to enjoy what could be his last year as a member of the basketball program.
“Danny has done an outstanding job in that role,” Coen said. “He’s an extension of the staff, his commitment level is extreme and he takes every win and loss as personal, if not more personal, than any other staff or player.”
Young said the players have also accepted him and they regularly eat and study for classes off the court. They treat him like an equal, regardless of the lack of acknowledgement he receives.
“If I’m noticed, I’ve done something wrong,” Young said. “I’ll let the spotlight be on our guys. I know I have a small part in what we’ve accomplished and that’s plenty enough for me.”
There’s a section of rubber tiles in the Hines family’s backyard called “Mario’s Spot.”
It’s about 20 feet from a basketball hoop, shaded slightly to the right of the rim and set against the backdrop of the Chugach Mountains. The mudflat shores of Cook Inlet are two miles away. Spectators are rare, save for the occasional moose, rabbit or goose observing from the sideline, a patch of grass that gives way to a thin grove of trees separating properties.
Mario is Mario Chalmers, and Ryden Hines and his friends spent many a summer day at that spot imitating “Mario’s Miracle,” the desperation 3-pointer that capped Kansas University’s comeback and forced overtime against Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship.
Hines, like every teenaged Alaskan basketball player his age, idolized Chalmers. Super Mario was a beacon of hope, a living, breathing, championship-winning reminder that hoopsters could emerge from The Last Frontier’s remoteness and thrive on basketball’s biggest stage.
“Everybody thought Mario was the best Alaskan ever,” Ryden’s mother, Lisa, says, “and he is and was.”
Hines was a freshman at Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and his and Chalmers’ hometown, the fall after Kansas won the 2008 championship. He was a burgeoning star in basketball and football, and had already begun setting his sights on Division I.
While his peers in the Lower 48 began drawing interest from schools around that time, Hines toiled under the muted beam of the Northern Lights. He played AAU ball for the Alaska Flight, which ventured into western U.S. summer tournaments, but nobody paid the exorbitant airfare — $494 is the cheapest roundtrip from Seattle even 10 months from now — to scout him at Dimond.
Not even Iona, where Hines is emerging as a role-playing 6-foot-8 sophomore.
They all missed out on seeing Hines in his natural habitat.
“I was always outdoors,” Hines says. “I was fishing, hunting. I lived for the outdoors. I was never inside. I miss it.”
Hines waded into shallow Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage and caught his first fish, a silver salmon, when he was in second grade. “I remember I felt something pulling on my line, and my legs started shaking,” Hines says. “I was like, ‘oh, my god, dad, I got a fish!” Remembers Brion, his father: “Seeing a 6-year-old kid trying to haul in a 15-pound salmon is pretty funny.”
Hines hunted and trapped small game. Goose meat, he says, tastes just like chicken breast. He also hiked regularly, and brown bears, black bears and wolves were common sightings along the trails. “I was pretty protective of the kids,” Brion, says. “If they ever went [hiking], make sure somebody goes with a gun.”
“It’s not even close,” Hines says. “A grizzly bear would tear me to pieces.”
Years ago, Lisa’s father bought 10 acres of land in Talkeetna, a small town about 2.5 hours north of Anchorage at the confluence of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna rivers. He constructed a couple of cabins to share with his children’s families.
Ryden makes the drive with his parents and younger sisters Lauren and Victoria whenever time permits.
“We go there, hang out, go hunting, go fishing,” Brion says. “It’s got a well. No running water, though. You’ve got to go pump the water. You can go snow-machining.”
You can also see Mount McKinley, not even 80 miles away from the base town for Denali expeditions.
“It’s beautiful,” Brion says.
Alaska’s pure beauty was the impetus behind Brion abandoning his Dallas landscaping business in 1985. He was 25 years old and paid a holiday-season visit to his father, a retired military veteran who had settled in Anchorage. “I ended up loving it and staying,” he says. A few years later he met Lisa, an Alaskan native whose grandfather had retired in the Last Frontier after being sent there by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“The biggest reason [we’ve stayed] is because we like the lifestyle and the beauty,” Lisa says.
