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.

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova faces 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova faces 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

It's something Villanova is constantly battling, constantly fighting. Jay Wright feels it every day and so do his players.
 
The national championship hangover.
 
About 10½ months ago, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and several other members of the current Villanova basketball team beat North Carolina, 77-74, at Reliant Stadium in Houston to win the national title.
 
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Wright’s challenge this year has been to try to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
He has a group of young kids who’ve scaled the highest mountain, who’ve lived a dream, who’ve experienced something only a handful of college basketball players ever get to experience.
 
And with that championship has come a sense of accomplishment that’s certainly deserving and understandable but also at odds with the hunger Wright needs from his players to be at their best every moment of this season.
 
That’s the battle Wright and his team is facing. Beating the NCAA championship hangover. 
 
“It’s definitely there,” Wright said Saturday after the Wildcats beat Providence at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s something you have to deal with all the time, and as you have success it continues, and I’m sure when it comes NCAA Tournament time, it’s going to be (even stronger).
 
“I get it. Everybody said it to me and if someone asks me next year I would say the same thing, that it’s there and you really, really have to address it and deal with it. Every day.”
 
So far, they’re addressing it and dealing with it magnificently.
 
Villanova is 19-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Wildcats’ only loss so far was to No. 12 Butler by eight points at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
 
Although Villanova graduated Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the nucleus of last year’s 35-5 team is still here. Eight Wildcats averaged 17 minutes or more last year, and six of them — Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, Darryl Reynolds, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth — are still in the program, although Booth is currently injured.
 
Hart, Villanova’s national Player of the Year candidate, said the championship hangover is a real thing he senses every day.
 
“Definitely,” he said. “Coach has been coaching longer than we’ve been alive. He’s got the experience, we’ve just got to lean on his experience. He’s been through these situations, and we just have to be humble and be coachable.”
 
The last team to win a national championship and get off to this good of a start was Duke in 2010-11.
 
But that Duke team lost its 21st game. A win at Marquette on Tuesday would make Villanova 20-1, and that would be the best record to start a season by a national champion since Duke opened 23-1 in 2001-02.
 
So from the outside, it seems like smooth sailing. But Wright swears the championship hangover is something he has to deal with every day.
 
“It’s everything,” Wright said. “You sense that home games are like shows, they’re not competitions. You can just sense it. You can feel it. Everybody’s coming to see the show.
 
“You can’t do that as a player because the other team’s coming in to beat the top team in the country, and they’re at another level. So your players sense it. Everything that goes on around them. The way everybody treats them, and what’s going on in their mind.
 
“They’ve done it. I’m sure there’s some times where Josh and Darryl and Kris are like, ‘All right, we’ve done this already, let’s get through this, let’s get to the NCAA Tournament.’ They never say it, but they’re human beings.
 
“You know there’s going to be some times, some times, when I’m on their butts about little things and they have to think, ‘Come on man, we did this already.’ You know? Then they catch themselves. They never say it, but I can just sense that sometimes.”
 
But the Wildcats keep on rolling. They’re now a remarkable 116-14 in four years with Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds on campus, by far the best record in Division 1 since the start of the 2013-14 season.
 
If anything, Jenkins, Hart and Brunson have all been even better this year than last.
 
Jenkins, who hit the historic buzzer-beater to topple North Carolina in the title game, has career-high averages of 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals and is shooting a career-high 43 percent from three.
 
Hart is shooting a career-high 53 percent and averaging career-highs of 19.2 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

And Brunson, a sophomore, has blossomed after taking over the point, with 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 2.5  rebounds per game.
 
“We just have to continue to get better,” Jenkins said. “I believe every guy in our locker room wants to continue to grow and become better. We’re not just satisfied with something we did last year. This is a brand-new year.”
 
Wright was asked if he’s ever had to deal with anything like this before.
 
He didn’t hesitate before saying simply, “No.”
 
In 2009, Villanova went 30-8 and reached the Final 4 but there’s no comparison, he said.
 
“Even after going to the Final 4 in ’09, a lot of those guys left,” Wright said. “We graduated six guys so it was a whole different team.
 
“We’ve got a lot of guys back. We only lost two starters. So all these guys have done it. Mikal Bridges didn’t do it as a starter, Darryl Reynolds didn’t do it as a starter, but they don’t think that way, kids don’t think that way. People don’t treat them that way. Even Jalen Brunson, he started but he was in a different role, but people treat him that way. ‘You’re the national champions, you did it.’
 
“Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono), Daniel (Ochefu), three walk-ons were leaders, they did a lot too.”
 
The Wildcats lost not only a Big East Player of the Year and one of the best big men in the program’s history but also a projected starting guard to injury and their top recruit to eligibility.
 
And they’re 19-1 and No. 1 in the country.
 
