For the past two and a half weeks, the games themselves have been easy for Albany men’s basketball – a few hours of reprieve from the real world heartbreak hanging over their heads. It’s the rest of the day – the long bus rides to games, draining practices, and hours of worry – that have been hard.
It’s paled in comparison to what the past two weeks have been like for their teammate and friend, Peter Hooley.
“A lot’s been going on the last two weeks with our team,” said Albany head coach Will Brown following the Great Danes 77-59 win at Maine on Saturday afternoon, a victory that pushed Albany to 9-0 in the America East standings, marking both the program’s best start to conference play and longest winning streak in its Division I history.
“Hopefully the trip back [to Albany] is a little easier than the trip up was,” said Brown, usually a uncontrollable bundle of energy, one-liners, quick-quips and jokes, speaking in an uncharacteristically demure tone.
Brown was speaking about Hooley, his family, and his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday after a long battle with colon cancer.
“The Sue Hooley-Peter Hooley situation has been tough on our team,” said Brown.
Sue Hooley was diagnosed with colon cancer four and a half years ago, and had battled the disease ever since. Up until two weeks ago, Hooley had remained in Albany while Sue battled cancer, fighting for the Great Danes on the hardwood at the insistence of his mother leading Albany to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014.
But on Jan. 17, Hooley received word that his mother’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, and for the first time in his four-years at Albany, the red-shirt junior left his team, flying back to his home in Adelaide, Australia, to be with his mother during what would prove to be her final weeks.
Ever since then, Albany has played truly inspired basketball, running through an America East gauntlet by knocking off second-place Vermont, third-place Stony Brook and then-fourth (now fifth) place Hartford, all on the road. All the while, they have been playing with Hooley and his mother on their mind.
“How could we possibly complain about anything given what they’re going through,” said Albany senior forward Sam Rowley, Hooley’s countryman and fellow co-captain. “Basketball is such a big part of that family. Some guys on our team, the new guys who have only been here for a few months, but they’re considered family by Jeff (Hooley, Peter Hooley’s father.”
“I will say this, five wins in a row without Hooley, most of those games on the road, yeah, I’d think I’d be a fool – I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think we were surprised to be 9-0,” said Brown of his team’s winning streak.
But on Friday, the latest long, heavy-hearted bus ride, Brown got the worst call of his coaching career, informing him that Sue Hooley had passed away. He waited until the team reached their hotel in Bangor to inform his players.
According to several of them, they took it hard, but vowed to play their game in honor of Sue and her family.
“We’re a little insulated from it here, so what we’re going through is just nothing compared to it. And we just feel for him,” said Rowley of Hooley.
“I think we did what Sue Hooley wanted us to do today, which was to come out,” said Brown, whose team shot a scintillating 68-percent in the second half, and got 21-points apiece from point guard Evan Singletary and freshman shooting guard Wheeler Baker.
“I’m sure she (Sue) watched from up above and wanted us to come out and get a win, because basketball is so important to that family,” said Brown.
With a 9-0 record in league play, a full two game lead over second-place Vermont, and five of their final seven conference games at home, the Great Danes sit squarely in the driver’s seat for the America East regular season title and home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. But according to head coach Will Brown, the key for the team remains staying grounded.
“I think the minute we start feeling good about ourselves, or start to think we’re a little better than what we are, we’re going to get beat,” said Brown.
Hooley is expected to rejoin the team at some point before the season is over, although there is no timetable for his immediate return.
“We really look forward to having him back,” said Rowley.
Another game, and another tough, hard-fought loss for Maine men’s basketball head coach Bob Walsh and his Black Bears, who fell 77-59 to first place Albany on Saturday, dropping to 2-20 on the season and 1-8 in conference play.
For Walsh, it was the same story as most of the previous losses: An inability to play consistent defense for 40 minutes.
“When they shoot 68 percent there aren’t many rebounds where your team is in good position to get them,” said Walsh of Albany’s second-half shooting performance, which turned a 44-44 tie with 11:39 remaining into an Albany romp. “The game switched when they started throwing in 3-points on every possession.”
Maine was led by freshman point guard Aaron Calixte, who scored 15-points on 6-of-8 shooting, to go with seven assists and three rebounds in 31 minute of action. Three other Black Bears broke double figures, with senior Zarko Valjarevic scoring 11 points, and juniors Till Gloger and Shaun Lawton adding 10 points apiece. Gloger, a 6’8” center, added eight rebounds and Lawton, a 6’5” junior point guard-turned forward added five assists.
“We actually attacked their zone pretty well. We got it inside, we got good looks, we shot 54 percent in the second half, we made five 3’s. I’m not sure how we’re going to do much better offensively,” said Walsh, who was satisfied with the Black Bears offense, which shot 48.9 percent from the floor (23-of-47) and 42.9 percent from behind the arc (9-of-21).
