Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blackbirds have new set of feathers with hiring of Derek Kellogg

Derek Kellogg addresses media for first time as head coach of LIU Brooklyn, replacing Jack Perri. (Photo by Jonathan Reyes/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)

BROOKLYN -- When a basketball program can have Kentucky head coach John Calipari quoted in a press release and have the Hall of Fame coach tweet about its new hire at the head coaching position, it’s doing something right.

Such was the case Tuesday morning, when LIU Brooklyn introduced its 14th head coach in Derek Kellogg before a contingent of local media inside Barclays Center.

“Coach Kellogg has a proven track record as one of the nation’s top recruiters who understands player development and how to build a winning program,” Calipari; who coached Kellogg at the University of Massachusetts and brought him onto his staff at Memphis, said in the release. “The future is bright for LIU with Derek Kellogg at the helm. I have witnessed firsthand his heart and love of the game as a player and a coach.”

Calipari also tweeted the following after the press conference concluded:











It was a fast turnaround for Kellogg to be back in the role of head coach at another college basketball program, especially after nine seasons at UMass and being fired March 9. A little over a month passed before he resurfaced, even to his own surprise.

“I didn’t think I’d be getting back in this quickly,” he said during the press conference.


Flanked by Julius van Sauers (left) and Julian Batts (right), Derek Kellogg is intent on maintaining status quo of success at LIU Brooklyn. (Photo by Jonathan Reyes/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

The same way he found a new opportunity for him and his family is the same way he’s going to have to build his own Blackbirds brand and identity almost right away, most notably since he’s losing players such as Jerome Frink and Iverson Fleming to graduation, and Nura Zanna as a transfer to Houston. Kellogg will also have to try to keep Jashaun Agosto, the Blackbirds' freshman point guard who declared for the NBA Draft, but did not hire an agent, leaving the door open for his return.

During Kellogg’s introduction, he briefly mentioned how his team would dive on the floor for the loose ball. When asked again, he said he needs to spend some time with his new players and go recruit.

“We’ll come up with that identity as we go,” he said. “But I’d like for fans that come watch us play or for people who come into practice to say that we’re one of the hardest working teams that they’ve seen in the country, that we’re going to make it very difficult to play against. And that when teams see LIU Brooklyn, they’re not going to want to compete against us; they’re going to just get on the bus and go home because of how hard we play and the style that we play, and it’ll be a different style.”

Kellogg added the team needs to work through some things before it can separate itself. To help in doing so, he’d like to have two to three players who are perennial first or second-team all-conference players.

“When I go on the recruiting trail, we’re looking for guys that fit my style, No. 1, and No. 2, can become all-conference players in the NEC,” he said. “I’ve played against teams in this conference, whether it’s LIU, Wagner or Central Connecticut; this is a good college basketball league, and so we have to get good players that want to compete at the highest level.”

Aside from recruitment, he wants to schedule heavyweight programs to face off against his Blackbirds as a way to “see where we are and where we’re going.”

In all of Kellogg’s years at UMass as both player and coach, he worked with names from the likes of the aforementioned Calipari to Indiana Pacers assistant coach Bill Bayno, Bruiser Flint, now an assistant coach at Indiana University after serving as head coach at both UMass and Drexel; and John Robic, one of Calipari's assistants at Kentucky. Each, in Kellogg’s own words, are “high-level college coaches and even into the NBA.” The one thing he took away and learned from them was how to coach, of course, but how to relate to players too.

“Watching them work and how they interacted with the kids, it was a profession I thought I could excel at being a personable person with good hard work and really enjoy being around other people,” Kellogg said. “Over the years, you just learn to get better as you turn into an adult. Being a father and having a son of your own helps you relate to kids even more.”

Another thing that kids relate to is winning, and the unsurprisingly energetic Kellogg made a bold statement during his introductory speech that will surely fire up his players.

“We’re going to make noise immediately,” he declared.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Eight years in the books, and yet we've only just begun

This site's eighth season saw 106 games in four different states, most notably a January pilgrimage to the cathedral of college basketball, The Palestra. (Photo by Jaden Daly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

This is a post I put together routinely every year, as a show of thanks and gratitude to those who help make this site what it is. And every year, I visit the site on April 17 and walk away mesmerized, in awe of the life it has taken on since its conception, infancy; and now, its maturation.

On this date eight years ago, inside the WSJU Radio office that is about the size of a standard bedroom, a contingency plan to protect against a broadcast flameout was born. In the event that my on-air work could not spawn a career of its own, I could still make my way in the industry as a writer, I thought at the time. Thankfully, my progress behind the microphone was tangible enough to where my life in the booth is still existent, but the side project I initially viewed to be a fallback has since grown into a full-time outlet. And after two reboots within its first year, it became the college basketball source that almost four million of you have relied on, that nearly four thousand of you follow on Twitter for live updates, breaking news, and the far-too-frequent North Carolina ramblings that we will certainly get to before this piece is through.