You can make a case that Wright is actually doing a better coaching job this year than last year.
 
“It’s just constant,” he said of the 2016 hangover. “They’ve handled it far better than I ever thought 18- to 22-year-olds could, but it’s a constant challenge.
 
“I know you (writers) have children. That’s exactly what it is. Your kid has some good days in school and does well, does his homework, (and thinks), ‘Yeah, I get it.’
 
"'OK, don’t get cocky now.’ Eighteen to 22. And they’ve been amazing. Amazing. But we definitely have to address it all the time.
 
“And I’m not complaining about it. I would take this challenge every year. There’s no reason to complain. You’re a jerk if you’re complaining about it. I’m just being honest about it, that it’s something we address. And I’m happy to do it. And so are they.”

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

BOX SCORE

The last thing Saint Joseph’s basketball players usually read before they leave the locker room is one word: “Win.” It’s the word coach Phil Martelli typically goes with.

But after three straight defeats and losses in four of five since losing top scorer Shavar Newkirk to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 30, Martelli decided to change what he wrote on the board.

Saturday night at the Palestra, in a St. Joe’s home game against Big 5 rival Penn, Martelli said he wrote: “Chase the taste.”

Led by sophomore point guard Lamarr Kimble, who played all 40 minutes, the Hawks tasted a victory, holding off the Quakers, 78-71 (see Instant Replay).

“To walk around for two weeks without a win, it’s been miserable,” Martelli said. “And I haven’t made it easier on them. Because we are not injured. This team is not injured. The team that got dressed in that locker room and came out on the court, that’s our team. Everybody starts the conversation with: ‘Due to the injuries have you…’ No. It has nothing to do with it. There’s injuries all over the country. 

“But the recurring themes, the turnovers, really, in a way, insanity. Shot selection at times, insanity. All of that had to be corrected and it had to be corrected in a harsh way. I wasn’t really that pleased with myself but I had to get after them and make sure they knew no one felt sorry for them.”

Kimble, especially.

With Newkirk gone for the year, the Hawks are probably going to go as far as the Neumann-Goretti grad takes them. In a familiar building, one which he tasted Catholic League titles in, Kimble led all scorers with 23 points. He added five assists and three rebounds. 

But, most importantly, he had just two turnovers. In the five previous contests since Newkirk’s injury, Kimble had 31 turnovers, including nine last time out in a loss to Massachusetts. 

“First of all his leadership hasn’t changed at all,” Martelli said. “He’s been very forceful, very accountable. He has not played well.”

You wouldn’t have known it Saturday night. 

The confident guard shot 6 of 13 from the floor, including 2 for 5 from deep, and made nine of his 11 free throw attempts. In a game which the Hawks utilized a speed advantage to play, as Martelli called it, “downhill,” Kimble and James Demery (9 of 12 from the line) really opened up the floor in the second half after Penn had battled back from a 15-point deficit to take a brief lead.

The Hawks (9-9, 2-4 Atlantic 10) got to the line 43 times (shooting 72 percent) while Penn (6-9) took just 15 free throws.

Demery had 15 points for the game, 11 coming in the second half. Freshman Charlie Brown contributed a career-high 19 points and nine boards.

The three of them were critical down the stretch in pulling away from Penn, which got 19 points from Matt Howard and 15 from freshman Ryan Betley.

Betley hit a big corner three to pull Penn within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left. But after two Brown free throws and a stop on defense, Kimble was fouled shooting a three pointer by Penn’s Jackson Donahue with the shot clock expiring. The miss would have given Penn a chance with a manageable clock.

Instead, he made two of his three attempts and pushed the lead to eight with just over a minute and a half left.

“There was a lot going into this game,” Kimble said. “One, playing at the Palestra, everybody knows the amount of history. It’s the Mecca, basically. The place to play in college basketball. Two, reversing our three-game losing streak and trying to start fresh. We know that if we took our losses and took our stunts that we still have the chance to improve as a group.

“It does a lot. It’s definitely a confidence booster. We’ve got a lot of young kids. Young kids ride on winning. When you’re losing, it’s difficult to turn that around when you’re younger. We don’t have the most experienced group so we definitely have to take our wins and just ride on that and keep pushing. Hopefully the energy has changed and it’ll hopefully carry on to the next game.”

That next game is Tuesday.

“Tomorrow we start for a tough game at St. Bonaventure,” Martelli said. “And we start that in eighth place. That’s average for the league. And 9-9 (overall) is average."

Up to this point, they’ve been exactly that: average. Martelli acknowledged as much.

But Saturday changed the taste in the locker room. And provided enough proof to say Kimble’s play will go a long way in determining the fate of the Hawks.

“I’m with him. He’s with me,” Martelli said. “And we’ll ride this out.”