Posts Tagged ‘Corban Wroe’

Coaches Q & A series: Hartford’s John Gallagher — We’ve come a long way, baby

Monday, September 8th, 2014
Hartford head coach John Gallagher. OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

Hartford head coach John Gallagher. OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

The summer of 2010 was a crazy time for John Gallagher. In a matter of eye-blinks, the then 32-year old Gallagher went from not having a guaranteed paycheck as the assistant on the staff of good friend and interim head coach Jerome Allen at Penn, to a guaranteed gig when Allen was hired as the head coach, only to turn around be immediately hired as the associate head coach Boston College by close friend and mentor Steve Donahue.

But before Gallagher could even unpack his bags in Chestnut Hill, he was offered his first head coaching position at Hartford – a program he had helped build the foundation for only a few years earlier.

The catch, of course, was that Gallagher would be replacing his best friend, Dan Leibovitz, who had just resigned after two scuffling seasons. Gallagher had been the top assistant and lead recruiter on Leibovitz’ original staff, helping to take the program from the conference play-in game in 2007, to a then program record 18 wins and the America East championship game in 2008 (the program’s only appearance in the America East Championship).

In the two years after Gallagher left for an assistant coaching position at Penn, Hartford crashed and burned, winning a combined 15 games while getting trounced in two-straight conference tournaments – including a 41-point embarrassment on its home court against Boston University in 2010.

Shortly after taking the reigns, and before he had coached a single official practice, Gallagher and his new – and old – team (he had recruited virtually the entire senior class during his first stint in Hartford) boarded 30 hour flight to Australia for a 10-day tour of basketball and team building.

Four years later, the Hawks returned to The Land Down under, but while the destination was the same, everything else regarding the team has changed dramatically.

“Four years ago, I was hearing from two people: Sam Perkins, and my mother,” he laughed. “When I got back this year, I’ve already had calls from at least six different reporters wanting to talk about Australia.”

In his first season in Hartford, the Hawks won 11 wins, finishing sixth, before knocking off third-seed Maine in the conference tournament. That off season, Gallagher landed what has proven to be a game-changing six-man freshman class, among them power forward and future First Team All-Conference selection Mark Nwakamma, and starters Yolonzo Moore III (point guard), Corban Wroe (guard/forward) and Nate Sikma.

Before they could help the program turn the proverbial corner, that freshman class had to endure one of the harshest trials by fire, losing the first 13 games of their careers to open the 2011-2012 season. But the Hawks survived, finishing 7-9 in conference play, upset third-seed Boston University in the tournament quarterfinals and took Vermont to the limit before losing a double-overtime thriller in the semis.

The Hawks have won 17 games in each of the past two seasons, and continue to knock on the door that separates the true conference powers from the rest of the America East. Injuries, an inconsistent low-post presence, and arguably an over reliance on the three-ball have continued to stand in Hartford’s way from truly contending for a title.

With six seniors, including Nwakamma, who has entrenched himself as THE single most important player on the roster – and perhaps the single-most important Hawk since Vin Baker when considering his importance to Hartford’s title hopes – on the roster, this would seem to be the most important year both in Gallagher’s career and Hartford basketball history. Yet the fifth-year head coach refuses to see it that way.

Upon returning from 14 days in Australia, highlighted by five games against professional teams, and sightseeing trips to Sydney Harbor, Melbourne, and The Great Barrier Reef, among other spots, Gallagher sat down with One-Bid Wonders to talk about the Hawks’ recent trip to the land of Koala’s and Kangaroos. He also looked ahead to the upcoming season, touching upon what he views as needed areas of improvement and the keys – and barometer – of a successful season, as well as why he loves recruiting Aussies.

Gallagher also took a look back at his long, and strange journey to West Hartford and back again, offering insight on what it was like to replace his best friend, and his desire for the program to never forget its humble roots.

Sam Perkins: How was the return trip to Australia?

I went four years ago. And this time around, to have a team that can compete against some of the professional teams makes you feel good from basketball standpoint. But from a life-experience standpoint, our players will never forget what they experienced and I won’t forget it.

In addition to the basketball, what were some of the more memorable experiences from The Land Down Under?

Looking out over Sydney Harbor, touring Melbourne, visiting the Great Barrier Reef. They were incredible.

