Thursday, May 31, 2018

Under Gerald Holmes' eye, Bloomfield College has become a Division II success

Nestled in shadows of bigger New Jersey programs, Gerald Holmes -- pictured here with MBWA Coach of the Year plaque -- has developed Bloomfield College into a program just as good as those of higher prestige. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BLOOMFIELD, NJ -- A few years ago at an offseason event, a prominent Division I coach listened to an observer note how there is so much good coaching being done on the Division II and III levels, despite often laboring in obscurity with their efforts rarely chronicled by the media.

“There might be more coaching and teaching done on those levels,” the coach said, “because we spend so much time going around the country chasing kids on the recruiting trail.”

Bloomfield College head coach Gerald Holmes believes that is true to an extent. The fact of the matter is Holmes’ estimation that there are a lot of good coaches at various levels” The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association recognized Holmes as one of those, selecting him as their Division II Coach of the Year this past season.Bloomfield finished 24-2 this season. They captured the CACC regular season championship with a 17-2 record, but were upset in the first round of the CACC tournament at home by University of the Sciences. 

“Fortunately,” Holmes said, “we received an at-large bid to the NCAA.” 

Bloomfield took advantage of that second chance, defeating St. Thomas Aquinas and Merrimack before top seed Le Moyne ended their season in the Eastern Regional championship game.

Holmes called his honor a team award, no surprise given the fact he has a plaque near his desk bearing inspirational sayings led off by "#1: Team First." He credits his players and staff for the award. That staff, due to budget constraints, does not have a full-time member. Part-time job, full-time dedication and commitment.

We settled in Holmes’ modest second-floor office on a warm late May morning. Bloomfield College is located on a small campus about eight miles from Manhattan. From his office, you can see the Bloomfield court in the process of getting some improvements. Before discussing anything regarding his career or program, Holmes asked, in reference to the Boston Celtics' Game 7 Eastern Conference final loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, “Did you see Boston the other night?" “(Al) Horford was killing them on the blocks and they start to shoot threes. Same with Houston. Miss 27 straight threes and how can you not go inside? We will use the three-pointer in our offense, but not go overboard with it.”

The Bloomfield mentor enjoys breaking down and discussing each game as if he were on the sidelines. He admits the regular season NBA is unwatchable, preferring the college game instead. The second season of the NBA -- the playoffs -- are a completely different story for Holmes.

His basketball philosophy is steeped in the teachings of Dean Smith and John Chaney. Holmes marvels on how Chaney’s Owls were so proficient in not turning the ball over, a testament to Chaney putting the fear of God in his players during pre-dawn practices and having outstanding lead guards (Howard Evans is a personal Holmes favorite). Holmes also subscribes to Chaney’s philosophy to play anybody anywhere, and does the same in his program. He also admired Smith’s four corners, so effective in a pre-shot clock era. From Smith comes the axioms of playing hard, smart and together. Over the years, his offenses have altered very little.

“We basically run five out on offense,” he said. “We have run three-out, two inside, but mostly five-out. We do not have a lot of sets. A good part of the offense is reading and reacting to what the defense is giving you.” 

It is a system predicated on thinking rather than memorizing. 

“The game is relatively simple,” he said. “This is not rocket science we are dealing with.” 

Holmes’ formula for recruiting is simple.

“I want players who are tough, skilled and have a high basketball IQ,” he stated. Realistically, he noted if a recruit is above the board in all three he’s going to Division I, a fact of recruiting life. He notes that a skill set and IQ can be improved, even through college. Toughness, however? Not so.

“You have to have that in you,” Holmes said of that attribute. “I want kids who are tough, can get through adversity. That is a number one priority in my recruiting.” 

Holmes, who recruits a fair amount of New Jersey kids, prefers to get those who played for coaches who are tough and demanding. Phil Colicchio of Linden is mentioned. Ben Gamble of Mater Dei also was cited. 

“We have had success with Linden kids,” Holmes said. “We haven’t gotten a Mater Dei kid yet, but we are close and we will.”

Holmes will venture out of state -- even country -- to obtain a player. The Garden State, though, is a fertile recruiting area, as noted in an anecdote of sharing an offseason beer with a New England coach who recruited a New Jersey kid. 

“Coach,” Holmes joked, “you beat us to one of our players.” The coach replied, saying, “the 48th-best kid in New Jersey is probably equal to the second in Massachusetts.” As Holmes went on to add, ‘there are kids not even rated by recruiting services in New Jersey who can play on virtually any college level.”

AAU is mentioned and Holmes realizes the recruiting game dictates you pay attention to that level and its coaches, but the AAU game, in his estimation, has gone a long way toward stunting the growth and development of the game.

Division II and III coaches frequently do not get the call from bigger programs in search of a new coach. Regardless, given the years of success at this level, one can wonder if Holmes is on anyone’s radar. Is there a desire to coach at the Division I level?

“Definitely,” said Holmes. At 53 years of age, he has put in for Division I jobs in the past, with hardly an interview being granted. “In another year, I think I will hire an agent,” he says. “If nothing comes up after that, I’m happy to stay right here at Bloomfield.”

Holmes played at Columbia High School in nearby Maplewood, before going on to NJIT. He began his coaching career as a junior varsity coach at Columbia before accepting an assistant position at NJIT. Then it was off to Bloomfield, first as assistant and then to the head coaching position he has held for the last 16 years. Over that time, Bloomfield has captured ten regular season conference championships, eight postseason titles and as many NCAA appearances. Under Holmes’ watch, Bloomfield has been recognized as one of the region’s strongest Division II programs.

Suffice to say the rhythmic bounce of the ball on the floor or asphalt is part of Holmes’ DNA. For a number of years, he has also officiated games as a certified member of Board 33. In fact, he likes to tell a story about being interested in a coach to add to his staff having directed a girls' AAU team. The team was organized, fundamentally sound and extremely well-coached. The coach -- Billy Armstrong -- declined the offer, as he was in charge of his own Bergen Catholic High School program during the winter months.

Before heading out, Holmes had me meet with Bloomfield women’s coach Vanessa Watson. He realizes I enjoy following and officiating the women’s game, so a meeting with Watson was more than a courtesy. She had a storied run at powerful Shabazz High School before stepping down as girls' head coach. After a few years away, Watson decided to get back in and when Bloomfield was looking a year ago, they were thrilled to realize the feeling with Watson was mutual. We discussed some of those Shabazz players, teams, and just the women’s game in general' as well as the ideas of how much the game -- not always for the better -- has altered over the seasons.

On the way out, Holmes called out, “if you come to see us, please come early, as the women play just before us.” 

Holmes backs the Bloomfield women and supports their efforts wholeheartedly, bringing his primary belief full circle: Team first.

1 comment:

  1. john coach a friend of yours..Pat great read....