In 2015-16, I took this site and its accompanying brand to 141 games. Without the aid of three NCAA Tournament venues in close proximity in our recently concluded 2016-17 campaign, the overall game count was going to be smaller, but the sights and the memories remained just as strong. With more pieces in place to expand the rebuild on the corner of Union and Utopia, I reconnected with St. John's, and rediscovered the fun of chronicling my alma mater in the process. Being able to cover postseason runs for Seton Hall, Iona, and Saint Peter's; the Peacocks' CIT championship being the last of the three in a thrilling stretch that gave John Dunne a testimonial for his magician-like ability to squeeze every last drop into a winner, was the icing on the cake of a season where The Palestra was also crossed off the bucket list in mid-January on somewhat of a whim. Special thanks goes out to Marie Wozniak at Saint Joseph's for giving me the opportunity to help tell the story of a Big Five rivalry in a timeless venue.

There is a long list of people I need to thank, and I'll try to get to all of them in short order before the Academy plays me off stage. First, to the sports information directors who not only put up with us, but made it a point to guarantee everyone on staff was treated with the highest regard, I offer my sincere thanks. In no particular order: Kevin Ross, Bobby Mullen, Tom Chen, Steve Dombroski, Brian Morales, Hamilton Cook, Mike Kowalsky, Joe DiBari, Brian Beyrer, Pat McWalters, Jon Stanko, Ryan Uhlich, Gary Kowal, Jack Jones, Marie Wozniak, Mike Demos, Mike Ferraro, Jeremy Kniffin, Derick Thornton, Matt Reitnour, Greg Ott, Maxx McNall, Harrison Baker, Stephen Gorchov, Mex Carey, Larry Torres at Madison Square Garden, Mandy Gutmann at Barclays Center, Ray Cella with Gazelle Group, Brian Morrison at the Atlantic Coast Conference; and finally, John Paquette with the Big East. All of you were excellent in your dealings with me and my staff, and I thank you for that.

Speaking of the staff, your work and its quality spoke for itself. To Jason Guerette, my tag team partner at Seton Hall, I thank you for making sure we have at least two, usually three, pieces of postgame coverage after every Pirate contest with your five thoughts supplementing game stories and Kevin Willard's quotes. To Ray Floriani, what can I say? Your love for this site knows no bounds, and the fact that you've sent along material that encompasses every different facet of the game proves that. I don't know where I would be without your vision and experience. Jon Reyes joined the family this year and quickly became the most adept feature writer we've had with his work covering Wagner and the Northeast Conference. Brandon Scalea produced some great content covering Rider as well, and Norman Rose was an indispensable wing man for our MAAC Tournament bonanza. Not to be outdone, the special contributions we received from the likes of Josh Adams, Matt Lisella, and Joe Pantorno guaranteed there was almost always someone there to chronicle a game in the area. Then, there was Brian Wilmer, who was quick to lend a hand in Greenville to help cover North Carolina in their first steps on the road to what became a national championship that will not soon be forgotten, especially not by yours truly. On that note, anyone interested in joining the staff need only send an e-mail to dalydoseofhoops@gmail.com to inquire about opportunities. We could always use the extra staff members, and although the pay isn't there, the experience and chance to cover Division I college basketball is something that you cannot put a price tag on. If you feel like you would be a vital asset, drop us a line and we'll go from there.

I said I would get to the UNC obsession, and here it is. Those of you who know me well know that the Tar Heels are my first love in this sport, as the 1993 national championship game got me fixated on college hoops. Since then, I have been partial to the residents of Chapel Hill, and writing game recaps and previews on the way to cutting down a net enabled me to channel my fandom into a professional product. With that said, special thanks goes to Roy Williams and his team as well.

To the coaches, I appreciate your patience and time during the year when it can often be taken for granted. To my colleagues in the media, I am forever indebted to each of you, not just for the positive feedback and words of wisdom, but also for the ability to just talk shop and shoot the breeze about the game that always keeps us coming back for more. Finally, I cannot thank you, the readers and fans, enough. Without you, there is no me, there is no site, and each of you are a bigger part of my life than any of you will ever know. Just reading one word of a game recap or seeing a retweet or a like on Twitter or Facebook means the world to me, and your support is what makes this whole endeavor worth while.

They say the challenge of staying on top is maintaining your success. With eight years now under this site's belt, I feel as though this is just the beginning, and that there is more to come; more memories to create, more stories to be told, more celebrations to share. There will never come a day, or at least I feel there will never come a day, where the outpouring of positive words I hear or see with regard to what this site has done and how it has impacted people does not move me to some degree. Staying humble has helped keep the drive alive, and the fire that was started inside an office on April 17, 2009 burns stronger and brighter than it ever has.

In closing, I hope that you enjoy the offseason; where we will still be in touch, as after all, the transfers, reviews, previews and NBA Draft talk will keep us occupied, and until November when our ninth go-round begins, I ask that God simply keep you all in the palm of His hand.

Thank you again, for everything.