When we went on the Great Barrier Reef, everybody was snorkeling, and a few of us dived, and a few of us went on this machine called the “Scuba Doo.”

Going to the AFL (the premier) Australian rules football league game and there’s 85,000 people, it was a sport that our players don’t really know, but they really got into it.

(Editor’s Note: The Scuba Doo is a tiny, motorized, personalized submarine of sorts, in which the passenger’s head goes inside an air bubble, allowing them to sightsee underwater for prolonged periods).

So who were the best swimmers on the team?

There’s three great swimmers: The elite swimmers are Corban Wroe, Nate Sikma and Jamie Schneck.

Did anyone box a kangaroo or wrestle a crocodile while you were down there?

Well, I can’t really speak for what Corban does on his own time…

Speaking of Corban, he may have been the most improved player in the entire league last season, going from a defense-only role player during his first two and a half years in the league, to a go to scorer. What can you tell me about him and his transformation?

The funny story about Corban is, when we first tried to recruit him after the first trip (to Australia four years ago), he said “thanks but no thanks” — we were so bad. A few months later, coach G (associate head coach Chris Gerlufsen) told me that Corban actually had some interest in us, and I said, “nah, nah, we have no interest in him.”

Coach G had to put his foot down and tell me to check my ego because he was a program-changing player. Corban Wroe is one guy who is the heart and soul of what we do and what we’re about as a program. Corban coming from that distance and making the commitment is just awesome. (more…)

OBW Post Season Awards: OBW America East All-Defensive Team

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

OBW America East All-Defensive Team
Gary Johnson and Josh Elbaum were incredibly tough omits from this list.

Dave Coley has been blanketing scorers for four years. OBW File Photo / Sam Perkins

Dave Coley has been blanketing scorers for four years. OBW File Photo / Sam Perkins

Jordan Bronner, Sr., G, New Hampshire
UNH head coach Bill Herrion called Bronner one of the best back court defenders he has seen in his career – strong praise considering the coach’s career. Generously listed at 6-feet, Bronner has been relentless, almost single-handedly turning the clock back on to the program’s glory years on the defensive end.

Dave Coley, Sr., G, Stony Brook
Since day one four years ago, the 6’2” bundle of energy has been a lock-down, game-changing perimeter defender, blanketing the opponent’s best back-court scorer.

Brian Voelkel, Sr., F, Vermont
What can you say about Voelkel? He might not be able to outrun a broken down city bus or jump over a park bench, but he is relentless and has a Good Will Hunting-esque Basketball IQ and unparallel understanding of angles, numbers and defensive positioning. He’s also as strong as an ox and un-matched when it comes to bodying up, beating down, and scaring the bejesus out of opponents.

Kerry Weldon, Sr., F, UMass Lowell
UMass Lowell was a shockingly solid defensive team this season – downright outstanding defending against the three – and Weldon was the team’s best defender. The 6’5” senior blocked shots, ripped down defensive boards and clogged up the paint, but also did a terrific job at both the top and bottom of the 1-3-1 zone.

Corban Wroe, Jr., G, Hartford
If you took Brian Voelkel, shrunk him down about four inches, gave him some hops and an Australian accent, you’d have someone similar to Wroe on the defensive end. The junior guard from the land down under is a relentless on-ball defender who gets under opponents’ skin while blanketing them on D.

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Hartford battles hard but falls to Stony Brook, 56-52

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Hartford entered Pritchard Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon with revenge on its mind. After suffering a 20-point loss to Stony Brook on their home floor, the Hawks looked to take advantage of a shorthanded Seawolves squad and upset the top team in the America East.

But Stony Brook proved just why it sits atop the conference with some veteran plays in the final minutes to earn a hard-fought 56-52 win and improve to 16-7 overall and 8-1 in the America East. Hartford fell to 11-14 and 4-5.

For most of the game the Seawolves, playing without their third-leading scorer and conference sixth man of the year candidate Carson Puriefoy, struggled to score on Hartford’s matchup zone. The Hawks clogged to passing lanes and did not allow Stony Brook big man Jameel Warney to get good position in the low-post.

Playing without leading-scorer Mark Nwakamma, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury, Hartford shot the lights out from three-point land in the second half. Stony Brook opened with a 7-0 run to take a 32-24 lead, but the Hawks went on a 14-0 run of its own that included four triples. A three-pointer from Taylor Dyson gave the Hawks their biggest lead at 41-34 with 10:36 remaining.

