Posts Tagged ‘Hartford’

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…)

Evan Cooper officially out at Hartford — at least for now

Monday, September 8th, 2014
 Evan Cooper. OBW photo / Sam Perkins.

Evan Cooper. OBW photo / Sam Perkins.

Upon returning from two weeks leading his team through the land down under, Hartford head coach John Gallagher confirmed what was already well known around the league: point guard Evan Cooper is no longer a member of the Hawks.

“He’s taking a year off. I can’t say anything other than that,” said Gallagher during a recent interview.

However, Gallagher left the door open for Cooper’s return down the road, saying, “I hope he joins us in a year.”

Cooper wasn’t flashy or fancy, but the 6-foot point guard was crafty and rarely made mistakes with the ball in his hands, averaging 7.5 points, 1.7 assists and two rebounds in 60 games over his two seasons in Hartford, making 23 starts. Cooper during his two years in the program, Cooper was the only other primary ball handler in addition to starting point guard Yolonzo Moore III, and gave the Hawks the ability to move Moore off the ball.

A career 38.4 percent 3-point shooter, Cooper was one of the Hawks more accurate long-range gunners. However, with the emergence of Corban Wroe and Taylor Dyson, along with the white-hot shooting of Wes Cole, Cooper saw his offensive touches fluctuate during the second half of his sophomore season.

Beginning in late spring, rumors persisted around America East coaching circles that Cooper was no longer a member of the Hawks, which was apparently confirmed midsummer when his name disappeared from the team’s roster, and was officially confirmed by Gallagher after the Hawks’ foreign tour of Australia – a trip Cooper did not make.

Moore, a senior, has always been penciled in as the Hawks starting point guard, and according to Gallagher, he “was terrific,” running the show against Australian pros. However, Cooper’s departure leaves sophomore Justin Graham, who averaged just 0.8 points, 0.3 assists, one rebound and 8.4 minutes in 30 games last year, as the only other true point guard on the roster.

The fighter: Hartford’s John Carroll

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
John Carroll. Courtesy photo / Hill School

John Carroll. Courtesy photo / Hill School

Coaches look for players who fight with everything they have to get onto the court.

According to Hartford head coach John Gallagher, Hawks freshman forward John Carroll has taken that intensity to another level.

“John Carroll is ready for a fight when he walks on the floor — John Carroll is ready,” said Gallagher.

According to Gallagher, the 6-foot-8-inch, 220-pound native of Dublin, Ireland, by way of the Hill School in Philadelphia, is good; really good.

If John wasn’t athletic, he’d be a really good Atlantic-10 player, but he is athletic,” raved Gallagher on a recent afternoon, adding, “John Carroll is a dynamic player.”

The scouting report on Carroll is that he is a skilled forward who is comfortable playing on the perimeter, can shoot the ball in the mid-range and can score around the hoop. But according to Gallagher, it’s Carroll’s ability to impact the game on the defensive end and on the glass, and above all his toughness and tenacity, that have the coach the most excited.

“He’s a killer, man,” said Gallagher. “It’s all about being physical; it’s all about having a presence and John Gallagher has a presence.

Carroll spent the past three seasons in the states, spending two years at IMG Academy before transferring to Hill School for his senior season. Given that, despite plenty of exposure, Carroll chose Hartford over the likes of Columbia and Binghamton, it would be fair to take Gallagher’s rave reviews with a grain of salt and a healthy portion of skepticism.

But according to Gallagher, Carroll is a late bloomer whose background – coming from a country not known for producing premier basketball players – worked against him. More than that, according to Gallagher, Carroll is the real deal.

“This is a competition and it is a competition for him every time he steps in the gym.”

Despite his expectations, Gallagher’s initial plans were to easy Carroll into the rotation this season, but according to the fifth-year head coach, the freshman forced his hand during the team’s recent trip to Australia. (more…)

Death by 1,000 paper cuts: how the worst of times became the best of times for Stony Brook

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
Steve Pikiell (photo courtesy of the Stony Brook Statesman)

Steve Pikiell (photo courtesy of the Stony Brook Statesman)

It was death by 1,000 paper cuts — agonizingly slow and excruciatingly painful. Sixteen minutes and forty seconds without a field goal. Sixteen minutes and forty seconds of my life that I would never get back.

