Posts Tagged ‘John Gallagher’

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…)

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…)

A hitchhiker’s guide to the (basketball) galaxy: Lafayette’s Bilal Abdullah

Monday, August 4th, 2014

bilal

I met Bilal Abdullah in a sweaty, dimly lit gym with faded white and green walls and flickering florescent light bulbs that sits across the street from a shuttered mental asylum. We argued almost immediately. I liked him instantly.

Our paths first converged six years ago in Watch City — Waltham, Massachusetts — a sprawl of red brick mill buildings and slat-sided houses sitting in the shadows outside of Boston’s glow. Once a major mercantile and manufacturing hub during the American Industrial Revolution, it now searches for an identity while straddling the divide between urban renewal and a death rattle.

At the time, we were both trying to find our way in our respective worlds: I was transitioning from broken down ballplayer to wannabe writer; He was swimming upstream against the turbulent waters that gulf the great divide between small conference college hoops and professional ball.

Fresh off a four-year career at Lafayette in which he had scored more than 1,250 points to go along with nearly 420 rebounds and 290 assists as a 6’5” wing, Abdullah now found himself in no man’s land, competing against thousands of other American players – many from far more prestigious, higher-level “name” programs — for just a few hundred open roster spots overseas.

A few months earlier, Abdullah was studying amongst the starched collars and brownstones of one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Now, he was shacking up with a cast of basketball misfits in an aging triple-decker on a pothole strewn street — living in the hardwood equivalent of Animal House.

Abdullah had come to Waltham to train in a no-name gym with brothers Wayne and Keith Alpert. A pair of short, white, Jewish brothers, despite their outsider status in a game now dominated by tall African-Americans, the Alperts had carved out a niche as basketball gurus capable of reinventing, resuscitating, or completely creating professional careers. (Among others, the Alperts unearthed Mark Eaton, took the likes of Theo Ratliff and Antonio Davis from the scrap heap and put them back in the NBA; and helped Ben Handlogten become the oldest American-born NBA rookie in league history).

Aiding the Alperts was their protégé, former Pitt star Bobby Martin, who was transitioning from a 13-year pro career at the highest levels of European basketball to the next phase of his life as a trainer.

I spent a lot of time hanging out with the Animal House cast of oddballs, misfits and characters, and I very quickly gravitated towards Abdullah. Over the course of numerous verbal sparring sessions (we argued about everything — politics, race, religion, hell, he even got me to argue about soccer – and I don’t think we agreed on much of anything) I came to know him as equal parts philosopher, rabble-rouser, and iconoclast

In other words, he was exactly my type of guy. (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…)

OBW America East preseason predictions: #4 Hartford

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Projected starting lineup:

Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

G – Yolonzo Moore II, Jr., 6’2” 175
G – Evan Cooper, Soph, 6’ 180
G – Corban Wroe, Jr., 6’2” 195
F – Nate Sikma, Jr., 6’7” 235
F – Mark Nwakamma, Jr. 6’6” 235

Overview:
Head coach John Gallagher’s brash and exuberant demeanor on the sidelines and in press conferences might not make him friends among basketball traditionalists or rival coaches. But it has motivated his players to give more of themselves – in effort, energy and intensity – in practices and in games, and fostered more camaraderie and loyalty than perhaps any other team in the league.

Two years ago, in Gallagher’s second season at Hartford’s helm, the incredibly young and inexperienced Hawks opened the season losing their first 13 games. Most teams would have checked out and quit, but Gallagher kept fighting for his team and in return they kept fighting for him. It paid off, as the Hawks caught fire down the stretch, advancing all the way to the America East semifinals – a double-overtime thriller in which they came up just short against eventual tournament champion Vermont.

That 2011-2012 season was a trial by fire for the freshman class, which included Mark Nwakamma, Nate Sikma, Yolonzo Moore II, Corban Wroe and Jamie Schneck. The trio suffered losses and faced adversity in a way they never had before. But they grew from it, forming the foundation to build a program on.

Last year, the Hawks made the jump from upset-minded underdog towards the top of the conference. They still played incredibly hard, but now they had a burgeoning star and the ability to ignite from behind the arc.

Now, they’re looking to make the leap to the top of the conference.

In theory, Gallagher’s scheme of relying on ball movement and pounding the ball in to Mark Nwakamma on the blocks to open up “naked three’s” on the perimeter to account for the team’s offensive output is sound. The Hawks sacrifice offensive rebounds and second chance points to be able to get back on defense and not get beat in transition.

But, in reality, the Hawks roster has yet to prove it has the shooters needed to sustain an offense that revolves almost solely around volume shooting from behind the arc. Furthermore, they have yet to show any “break glass in case of emergency” plan for when the three’s aren’t falling and/or Nwakamma isn’t on the floor due to fouls. Both of these issues proved to be their undoing in the post season last season, with heavy underdog UMBC taking it to the Hawks around the hoop while Hartford was unable to find water despite falling out of a boat from behind the arc.