It was the defense, once again, that proved to be Maine’s downfall, allowing the Great Danes to shoot 55.4 percent from the floor (31-of-56) and an even 50 percent from downtown (10-of-20).
“They were throwing three on the board every time down, it’s hard to keep up with that,” said Walsh. “We shot 49 percent for the game, we made nine 3’s, we had 18 assists on 23 baskets, we had more assists than turnovers.
“You can win with that, no doubt, but you can’t sustain success if that’s all you’re counting on, and right now, that’s all we’re counting on.”
The Black Bears continued to be hampered – arguably haunted – by a sheer lack of serviceable bodies, as sophomore forward Marko Pirovic – a starter at the beginning of the season – missed his eighth game in a row, and 13th out of the last 14, with a foot injury and appears headed for a red-shirt season. The Black Bears were also without the services of starting forward Garret Beal, who has missed time with an assortment of injuries, among them post concussion issues, and explosive freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who had to attend a family situation, according to Walsh.
The sheer lack of bodies forced Walsh to play just eight players, with five – Valjarevic, Gloger, Lawton, Calixted and Troy Reid-Knight – logging 31 or more minutes.
“It’s a challenge, but when you just tell them, ‘don’t foul, you’re not coming out,’ and ‘don’t look at me if you get tired,’ it’s kind of not that much of a challenge,” said Walsh of players being forced to spend extended time on the court. “At one point I said, ‘Aaron, are you ok?’ he had two fouls in the first half, he looked tired, he was working hard, and he said, ‘yes,’ and I said, ‘good, because you’re not coming out.’”
Walsh has already carved out a reputation as a coach who absolutely abhors making excuses for poor play, but even he had to admit that having such a short bench has hindered his team.
“I think playing 39 minutes, 33 minutes, 34 minutes – asking guys to do that at the level we want to compete at is hard.”
However, Walsh was steadfast in refusing to shift the focus for the team’s ongoing struggles, saying, “It’s just the 40 minutes. It’s the 40 minutes – being able to do it for 40 minutes. If you compete and play tough and defend for 40 minutes, you’ll have a chance to win every night, and we’re not there.”
Sue Hooley, the mother of Albany junior guard Peter Hooley, passed away Friday night in Australia after a courageous fight with colon cancer at the age of 52.
The news came as the Albany basketball team on their way to Bangor, Maine, where they played against Maine on Saturday afternoon. Albany head coach Will Brown received the call he had been dreading a couple of hours away from Maine, and broke the news to the team upon arrival.
“The majority of the team was shocked when I told them,” Brown said according to Times Union reporter Tim Wilkin. “Sam and Mike (Rowley, also from Australia) knew. I think most of our kids were caught a little off guard. They were holding out hope that she was going to make it. This isn’t easy. I just wish the outcome was a lot different.”
Brown also said that he spoke with Hooley’s father, Jeff, who said that he hoped Peter would return to the school, and basketball, sooner rather than later. Brown said that it’s his understanding is that when Peter does return, Jeff and Peter’s twin sister Emma will come with him.
Hooley returned to Australia a little over two weeks ago to be with his mother after her health took a turn for the worst, a few nights after the Capital Region donated $12,000 in here support to the Cancer Council of South Australia.
Sue was diagnosed with colon cancer- or bowel cancer as they call it in Australia- over four years ago, shortly after Hooley had committed to the University to play basketball halfway around the world from home. Peter was originally reluctant to leave, but according to Hooley, Sue did not want to be holding her son back from pursuing his dreams.
While Sue was fighting very courageously, Peter was turning into the go-to guy for the Great Danes, leading the team to back-to-back America East conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014.
“God got an angel today. Thank you for making me who I am, and showing me what true strength is. You never gave up!! RIP mum, I love you xxx” Hooley said in a tweet Friday night.
Hooley also took to Facebook, saying “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. I 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”
The outpouring of support for Hooley on social media has been remarkable, as his Tweet in remembrance of his mother has more than 360 favorites and over 100 retweets, and his fasbook post is nearing 900 likes and 200 comments.
Tweets and posts all over social media have also poured in to support the Hooley’s, with some people sending their condolences, others letting them know that they are in their thoughts and prayers.
Albany and its fans have adopted several hashtags in support of the Hooley’s, including #UnitedForSue, #WinForSue, and #HooleyStrong.
“Still at a loss for words. Can only hope the Hooleys know how many people are thinking of them tonight. #purplefam #hooleystrong” Tweeted Brian Fessler, an Albany “superfan” according to Brown.
“I hope @PeterHooley12 knows how big his family is. Thousands of people in the Capital Region are with him and his family right now.” Fessler said in a later tweet.
“Thank you to everyone for the support. We appreciate it all. You show just how beautiful the world can be. We will be strong just as mum was” Hooley tweeted on Saturday.