At least, that’s what it felt like at the time. Seven years later, I am thankful for the experience and for the perspective it provides me.

It was Friday night, March 2, 2007; the opening night of the America East Tournament – the “pillow-fight play-in game” — and the brand new Agganis Arena was a morgue. The announced attendance of a little more than 1,000, was, in reality, only a few hundred unenthusiastic fans filling the 6,000 seat arena with silence.

Taking the hardwood under second-year head coach Steve Pikiell, last-place Stony Brook had danced and dunked up a storm an hour before tipoff, before hitting eight-seed Hartford like a runaway freight train out of the opening tap.

Bionic-legged Seawolf senior Andre Vanterpool — wearing bright red, knee-high socks and cumbersome knee braces — hung elbows above the rim to corral a late, errant lob, before cocking it back behind his head and slamming down a monster two-handed alley-oop in traffic. Senior forward Mike Popoko, 6-feet-4-inches of effort and energy, fought his way to the rim for second chance points, and gunners Ricky Lucas and Tre Cunningham dissected the Hawks defense off the dribble. Stony Brook led by 20 at the half, 19 with 15:10 left and 17, 44-27, with just 12:38 remaining.

The game was well in hand; break out the champagne bottles and cigars.

And then the horror began. Stony Brook scored just three points the rest of the way, all at the free-throw line, as the Hawks rattled off a 22-3 run to close out the game.

The Seawolves final 16:40 of that fateful eve still stands as the absolute worst stretch of basketball I have ever seen in my entire life. (Keep in mind that I was a first-hand witness to BU’s 73-22 curb-stomping of Hartford, and no where during that monstrosity was there a stretch as bad as Stony Brook’s final 16:40). Every pass into the stands, every back court and shot clock violation, every air ball and drive to no where, was like 1,000 rusty knives stabbing me in my retinas.

With the game clock in single digits, Hartford senior Bo Taylor drove baseline, left-to-right, before hoisting up a contested 12-footer. As the final buzzer rang, Taylor’s jumper settled into the bottom of the net, completing Stony Brook’s epic collapse.

In addition to Vanterpool, the game marked the end of the careers of Seawolves’ seniors Popoko and Solomon Bamiro, who, along with red-shirt junior Mitchell Beauford and assistant coach Dan Rickard, were the lone holdovers and final connections to the Nick Macarchuk era and the 2004 quarterfinal upset of top-ranked Boston University (a team that had won 23 of its last 24 and gone 17-1 in league play), which still stands as the greatest single victory in school history.

Several hours after the game, a post game meal at the Sunset Cantina, and a slow drive back over the BU Bridge into Cambridge, my Grand Prix rattled over pothole strewn Edwin H Land Boulevard in the no man’s land that resembles a post-apocalyptic dystopia near the mouth of the Charles River. There were the Seawolves, still wearing their red and white warmups in the shadows cast by the lonely parking lot lights outside of the Royal Sonesta hotel, waiting to board their bus, as if trying to blow out of Dodge under the cover of darkness.

At the time, I thought Pikiell wasn’t long for the league. How little I knew back then. (more…)

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…)

Wes Cole goes ballistic from behind the arc, breaks program record while leading Hartford to 69-51 win over UMass Lowell

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) . OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) . OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

After Vermont and Stony Brook – the usual suspects in the battle for America East supremacy and two teams that have put considerable distance between themselves and the rest of the pack – no team in the “AE” entered Monday hotter than the UMass Lowell River Hawks.

Ineligible for post season play for four years as part of their NCAA-sanctioned “transitional” period, the River Hawks were all but unanimously relegated to the bottom of the America East barrel by fans and prognosticators alike before the opening tip-off of their inaugural Division I season. But after losing their first 11 Division I games of the season, Lowell caught fire. Powered by heart, hustle, effort and energy, the River Hawks rattled off three straight conference wins, downing UMBC, Binghamton and defending tournament champion Albany and nearly knocking off Stony Brook at Pritchard Gymnasium – the most hostile of road environments – before falling by five.