No retreat, baby, no surrender.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Zach Lewis returns to MAAC, immediately eligible for Iona

Zach Lewis, a former All-MAAC selection at Canisius before transferring to UMass, has committed to Iona as graduate transfer and is immediately eligible for Gaels. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

The annual offseason retooling has begun in earnest for Iona.

The two-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions have found the second piece to their stable of newcomers, as Zach Lewis committed to the Gaels as a graduate transfer early Sunday evening, per a source close to the situation. The commitment comes just two days after he visited the New Rochelle campus, a development reported initially by both ZagsBlog's Adam Zagoria and CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein.

A native of Windsor, Connecticut, Lewis is immediately eligible for head coach Tim Cluess after finishing his junior year at the University of Massachusetts. At UMass last season, he averaged 8.8 points per game as the Minutemen's sixth man, and announced he would complete his final campaign at another institution after head coach Derek Kellogg was dismissed last month.

Lewis is also no stranger to the MAAC, having played his first two seasons for Jim Baron at Iona's conference rival, Canisius. An All-Rookie selection as a freshman and third team all-conference honoree as a sophomore, Lewis scored 717 points for the Golden Griffins, helping lead them to the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament in both seasons. In five games against the Gaels, he averaged 15 points per game. Overall, he is a 1,000-point scorer and a lethal knockdown shooter that should provide the perfect complement to Rickey McGill and Schadrac Casimir in the Iona backcourt.

Lewis' arrival comes a week after Iona received a commitment from a second graduate transfer, Tulsa forward TK Edogi, and hours after Quinnipiac helped shore up their depth with the additions of Tulsa freshman Travis Atson and Penn State graduate transfer Isaiah Washington.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mikey Dixon commits to St. John's

Mikey Dixon, who won Rookie of the Year honors in MAAC last season, committed to St. John's after freshman season at Quinnipiac and will have three years of eligibility remaining. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

With two transfers eligible next season as the rebuilding process intensifies, St. John's has already begun adding more reinforcements.

Mikey Dixon, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year this past season at Quinnipiac, committed to the Red Storm early Tuesday evening, announcing the decision via Twitter. The Delaware native will sit out during the 2017-18 season as part of his NCAA-mandated year in residence, and will have three years of eligibility remaining when the 2018-19 campaign begins. He joins Justin Simon and Marvin Clark, who sat out this past season after transferring in from Arizona and Michigan State, respectively, as the latest pieces in St. John's retooling toward what the program hopes will be a third NCAA Tournament appearance of the decade.

"First, I would like to thank the entire Quinnipiac community for giving me an awesome freshman year and believing in me," Dixon tweeted. "However, I feel that it is time for me to take the next step in my journey. With that being said, I am deciding to continue my basketball career at St. John's University. #RedStorm"






Dixon had competing offers from Cincinnati, George Washington, La Salle, Penn State and Massachusetts as well, settling on the Red Storm with Penn State and UMass in his final three choices, according to the New York Post's Zach Braziller. Of St. John's and what attracted him to the corner of Union and Utopia, he stated head coach Chris Mullin's style and philosophy; coupled with the competition of the Big East Conference and its seven NCAA Tournament teams, was a match made in heaven.

"I wanted to challenge myself and play at the highest level I could," Dixon told Braziller. "I'm ready to push myself, push my limits and get better. There's nowhere better to play than in the Big East."

A 6-foot-2 point guard who can also play off the ball, Dixon will learn Mullin's offense from Marcus LoVett, who eschewed professional opportunities to return to St. John's for his sophomore season. At Quinnipiac, Dixon's 16.5 points per game; which he supplemented with 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest, led the Bobcats in offensive production, and allowed him to be the MAAC's sixth-leading scorer as a freshman. He announced he had received his official release from Quinnipiac on March 30, two days after the Bobcats hired Baker Dunleavy to replace Tom Moore as head coach.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

This UNC championship team deserves not only a seat, but their own table

As North Carolina celebrated its sixth national championship, this particular title team may have been most impressive of any prior Tar Heel title-winning outfit. (Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/Tar Heel Photo)

One year ago this weekend, we were still basking in the glow of an epic NCAA Tournament finish, with Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating three-pointer concluding Villanova's thrilling ascent to the college basketball zenith at the expense of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

In the hours leading up to the opening tip in Houston on April 4, 2016, much had been made of UNC; led by two unforgettable seniors in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, completing the final chapter in its quest to earn a seat at the table alongside the five other Tar Heel squads whose legacies were defined by the hardware each was able to return to Chapel Hill.

The 1957 team, led by native New Yorker Frank McGuire and his Big Apple-centric roster, was heralded for its perfect 32-0 campaign and back-to-back triple-overtime victories to claim the crown. The late great Dean Smith scored his first of two ultimate triumphs a quarter-century later over Georgetown in that timeless classic at the Superdome, where on a team with James Worthy and Sam Perkins in its arsenal, a freshman by the name of Jordan fired the game-winning salvo that would be merely a precursor to the illustrious career he would go on to author at the professional level.

