March 21, 2013
By Sarah Frohnapfel, Lafayette '13 (Patriot League Intern)
If you've happened to flip on the television for more than a few seconds, spent any time out in public or ventured out from under your rock in the past week or so, you're well aware that the month of March in the world of sports is known for one thing in particular: college basketball. This year marks the 75th anniversary of March Madness and the Patriot League has enjoyed some of its own shining moments in the last two decades.
We all know Bucknell had a fantastic 2013 season under Head Coach Dave Paulsen. We know about the powerhouse that is Mike Muscala and the impressive stats he has put up in his career. We know that Bucknell has had tremendous success in the past few years. What you may not know, however, is the man who laid the foundation for this outstanding program. Pat Flannery coached at Bucknell for 14 years, and in that time recorded more conference victories and Patriot League Tournament wins than any other coach in the League history. He won two Patriot League Championships and earned the first two NCAA tournament wins in League history. In 2005, he earned the Hugh Durham Award as the national "mid-major" coach of the year. When he retired in 2008, he left a legacy at his alma mater and his name in the record books.
But as much as Coach Flannery has done for Bucknell and the Patriot League, he argues both institutions have done exceedingly more for him. "The kids you coach here aren't just your player for four years, they stay with you for a lifetime. That's it. The friendships that you make, they're the best part about working in this conference."
Flannery had a unique opportunity to reunite with a former player in 2008. J.R. Holden, a 1998 Bucknell graduate who had been playing overseas for a number of years gave Flannery a call one day with some exciting news. "He was going to being competing in the Beijing Olympics, and told me, `Coach, you're coming with me.' It was an amazing experience." Holden competed for Team Russia in the Olympics games after being a star in the European professional basketball circuit after his graduation.
Beyond the incredible relationships it creates, Flannery credited much of the Patriot League success to its continued evolution. "Schedules get tougher every year. We're a small conference facing big name schools and competing. You can't listen to any sports broadcast for more than a day or two and not hear something about the Patriot League."
Fran O'Hanlon has been with the Patriot League for 18 years, making him the longest tenured coach in the league. As the head coach of Lafayette, O'Hanlon has won two League titles, three Patriot League Coach of the Year honors and has taken the Leopards to two NCAA tournament appearances. O'Hanlon holds the Patriot League record for most games coached. He's stayed at Lafayette for one reason, but it's a good one. He loves it.
"The people, the area, the community here, it's just a great place to be.," he said. Coach O'Hanlon has seen the League change quite a bit during his 18-year position, specifically in terms of the talent of players on the floor. "Scholarships were huge, when we were able to offer some of the top recruits a great education and a position on our team, it helped us tremendously. The conference is getting much better every year, from top to bottom."
Jeff Jones, the head coach at American University, has also seen this evolution. Jones came to American University thirteen years ago and quickly created a program known for its consistency. He coached the Eagles to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009, and has boasted four 20-win seasons in the past six years. He's seen a lot of change in his time at American, but also a lot of the same.
"It's different faces, but we're getting the same kind of athletes. It's a conference where the 'student' part of student-athlete is emphasized. However, that doesn't mean these student-athletes aren't committed to winning. I think people would be badly mistaken to assume that this is just a nice group of kids that achieve in the classroom and simply participate in athletics. These kids are incredibly talented and committed to winning."
Jones also remarked on the change in how people view the Patriot League since his first years at American. "I've seen the League become much more competitive. We've gotten more notoriety. Last year's Lehigh/Duke upset, Bucknell beating Kansas a few years back, Holy Cross and American competing in the tournament against teams that went on to the final four, people have sat up and taken notice of Patriot League basketball."
The Patriot League has enjoyed its share of March success. On the 75th Anniversary of the NCAA Tournament, Bucknell will try to add to that list when it plays Butler on Thursday.