Hartford, on the other hand, began Monday as one of the bigger disappointments in the conference. It wasn’t that the Hawks were playing poorly, but rather, they were the same ball-reversal, ball-reversal, ball-reversal, contested-3 at the end of the shot clock, team they were last year. Solidly upper-middle of the America East pack (aided by perhaps the worst collective crop of teams in league history), Hartford hadn’t taken the step up to true contender that many had predicted.

40 minutes of game time later, and it was the original America East Hawks who were flying high and the new birds on the block whose wings were clipped, as Hartford downed UMass Lowell in a 69-51 wire-to-wire win.

The story of the day was Hartford junior Wes Cole, who exploded for a career-high 30 points by drilling a 10-of-20 3-pointers to set a new program record. Cole’s 10 3-pointers broke former Hawk Joe Zeglinski’s previous record of nine set against New Hampshire in February of 2008. Cole’s eruption trails only Gary Bossert, who drilled 12 for Niagra in 1987, and T.J. Sorrentine, who buried 11 for Vermont in 2002, for the most in a single game in conference history.

“Joe Zeglinski’s one of the best players to ever play here and to break one of his records, it’s pretty cool,” said Cole after the game.

Cole’s 20 attempts trails only former Northeastern Husky Marcus Barnes, who bombed away 21 times against Vermont in 2004, for the most in America East history.

Hartford out-rebounded the River Hawks 38-30, out-shot Lowell 41.9 percent from the floor to 36.7 percent, and drilled 14 3-pointers to Lowell’s six. Hartford registered the resounding win despite playing without two starters in junior forward Nate Sikma and sophomore guard Evan Cooper, who were each dealing with leg injuries. In their absence, junior guard Corban Wroe stepped up. Known as a defensive stopper, Wroe scored 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds. Reserve senior forward Oren Faulk added eight rebounds off the bench. (more…)

Same as it ever was: Hartford isn’t bad; it just isn’t any better than last year

Monday, January 13th, 2014
Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma looks for room against Stony Brook. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma looks for room against Stony Brook. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

(West Hartford, Conn.) — Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma sat quietly in his chair, a glazed-over look in his eyes as he stared downwards towards his shoe tops.

10 minutes earlier, the final buzzer had cut through the hollow air hanging over a glum Chase Arena. Hours earlier, the Hartford Hawks, playing on their home court, had raced out to a 20-10 lead over America East power Stony Brook. Hartford was running and gunning, hitting on all cylinders with a partisan behind it and a chance to make a statement entering league play.

Instead, the Hawks came unglued and the visiting Seawolves landed one haymaker after the next, KO-ing the hosts 63-30 the rest of the way, to register a 73-50 win.

One of the smartest and most eloquent players in the league – always meeting tough questions head on, with deep and thoughtful responses – Nwakamma was uncharacteristically quiet, sticking to short answers and avoiding eye-contact, before being excused by his head coach two questions into the press conference.

“You just saw Mark; they’re in shock,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher after the game. “That’s a team that thought they should win that game up 10 and we did not handle the lead well.”

The always quotable Gallagher – a constant tornado of confidence, excitement and outspoken energy during his tenure in Hartford – was unusually soft spoken following the loss, but remained steadfast in his faith in his team.

“I think great things can still happen, I really do, what you have to do is just keep working at it.”

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to share the head coach’s enthusiasm. (more…)

Weathering the storm: Stony Brook survives opening onslaught, trounces Hartford 73-50

Monday, January 13th, 2014
Stony Brook center Jameel Warney goes to work on Hartford power forward Mark Nwakamma in the first half of the Seawolves' 73-50 win over the host Hawks. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Stony Brook center Jameel Warney goes to work on Hartford power forward Mark Nwakamma in the first half of the Seawolves’ 73-50 win over the host Hawks. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

(West Hartford, Conn) — The last time the Stony Brook Seawolves traveled to West Hartford, it turned into a polar trek through a blinding blizzard worthy of the likes of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

By the time the weather-worn and road weary Seawolves arrived in Chase Family Arena last Feb. after being stranded along a back road thanks to a broken down bus in the middle of whiteout conditions, they barely had the legs to stand for 40 minutes, let alone play a basketball game, and fell 60-55 to the host Hawks.