UNC's 1993 outfit had the unmistakable talent of Lynch, Montross, Phelps and Williams; all of whom enjoyed a long life at the next level, but in many ways, was overshadowed by Chris Webber's gaffe of calling the timeout his Michigan team did not have, prompting the technical foul that iced the Tar Heels' third climb up the ladder with a pair of scissors in hand. A dozen years and three successors to Smith later, Dean's former assistant, Roy Williams, claimed his first taste of championship glory when the Heels; paced by a trio of future NBA lottery picks in Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, fended off an Illinois team that came to the final stage of the season in St. Louis at 37-1 on the year and owners of an equally gifted basketball team in their own right.

A fifth national title followed four years later with arguably the greatest assembly of talent in the country that year. With seven future NBA players and every first-place vote in the Top 25 poll to begin the season, UNC's 2009 championship and the dominance that came with it was to be expected. To an extent, the 2015-16 Tar Heels drew the closest parallel to that group, a team widely perceived to be the best in the nation, and therefore the prohibitive favorites to win it all, or so it seemed until Ryan Arcidiacono handed the basketball to Jenkins in the final 4.7 seconds, his attempt from the right arc clearing the outstretched right arm of Isaiah Hicks and splashing through the NRG Stadium net.

With that, the latest incarnation of North Carolina basketball had a backstory, a chip on its shoulders, a cause célèbre for which to stand vindicated. Not just for the memory of Johnson, an All-American whose improvement between his junior and senior seasons was truly something to behold, or for Paige, the articulate and admirable point guard whose efforts on the court were as exemplary as those that allowed him to graduate with honors as a double major. Not just for Paige's double-clutching three-pointer that tied the championship game before Villanova's final heroics, but for one reason first and foremost.

Redemption.

The desire, the need, to quench the thirsts of both team and fans, thirsts that had gone unsatiated for seven months between the final buzzer in Houston and the beginning of the now-concluded 2016-17 season. The need to right the wrong of last April, to take back what had been taken away from them. And this Tar Heel team did just that, exorcising the demons six days ago. But it was not easy, nor would anyone say it would be.

In many ways, last Monday's contest, one that ensured a new championship banner would occupy a permanent residence in the Smith Center rafters after UNC's 71-65 victory over Gonzaga, was reminiscent of the fight Williams and his team had endured both on and off the hardwood. Beginning with the dark clouds hovering over the program from the NCAA investigation into alleged academic fraud to coping with the loss to Villanova, to the times where the Tar Heel offense looked nonexistent; such as their late-season loss at Virginia where the 43 points registered were an all-time low in Williams' 14-year tenure at his alma mater, or the second half of the ill-fated ACC tournament semifinal against Duke that turned on a dime when Joel Berry II was whistled for his fourth foul, UNC scratched and clawed for everything they earned. They fought hard, and did it in ways one would not normally expect.

Down five in the final three minutes of regulation against Arkansas and on the brink of a tournament exit that would rival Villanova in terms of sheer disappointment, the Heels clamped down defensively to shut the Razorbacks out down the stretch, ending the game on a 12-0 run but gaining more credit for their suffocating pressure at the most opportune of times. Then there was the South Regional final against Kentucky, one where UNC again trailed by five before yet another 12-0 run. Only that time, John Calipari's Wildcats fired back and tied the game in the final seconds. But Williams, who has faced criticism for his penchant of eschewing timeouts, let his team play on, and was rewarded when Luke Maye's jumper brought college basketball's richest tradition back to the Final Four.

The drive, and the hunger, would only grow stronger once it arrived in Arizona.

In an up-and-down national semifinal against Oregon that was anything but a walk in the park, UNC ran the gamut of emotions on polar opposites of the spectrum: Early jitters and adversity compounded by lackluster shooting, then confidence when the game seemed to go their way as it wound toward its culmination, only for tension to seep in when their two-possession lead was trimmed to just one point.

Then, two rebounds defined a defensive effort and a will to win that would not be upstaged, even in the face of four missed free throws. First, Theo Pinson's board that was tipped back to Berry, then the unrelenting spirit of Kennedy Meeks to corral Berry's errant attempts at the charity stripe, fulfilling a vow the senior forward made before the game that he would take it upon himself to guarantee the Tar Heels would have a date with destiny.

In their final battle, it was Berry; the point guard fighting the effects of two sprained ankles suffered during UNC's run to the championship game, who took center stage, sparking the offense on a night where the rims were unforgiving more often than not. But through the struggle and for all the desire to exact revenge against the basketball gods for the cruel fate inflicted upon them twelve months prior, UNC still trailed by two points with less than two minutes to play in regulation.

Then, one last time, the Tar Heels dug deeper, fought harder, pushed stronger.