The University of Maine also recognized Sue with a moment of silence before today’s game.
“RIP Sue Hooley. You fought a courageous battle. Thoughts and prayers to the Hooley Family. We will take great care of @PeterHooley12!” Coach Brown tweeted, which fans appreciated with over 75 retweets and almost 100 favorites.
In a now famous speech at the ESPY Awards, late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who passed away earlier this year battling cancer, proclaimed: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
And in that same spirit, Sue Hooley definitely beat cancer.
Albany head coach Will Brown looked across half court towards the Maine bench as the final seconds ticked away at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor early Saturday evening – the final nails in the Black Bears’ coffin in a 77-59 Albany win.
Brown had yanked his starters and emptied his bench several minutes earlier, with Maine’s fate – their 20th loss of the season and 15th loss in the last 16 games – sealed since a 16-0 Albany run that started with a little more than 11 minutes remaining turned a 44-44 tie into a blowout.
But when Brown, the America East’s elder statesman and most successful head coach with four NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt in his 14th years at Albany, looked across half court at Maine men’s basketball first year head coach Bob Walsh, he didn’t see a 20-loss program: he saw hope – and a reminder of exactly where he was 14 years ago.
“Maine’s playing the game the right way. It might not show in wins and losses, but Bob and his staff are doing a great job,” said Brown following the game.
“He’s developing his culture and that’s hard,” explained Brown, who took over the Great Danes on an interim basis halfway through the 2001-2002 season, and experienced three truly terrible seasons before beginning to turn the corner in year four and breaking through to the NCAAs in 2005.
“Fourteen years ago I took over a brand new Division I program and a month in, I was walking home, every night I would walk in the door and tell my wife, ‘somebody’s playing a bad joke on me; this is hard, this is not fun,’” said Brown, whose teams lost a combined 64 games in his first three seasons, and memorably had to finish one contest at Hartford with just four players on the court. “There’s nights when you sit there and you try and reinvent the wheel because you just don’t understand how much time it takes.”
In Brown’s eye’s, despite the Black Bears record, Maine, which is suiting up a skeleton crew roster after massive player defections in each of the previous three off-seasons under the old coaching staff, as well as a rash of injuries to several of the few serviceable players in uniform, is already showing signs of progress.
“Here’s what I’ll say: I think the Maine team we played at home, and the Maine team we played on the road, in my opinion plays really hard for 40 minutes, they sustain it, they sustain that effort for 40 minutes regardless of the score,” said Brown. “I don’t want to speak for coach Walsh or anybody at Maine, but to me, that’s progress, to me they’re making strides, to me, they’re doing a good job. It’s just not easy, it’s not easy building a program – it’s hard.”
According to Brown, while the current Black Bears don’t have many wins to show for their efforts, the team’s effort alone this season already has them in a better place than they were during previous years.
“In my opinion, I think Maine plays hard at both ends of the floor, and I think that’s the biggest difference,” said Brown. “If we jumped on Maine in the past, I think it would be smooth sailing. Tonight, when we jumped on them, I think those guys kept playing and kept playing hard.”
And Brown believes that Walsh and his staff will start to see the culture they are building this year pay off down the road.
“In my opinion playing hard is a skill, and it’s something we have to develop in our players,” said Brown. “If you compete consistently, good things are eventually going to happen. Now you have to do a good job on the recruiting trail, but good things are eventually going to happen.”
You probably could have forgiven Albany freshman Wheeler Baker if he hesitated after catching a fastball fired from point guard Evan Singletary with 11:56 left in the first half.
After all, he’d missed – a few times pretty badly — all four of his shots three days earlier at Vermont – the fourth time he’d gone scoreless in the last six games. He’d also found consistent ways to find his way back to the end of Albany’s bench during a freshman season that had seen more peaks and valleys than a ride at Six Flags.
But Baker didn’t blink, didn’t hesitate and didn’t shy away from the shot, which exploded through the bottom of the net to put the Great Danes on top 18-5. It was the first volley of what would turn out to be an aerial bombardment from the high-flying 6-foot-2-inch freshman from Minneapolis.
When the final horn sounded and the dust finally settled on the day, Baker had a career-high 21-points on 8-of-12 shooting in the Great Danes 77-59 road win, pushing the team to 9-0 in America East play.
Baker’s offensive explosion may have come as a big surprise to those watching the program from afar – after all, the talented but enigmatic player had scored a just 22 points combined over Albany’s previous eight games, among them a pair of “DNPs.” But to his teammates and coach, there was nothing shocking about the scoring explosion.
“To be honest, it wasn’t [unexpected],” said senior captain Sam Rowley of Baker’s day. “I don’t know if he’s had a game as good as that this season, but we see him every day in practice and he’s fantastic.”