Hines says teammates, especially A.J. English and Isaiah Williams, marvel at his stories of growing up gutting fish and four-wheeling along the rugged terrain. “They want to come home with me,” Hines says.
“Oh my gosh,” Lisa says, “I wish we could have them all there, like last year’s team and this year’s team and all his friends. It would be so wonderful because until you’ve really been there and experienced it, you don’t really know what Alaska is.”
Most of his teammates are from the Northeast. By 9 p.m. on a summer’s eve, they don’t see more than the glowing remnants of the day’s sunset.
Summer days in the Land of the Midnight Sun are seemingly endless. In 2014, the sun peeked its head over the Chugach Mountains at 4:21 a.m. on June 21 and set at 11:42 p.m., giving Anchoragites 19 hours and 21 minutes of daylight. “You need sunglasses at midnight sometimes,” says Brion, who admits his neighbors have scolded him for mowing his lawn late at night. Even at the end of August, the sun did not settle beneath the horizon until after 9 p.m.
“It’s called Alaska Exhaustion,” Lisa says, “because you really do try to cram so much time into the day and you don’t really know what time it is.”
For children, that means extra hours of playtime. For parents, it adds an entirely new element to the former Fox catchphrase, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?”
“You literally have to put watches on your kids’ wrists so they know what time it is,” Lisa says. “Not like with iPhones now, where you can set the alarm, but no, all the kids had to wear watches so they knew what time to come home.”
Sometimes Hines would lose track of time fishing, sailing, flying or playing sports.
“Because of that we had a basketball court put in our backyard,” Lisa says, the logic being she could keep an eye on her son. If he weren’t home at a reasonable hour, he would be shooting hoops, imitating Chalmers and improving his game in the backyard.
Hines grew five inches in the five months between Chalmers’ heroics and his first year under Rob Galosich’s tutelage at Dimond. He was already tall, but he sprouted into a 6-foot-4-inch freshman.
“One day he came into the kitchen,” Lisa says, “and I used to kind of just visually figure out how tall he was next to the cabinets and all of a sudden he was taller than the kitchen cabinets. I’m like, ‘Ryden, what the heck happened to you?’ Because we’re all pretty tall, and then all of a sudden he’s up way taller than the cabinets.”
Hines kept playing football, becoming an almost mythical creature as northwestern Division I programs got wind of a 6-foot-8-inch Alaskan quarterback towering over his foes on the snow-covered tundra. “He was like a giant amongst boys there on the football field,” says Brion, a former defensive back at Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Hines, however, realized he could become an impact Division I basketball player after his sophomore year, when he made varsity and then traveled the AAU circuit over the summer.
“I noticed I could possibly do it when I was playing AAU against so-called top recruits, and I noticed that they’re not anything special,” Hines says. “All you’ve got to do is put the ball in the hoop at the end of the day.”
He did that and more.
“When he was going down to the Lower 48 for AAU tournaments,” Brion says, “he would get the most valuable player in some of them, or all-tournament player in the tournament.”
Even so, drawing interest from a Division I coach requires a fortuitous confluence of factors other than sheer size and skill: timely success and a program’s needs, to name a couple. Hines returned to Anchorage late every summer throughout high school empty-handed, not a single Division I offer to his name.
“I think it was hard for his dad and I sometimes to get on the same train with him because he had terrific opportunities at other places,” Lisa says, referring to non-Division I offers, “and you wonder if they’re going to pass by and there won’t be anything else.”
Division I opportunities don’t materialize often at the high school level in Alaska.
Hines is one of nine Alaskans suiting up for a Division I program this season — for perspective, 12 ESPN top 100 recruits in Hines’ high school class (2012) hail from Texas — and only Liberty’s Calvin Hoffman transitioned directly from an Alaska high school.
The talent pool exists, but Alaska is the Last Frontier. You’re more likely to have your boat capsized by an endangered humpback whale than to bump into a Division I basketball coach.
A postgrad year or JuCo stint is almost always necessary, though stars like Chalmers and Carlos Boozer have had handfuls of Division I suitors out of high school.
Rather than settle on a Division II program after his senior year at Dimond, Hines elected to go the prep route and packed his bags for Impact Academy in Las Vegas.