Justin Jackson's three-point play started the turn of events, giving UNC a lead it would never relinquish. Meeks' extension to secure a loose ball inside the final minute, as controversial as it may have been, forced a tie-up with the possession arrow in his team's favor, giving the Heels a new lease on life that was converted on a running jump hook shot by Hicks with 25 seconds left. Finally, Meeks stood tall once more, rejecting a drive by Nigel Williams-Goss. Berry scooped up the ball and soon passed to a streaking Jackson, his emphatic dunk sealing an ending 365 days in the making.

Suddenly, the images from that night in Houston underwent a 180-degree turn. Now there was Berry, wrestling with himself to remain composed when calling a timeout. There was Hicks, the big man whose offensive woes were put to rest with his runner moments before the dunk by Jackson, whose primal yell could be best described as the cry of a conqueror. It all ended with UNC being handed its sixth national championship trophy, with each player commemorating the experience with a piece of the net to treasure forever.

"At the end, when you're watching your kids jump around; and the excitement, the thrill that they have, there's no better feeling in the world as a coach," Williams surmised in his postgame press conference Monday night, which had turned into Tuesday morning back home in Chapel Hill.

"We did it," said Pinson. "And that's something I'll never forget."

Before and after the game that placed 2017 in the same room as 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009, five words crept back into the UNC conversation.

A seat at the table.

It was the topic of a letter penned by Paige to his remaining brothers in arms, one that was showcased on The Players' Tribune the night before the Final Four began. Ultimately, it was the most enduring payoff to come with standing atop the mountain of college basketball.

But this North Carolina team, one aytpical of its championship-winning brethren, earned its place with a spirit and character forged not through preseason rankings or McDonald's All-Americans or overpowering their competition; but rather, the heart of a champion uncrowned willed them to the finish line.

This North Carolina team proved itself worthy of more than a seat amid legendary company. They proved themselves worthy of an exclusive table, front and center among greatness.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

O Glorious St. Anthony

A nighttime view of soon-to-be-shuttered St. Anthony High School, which will close at end of school year. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

It began in March of 1976.

I was home for break from graduate school, and my high school alma mater, St. Mary’s of Rutherford (NJ), faced St. Anthony in a parochial state playoff game. St. Anthony did not have the outstanding talent they would soon attract to Jersey City. The Friars, though, were always tough and competitive.
   
In the first half, it was a close game. The St. Anthony coach is roaming the sideline, hollering instructions to players, hollering a bit at officials, and just a whirlwind of energy. Sitting in the stands at the Wood-Ridge, New Jersey gym, I am wondering who this excitable (I may have had another word at that time) coach is and how long can he keep this up. The game moved on and St. Anthony gained control. That coach on the sideline is managing his team and the flow of the game with expert precision. All coaches can get intense, yet it was quite evident from watching him this one night, this is one who simply "gets it" on the sidelines.

That was my first memory of Bob Hurley, a legendary coach, inspiration and person I am privileged to call a friend.

Two years later, we formally met. The Jersey City Summer League, featuring college and high school players, was getting underway. Hurley was very active as an organizer and doing a little of everything; announcing, scorekeeping, getting concessions organized, whatever needed to be done. And, yes, some coaching in the high school circuit. From those summer league days, you could see basketball was a Hurley family affair. Wife Chris was there to help out. During timeouts, Bobby and Danny all but seven years of age or so, would take the floor and shoot baskets. Covering the league a few years, one could see their range increase. It was not uncommon for a few of us to get an invite to the Hurley house on some evenings after the games were finished to grab a cold refreshment and talk about the games and basketball in general, virtually an impromptu clinic listening to Coach.
   
One afternoon, arriving early at the summer league proved to be a blessing, as I watched Hurley put his summer team through a 45-minute practice. I jotted notes as this practice, all that was covered in a brief time, was exceptional. The Pershing Field court was transformed into a classroom, with Coach Hurley as the professor. His team, which basically played junior varsity the season before, advanced to the summer high school finals before losing in overtime, a masterful job watching his kids develop and Hurley orchestrate from the sidelines.

Seasons moved on. The Jersey City League, with its college and high school divisions, altered and moved on as well. Still, I always kept an eye on St. Anthony and their exploits on the court. When the Tournament of Champions was instituted in New Jersey, the opportunity was there to cover some Friar games.

To the media, Coach Hurley was gracious and thorough in his game assessments. That was win or lose, the latter of which he did not do on many occasions. The talent level was growing exponentially at the small school near the Holland Tunnel. Regardless, Hurley was the same: Demanding of his kids, requiring they play hard and play fundamentally sound, with defense the priority.

Years progressed and championships did as well. Hurley never changed. They say the years may have mellowed his approach to the officials. It did not, as noted, with his players. Division I-bound signee or last man on the team, the same was demanded of you. No preferential treatment under his watch.

The family stayed involved, with Chris keeping the scorebook, daughter Melissa attending games and occasionally doing thoughtful things such as baking cookies for the team, and even Bobby and Danny getting back to see a game when their playing and later coaching schedules allowed. Both were in attendance for Hurley’s 1,000th victory in 2011.