“We’ve had days in practice, where if somebody walked in from the outside and didn’t know anything about our program, they would think he was our best player and leading scorer,” added Brown.
According to Albany’s head coach, Baker’s ability to score the ball has never been in doubt – it’s been his consistency in other areas.
“My thing is, as Sam can attest, I have major issues with our guys if we don’t defend and rebound on a consistent basis,” said Brown, referencing Rowley’s own freshman struggles, when the now surefire First Teamer hardly left the bench.
“Wheeler’s had a major adjustment to defending and then to executing scouting reports,” added Brown. “We spend too much time on scouts, probably, but it’s something we need him to embrace. And I think the sooner he embraces it, you’ll see more games like this from him.”
But Brown, who has a reputation as a “my way or the highway” head coach, admitted that he may have been a bit too demanding on the young freshman.
“I guard him better than anybody, because I just don’t play him enough,” said Brown.
With Albany’s leading scorer, star shooting guard Peter Hooley on an indefinite leave of absence from the team after his mother’s battle with cancer and subsequent passing, Brown admitted that needs Baker scoring in the lineup, even if that means learning to sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the roller coaster ride.
“In Peter’s absence, right now, to be honest with you, Wheeler’s a guy we think can get us double-digits consistently,” said Brown. “But the only way he’s going to do that is if I play him enough. So I think I need to sometimes just sit down and put a seatbelt on and relax because he’s got a chance to be a good one.”
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.
Someone should probably check on what Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown has been feeding his players before games.
Maybe this is just destiny.
Either way, it’s been pretty unbelievable to watch.
The game clock descended rapidly towards zero, and the score stood tied at 44, when Evan Singletary crossed over, left-to-right, on the America East logo behind the left wing at Patrick Gymnasium. Two more dribbles and a jab step later, and Singletary let fly over Vermont point guard Trae Bell-Haynes outstretched right arm.
Singletary’s shot exploded through the bottom of the net with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game, sending Albany’s bench into celebration – albeit a slightly demure one considering the circumstances.
Apparently they’ve gotten used to winning in wild fashion.
Singletary’s long-bomb sent the Great Danes to a 47-44 win in the most hostile road environment in the America East, pushing Albany to 8-0 in conference play, a full two games up over Vermont and Stony Brook and squarely in the America East driver’s seat.
The Great Danes, who have won the past two America East championship games on the road as four-seeds, have now won eight-straight games and 11 of their last 12. Even more remarkably, they’ve won their past four games, including road wins over Stony Brook, Hartford and Vermont – the heart of the America East – without star guard Peter Hooley – arguably the team’s best player – who has returned home to his native Australia to help care for his mother who is battling colon cancer.
Before tipping off against UMBC, a 69-55 win that pushed Albany to 7-0 in America East play, Great Danes senior forward Sam Rowley sat down with OBW reporter Jason Palatsky for a Q & A session. Rowley talked about his experiences being an international student, his favorite things about Albany, and who he models his game after, among many other topics.
Jason Palatsky: Sam, thanks for doing this.
Sam Rowley: No worries. Thanks mate.
What is your favorite sport?
Favorite sport to play is basketball. Favorite sport to watch is probably rugby.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Not really. I play a little bit of guitar but I’m not that great to be honest.
What is your favorite part of playing basketball?
Definitely being part of a team. Like the team atmosphere, team environment. You go through a lot with your teammates and you really sort of get to know them, you get to trust them. That’s by far the best aspect for me.
What was it like to play in the NCAA Tournament especially playing Duke and Florida and playing them close all 40 minutes?
It was awesome. It was the combination of a lot of hard work so to be rewarded like that was pretty fantastic and to do it with the team that we had was even better to go through that journey together. It was an experience that I’ll never forget; both those games.
What’s it like to be part of the “Australian Connection”? [Albany currently has 4 Australian Natives on their roster: Sam, his younger brother Mike, redshirt-junior guard Peter Hooley and freshman forward Geremy McKay]
It’s huge. It transcends basketball a little bit to have that kind of relationship with the school and they’ve really embraced us, which has been fantastic, and the community at large has. We’re really looking to keep that going and Geremy [McKay] this year is a freshman but to be a part of that is something special.
What’s it like to play on the same team as your younger brother Mike half way around the world?
That’s been awesome (smiles). Like just to play college basketball is pretty awesome. But to do that with my brother from my family; it’s a pretty special thing. We probably won’t realize how special for another 5-10 years but at the moment it’s pretty awesome. (For a feature on the “Brawling Rowleys” relationship, read here).
What is your favorite thing about being an Australian/international student?
Experience different cultures a little bit. You really appreciate where you are and the subtleties and the synchronies of the culture’s that you’re experiencing and the place that you’re in. I think that gives you sort of a respect for people and a respect for cultures, lives, and I think it’s something that’s good to have going throughout life.