On their return to Chase on Sunday, the Seawolves had to survive a storm of a different kind: the swirling defense and opening avalanche of shots that Harford nearly buried them with out of the opening tip. Stony Brook fell behind 7-0 to start the game, 12-3 with 13:19 left in the first half and 20-10 with just over eight-minutes remaining in the opening period.

But the Seawolves weathered the storm and outscored Hartford 63-30 the rest of the way en route to a 73-50 romp to move to 2-0 in conference play.

“I thought we played well tonight – great energy,” said Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell.

“For this game, in general, you just gotta’ tip your hat to Stony Brook in the second half,” said Hartford head coach John Gallgher. “That was as good a second half as I’ve seen them play, so you just have to tip your hat to them.”

After a sluggish start, Stony Brook shot 69.2 percent in the second half (18-of-26) to finish at 57.1 percent on the night (28-of-49) and 41.7 percent from behind the arc (5-of-12). The Seawolves dominated the post, out-rebounding Hartford 33-18 and outscoring the Hawks 40-16 in the paint.

“I was us, really. Once we settled down and got a shot up we were fine,” said Pikiell. “I liked our energy, I liked our depth, we got the ball inside to Jameel when we wanted to, Dave [Coley] was great on both ends of the floor.”

The Seawolves seemingly accomplished the impossible, doubling Hartford power forward and leading scorer Mark Nwakamma on every touch, while also contesting virtually every Hawks’ perimeter shot. Nwakamma, who entered the averaging nearly 17 points per contest and shooting 54 percent from the floor, was held to just 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and the Hawks shot just 29.6 percent from behind the arc (8-of-27).

Senior guard Dave Coley led the way for Stony Brook, scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half en route to an 8-of-13 night from the floor. With starting point guard Anthony Jackson suspended for the game for what was deemed a “violation of team rules,” Coley picked up the slack running the offense, dishing out a career-high seven assists, while also pulling down six rebounds and swiping two steals. (more…)

Hawks’ present, future, takes hits with the loss of two players

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Hartford’s four-man 2013 recruiting class has shrunk to two, as center Yasin Kolo, a sophomore transfer, and freshman wing Preston Anderson have both been removed from the Hawk’s roster and have left the team.

Kolo, a 6’10” 245-pounder transferred in to Hartford from Eastern Carolina this summer and received an NCAA waiver to play immediately. After seeing limited minutes in the Hawks first two games of the season, he enjoyed a breakout performance in the Hawk’s 63-53 win over Fairfield on Nov. 13, exploding for a career-high 20 points in 31 minutes, hitting 6-of-8 shots and 3-of-4 from behind the arc.

A native of Germany, Kolo cracked double-figures in scoring and played double-digit minutes in each of the next two games and seemed to be the perfect compliment to play besides bruising and bouncy star power forward Mark Nwakamma. However, Kolo’s playing time tailed off, as he was relegated to five and nine minutes in losses to Hofstra and Holy Cross, respectively, before being suspended indefinitely for what head coach John Gallagher described as “a pattern of behavior,” and not an isolated incident. (more…)

Hartford frosh Dougal Weir’s redshirt plans scrapped

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

When Hartford freshman center Dougal Weir set foot on campus in West Hartford this summer, the ground may well have literally shook.

To say the native of Sydney, Australia, is a mountain of a man is a massive understatement: Standing close to six foot ten and tipping the scales north of 260-pounds, with broad shoulders, a barrel chest and a massive neck, Weir is his own pick on the basketball court.

But the former Rugby player-turned hooper was raw and rough around the edges and was headed down the road of a red-shirt freshman while he learned the finer nuances of the game.

But Weir’s path took an abrupt left turn on Saturday, as he threw bows for 16 minutes of game action battling against the towering frontcourt of Yale in the Hawks’ 54-49 home loss.

Weir’s sudden activation coincided with the indefinite suspension for 6’10” transfer center Yasin Kolo and many who follow the Hartford program have looked to make the connection between the two. Certainly, facing off against the Bulldogs’ vaunted frontcourt without the services of Kolo, Hartford could use all the help they could get.

However, according to Hartford head coach John Gallagher, the reason that Weir was activated and plans for a red-shirt season were shelved were because of, well, Weir. More specifically, the impact the freshman has been making in practice. (more…)