Banner commemorating Bob Hurley's 1,000th victory hangs at St. Anthony. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Covering college games over the years, I would see more of Hurley as; schedule permitting, he came out to watch his former players in action. One night comes to mind. It epitomized Hurley’s outstanding gift of breaking down a game. Notre Dame was in Madison Square Garden in the late 1980s. They defeated an overmatched Manhattan team. Following interviews Irish coach Digger Phelps worked the room, making small talk with alumni and a few media members. Outside the Notre Dame locker room, Hurley was talking with Irish guard David Rivers, who played for him at St. Anthony. Without a notebook or index card to refer to, Hurley recounted sequences of the game, remembering time and score. It was teacher and pupil again, as Hurley reviewed the good plays Rivers made, while offering suggestions on shots that may have been rushed or penetrations forced. It was amazing to see his recollection of each play, and Rivers took it all in, hanging on every word of a valuable teaching moment.

The years brought more titles, accolades and overtures from colleges interested in Hurley’s services. A Jersey City native who never left the city to attend school, grade through college, Hurley remained at St. Anthony, ever loyal and faithful to the small school and its mission.

Getting into officiating and working some St. Anthony games on all levels brought me another perspective on Coach Hurley. He would be in attendance and watch, make that study, JV games held prior to his varsity team taking the floor, always analyzing individual players and the team as a whole. At halftime of the JV game, he would go over the gym floor with a broom, his way of collecting pregame thoughts, but a practice that made quite an impression on a certain writer/official.

Hurley was demanding of assistants coaching JV or freshmen, not so much on wins and losses as playing the right way; the St. Anthony way, and ensuring the players worked hard and carried themselves in a respectful manner.

His lessons to the team carried beyond the basketball court. Off the floor, he demanded they carry themselves in a respectful, courteous manner. Covering college games, I often ran into former St. Anthony players on Division I teams. They knew my name but always called me “Mr. Floriani.” To a player, I would say, “You are in college, call me Ray.” It was still “Mr. Floriani.” Chalk it up to the Hurley effect.

On the court, the Hurley effect produced over 1,000 wins, 28 state and 13 Tournament of Champions titles, and a number of players heading off to play in college. Through his five decades, Hurley’s devotion to the school transcended basketball. He saw St. Anthony as a way for students to obtain a quality education in a small, faith-based setting rather than be lost in a crowd of a much larger institution, an opportunity to progress and go to college. In these last few years as St. Anthony’s president, Hurley generally enjoyed talking to students, asking about their classes, hopes and aspirations.  

St. Anthony had been on the ropes several times over the years. Each time the school survived seemed almost as if the angels were watching over. On this past Wednesday, a sun-splashed afternoon, the final verdict was handed down by the Archdiocese of Newark. St. Anthony would close at the end of the school year. Hurley, who did everything in his power to keep the school operating, was naturally distraught. Forget coaching. Hurley was concerned and thinking about the types of students St. Anthony helped over the years. Those students, a number still in attendance at the school, would now be without a wonderful opportunity.

A day following that Archdiocesan verdict it rained. Those angels had shed a tear.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Redemption is sweet for UNC as Tar Heels win national championship over Gonzaga

Roy Williams and North Carolina accept national championship trophy after Tar Heels defeat Gonzaga to exorcise demons of last season with sixth NCAA Tournament title. (Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/Tar Heel Photo)

Hope, dangles on a string, like slow, spinning redemption.

The hope that North Carolina would vanquish the heartbreak from last April and Kris Jenkins' three-point shot at the buzzer to hand Villanova an unforgettable championship victory was what carried the Tar Heels through the regular season, through their return to the NCAA Tournament.

Redemption.

The well-chronicled group text message thread among the incumbent UNC players carried that one-word title, a simple reminder of the common goal within the program to reach the summit of college basketball once again after being pushed off the top of the mountain in one of the cruelest ways possible.

Monday night saw the Tar Heels put it all to rest, standing vindicated after a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga, bringing a sixth national championship to Chapel Hill.

Needing to rely on their defense to pull out a tug-of-war that served as a stark contrast to their usual uptempo stylings, UNC (33-7) endured prolonged cold spells from the floor as they struggled to shoot in the cavernous confines of University of Phoenix Stadium. The Tar Heels trailed by as many as seven points in the first half before going on a late 9-3 run to draw within one point, and went to the halftime trailing the Bulldogs by a 35-32 margin, a favorable scenario given their 31 percent shooting in the opening stanza and anemic 2-for-13 showing from three-point range, which included an 0-for-6 ledger from Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Justin Jackson.

"I tried to be more positive and I told them, 'last year, we were ahead at halftime and the other team came out more focused than we did,'" said head coach Roy Williams, who became just the sixth coach to win at least three national championships. "It was our job to come out more focused than Gonzaga."

The Tar Heels carried their momentum out of the locker room, scoring the first eight points after the intermission to take a five-point lead over Gonzaga (37-2) with 17:40 remaining in regulation, putting the final touches on a 17-5 run that bridged the end of the first half with the beginning of the second. But the Bulldogs, playing like a poised veteran outfit and not like the squad that was making its initial title game appearance, stormed back with eight unanswered points of their own, forging a 43-40 lead after Przemek Karnowski's first field goal of the night with 14:24 to play.