How did you get into basketball?
It was just a summer sport, really. Nothing more special than that. I was pretty tall as a kid and that’s pretty much it (laughs). Nothing too special though.
What are the differences between playing basketball in the US and playing basketball in Australia?
The level of athleticism is kind of different. Americans are very athletic. Just the talent level I think is a little bit higher. A lot of depth here. There are a lot of good players. In Australia there are some good players but not nearly as many, where as in America there are more of them.
Why did you choose Albany?
Cause they’d take me (Laughs). I knew from Luke [Devlin, former Albany player who graduated after last season] that Coach Brown was a good guy and it was a good program so I elected to come here.
Was it your favorite thing about Albany?
Outside of the team and the athletics I think the community. The community has been fantastic here embracing us, like the fans. Definitely the community in a way has supported us, especially international students.
Who do you model your game after?
There are a lot of post players I really like. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (both of the Memphis Grizzlies) are two guys I like the way they play.
You can learn a lot about life by watching small conference college basketball — and, for the most part, you can learn about the very best parts of life. If you’re feeling really down and are desperately in need of some inspiration, you can turn to teams at both the top and the bottom of the America East for a pick-me-up.
Playing without arguably their best player in star Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she battles colon cancer, the Albany Great Danes are playing truly inspired basketball, and continue to somehow find a way to not only win, but outright dismantle opponents when they should be struggling.
At the other end of the spectrum, a UMBC squad that only has six scholarship players in uniform, plus two walk-ons, and, by all logic, should have no strength – let alone hope – left, continues to take the floor and fight with everything it has every night. Even further south in our rankings, the Maine Black Bears, downtrodden, discombobulated, and, well, outright awful for the better part of the past four years, and coming off of several brutal losses, dug down deep and found the fortitude to knock of Hartford on the Hawks home court.
Here’s a look at the rest of the league in the latest edition of the One-Bid Wonders America East Power Rankings.
1. Albany (12-7, 7-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-53 at Hartford; W 69-55 vs UMBC
This Week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday at Maine.
“You look around the league, and in this conference, if teams lose their best player they don’t win. If Stony Brook lost Warney; they’d be in trouble; if Hartford lost Nwakamma, they’d be in trouble; if Vermont lost O’Day or Wills, they’d be in trouble. Peter Hooley is, in my opinion, the best guard in the league, without him, we should be in big trouble. I don’t know how we’re winning; it isn’t a credit to me, it’s a credit to the kids, they’re going out and finding ways and fighting with a passion I’ve never seen before.”
Albany head coach Will Brown offered the above assessment of his team’s 7-0 start to conference play, the best start to the America East slate in Brown’s 14-year career at Albany, the last three wins coming after Hooley returned to his native Australia to stand by his mother’s side as she fights against colon cancer.
The Great Danes win on the road a week ago at Stony Brook was impressive, but it was also perhaps not entirely unexpected coming on the heels of Hooley’s departure – team’s often get a momentary boost, rallying around tragic and traumatic events. But for the Great Danes to follow it up by downing Hartford convincingly can no longer simply be dismissed as a team running on adrenaline and emotion: Albany is playing some serious basketball right now. Rowley has elevated his game and emerged as a go-to scorer who wants the ball, point guard Evan Singletary continues to make things happen, but it’s role players – like athletic wing Ray Saunders, sharp-shooting forward Dallas Ennema, and big-bodies Richard Peters, Greig Stire and Mike Rowley – who have made the team complete.
2. Vermont (11-9, 6-1 AE)
Results: L 73-68 at New Hampshire; W 61-50 at UMass Lowell
This week: Wednesday vs Albany; Saturday at Hartford
Losing to New Hampshire wasn’t a huge shocker – even during their worst years, the Wildcats have always had a way of being a thorn in Vermont’s side – but the way Vermont lost – missing free-throws, and struggling to open the floor up by posing any threat from behind the arc – was a bit concerning. But only a little bit. Vermont is extremely young, and they aren’t always going to be a well oiled machine. Going in the Catamounts favor: they are young, and don’t seem to have a clue that they are “supposed” to be rebuilding. Vermont’s backcourt continues to make the team go, with Dre Wills turning into an absolute monster – a slam dunking, shot-punching, pick-pocketing monster – and the focal point of the Catamounts on both ends. Junior center Ethan O’Day remains the key to the season: When he can stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, Vermont can beat anyone, but when he’s on the bench, they are vulnerable.
