Posts Tagged ‘Wes Cole’

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…)

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…)

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…)

Tough Enough

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Sponsored by Steph Crandall

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Hartford forward Oren Faulk sends Boston University guard D.J. Irving’s shot packing in the first half Saturday night. Faulk rejected two shots and the Hawks scored a resounding 66-58 win (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) – America East team’s that don’t double Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma do so at their own peril, and any player forced to cover the 6’6” sophomore one-on-one should be afraid – very afraid.

Nwakamma shrugged off a foul-plagued first half to play a herculean second, pouring in 22 points while ripping down 12 rebounds to lead Hartford to a 66-58 win and season sweep over visiting Boston University. A one-man wrecking crew, Nwakamma single-handedly demolished the Terriers’ front line, hitting 9-of-15 shots in his second career double-double. The Leander, Texas, native added three assists, two steals and two monster rejections, while committing just two turnovers.

“He was terrific in the second half,” said Boston University head coach Joe Jones of Nwkamma, “he brought them home at the end.”

“Coach has confidence in me and I have confidence in myself: when I’m single covered to go right at them,” said Nwakamma.

Hartford shot 51.1 percent from the floor (23-of-45) and 43.8 percent from behind the arc (7-of-16), and held the Terriers to just 37.5 percent from the field (21-of-56) and 34.6 percent from three (9-of-26).

“We got great ball reversals, great post touches, I think 16 three’s is the perfect number of three’s for us to be taking,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher. “I think we established physicality early. We are slowly becoming a physical team, which is exciting – very physical.”

Hartford won the rebounding battle 36-27, and in a heated and physical game that saw tempers flair and the benches empty after the final buzzer, thoroughly out-worked, out-fought and out-toughed the Terriers all night.

“They completely outplayed us in every facet of the game,” said Jones. “They executed at a higher level, they played harder, longer – they chased down loose balls.”

“I thought our guys, coming off an excruciating loss up eight the other night, we just showed our character,” said Gallagher, referencing Wednesday night’s home loss to Vermont, in which Hartford coughed up an eight point second half lead.

After spending their previous five games allergic to the low-blocks – bombing away bricks from behind the arc – Hartford outscored BU 30-24 in the paint. The Hawks also smothered the Terriers dribble-penetration – the lifeblood of their offense – turning Boston University into a jump shooting team.

Guard Wes Cole scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench, reserve forward John Peterson added nine and guard Yolonzo Moore II chipped in eight for the Hawks, who had 10 different players log four or more minutes, with eight contributing in the scoring column. Reserve forward Oren Faulk added two blocks.

The Terriers were led by junior guard D.J. Irving, who scored 14 points but required 13 shots to do it, to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Travis Robinson added 11 points off the bench, shooting 4-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Freshman point guard Maurice Watson scored 10 points while dishing out four assists and freshman forward Nate Diuedonne added eight points and six rebounds off the bench. (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…)

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…)