THERE IS A MOTION ON THE FLOOR
To say the University of Hartford men’s basketball team is a program in motion simplifies things. It sums up where they are and how they got there. Yesterday the Hawks reached unprecedented territory when they won their 17th game, matching the program record for regular season wins. Sophomore forward Nate Sikma buried a three pointer at the buzzer in Vermont to give the Hawks a stunning upset of the perennial league power Catamounts, their second win over Vermont in the final month of the season, a month that also saw them beat perennial league power Boston University. “It was an option”, said coach John Gallagher when I asked him if the Sikma shot was the shot he was looking for when he drew up the final play with 11 seconds left on the game clock, “It wasn’t the first option, but it was the second or third option and it was a shot I could live with.” That’s the nature of the offense Gallagher has installed since giving up an assistant coaching job in a secure environment in the ACC at Boston College to accept the head coaching job at Hartford. A former Hartford assistant he had already invested himself in the university’s community, many of his best friends from the program’s past, and that, and the opportunity to install a system he believed in and show that it could be successful, led him to make the decision to leave B.C. A “read” offense, is what Gallagher calls it, to basketball laymen it can be best described as a “motion” offense, the ball is constantly in motion and the play changes everytime the ball changes position on the floor, moving from option to option. Unlike a set offense, in which players movements are dictated by the called play, a motion offense requires a greater investment on the part of the player and a better understanding of the game, knowing how his position changes as the ball position changes. It’s not an easy system to learn and when Gallagher first installed it at Hartford he relied on a previous coach’s recruits to buy into his system. Last year he relied in great part on a five member freshman class to pick up on it’s nuances. The immediate result was an 0-13 start to last season during which he never lost the faith of university administration and by the end of the campaign the Hawks were taking the eventual league champions to double overtime in the America East semi finals. This year the Hawks are clearly a team in motion, swooping in on the final day of the regular season to claim the number three seed for the America East Tournament next weekend in Albany and a first round game against Maryland Baltimore County, a team they beat in West Hartford less than a week ago. “I didn’t expect we’d reach this point until next season”, Gallagher said after a recent win, but even he underestimated the freshmen and sophomore classes that anchor this team, giving it high expectations for the future, and their basketball I.Q. that has generated early returns on the system he believed in. Gallagher calls it a “read”, but it’s a “motion” offense and I’ll stick with that description, because this much I do know about it. It has the University of Hartford men’s basketball team in motion, upward motion. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.