Bill O’Keefe, an Iona assistant, was in Vegas to scout another recruit at an Impact Academy game, but Hines’ size and shooting ability portended success in Tim Cluess’ run-and-gun system. When O’Keefe saw Hines again, he invited the postgrad to visit Iona’s campus in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“The rest,” Brion says, “is history.”
Hines played sparingly in his first season with the Gaels, but broke into the rotation around Christmas time as a sophomore. He had appeared in each of Iona’s first 10 games, only logging 10-plus minutes three times. Then Cluess felt his lineup could benefit from Hines’ hustle and his abilities to stretch the floor and rebound. In his second start of the season, Hines scored three points and grabbed eight boards in Iona’s 86-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 23.
“The kid always works hard,” Cluess said after that game. “If I was going to tell you one guy who gives us a chance in interior defense, he’s going to work the hardest to do that… Ryden’s not going to block shots, but he’s going to get in the way, whether trying to take a charge or just having his body there. And he follows a gameplan very well.”
Since then, Hines has continued to impact the lineup. He’s averaging 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in Iona’s 11 games dating back to the FGCU tilt. He nailed a backbreaking 3-pointer in the Gaels’ 74-58 win over Fairfield on Jan. 13 and converted a clutch layup in an 80-79 win at Niagara on Jan. 16.
His family made the trip to see him compete at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, 13 months to the day after their previous visit, when they saw Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pummel the Knicks on Christmas.
“That was just crazy,” Lisa says, “especially because last year … all five of us were watching that and talking about how neat it was to play in a historic place for the Knicks and that whole thing, and then for him to be on the same court playing 13 months later was almost surreal.”
His five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes were rather inconsequential in Iona’s 87-64 win over Niagara. The performance was far from scintillating, unlike Mario’s Miracle.
But while Chalmers served as a role model for Hines’ generation of Alaskan basketball players, Hines has a following of his own back home.
“It is nice going home and having little kids know who you are and remember certain games that you don’t even remember,” he says. “Kids coming up, saying congrats and they’ll know your stats here at Iona and they’ll ask you for gear, stuff like that. It does mean a lot.”
“There’s a lot of kids that want to do the same thing Ryden does,” Lisa says. “He’s a real role model to them. When Ryden comes home and goes to the grocery store everyone knows who he is.”
“Anchorage is a big, little, small town,” Brion says of the municipality with a population of 396,142 people (2013 census).
Small and remote as Alaska may be, Hines achieved his goal and became the first Division I basketball commit out of Dimond. He’s a reminder to the next generation of hoopsters from the Last Frontier that they can bring their dreams to fruition while allocating invaluable time to live like an Alaskan.
“I want kids to have the same opportunity that I’m having because it is hard to make it out of Alaska because it is so far away and so isolated,” Hines says. “I’m just hoping that they can have the same chance as me.”
Like he said, it’s all about putting the ball in the basket at the end of the day.
One day, maybe, they’ll do that from Ryden’s Spot.
Ari Kramer is a New York-based writer who covers the MAAC for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @Ari_Kramer.
With only seven players in their rotation, every play was magnified and each possession was paramount for UMBC basketball. But despite a near herculean effort, a paper-tin margin for error, coupled with too man turnovers and sporadic scoring sealed a critical conference loss, 68-56, against Binghamton.
“Turnovers were huge and we didn’t get enough possessions to win the game,” UMBC head coach Aki Thomas said. “We started the game off with seven early turnovers. That ballooned into 10 of 11 [turnovers] and we were lucky to be down but nine points at halftime.”
Freshman point guard Jourdan Grant and Sparrow’s replacement in the starting lineup, Ben Grace, each put up career-highs in points. Grant led the team with 20 and Grace posted 17.
But the team would only get what the starting five gave them. Freshman forward Jakob Stenhede was the only player to come off the bench for the Retrievers and he failed to score in just nine minutes of action.
Cody Joyce led UMBC with nine rebounds and the team tied a season-high 10 three-pointers in the contest. But UMBC in was out-scored, 38-18 in the paint and failed to contain Binghamton’s Willie Rodriguez and Marlon Beck, who posted a combined 24 points.