3. Stony Brook (14-8, 5-2 in AE)
Results: W 65-45 at UMass Lowell; W 61-54 at Binghamton
This Week: Wednesday vs Hartford; Saturday at New Hampshire
Stony Brook bounced back from a smackdown at the hands of Albany with two wins over teams they should beat, including an annihilation of a solid River Hawks squad on the road. Against Binghamton point guard Carson Puriefoy seemed to snap out of his slump, erupting for 27-points in a win over Binghamton. On the other hand, even with Puriefoy’s monster game, the Seawolves could never truly put away a Bearcats squad that was at a massive disadvantage in size, depth and experience… not to mention game-ready talent. Center Jameel Warney remains far and away the best player in the league, but just like last year (albeit to a much lesser degree) the 6’8” beast seems to have run into a bit of a wall in conference play, with his numbers taking a dip. Make no mistake, Warney alone, let alone Warney, Puriefoy, and a solid supporting cast makes Stony Brook an automatic contender for the NCAAs, but the Seawolves need consistent play from their roll players.
4. New Hampshire (11-9, 4-3 in AE)
Results: W 73-68 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at Maine; Saturday vs Stony Brook
New Hampshire got a huge win at home against a then undefeated Vermont squad, showing toughness, tenacity, and an ability to win extremely close games in the final minute – all traits absent in Durham during previous years. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner continues to impress as the team’s go to scorer, and with sophomore Jacoby Armstrong finally rounding into form, the Wildcats have arguably their best front court since the days of Chris Brown/Ben Sturgill/Assane Faye/Austin Ganly. But the big difference has come from red-shirt senior Matt Miller, who has been absolutely unconscious from behind the arc in his first year of Division I hoops, giving Bill Herrion a true, go-to shooter for the first time in his entire tenure in Durham. And, of course, there’s still the defense: With guards like Joe Bramanti, Jaleen Smith, Ronnell Jordan and Tommy McDonnell imposing their will on opposing back courts.
5. Hartford (11-9, 4-3 AE)
Results: L 62-53 vs Albany; L 70-61 vs Maine
This week: Wednesday at Stony Brook; Saturday vs Vermont
Hartford beat New Hampshire, the team above them in the rankings, at the last second on the road, and we strong considered keeping the Hawks in fourth. However, they found a way to lose, at home, to Maine… Maine. That Maine team. And not only lose, but lose RESOUNDINGLY. As always, when the Hawks are on – forward Mark Nwakamma is out of foul trouble and getting post touches, and Hartford shooters are knocking down uncontested threes – this team can beat anyone in the league. But it’s such a complex style of play, and one that is extremely hard to consistently execute well.
6. UMass Lowell (9-12, 3-5 in AE)
Results: L 65-45 vs Stony Brook; L 61-50 vs Vermont
This Week: Saturday at Binghamton
Lowell continues to be undersized and overmatched (at least in terms of game-ready talent) every single time they take the court. And yet, nine times out of 10, the River Hawks find a way to compete as equals against teams that, on paper, should be wiping the floor with them. Jahad Thomas continues to be both a marvel and monster on the court, finding ways to help the River Hawks win with his passing, defense, and intangibles now that team’s are keying on him completely as a scorer. While Lowell will struggle to beat any of the teams above them this season, the fact that freshmen like point guard Lance Crawford, shooting guard Matt Harris, and forward Brad Schaub are showing noticeable improvement bodes well for the team’s long-term future.
7. UMBC (3-17, 1-6 in AE)
Results: W 76-59 at Maine; L 69-55 at Albany.
This week: Wednesday vs Binghamton
UMBC is suiting up eight players, only six of them on scholarship. They are without sophomore Rodney Elliot, a First Team All-Conference level talent. They have no business competing against anyone in the league right now. And yet, they’ve given just about everyone they’ve played in the league not named Albany a real game – a pretty remarkable feat that speaks to the team’s heart. Graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow has been a wonder on both ends of the floor, serving as both a go-to scorer and facilitator, senior Devarick Houston has been a terror on defense, and junior forward Cody Joyce is close to unstoppable when he gets the ball in his hands around the rim.
8. Binghamton (2-20, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 61-54 vs Stony Brook
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs UMass Lowell
Even with the loss of Jordan Reed, Binghamton remains one of the most athletic – and, arguably, talented, at least in terms of raw talent — teams in the conference. However, they are incredibly young and have also been racked by injuries. Dirty work freshman forward Willie Rodriguez seems to be getting his second wind, wing Romello Walker continues to fly around the court impacting the game at both ends, wing Justin McFadden is starting to show flashes as a high energy defender, and forward Bobby Ahearn has shown signs of being able to score the ball and hold his position in the low blocks.
9. Maine (2-18, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-59 vs UMBC; W 70-61 at Hartford
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs Albany
Hats off to the Black Bears. Seriously. Entering Sunday, the Black Bears were riding a 13 game losing streak – many of those loses coming in the demoralizing, and perhaps downright embarrassing fashion. It had been several weeks since Maine had simply competed for 40 minutes, or been able to stop a nosebleed on the defensive side of the ball. But the Black Bears found a way against Hartford – or, arguably, freshman shooting guard Kevin Little found a way and took the rest of his teammates along for a ride.
OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Rowley scored a career-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks while absolutely destroying reigning First Team All-Conference selection Mark Nwakamma in Albany’s 62-53 win at Hartford, and followed it up with 12 points in a win over UMBC.
OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Little exploded for a career-high 25 points, hitting 8-of-16 shots, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc, to carry Maine to a massively needed road win at Hartford. Earlier in the week, Little scored 15 points in a loss to UMBC.
OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
*Peter Hooley has missed the past three games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his ailing mother. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.
OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Every once in a great while, a basketball game would break out in the middle of an all-out brawl between Sam and Mike Rowley. It was clockwork-like a routine that began as young children in Sydney, Australia, and carried over into adolescence and on to young adulthood.
“You put us together and it was probably a recipe for disaster – you put us together in something where there would be a winner and a loser and it was going to be a fight,“ says Sam, 22, now a bruising 6-foot-6-inch 230-pound senior forward for the University at Albany.
“When we were younger we often would fight basically over everything because we were pretty close in age and really competitive,“ adds Mike, a 6-foot-8-inch 230-pound sophomore forward for Albany who is two years Sam’s junior.
“God do I feel bad for their parents,” laughs Albany head coach Will Brown. “Who on earth would want to get in the middle and try to break up a fight between those two?
These days, the brawling Rowley’s are fighting on the same side, and have helped to lead the Great Danes to the front of the America East pack at 6-0 in league play – the first time in program history the team has started league play with such a mark – while chasing the program’s third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
They’re having a blast doing it.
“Having a brother on the team is just one of the best things,” says Sam, Albany’s starting power forward, who leads the Great Danes at 7.3 rebounds per game, while averaging 13.2 points, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting .512 from the floor.
“It’s really been a very fun experience, one that I’m really thankful for,” adds Mike, who has played primarily at the four and five positions, averaging 23.7 minutes, 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game off the bench.
“I really do think they are enjoying the fact that they get a chance to play together,” says Brown.
Not long ago, such a statement about the relationship between the two brothers would have been akin to heresy.
The brothers grew up in Sydney, Australia, as the youngest – along with Sam’s twin sister – of Catherine and Gregg Rowley’s five children. From a very young age both boys displayed athletic ability, and the innate ability to get under each other’s skin.
“The issue with Sam and Mike is they were overly competitive to a fault growing up, and that was why they could not coexist together in a competitive sports environment for more than 30 seconds or a minute,” says Brown.
“We weren’t very close growing up,” says Mike, adding, “there were definitely days when we needed to be anywhere but around each other.”
“We were quite close in age, so we were really competitive growing up and never quite saw eye to eye,” echoes Sam.
Basketball wasn’t the first sport for either, with Sam excelling in Australian football (AFL), and Mike emerging as a young star in rugby.
“My first sport was Australian football, and basketball was just sort of a summer sport. You had to choose a winter and summer sport, and I chose basketball because I didn’t want to spend my Saturdays, all day, out on an oval,” explains Sam, adding, “My brother was a really, really good rugby player. He was choosing between basketball and trying to make a career professionally in rugby.”
Playing different sports during the winter months, the brothers were able to generally stay out of each other’s way, but once spring rolled around and the two found themselves on the same court, all hell would break lose.
“We were too close in age, everything was too competitive, so we weren’t the closest,” says Sam.
“You can only take your older brother always thinking he’s right so many times,” laughs Mike.
Adding to the conflicts was that Mike always seemed to be following in his older brother’s footsteps, while perennially playing in his shadow. Sam starred at Knox Grammar High School, leading Knox its first Combined Associated Schools (CAS) championship in 14 years by totaling 21.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists, while also starring for the Australian U-19 team, winning a gold medal at FIBA Oceania Youth Championship in Guam, and starring on the international circuit.
Mike came into his own as a star when his time came, guiding Knox to a 41-6 record over his four years as a power forward, and averaging 23 points per game, 11 rebounds per game and six assists per game as a senior captain, while also excelling for the U-19 team. But his older brother was always there to take him down a peg – or keep his ego in check, depending on who you talk to.
“Big brothers have a way of always letting their younger brother know, no matter what we do, that they did it first and did it better,” says Mike.
“I thought it was important for Mike to not lose focus of how good he could be, and to keep him from getting big-headed,” says Sam, adding, “and if I happened to also point out areas I had done more in, then that was just a coincidence,” he laughs.
Sam signed to play for Brown in 2011, helping to usher in an Australian era for the Great Danes. And after spending his first season sitting mostly on the end of the bench, Sam came into his own as an automatic scorer on the low post with a plethora of low-post moves (“Crocodile rolls,” as Brown calls them), helping to lead the Great Danes to the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore and junior.