Hartford is either going to need their shooters to take the leap from catching lightening in a bottle to consistent (Gallagher’s hope), or adjust to a system that uses their tremendous ball movement to generate offense going towards the basket instead of on the perimeter.

Either way, they need Nwakamma to stay on the floor. (more…)

Goodbye and Good Luck, Glowiak

Monday, August 12th, 2013

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone.

I guess I just miss my friend.” – ‘Red’ Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

Glowiak-Blue

After nearly a decade at Hartford, Brian Glowiak (left) is moving on. Photo by Sam Perkins

Some players leave a lasting impression on the America East – the rims remain swaying and floorboards quaking long after they have stepped off the hardwood, peeled off their jersey and hung up their sneakers for the last time.

Some people leave a lasting impact, imprinting themselves on your soul. When they move on to bigger and better things, they leave behind a void in your life, and the league, that can never fully be filled again; the dimly lit arenas are that much emptier, and the back roads that connect them that much more desolate, in their absence.

From purely a basketball standpoint, Brian Glowiak is one of the most forgettable players I have ever watched in the America East.

In his four-year career, which spanned from 2004 through 2008, Glowiak appeared in 118 games but started just 13. His career averages of 3.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists don’t even merit a footnote in the America East record books. He never cracked 20 points in a game, topping out at 15 a handful of times.

When ranking America East basketball players in terms of athleticism and physical skill, Brian Glowiak ranks somewhere near the bottom. At a listed 6’3”, Glowiak might not have been able to jump over a phone book or outrun a city bus driving in reverse. He was the stereotypical, forgettable, tough-as-nails, cerebral coach’s son and perennial gym rat that litter the ends of rotations in small conference hoops. But there have only been a handful of players to come through the America East who were as fierce a competitor, loved the game as much, or left as much of themselves on the court.

There have been fewer still who had his character off the court. (more…)

Some America East musings on a rain-soaked day

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

It’s been raining dogs and cats (and black bears and Great White Sharks and just about an other manner of animal and fish you can think of) over Massachusetts for what seems like a month (pretty sure I saw an arc getting swept down my street by a tidal wave the other day).

But while the roiling black skies have been raging along the northeast, the America East (and the college basketball world as a whole) is relaxing in the eye of the storm. Other than a late-straggler signing or speculation about the future (of players, programs and conferences), the league is in a down period, with players putting in grueling work far from the spotlight in the work in empty, sweaty, echo-filled gyms.

So you’ll excuse me if I stare out my rain-battered window and daydream — muse, rant and ramble — about the America East: (more…)

Refuse to Lose

Sunday, March 10th, 2013
IMG_8444

UMBC head coach and the Retrievers bench exploded when senior guard Brian Neller drilled a dagger-three with 1:16 remaining to seal sixth-seeded UMBC’s upset win over three-seed Hartford (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Albany, New York) – With 1:13 remaining, UMBC head coach Aki Thomas knelt on the edge of the court, pumped both his fists and let out a mighty roar that rose above the din of the crowd and ricocheted off the far walls of SEFCU Arena.

For the better part of a decade, emotional outbursts – tantrums, tirades and all manner of explosions – emanating from the Retrievers head coach have been common place on the UMBC sidelines.

But nothing like this.

Two days earlier, Thomas had been signed to a one-year contract and named the Retriever’s head coach, after spending the previous season – his first at the helm in Catonsville – wearing the “interim” tag. Now, he watched from the sidelines as senior sniper Brian Neller’s sixth three pointer of the night, a back-breaker from the right corner, found nothing but the bottom of the net, sealing the sixth-seeded Retrievers 69-62 upset of third-seed Hartford in the America East Tournament Quarterfinals.

What followed was a moment of pure euphoria and unadulterated joy. The Retrievers bench – downtrodden and defeated for the previous three seasons – followed their coach’s lead, leaping in excitement, embracing one another and bellowing towards the rafters.

“It’s never really been too much about me, it’s always been about the players and I always knew I was going to be okay. It’s always been for them – they’re the one that have been doing three tough seasons,” said Thomas after the game.

UMBC senior guards Ryan Cook and Brian Neller flat-out refused to watch their careers end on Saturday afternoon, willing the Retrievers to their first America East Tournament victory in four years. Playing in what could have been the final game of their careers, the duo put their team on their backs and combined for 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting.

Cook, who began his college career as a Division II walk-on before walking-on to his home-town team as a junior, was everywhere, pouring in a game-high 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting while playing frenetic defense. The 6’2” senior scored from everywhere on the court – step back jumpers, dizzying drives to the bucket, post-up hoops in the paint, while making one hustle play after the next. Cook single-handedly rattled off a 12-0 second half run, turning an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead. (more…)