“It was important to stop them (Rodriguez and Beck). They are the catalyst for their team,” Thomas said. “Beck does a good job getting into the paint, getting touches and finding teammates. Willie Rodriguez is coming into his own. He’s a young player with a ton of potential and he’s starting to figure out how to play at this level.”
Throughout the contest, Joyce was double-teamed by the Bearcats and both his early touches and scoring opportunities were heavily contested. Held to just eight points, Joyce adjusted to the pressure and became a facilitator. Joyce demonstrated his ability to locate teammates and frequently used touch passes to create rapid ball movement for the offense.
Down by nine with 1:50 left in the first stanza, Joyce found Grant, who slashed through the lane and took a hard foul as he converted the lay-up and the added free throw to pull UMBC within seven, 29-22.
During the first half, the Bearcats held a 19-point lead but the intense effort of the Retrievers kept them in competition.
Although UMBC was out-manned, they refused to be out-played and out-hustled. With 10 seconds left before intermission, Devarick Houston crashed the boards and rocked the rim with a monstrous two-handed slam. His emphatic dunk electrified the group and gave the Retrievers momentum going into the break, despite trailing 33-24.
From the onset, the Retrievers played aggressively and sustained a ferocious tempo. Led by the high-flying Houston, UMBC attacked the ball relentlessly and momentarily turned the tide.
Contrary to their opening half, UMBC scored early and protected the ball coming out of the break. At 15:40, Grant and Houston connected for a dazzling alley-oop. Grant, who leads the America East with just over four assists per game, spotted Houston crashing to the rim and placed it perfectly for him to catch it in the air.
In the first five minutes of the second half, UMBC scored 11 points. Nine of those 11 points came from beyond the arc. Grace, a walk-on now thrust into a starting role, nailed back-to-back three’s to trim the deficit to just four, 36-32.
“Ben (Grace) is a very smart player. He knows how to pick his spots and his teammates have confidence in him,” Thomas said. “It was good to see him break out for a solid performance. He’s a great shooter and he’s capable. We’re going to need more from him.”
Grace contributed five of the 10 UMBC 3-pointers.
But UMBC wasn’t able to control the boards and surrendered five critical offensive rebounds to Binghamton. UMBC was out-rebounded 19-17 in the second half and 34-33 for the contest, but Thomas explained that it was the timing of Binghamton’s rebounds that was the difference.
“I’m not satisfied with our rebounding,” Thomas said. “I thought they [Binghamton] had offensive rebounds at inopportune times and a couple of those offensive rebounds came in key moments when we needed a stop.”
The last time New Hampshire men’s basketball finished the season in sole possession of fourth-place, Austin Ganly and his “rec specs’” were still rocking the rims of Ludholm Gymnasium. The last time UNH finished with a record above .500 overall – let alone a winning record in the America East – was back in the Matt Alosa days of the mid 1990s.
With a hard-fought 63-58 win over archrival University of Maine on a freezing afternoon in Orono, the Wildcats took a big step towards ending both droughts, moving to 12-9 overall, 5-3 in conference play and a full game above the University of Hartford in fourth place in the league standings.
The story for the Wildcats, once again, was the terrific play of freshman forward Tanner Leissner, whose second career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) led the Wildcats to the win.
“I think we finally got the ball to him in some spots, and he just made plays,” said UNH head coach Bill Herrion after the game.
Sophomore guard Jaleen Smith continued his energetic and inspired play as of late, swiping four steals and causing havoc on defense, while pasing the team with 14 points on offense, while senior gunner Matt Miller added 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats bulldozed the Black Bears on the boards 47-34, and held Maine to 33.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from downtown in the win.
It was another loss for Maine men’s basketball on Wednesday night – the 19th of the season compared to just two wins – but for the second game in a row it was big step in the right direction after so many steps backwards.
“You’ve got to give Maine credit defensively with their game plan,” said University of New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion after his team escaped Maine with a 63-58 win. “They did a great job extending the game.”
For most of the season, the Black Bears have struggled to put together a full 40 minutes of consistent effort and commitment to defense, typically fading fast in the second half.
But hot on the heels of a shocking 70-61 win over what had been a hot Hartford squad that had begun the night in fourth place on Sunday, the Black Bears once again got after it against fourth-place New Hampshire.
