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Assistants Avoid the Spotlight

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Patriot League Basketball

Around the Patriot League

by Robert Canady

March 17th, 2003

This week, 64 Division I basketball teams will go in search of their one shining moment, while a handful of other teams try to avoid the spotlight. At a time when March Madness, office pools, and talks of Cinderella usually dominate the college basketball scene, it is the news off the court at the University of Georgia, St. Bonaventure, and Fresno State that is dominating web sites and the sports talk airwaves.

While big name coaches like Jim Harrick are busy defending their personal reputations, coaches such as Sean Doherty, the associate head coach at the College of Holy Cross, are busy trying to develop game plans to defend the 3-pointer. Doherty, in his fourth year as an assistant to head coach Ralph Willard at the Patriot League school says, “It is a big relief not to have to worry about those things,” when asked how he and the rest of the Holy Cross staff felt when they heard the stories of the troubled universities.

Holy Cross, like every other school in the Patriot League, recruits students ahead of athletes and academics ahead of rebound totals. “We have a great group of kids, just like every other team in the league does. There isn’t a kid out there that I wouldn’t bring into my home,” said Doherty as he watched American University win its semifinal game over Lafayette College to earn a berth in the Patriot League final against Holy Cross.

Finding and recruiting such players requires a different approach than recruiting a High School McDonalds All American. “We have to find who is going to be the right fit at the school. We have to make sure they have the academics first, and then find out if they can play. When I go into a gym, the first question I ask is, “Who has the grades here?” said Doherty.

At a college that is ranked in the top 3 percent of over 1,000 four-year colleges in the number of its students subsequently earning doctorates, you wouldn’t necessarily be looking for players who have a welding certificate.

Some coaches might feel that having to limit their recruiting to such a limited pool of qualified high school players is a disadvantage. Doherty, who shares recruiting responsibilities with assistant coach Tony Newsom, looks at it as a positive. “We are offering a chance for an education at a top 30 academic school and to play Division I basketball.”

Clay Nunley, who is in his first year as an assistant coach at Army, agrees with Doherty about the recruiting process. “A player’s character is very important. We recruit kids who are good citizens and are serious about getting a college education.”

Nunley comes to West Point after spending 4 years at Wright State University, a mid major program in the Horizon League. He admits there is a difference in recruiting at the two schools. “You have to ask a lot more questions of the recruits for the Academy. You have to determine if they are a good fit for the Academy as well as them being a good fit for the team.”

“At Wright State, for every 10 kids you contacted, maybe 5 or 6 would be a good fit. At Army, for every 10 kids we contact, we find maybe 2 that are a good fit both ways. We are bringing them to a very prestigious program, and they have to be comfortable with a military environment,” explained Nunley.

Another area in which schools like Army and Holy Cross differ from the powers teams of Division I is in keeping their players around for 4 years and graduating them. “The mindset for a kid coming here is that he is going to be here 4 years, get his degree, and fulfill his military obligation,” Nunley said.

Doherty agrees. “It is a huge advantage to have players for 4 years. You can truly teach fundamentals to kids over that time and have them understand and teach your system to the younger players. You can basically build from where you left off last year and not have to start from the beginning.”

Having that kind of consistency in your program obviously pays off, as Holy Cross is playing in its third consecutive NCAA tournament.

Doherty’s coaching responsibilities have progressed each year as well. At a small college with limited financial resources, oftentimes the coaching staff has to wear many hats. “You name it, I had to do it-from sweeping the floor before practice to cleaning up after and all the odd jobs no one else would do-they gave to the low guy on the pole,” Doherty recalled about his first year at Holy Cross.

Doherty mentions that this is his fourth year at Holy Cross, and each year he has moved up a level as an assistant. When asked if that should spell bad news for Coach Willard next season, Doherty smiled and said, “I think he’ll let me know when I’m ready. I like it where I am now.”

Even though the spotlight doesn’t often shine on assistant coaches at small schools, Nunley isn’t complaining either: “We have a very good thing going here.”



 

by Robert Canady

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