When it came Mike’s turn to graduate high school, he had two big decisions to make. First, would he pursue rugby and turn pro, or basketball and head to the states and play college? And after he decided that hoops was his sport, where would he play?
“We had consulted mom and dad and Sam about recruiting Mike,” says Brown. “And originally Sam just shrugged his shoulders and I don’t think he was too keen on the idea, because of the competitiveness and the relationship being the way it was.”
Eventually, the older brother came around, but Brown and his staff still had to convince Mike, Catherine and Gregg.
“Mom and dad originally I think wanted them to go their separate ways. They didn’t want Mike to be in Sam’s shadow and the recognized the competitiveness that was in the household.”
Eventually, Mike decided to play with his brother and, according to all parties, it’s gone much smoother than anyone had imagined.
“Now that we came to college, we’re a bit older, and, yeah, we put up with each other a bit more so we’ve definitely gotten closer,” says Mike, who credits his older brother’s mentorship with helping him cope with living in a new country a world away from family and friends. “Whenever I need help, he’s there to help me out.”
“It was really nice to have Mike here as a teammate, and to really kind of get to know each other all over again as adults and become genuinely close,” adds Sam, adding slyly, “he’s matured a bit – thankfully.”
According to Brown, both players are invaluable and irreplaceable to the program, and while both have matured and mellowed a bit with age, a key to Albany’s sustained success has been harnessing and controlling their competitive nature with one another.
“In practice I try not to match them up against each other too much. It get’s overly competitive,” says Brown. “There will be days in practice when I think Sam needs to raise his level, and when I get upset with him, I’ll put Mike on him and I won’t give Sam any foul calls, and it gets overly intense. And then at a point where I think it’s about to get ugly, I’ll put someone else on Sam.
“I’ll do the same with Mike. If I’m not happy with Mike’s aggressiveness, I’ll put Sam on him and let him beat him up,” laughs Brown. “I know how to use that dynamic against them, but I don’t use it too much because I don’t want a fight in practice.”
As for fights, neither brother can remember the last one they had, but their competitive nature still sneaks out in other ways.
“I think the only issue is mom and dad bought them a car this summer,” says Brown, trying hard to hold back laughter. “They bought them a Cadillac, and the idea was for them to share it. But Sam has not let Mike drive the car yet, not once! I said to him, ‘Sam, when are you going to let Mike drive the car?’ and he said, ‘Coach, I graduate in May, after I walk the stage I will hand Mike the keys.’”
According to both brothers, the true growth of their relationship can be seen in the dynamic between the two in games, where, because they play the same position, usually only one will have a chance to star at any given time.
“It was a bit tough, because obviously you want Sam to do well, and when he was doing well it meant I wouldn’t play,” says Mike. “And when I would play it would mean that he was having a bad game or in foul trouble. It was kind of one of us would play well to the other one’s detriment.”
“I really developed a new respect for Mike, because, obviously with me being an upper classman, he’s kind of getting the short end of the stick right now, and he’s absolutely been terrific about supporting me,” says Sam, adding, “I honestly think he’s going to wind up being the better player out of the two of us when all is said and done.”
While their fighting days appear to be completely behind them, with both brothers now finally physically matured, who would win one final, no-holds barred throw down? Hypothetically speaking, of course.
“The older brother, absolutely, I would,” says Sam. “I’d have to find away. If Mike won the last fight between us, I’d officially be all washed up.
Their head coach agrees when pressed on the subject.
“Mike’s still a puppy, and I gotta’ go with the older brother. I think if I locked them in a room and said one could come out, I think right now, Sam would come out, close the door, and say, ‘coach I’m out,’” says Brown. “But then he’d go back in and carry his brother out and say, ‘coach, I’ll take care of him.’ I gotta go with Sam, I think he’s the grizzly bear of the two.”
But Mike remains confident about his prospects of finding a way to win.
“Sam’s a lover, deep down,” Mike chuckles. “He would never fight me now. And I feel like if we fought, I would probably fight dirty, and I think I would come out the winner even though he’s a lot stronger than me.”
With only one semester left before Sam graduates, the brothers have been spending more time reflecting on their two years together, and both are extremely grateful for the experiences they have shared.
“I think there will be moments, where I do little stuff – not even basketball stuff – where we go out to eat and socialize, and next year without Sam it will feel strange,” says Mike.
“Looking back in 10 years it will be really awesome, and it is an awesome experience right now,” adds Sam.
Neither brother is ready for their career to end just yet, and both have their sights set squarely on closing out their time as teammates with another championship – Sam’s third and Mike’s second.
“That’s the goal, to share one last championship,” says Mike.
“I don’t think anything would be better than to win a championship,” says Sam. “But win or lose, as corny as it sounds, getting to just get to know Mike like this has been the best experience of my life.”