Posts Tagged ‘Mark Nwakamma’

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…)

OBW Post Season Awards: OBW America East All-Conference Second Team

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

OBW America East Second Team All-Conference

Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Sandro Carissimo, Sr., G, Vermont
If Sandro Carissimo had a selfish bone in his body, he might be on the First Team. If he played on lesser team and was forced to take more shots and kept up his same efficiency rating, he’d be on our First Team. Those are the unanswerable “what ifs”. As is, Carissimo had a brilliant senior season and was the last man off our First Team. Carissimo ranked eighth in the league in Kenpom offensive rating, and fourth among players who accounted for at least 20 percent of their teams possessions. Beyond that, The soft-spoken six-footer was heady, steady, efficient and consistent for the Catamounts, hitting big shots, getting to the rack at will for stretches, and always remaining calm, cool and collected.

Peter Hooley, R-Soph., G, Albany
Hooley avoided a sophomore slump and instead made the leap from solid supporting cast member to spotlight star, emerging as the Great Danes’ go to scorer. After spending last season as a combo-guard, running the point when Mike Black needed a blow, the 6’3” Australian has focuses solely on putting the ball in the hoop this year and he’s filled it up all season long. Hooley tied for third in scoring in league games (15.4 ppg) and ranked sixth overall (14.8 ppg). He also ranked sixth overall in Kenpom offensive rating while showing the ability to knock down the 3-ball, master the mid-range game and get to the hoop.

Mark Nwakamma, Jr., F, Hartford
Nwakamma is a tricky case, because his advanced stats and efficiency rankings when combined with his usage rate stack up favorably against most players in the conference, but his propensity to rack up fouls and spend extended periods of time on the bench continued to handicap the Hawks. A super athletic, incredibly skilled and extremely talented 6’6” 230-pound power forward, Nwakamma plays with relentless effort and energy, and scored from everywhere on the floor, ranking seventh in the league in scoring in conference games (13.6 ppg) and third in overall scoring (15.1 ppg). His nearly four fouls per contest and extended time on the bench is what keeps him off of our All-Conference First Team.

Xavier Pollard, Jr., G, Maine
Who knows what Pollard might have done if he was on any team other than the Titanic that is Maine. He also battled injuries, a suspension and saw his spot in the starting lineup come and go as the Black Bears seemingly threw lineups against the wall to see what stuck. Despite the vortex of dysfunction and disarray swirling around him, the 6’2” junior did it all for Maine, stuffing the stat sheet, tying for fourth in the league in scoring at 14.9 points per game, while ranking third in assists (4 apg), second in steals (1.7 spg) and 18th in rebounds despite playing the point guard position (4.4 rpg). He was also an outstanding on-ball defender.

Carson Puriefoy, Soph., G, Stony Brook
Puriefoy was phenomenal for stretches for the Seawolves, and who knows that might have been if he didn’t spend the first half of the season coming off the bench and also hadn’t battled injuries for spells. The dynamic six-foot point guard ranked 11th in overall scoring (12.7 ppg) and eighth in scoring in conference games (13.5 ppg). He was also the only player on the Seawolves capable of dribble penetration or of generating offense, pushing the pace in transition and getting to the hoop in the halfcourt.

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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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Post Season Awards: OBW All-Conference First Team

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Tommy Brenton, 6’5” 230 R-Sr., F, Stony Brook
Overall: 31.2 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 2.3 A/TO, 109.8 ORtg
Conference: 30.9 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 APG, 112.1 ORtg
Brenton does everything for Stony Brook: The engine that powers the Seawolves, he is the heart and soul, leader, and toughest player. A point-forward, Brenton runs the Seawolves offense and ranks among the league leaders in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, while also cleaning up the glass as one of the conference’s top rebounders. Add in a career high in scoring, and Brenton’s overall offensive package stands as one of the league’s most valuable. That is in addition to Brenton’s status as the league’s premier defender and enforcer. As impressive as his numbers are, they fall short of summarizing his overall impact. (more…)