When Albany tips off in their America East Playoff quarterfinal against Maine, it will be the sixth game junior Peter Hooley has played in since returning from his leave of absence.
The 6’5″ junior has averaged 9.3 ppg since returning to the Great Danes and head coach Will Brown has had to vary his usual approach with Hooley since he returned. However, the Adelaide, Australia native has started to show signs of returning to the form that helped him earn the Most Outstanding Player award in last season’s America East tournament. Hooley scored 18 points in Albany’s 79-73 victory over Vermont, his highest since a 20-point performance back on Dec. 13 at Siena.
“I thought that was the best that he looked off the bounce,” Brown said. “Peter can really shoot the ball, but he sets everything up with the drive. He had quick and physical guards on him most of the night and he was able to get by those guys, once I started seeing that I said to myself he’s almost back and then I also said to myself, now I can start chewing him out again, and I say that with a smile on my face.”
Because of the sensitive nature of Hooley’s absence, leaving the team at the middle of the season to fly home to Australia to see his mother, the trials of a season can sometimes pale in comparison to the last few months. Brown said his plan to ease the junior captain back in since his return just weeks ago has been gradual, working towards this moment.
“Since Peter’s been back I’ve been very careful with how I deal with him, just because looking at the bigger picture of life, in the game of life, I just, he lost a lot and he’s using basketball and school to try and have some normalcy in his life,” Brown said. “Nothing’s going to replace the void that was left with his mom’s passing and it’s my job to continue to make sure that he focuses and he progresses and that I’m there for him, but also I’ve been pulling him aside in practice and dealing with him more one-on-one.”
“We’re slowly, but surely getting back to where we were, as far as where he’s at conditioning-wise, where he’s at mentally, where his game is at and how I handle him from my end. We’re close. We’re getting there.”
Albany opens up the America East playoffs on Wednesday night against Maine and will look to become the first team since Binghamton, who shared the regular season title in 2009, to win the regular season and tournament championship. Brown hopes to rely on the team’s approach that has allowed them to win 16 of their last 17 and win the regular season by three games as they head into the playoffs.
“I think, with our group, we’re not going to win this because we’re playing at home, we have to have the same mindset that we had all 16 games,” Brown said. “I think our guys are focused and I think we’re going to play well and, if somebody is going to beat us, I think they’re going to have to play very well, but with that being said, all that matters right now is how we practice these next couple of days.”
“We have to find a way to beat Maine, otherwise the rest of the tournament does not matter. We’re fortunate that we get the NIT bid, you get to put that in your back pocket and hopefully it stays in your back pocket. That’s a prestigious tournament, but every kid wants to play in the NCAA tournament and I think our team’s no different, Maine is no different, everybody has got an opportunity right now and we want to do our best to try and take advantage of this opportunity.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.