60 Syracuse 57
three or this jumper earlier in the game,
THE SHOT T.J. Sorrentine squares up and lets it fly from 28 feet out. With the game in overtime, 1:06 on the clock, a one-point lead and a different play called from the bench, the senior point guards bomb isnt exactly the high-percentage option. I just had a feeling come over me, Sorrentine will say after the game. Youve gotta make this. Youve got one more in you. When the shot rips through the net for three, Tom Brennan throws his hands in the air, grinning like a man sensing the victory of a lifetime. Another reason to smile Sorrentines gamble is pure Brennan, reflecting the lessons of a coach who has lived by the philosophy of a gunner, never hesitating to let fly with a long shot, a one-liner, or a well-aimed word of encouragement.
of a Gunner
I was a sophomore at the University of Vermont, I had a political science
professor start a class by writing three numbers on the blackboard.
two months before this magical season ended with a loss to Michigan State
in the second round, my Vermont classmate Tony Reilly alerted me that
the Catamounts had climbed into the Top 20 in the RPI rankings. I had
seen the Cats give Kansas all it could handle in their season opener and
knew they had started their annual romp through conference play, but I
had no idea how high they had climbed in the Ratings Percentage Index,
which I thought had been devised specifically to punish small conference
schools like my beloved UVM.
Rollie Massimino, who graduated from UVM in 1956, was coaching Villanova,
he would schedule an annual game between his Big East power Wildcats and
his alma mater. I remember one night in Patrick Gym when Villanovas
Doug West, who would play 12 years in the NBA, took off his warm-ups just
long enough to bury the Catamounts in eight shots. He scored 20 points
on 8-of-8 shooting, including four bombs from beyond the arc, in the first
10 minutes and then sat and watched the rest of the blowout.
me, one of the joys of watching Doug West or Northeasterns Reggie
Lewis playing in Patrick Gym was knowing that I would be hoisting up threes
on the very same court during the next days lunch-hour game with
assorted faculty and students (who shared my ambivalence about attending
class). And if I were lucky, Id be playing alongside Coach Brennan.
The guy was so much fun to be around, so relentlessly positive, your shooting
percentage would jump 10 points when he said hello. Coach made me feel
so good about my game, I was once emboldened to actually try driving to
my left. I turned it over but somehow managed to escape injury.
basketball player who has ever taken a jump shot under threat of instant
removal from the game if he should miss understands what that kind of
pressure can do to his shooting percentage. Its much worse than
the comparatively benign pressure of a hand in the face. This is why gunners
tend not to flourish playing for knee-jerk coaches whose lone talent as
players was drawing charges. The young men who have had the good fortune
to play for Coach Brennan at the University of Vermont over the last 19
years have faced no such pressure. From Rob Zinn whose range Id
like to think I stretched in losing some epic H-O-R-S-E games during those
summers in Burlington to Matt Johnson to Eddie Benton to Tony Orciari
to the incomparable duo of Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine, the
one thing Catamount players have never had to fear is a quick hook from
the coach. Has any other coach in the country had five different players
hoist 16 or more 3-pointers in a game? (Sorrentine launched 15 threes
in his lights-out performance 26 points against Michigan
the constant, unblinking green light? Because Brennan, in spirit and practice,
has always been and forever will be a gunner. From his record-setting,
conscience-free high school career, to his playing days at Georgia to
his current radio gig, the quip-equipped New Jersey native has always
shot first and asked questions never. Somewhere along the line, he decided
being a college basketball coach should be fun. And so, too, should being
a college basketball player. Imagine that.
year the America East champs drew eventual national champion Connecticut
in the first round. For a moment it may have seemed like the committee
had done the Cats a favor by making them a 15 seed instead of a 16, until
they found themselves paired against the best team in the country, featuring
current NBA star rookies Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.
the Cats won their third straight America East championship with an 80-57
clinic over a 21-win Northeastern team in February, Vermont hoop fans,
aware of the teams lofty RPI, salivated at the prospect of a winnable
first-round game. This prospect was all but dashed when the committees
retirement present to Brennan was a 13-seed and a first-round matchup
with Syracuse and Big East Player of the Year Hakim Warrick.