O'Connor moves on without Holy Family

O'Connor moves on without Holy Family

Friday, February 25, 2011
Posted: 5:30 p.m. Updated: 7:14 p.m.
By Dan Gelston
The Associated Press

John O'Connor had his reputation forever stained by 40 seconds of videotape.

It cost him his job at Holy Family.

He only hopes he hasn't lost his career.

O'Connor wants to coach again, even after his first season at tiny Division II Holy Family was cut short after a videotape of a physical incident during a "combat rebounding" drill hit the Internet. His failed attempt at repairing his relationship with Matt Kravchuk caused him to resign Thursday night, a day before Holy Family's regular-season finale.

O'Connor knows what he'd tell university officials potentially concerned about the altercation if he's ever offered another coaching job.

"I never want to change my passion and my intensity toward the game and how I teach it," he said by phone Friday. "I certainly would take a look at how I might deliver it. I don't want to change the passion, but maybe how it's delivered is something I certainly would look at."

He described his life over the last month as both a "nightmare" and like being in a "plane wreck." O'Connor believed he'd still be on the sideline, calling plays, barking instructions, had it not been for the video leaked to local news.

"When they kind of hung and buried me without due process, it made it difficult for me and my team to really kind of go on as we had," O'Connor said.

O'Connor and Kravchuk became instant media sensations when footage of the incident went viral.

O'Connor apologized to Kravchuk when they appeared Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." On the morning show, O'Connor apologized. Kravchuk did not accept it.

Once it became clear the relationship could not be salvaged, O'Connor called his team together for an off-campus meeting and resigned.

Holy Family issued a statement Friday that it had accepted O'Connor's resignation. Holy Family athletic director Sandra Michael did not return requests for comment.

Holy Family forward Sam Mushman said the team supported O'Connor and wanted him to return.

"He's going to fight for us to the end," Mushman said. "No matter what happens, he was on our side and be there for us."

Holy Family guard Nate Hodge took to Twitter on Thursday night and Friday to express his unhappiness over the decision. In a response to a Twitter question, Hodge wrote, "... o'connor was the best coach I ever had."

When a follower wrote, "tell your ex-teammate to man up," Hodge replied "tell me about it."

O'Connor was touched by the support.

"When I was condemned without due process, they helped me get through it," he said.

Kravchuk said he attended the school to play basketball and now he couldn't, claiming he suffered a wrist injury in the dust-up. He also said he couldn't play for O'Connor.

According to a police report filed on Feb. 11, Kravchuk said he was grabbed and elbowed in the face by O'Connor, a move that allegedly resulted in a bloody nose and a bruised lip. The office's Private Criminal Complaints Unit reviewed the matter, and determined the event does not constitute a prosecutable criminal offense.

Attempts to reach Kravchuk's attorney were not successful.

O'Connor's life has been in upheaval since the drill backfired on him. He was shown pushing Kravchuk to the ground during a 1-on-1 drill, then kicked him. O'Connor berates his player and tosses him out of the late January practice.

O'Connor, on GMA, repeatedly called the encounter an accident, saying he also "nudged" Kravchuk with his foot to keep the drill going.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young played under O'Connor at Georgia Tech and they exchanged texts on Friday. Young had run the rebounding drill with O'Connor and called the incident "blown out of proportion."

"He's just trying to make the guys tougher," Young said. "He didn't really mean to do anything like that. I saw him nudge the guy off the court. I know the drill, so I know it was to get the next group onto the court."

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said his former assistant should not be judged on "40 seconds" of a conflict with a player. O'Connor spent the previous seven seasons at Georgia Tech working under Hewitt. Hewitt calls O'Connor "one of the best human beings I've been around, ever."

"I think it's a shame, a real shame, that people who don't know what he's about, don't know what he stands for, are making these summation on his character and what kind of person he is," Hewitt said.

Hewitt said he's known O'Connor since 1992 and had never seen the coach engage in similar behavior. He hopes the blowup won't cost O'Connor his career.

O'Connor started at Georgia Tech as men's basketball director of operations for the 2004-05 season. In June 2005, he was elevated to an assistant coach.

"I'm not going to sit here and defend anything," Hewitt said. "I'm just saying this man is a really good honest man."

Mushman also felt bad for Kravchuk.

"I don't think either Coach or Matt thought this was going to get to where it got," he said. "I have no issues or problem with Matt. Matt's a good kid. Maybe he felt disrespected."

O'Connor, a Penn State graduate, also was an assistant coach at Drexel and Lafayette.