An 11-0 New Hampshire run pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 44-34 with 8:04 left – a lead that just weeks ago would have had the Black Bears already headed for the locker room showers – but Maine responded by attacking on both ends of the court, cutting the lead to 58-56 with 23 seconds to go before the Wildcats were able to hang on.
“They went under a lot of the ball-screen stuff that we run. They took our driving lanes away. They fronted the post. It was very hard for us to get it inside to [Tanner] Leissner and [Jacoby] Armstrong,” said Herrion. Arguably the league’s top defensive coach, Herrion added: “They defended us like we haven’t really been defended.”
The story of the night for Maine was the ongoing inspired play of freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who followed up a career-high 25 points against Hartford with 22 points against the Wildcats. After playing sporadically throughout the season due to injuries, including missing seven of the teams first 16 games, Little has now scored in double figures in four straight contests.
In addition to Little, junior guard Shaun Lawton shined, scoring 12 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and two assists, while spearheading the Black Bears defensive attack.
With nearly 20 years of Division I head coaching experience under his belt, sniffing out talent has never been a problem for Ed DeChellis.
Usually the struggle for DeChellis, now in his fourth season at the helm for Annapolis, lies convincing talented players to come play for Navy, where in exchange for getting to play Division I basketball and four-years of free education from a great institution, they must commit to five years of active duty in the armed forces upon graduation – and all but give up on any dreams of playing professional hoops.
But in the case of Navy senior Brandon Venturini, the team’s second leading scorer, it was the exact opposite.
“I knew since about the sixth grade that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy,” says Venturini, who made the team out of an open walk-on tryout during DeChellis’ first year in the fall of 2011. “I didn’t know until my senior year of high school that I wanted to try to play basketball there and I didn’t know until the fall of my freshman year of college that I’d actually have a shot of being on the team.”
“It’s kind of funny,” says DeChellis. “Usually when we first start recruiting a kid, we have to sell them on what a great experience going to Annapolis is and how much a degree from here will be with them for their entire life. With a lot of talented high school players, they don’t want to have to commit to serving in the Navy on active duty. For Brandon, he was sold since he was a kid on Navy, he had to sell us on his abilities as a player.”
Now in his final season of college basketball, Venturini has become and indispensible part of DeChellis program as a tough, physical combo guard who stretches the floor from downtown and gets after it on defense and is currently averaging 12.7 points per game while shooting 37.4 percent from three. Much more importantly, he’s emerged as a team leader who helped keep the team above water when it was rocked by injuries earlier in the year.
“He’s definitely a vital part of our program,” says DeChellis. “He has a definite skill in that he can really shoot the basketball, and he has a willingness to dive into any role we’ve asked of him.”
Three years ago, Venturini was scrapping, scratching and clawing just to try and make the team.
“I wasn’t recruited here,” says Venturini, one of four seniors on the team. “They had an open tryout that was like a boot camp, and I went everyday. I practiced every day with the freshmen who were all recruited here.”
“It became apparent early on during tryouts that he had a definite skill that translates at the Division I level: the ability to shoot the basketball,” says DeChellis.
But when pressed, DeChellis and Venturini both admit that neither of them dreamt that Venturini would wind up playing the role he has for the team.
“I’ve seen a lot in my career, so I don’t want to say anything surprises me,” says DeChellis, “but, no, I didn’t think Brandon would wind up being a go-to scorer for us.”
“Not right away,” adds Venturini on whether he entertained daydreams of being a star. “I was just trying to make the team.”
Where it all began
Venturini grew up in Allendale, a middle-class community in Michigan that sits along the Grand River. By the time he was nearing the end of grade school, he knew exactly where he wanted to go to college and what he wanted to do.
“My brother actually was in the academy, he graduated in 2009,” says Venturini of his brother, Aaron, now a Naval helicopter pilot six years his senior. “I’m one of those younger brothers who wants to do everything their older brother does, so I’ve been wanting to come here since the sixth grade.”
At the time, Venturini, whose sister, Lauren, is a lieutenant in the Air Force and whose grandfather went to the Chilean Naval Academy, had no interest in, let alone dreams of, playing basketball.