After Anthony Jackson hit a jumper to cut the lead to five, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell did something he probably never did before. The Seawolves usually like to pound the ball inside with Warney and Eric McAlister, but Hartford’s zone did a great job denying the ball from reaching the post. So Pikiell put four guards on the floor and played a small lineup with either Warney or McAlister in the middle.

The small-ball group did a good job penetrating the zone and that led to a 9-0 run capped by a left-handed layup to give the Seawolves a 43-41 lead.

But the Hawks wouldn’t go down easily as Corban Wroe knocked down his third three-pointer of the day to give them a 49-48 lead with 3:05 left. That’s when Stony Brook started making the types of plays needed to win this slugfest of a game. (more…)

Post Season Awards: OBW All-Defensive Team

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Tommy Brenton, 6’5” 230 R-Sr., F, Stony Brook: The reigning America East (and OBW) Defensive Player of the Year, Brenton is the best defender on not only the league’s best defense, but one of the five best field goal percentage defenses in the nation. Capable of going “Revis Island” and locking down the best opposing scorer regardless of size and position, Brenton is fast, athletic, strong and super, super physical. (more…)

Numbers lie, Effort Doesn’t

Monday, March 4th, 2013
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Nate Sikma watches, along with the capacity crowd at Patrick Gymnasium, as his three-pointer at the buzzer hangs in the air. Sikma’s shot found the bottom of the net, giving the Hawks a 61-58 win (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Burlington, VT) – The saying goes that numbers don’t lie, but on a cold Sunday in The Green Mountain State, they did just that.

In nearly every statistical category, host Vermont pasted visiting Hartford: The Catamounts out-rebounded the Hawks by a staggering 20 boards, 34-14, while outscoring Hartford 28-10 in the paint and 27-18 off the bench. Vermont outshot Hartford from the floor (50 percent to 43.9 percent), outscored them in second-chance and fast-break points while taking seven more free throws than the Hawks, who were whistled for 10 more fouls.

But when sophomore forward Nate Sikma’s pick-and-pop three from the left corner found the bottom of the net as the final buzzer echoed off of the back wall of Patrick Gymnasium – a shot that survived the ensuing official review – it was Hartford who walked off the court the 61-58 winner.

Toughness, effort and energy – along with dead-eye sharpshooting from behind the arc – proved to be the great equalizer for the Hawks, who snapped a 15 game losing streak against the Catamounts with their first victory over Vermont since 2006.

“They flat out beat us tonight,” said Vermont forward Luke Apfeld, “They just came out and kind of took it to us on our home court.”

“If you have toughness and energy, if you have those two you can win a lot of games,” said third-year Hartford head coach John Gallagher, whose team improved to 17-10 on the season and 10-6 in conference play.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Hawks simply played harder for longer than the comatose Catamounts, out-hustling Vermont to loose-balls, getting under the Catamounts’ skin in scrums and flustering and frustrating Vermont’s offense with frenetic D: The Catamounts committed 20 turnovers to just seven assists.

“They were tougher than us across the board today and the turnovers were a clear indicator of that,” said Apfeld.

Playing the majority of the game without star forward and go-to scorer Mark Nwakamma, the Hawks buried 12 three’s while shooting a blistering 48 percent from behind the arc (12-of-25).

“We have toughness; we find ways to win,” said Gallagher. “We’re a program now – we’re much more than just one player.” (more…)

Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard

Monday, January 7th, 2013
Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) buries one of his six three's of the game. Cole scored a game-high 22 points and Hartford knocked off Boston University 77-74 on Saturday in Boston (Photo by Sam Perkins).

Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) buries one of his six three’s of the game. Cole scored a game-high 22 points and Hartford knocked off Boston University 77-74 on Saturday in Boston (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Boston, MA) – “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard.”

It is a well trod saying in the lexicon of sports, referencing effort as the great equalizer. No team in recent history has better epitomized that saying than the University of Hartford men’s basketball program, and no where was the saying more fitting than in summarizing the Hawks 77-74 come from behind road win over Boston University on Saturday.

Effort, energy and intestinal fortitude were the deciding factors, as the Hawks refused to lose, out-hustling and out-muscling the Terriers to every loose ball and rebound while charging back from three separate eight-point deficits. During the games frantic final minutes, Hartford shifted into overdrive, while Boston University simply ran out of gas.

