Hartford went to Australia this offseason for the second time under John Gallagher, this time though the results were a little different.
The first time he took the Hawks to Australia was prior to Gallagher’s first full season as head coach and they went winless in five games. Now, in his fifth season, Gallagher watched his team win twice against some of the best teams Australia has to offer.
In the team’s fourth game, Gallagher watched from the stands as associate head coach Chris Gerlufsen coached the team. He wrote down pages of notes and he was impressed how his team responded after being down 10 points at halftime to beat the Knox Raiders 83-76.
“They own the program,” Gallagher said of his players. “It’s a great feeling as a coach to know your team is fully invested with you. I didn’t say one word to anybody. I was proud of the players and just watching them and Chris; the one thing I take away is we have an identity.”
The most important part of that game was that the Hawks did it without senior Mark Nwakamma, who sat out the final two games. The two-time first-team All-America East senior missed the final two games of the trip with tendonitis, an injury that he said had been nagging since getting back to campus during the summer workouts.
“It was probably the best thing for the season because that’s the main objective is to get through the season,” Nwakamma said. “I’ve been off of it and just getting constant treatment, but I felt good. I’m getting progressively better.”
Gallagher said that holding out his senior leader was taking the long term view to get ready for the year. Though after the second game of the trip, the Hawks got an added boost from freshman John Carroll. His eligibility process was expected to conclude during the trip, and after two games he entered and scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his debut. Gallagher said when Carroll came in he felt he might have to reel him in from playing too fast, but once he understands the offense he will be a capable weapon.
Hartford averaged 81 points per game over the course of their five-game trip, but they also played a faster game with a 24 second shot clock. The Hawks scored 83 in their second win over Knox, a game in which Gallagher said he wrote down four to five pages of notes while he took the perspective of a spectator to his own team.
“I think the more patient we are the better off we are; we can get any shot we want because we do have so many weapons,” Gallagher said. “We have enough weapons where we’re deep enough and we’re long enough to just play a certain way and not take off the gas.”
Two wins against Australia’s top pro teams for a college team is no small feat. Prior to the season where they made a Sweet 16 run in 2010, St. Mary’s (CA) went 1-4 in Australia.
“If we stay healthy and we stay on task, we can finish in the top half of the league,” Gallagher said.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.