“I liked soccer growing up,” he says. “That was my favorite sport, I played it all the time.”
At the end of middle school, Venturini started playing organized basketball. It was yet another case of the younger brother following the lead of his older brother and “hero.”
“I started playing for my middle school team. It was actually my brother who pushed me to play college basketball. He was the one who had me in the gym all the time, who was training me,” laughs Venturini.
It was that brotherly bond that led Venturini, who also earned All-Conference honors in golf as a high school senior, to decide to focus on basketball as his sport, and to go farther in the game than Aaron, who played junior varsity basketball at the Naval Academy, had.
“We kind of made a pact my junior year that I would be in the gym and in the weight room all the time with him and I would try to play college ball,” he says.
Still, Venturini admits that it wasn’t until after earned his third-straight all-conference honors and been named to the Western Michigan Dream Team as a senior, that he was truly sold on trying to play college ball.
“It wasn’t really until after my senior season of high school that I was sure I wanted to play college basketball.”
From there, Venturini enrolled for a post graduate year at the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS), where he had to try out and make the team, and spent the season in the shadows of players recruited by the Navy coaching staff.
During the season, Venturini approached the then coaching staff at Navy about trying out for the varsity.
“They told me that I’d have a spot on the JV team,” he says.
But during that offseason, Navy’s staff was let go and DeChellis was hired, opening the door – albeit just a crack — for Venturini to take a shot at the varsity.
Making the team
“We definitely needed bodies,” says DeChellis of his first season at Navy and the open tryouts. “Brandon came in and really impressed us with his ability to shoot the ball, but also his effort, the extra time he put in, and his commitment to being coached and soaking everything in.”
“I was a little freshman,” says Venturini. “I was just trying to do whatever it took to get someone to notice me.”
“At the end of tryouts, the coaching staff told me when practice would be and that I’d better show up and keep bringing it,” he says.
His first phone call after making the team: “My brother and my family,” he says.
Growing with the game
Venturini’s career at Annapolis hasn’t exactly coincided with banner years for the program, which went 3-26 his first season, 8-23 his sophomore year and 9-21 last season. But according to DeChellis, the muscular 6-footer has been crucial to rebuilding the program.
“You need guys like Brandon who show up and put in hard work, push their teammates, and hold everyone accountable every single day.”
As a freshman, Venturini saw action in 26 games, averaging 11 minutes, 2.8 points and one rebound per contest. As a sophomore, he was one of just two player to start all 31 games, and ranked third on the team in scoring (8.8 points per game). Last year, his role time once again increased, as he started all 30 games (one of just two players to do so) and ranked second on the team in scoring (11.5 points per game) and sixth in the Patriot League in steals (1.5 steals per game).
“He’s a guy who has just grown every single season through hard work and doing things the right way,” says DeChellis.
Going out with a bang
Venturini’s final year was supposed to coincide with Navy turning the corner as a program, but in the early going, it looked like it would be a disaster, as the Midshippmen lost star senior Worth Smith early on to a knee injury, before losing two more players to knee injuries and another to a broken jaw.
“That was pretty rough because we were missing a lot of key players who had played a lot of minutes,” says Venturini of the stretch that saw Navy begin the season going 2-7.
According to DeChellis, Venturini was instrumental in keeping the team’s spirits up and moving in the right direction.
“We had to play a lot of young, impressionable kids a lot of minutes early,” says DeChellis. “And the fact that Brandon kept showing up made a big impression on them not to give up and to keep fighting.”
With Smith and several other reinforcements rejoining the fold, Navy has turned the season around, and currently sits at 8-13 on the season – just one win away from the best mark of Venturini’s career – and 4-5 in conference play.
But Venturini isn’t satisfied with simply helping to stem the tide and turn the program around.
“There’s nothing I want more than to win a championship and get to the [NCAA] Tournament,” he says. “We only have so many guaranteed games left if we stay healthy. For me and Worth [Smith] and Kevin [Alter] and Earl [McLaurin], the four seniors, we’ve been thinking about that for a long time, and we’re trying to get everybody riled up and excited.”
Not bad for a kid who didn’t even know if he wanted to play basketball five years ago, let alone whether he’d even have a team to play for.