“You have to credit the defense in the second half for that stretch there where we got stops,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher, visibly exhausted after the game.

“I’m just really disappointed in our effort,” said Terriers head coach Joe Jones. “They just beat us to loose balls, chased down loose balls; we got out-rebounded by a team that we’re even bigger than.”

Sophomore’s Wes Cole and Nate Sikma combined to score 41 points for Hartford. Cole came off the bench to score a game-high 22 on 7-of-15 shooting including six 3’s, and Sikma added 19 to go along with a game-high eight rebounds.

Bulldog sophomore guard Corban Wroe scored just three points, but played an equally huge role in the Hawks win, playing balls-out defense on the Terriers vaunted back-court, swiping three steals, drawing three second-half charges and making an incalculable number of hustle-plays. (more…)

Head-First: Corban Wroe steals the show, Mark Nwakamma explodes, and the Hawks earn redemption with 80-77 win over Central Connecticut State

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Hartford freshman Taylor Dyson drills a dagger with 4:16 remaining to put the Hawks up 70-62 over Central Connecticut State, as (from left to right) forward Nate Sikma, assistant coach Matt Blue and head coach John Gallagher react. The Hawks would hang on for an 80-77 win (Photograph by Sam Perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) – With 4:25 remaining in the game, and the Hartford Hawks clinging to a 67-62 lead over Central Connecticut State, Blue Devils sophomore Kyle Vinales had the ball in his hands at the top of the key, with only Hartford sophomore Corban Wroe standing between him and another bucket. One of the most explosive scorers in the nation, Vinales ranked third among the national scoring leaders at 25.7 points per game, and was in the midst of a scoring deluge, having poured in 24 or more points in four straight games. Averaging just 16 minutes and a whopping two point per game average, Wroe would seem to be at the losing end of a decided mismatch.

But while Vinales got the better of his defenders for most of the night, pouring in a game and season-high 32 points, in the games biggest moment, it was Wroe who made the biggest play. The 6’2″ Australian-import and one-time Rugby star poked the ball loose into the back court. At an all out sprint, Wroe chased Vinales down from behind. When the star shooting guard slowed to corral the ball, Wroe launched himself like a missile head-first, flying past Vinales, diving on the ball and calling a timeout before he could be tied out.

It was the game in microcosm.

“Today, when clutch plays needed to be made – Corban Wroe’s play – we made the toughness plays, so I can circle that down as why we had the ‘W’ today,” said head coach John Gallagher

Nearly a year ago to the day, the Hawks were annihilated, 92-58, by the Blue Devils, getting out-played, out-hustled, out-toughed, and thoroughly embarrassed in a game which was no where near as close as its lopsided final score. On Saturday afternoon, the Hawks got a measure of revenge and redemption, making all the gut check plays down the stretch to out-fight and out-work the Blue Devils for an 80-77 win.

“We have to realize that those [hustle] plays – that’s the foundation of who we are; those toughness plays,” said Gallagher.

“[Coach Gallagher] had them motivated and they played with more emotion than we did,” said Central Connecticut State head coach Howie Dickenman. “We were well prepared for this… But emotionally we weren’t there; we weren’t mentally tough.”

Sophomore Forward Mark Nwakamma exploded for a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out five assists, adding a block and a steal. Sophomore guard Yolonzo Moore II scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep. Freshman point guard Evan Cooper scored 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench. But it was Wroe who made the biggest and toughest plays in the deciding moments. (more…)

Hawks Win! Hawks Win! Hartford ends 0-13 start to the season with effort, enthusiasm

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

(West Hartford, Conn.) — Hartford assistant coach Drew Dawson sat alone in his office late Friday afternoon. The Hawks stood at 0-13 – fresh off of a 25-point beatdown at conference rival Albany. They were one of only five teams in all of Division-I without a victory, and were off to one of the worst starts to a season in America East history.

“Tonight’s the night,” said Dawson as he affixed a skully-cap to his head and headed outside for a breath of fresh air. There was no fear in his voice, no anxiety – no false bravado either – just quiet but solemn resolve.

Four hours later, the final buzzer sounded, with the battered, bruised-and-bloodied, but not beaten, Hawks standing victorious, with an incredibly hard-fought 56-49 victory over conference rival New Hampshire. (more…)