He defended turning over the tape as the right thing to do because he felt he had nothing to hide. He apologized to Kravchuk and the team and believed it was all behind them.

Instead, Kravchuk and O'Connor's careers imploded on YouTube where the highlight can be found under "Holy Family Coach Attacks Player."

"My players know I tape every practice," he said. "If they ever found out one was missing, it would be saying I did something wrong."

He's received an outpouring of support from his peers. But O'Connor understands why critics who have never played competitive basketball have denounced him for the outburst. He wants to prove he's not a crazed coach who doesn't care about his players.

"I'm a good coach," he said. "There's nothing you could throw at me as head coach now I haven't been through.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,rewritten or redistributed.

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Like many people who come from nearby high schools, Penn senior Chris Hatler has been running at the Penn Relays since he was 15. But his initial experience at the famed meet did not go exactly as planned

“The first relay ever, I fell in the first 100 meters,” he said, “and made a fool of myself.”

Such can be the dangers of overwhelmed teenagers competing at a competition that also features college and professional stars — a three-day track & field carnival that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country.

But last year, Hatler became one of those college stars himself, helping Penn to a dramatic win in the 4xmile — the host school’s first win in that event since 1950 and its first championship in any of the meet’s marquee distance relays since 1974.

Now, with the 123rd running of the Penn Relays set to kick off in full Thursday — the same day that the NFL draft begins across town — Hatler is ready to add another wheel before graduating, along with fellow senior Nick Tuck.

“Last year was exciting to win the 4xmile, but I kinda felt like for the seniors last year, it was their win, it was their wheel,” said Hatler, who also helped the Quakers set a school record in last year’s distance medley relay. “I know Nick and I kinda have a little grudge here. We want our own wheel for ourselves our senior year. So we’re gonna come out and see what we can do.”

Although the USA vs. the World races Saturday to highlight the meet, the college relays are often the most exciting with wild sprints to the finish line occurring in front of packed Franklin Field crowds. Last year, in between Team USA races, then-senior Thomas Awad chased down two other runners in the 4xmile to give Penn the victory on national TV, before being mobbed by Hatler, Tuck and Keaton Naff. 

Hatler couldn’t quite see the track from where he was standing but had a feeling that Awad — one of the most accomplished athletes in Penn’s track & field history — would come through on the final lap of his Penn Relays career.

“You never bet against Tom at the end of the race,” said Hatler, who earlier this year cracked the 4-minute-mile barrier. “We kinda knew it was gonna happen.”

Few other people expected it because the host school hasn’t always been competitive in the college championships at Penn Relays. But another local school always is — Villanova.

And the Wildcats are glad to get some more competition from their Big 5 rival.

“It was thrilling for me to see it happen,” Villanova men’s track coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “This is really the home school. We’re happy to be sharing the stress of Penn [Relays] every year with the real home school.”

As for his own team, O’Sullivan said the Wildcats are dealing with injuries so it may not be in top form for the men’s distance medley relay (Friday, 5:30 p.m.), men’s 4xmile (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.) and the men’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:40 p.m.), the first two of which will be broadcast on NBC Sports.

But he touted the talent of redshirt freshman Logan Wetzel, among others, and seems ready to throw some youngsters into the fire.

“I always say Penn is a defining arena for kids to grow up,” said O’Sullivan, who ran the Penn Relays as a student at Villanova. “You really start to learn. You prepare a year for Penn. 

“My junior year, we were annihilated, lost everything, and it one of the most humiliating moments of my life because so much is expected of you and you drop the ball. I spent a whole year just waiting for Penn, just training for Penn. The year I made the Olympic team, I kid you not, running at Penn, winning at Penn, was way more important for me at that time of my life. That’s how big it is.”

Villanova women’s coach Gina Procaccio also ran the Penn Relays in college and has similar feelings about the significance of the meet. And she’s ready to lead her powerhouse teams to more championships in the women’s distance medley relay (Thursday, 5:30 p.m.), the women’s 4x1500 (Friday, 1:20 p.m.) and the women’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:10 p.m.).

Those relay teams will be led by Angel Piccirillo, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last year, and junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner — two of the best distance runners in the NCAA. But it won’t be easy for them as this year’s field will be stacked with the likes of Oregon and Stanford.

But no one has done better at Penn Relays than the Villanova women, who have won 14 DMRs all time, including four straight from 2012-2015.

“I’m not one to shy away from the competition,” Procaccio said. “I like to earn those wins.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we paid y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."