The two sides traded blows for the next several minutes before Joel Berry II, the only Tar Heel to make a three-pointer Monday evening, drained a shot beyond the arc to swing the pendulum again with 12:37 remaining, putting UNC ahead 47-45. More than six minutes elapsed before the lead grew bigger than four points, with Isaiah Hicks' basket at the 6:23 mark expanding the Tar Heel advantage to 56-52. A basket by Zach Collins on the ensuing possession started an 8-3 run for Gonzaga, who surged ahead with 4:37 left on Nigel Williams-Goss' three, which gave the Zags a slim 60-59 cushion. 

The lead was short-lived, however, as Berry's long-distance attempt on the next trip down the floor splashed through the net and tipped the scales back toward UNC. The Bulldogs then scored five of the next six points, with Williams-Goss fighting off an injured ankle to hit a jumper with 1:53 on the clock, giving the plucky West Coast Conference champions a 65-63 lead. It would be the last advantage Gonzaga would enjoy, as a conventional three-point play by Jackson put UNC on top to stay just thirteen seconds later.

Inside the final minute, it appeared that the Zags would have a chance to retake the lead during a scramble for a loose ball following an errant three-point attempt by Berry. However, Kennedy Meeks came down with the rebound while UNC had the possession arrow in their favor, a controversial call as his right hand appeared to extend beyond the baseline and out of bounds. With a fresh shot clock, the Tar Heels methodically went about their plan of attack on the next possession, going up 68-65 with 25.4 seconds to play after Hicks penetrated his way through the lane to convert on a jump hook.

After head coach Mark Few called a timeout to set up Gonzaga's potential game-tying attempt, Williams-Goss' jumper was blocked by Meeks. The senior forward immediately dished to Berry, who found Jackson for a breakaway dunk that served as the exclamation point on the latest celebration both in Arizona and on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, and also the burial of last April's heartache.

Berry led all scorers with 22 points, becoming the first player to record 20-point games in consecutive national championships since Bill Walton turned the trick for UCLA in three straight between 1972 and 1974. Jackson and Hicks reached double figures in the win for UNC as well, scoring 16 and 13 points, respectively. For Gonzaga, Williams-Goss led the way with 15 points while Josh Perkins chipped in with 13 of his own, all in the first half. While the Bulldogs were denied a taste of championship glory in their initial attempt to attain it, the victorious side basked in a long-awaited coronation, made even sweeter by enduring the road they traveled on the way.

"I was in tears, just because we had worked so hard to get back to this point," Berry; who earned Most Outstanding Player honors, said on ESPN's SportsCenter after the final buzzer. "All we just had on our minds was redemption from last year, and when that confetti fell and it was on our side, it was the greatest feeling in the world."

Monday, April 3, 2017

CIT championship a fitting reward for Saint Peter's

John Dunne and Saint Peter's completed dream season with storybook ending, capturing CIT championship Friday and ending year with wins in 11 of last 12 games. (Photo by Saint Peter's University Athletics)

In eleven years at the helm of Saint Peter's, John Dunne has never totally gotten his due, an unfortunate fact of life for a coach who deserves mounds of credit for consistently finding ways to make the most out of his teams on an annual basis.

That narrative may have changed, finally; once and for all, Friday evening, when the Peacocks went to Texas for the second time in seven days during the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and left with a championship trophy firmly in tow following a thrilling, 62-61 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi after a game-winning free throw by Trevis Wyche to seal the program's first-ever postseason championship of any kind.
"You look up and you see three seconds on the clock, and we had been working on getting that long pass from Trevis to Quadir (Welton) for a year," Dunne said as he recounted the final seconds of Saint Peter's championship moment, one that made a 6:55 a.m. flight several hours after cutting down the net in Corpus Christi all the more bearable. "We finally had an opportunity to use it. I had to make the decision if I wanted to take the chance, but we ended up going for it. We connected on it in practice 100 times, and our two senior captains were ready to connect on the play. Once we connected on that one, we felt pretty strongly that the side out of bounds play (Chazz Patterson's inbounds to Wyche) was going to work, and it did. It was just a great finish for our team and a great finish for our seniors."

"Just as much as those other three guys, I'm so happy for Cavon (Baker)," said Dunne of his reserve guard in his lone year with the Peacocks. "He had a sporadic career before he got to Saint Peter's, and then he had to sit a year. When the second semester started, he really committed himself to the team. It wasn't about him needing to have a great senior season, it became about 'let's just go out there and win for each other,' and once we did that as a group and once he did that as an individual, he really took off. Without him, we don't come close to winning that last game."

For Wyche, Welton, Patterson and Baker, the quartet of seniors who; like Dunne, helped mold the Peacocks in their respective images as a tough, scrappy unit, the payoff after going through struggle to attain success was most rewarding, and their head coach would not have it any other way.

