The Hartford Men’s Basketball Team is on the rise in America East
BELIEVE IN THE GRIN
There’s a certain look about University of Hartford men’s basketball coach John Gallagher, not unlike the look of the Cheshire Cat as he lazily swings his tail from an overhanging branch in the Wonderland forest, a look that says, “I know something you don’t know.” It’s a look that hints at something he’d never say publicly and would only carefully whisper in private, if at all. It might have crossed his mind a time or two in the past two weeks that his Hawks, picked by the league coaches, in their preseason poll, to finish seventh in the nine team America East, might actually win the league title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, both of which would be firsts for the Hartford program. The same thought may have crossed a few other minds since yesterday afternoon. On Groundhog Day Gallagher made an adjusment to his well choreographed practices. He installed a new rebounding drill. The Hawks are young, anchored by a sophomore class that labored through an 0-13 start a year ago before coming within an overtime eyelash of beating eventual league champ Vermont for a trip to the conference tournament championship game. Working in a highly technical motion offense, the intelligence of his youngsters showed as they began to catch on and went from 0-13 to a major pain in the neck of every other team in America East. It’s an offense that sets up best off the defense, quick transition, the play changing with each movement of the ball, effective only if the players adjust each time the ball moves to a new position on the floor. It’s not for the faint of heart or slow of wit. The improvement as sophomores was evident in the young Hawks when they won their ninth game this year on the same day they lost their 13th straight a year ago. They were firing on all cylinders but one, rebounding, primarily at the offensive end, where they were creating few second chances. With the three traditional powers of the league, Vermont, Boston University and the acknowleged cream of the America East crop, Stony Brook, looming, all in a row, Gallagher tackled his weakness with the Groundhog Day practice adjustment. Five days later the Hawks lost to Vermont by six points, a game they led with just over eight minutes to play and were within one possession until the final 20 seconds. They were beaten more by themselves than by Vermont, outrebounding the Catamounts, hauling down 13 offensive boards but converting only six second chance points. “Physically we’re tougher than we’ve been”, Gallagher said after the Vermont loss, “That’s the growth I’ve been looking for. We’re starting to look like a top half team.” It was then that that subtle ‘Cheshire Cat’ grin made it’s first appearance. Three nights later, with 50 Hartford basketball alum looking on in an electric atmosphere, the Hawks took out Boston University, again owning the backboards. Yesterday they climbed the mountain, a win over Stony Brook, a team that beat them by 29 points a year ago. “This isn’t a ‘Kumbaya’ moment”, said Gallagher after yesterday’s win, “When you win a big one, the next one is just as big.” The next one is at Maine Wednesday night. John Gallgher will never say openly what that ‘Cheshire Cat’ grin suggests, so for now, I’m just going to believe the grin. These guys can win this league. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.