"When we lost our top three scorers two years ago, those guys could have looked at the program and tried to find greener pastures, but they didn't," Dunne proudly reflected. "They helped recruit when we brought kids on campus, they wanted to figure out how we could get better. They committed to Saint Peter's and they never wavered to that commitment. Winning the CIT championship, winning their last 11 out of 12 games, I think says a lot about their character and commitment to hard work."

"We couldn't have asked for a better ending," he said of a season he admittedly wished could go on forever following a loss to Iona in the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on March 5. "There's not many college basketball players that could say they won their last college basketball game in the postseason. There were really good teams in the CIT, and when you look at the four teams that we beat, the three games we won on the road were all against teams that were in their conference championship games (Albany, Texas State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), and went down to the last couple of minutes. And then the team that we beat at home (Furman) was the co-regular season champion of their league, so I think just that alone is a heck of an accomplishment, when you beat some good teams. We had a really good season. I'm really proud of the guys, and I'm especially proud that they decided to play in the CIT and went after the tournament the right way."

Far too often, Dunne is the target of unjust criticism due to the defense-oriented system he runs, with his biggest detractors lamenting a pace of just over 63 possessions per game, far below the national average. The methodical attack worked to perfection, and the man responsible for implementing it has no regrets about how he and his players utilized that philosophy on the road to a championship.

"I know we put a good product on the court, and too much gets made about our style because we're trying to defend and keep teams from scoring," he elaborated. "If people really watched our games, they'd know that we're not afraid to shoot the ball quickly if we got an open shot, we're not afraid to play faster when we need to. If they just watched the games in this tournament, people would understand that. At the end of the day, man, we're just out there trying to win games for each other, and we're just happy that we certainly were selfless for one another and got the job done."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

UNC on doorstep of redemption as Gonzaga stands between Tar Heels and national title

Kennedy Meeks' rebound in final seconds brought North Carolina back to national championship game, where Tar Heels look to get redemption for last year's bitter loss. (Photo by Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated)

Playing for a national championship for the second consecutive year, North Carolina has faced a number of daunting tests in their path to the precipice of an NCAA title. None of those, however, compare to what lies ahead for the Tar Heels as they take the University of Phoenix Stadium floor one final time in the 2016-17 season, with the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the opposite bench.

The mid-major in name who operates like a national juggernaut in both style and results, Gonzaga is far from the plucky underdog that would make Monday's championship clash the proverbial David vs. Goliath showdown. Instead, the Zags; beaten just once in what stands as the most successful campaign in program history regardless of the final score, represent more of a mirror image than meets the eye of the casual fan.

"They're very similar to us," head coach Roy Williams assessed Sunday as UNC (32-7) embarks on the last conquest standing in the way of a sixth NCAA Tournament championship and seventh national title in school history. "They play two post players, they've got three players on the perimeter, any of the three of them can be the point. They believe in running, they believe in getting the ball inside, they change their defenses a little, but not much, they're mostly a man-to-man team. So we're very similar."

"They have more size than anybody we played all year long," he added, citing the massive presence of 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins, a fellow seven-footer, in the paint. "Our big guys are going to be challenged a lot differently than they've been before."

The No. 1 seed in the West Regional and top-rated team in KenPom metrics, Gonzaga (37-1) goes much longer and deeper than their twin towers. Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are both formidable offensive weapons, as are guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. However, the biggest advantage in Mark Few's arsenal lies in the point guard spot, where Nigel Williams-Goss has enjoyed a National Player of the Year-caliber junior season, and could benefit from a compromised Joel Berry II. But when asked about his health and availability, UNC's junior point guard offered an optimistic outlook.

"I actually feel better," he said, updating the progress of his two sprained ankles. "I woke up this morning and didn't have any stiffness. That was my biggest worry. They're feeling pretty good. I know we have practice and everything, but we got the rest of the day to be able to do some rehab, and we already started this morning. Anything that I do will just help a little bit more."

Inevitably, the end of last year's championship game and Kris Jenkins' three-pointer to give Villanova the national title at UNC's expense was revisited in Sunday's pregame press conference, where Williams admitted that while he may never watch that game again, he recognized the potential for redemption in his current team, one that occupies every thought as he leads them into battle once more.

"I knew it was going in, I didn't even keep looking," the Hall of Fame coach said of Jenkins' buzzer-beater one year ago this Tuesday. "And so for me, it was one of the most difficult things to handle as a coach, to have something snatched; an opportunity to try to play a few more minutes, and have it snatched away. It was the most difficult time I've ever had as a coach, because I felt so inadequate."

"But I really tried to concentrate on coaching this team, and I really have not gone to bed every night thinking about that game," he reflected. "I've gone to bed every night trying to think how I could coach this team to the best of my ability."

"I've tried to coach this team, and we met at my house, I think, August 22. I told them that I thought I had in front of me the kind of guys that could win a national championship, so I've tried to focus on that, our dreams and our goals."