High school notebook: Coaching pipeline has roots at MV
When Kevin O’Brien was watching the girls’ basketball game between Merrimack Valley and Bishop Brady during the Capital Area Holiday Tournament last month, things looked strangely familiar on that NHTI court.
“I had to laugh because I saw some of the same stuff that we used to run,” O’Brien said. “They have gone way beyond anything they might have learned from me, but there was something comforting about it.”
The “they” in this particular case were Brady Coach Aaron Brochu and MV Coach Dave Huckins, who both played for O’Brien during his first stint as the MV boys’ coach, which lasted from 1987-2002. Brochu and Huckins are not the only branches on this coaching tree – there are 15 former O’Brien players who have gone on to coach basketball, including six who are currently head coaches.
“It’s very fulfilling to me to see all these guys stay involved,” O’Brien said.
Not only have they stayed involved with the sport, but they’ve stayed involved with each other.
“A lot of us are in contact now and we’re all helping each other out,” said Kevin Fowler, who played on O’Brien’s first team at MV and is now in his first year as the Hillsboro-Deering boys’ head coach. “And that all stems from (O’Brien) keeping us all together, and while we were there stressing the importance that we were all a family, he was big into that.”
Fowler arrived at H-D last year as an assistant to former MV player Scott Drapeau, who coached the H-D girls in 2011-12 and the H-D boys last season before becoming an assistant for the Kearsarge boys’ team this year. Fowler brought in another former MV player, Jason Smith, to run an H-D practice during the preseason. None of the O’Brien players who are now coaches are more successful than Smith, who has turned Brewster Academy into a national powerhouse. During his 14 years as the head coach at Brewster, Smith has won two National Prep championships and developed dozens of Division I college players, five of whom have made it to the NBA.
“It was great for my kids to have a big-time coach like that come and run one of their practices,” Fowler said.
Fowler hadn’t spoken to O’Brien in years before taking over at H-D, but once he did get that head coaching job, “(O’Brien) called me right off the bat, asked if there was anything I needed from him, set up a scrimmage for us to play against MV … and now I talk to him almost every day.”
Those kinds of interpersonal skills were the key to O’Brien’s success. He never played high school basketball, choosing instead to wrestle. But he understood winning ingredients like motivation and teamwork, and that, along with a lot of talented players, helped him compile a 229-94 record and three state titles during his first 15 years as MV’s coach.
“Even back then I think he would have said that his people skills outweighed his knowledge of the game,” said Brochu, who was on the 1989 Class I championship team at MV along with Drapeau, Smith and Huckins. “That’s what really allowed us to be successful, I think, is that he understood how to motivate us, when it was time to pull us aside and have conversations and things like that … and as a coach that has impacted me and I try to be as present as I can with the kids and have a lot of communication with them, some one-on-one time, and making sure everybody is feeling connected as a team.”
O’Brien may have stopped coaching in 2002, but he’s been a fixture at MV for the last 27 years and has served as the school’s athletic director since 1994. When the Pride was looking for a boys’ basketball coach in the summer of 2012, some of the players and faculty tried to get O’Brien to take the position, but he declined. When the coaching position opened up again this summer, O’Brien changed his mind and returned to the bench.
“When it rolled back through, the kids came to me again and I thought, ‘What the heck, if I’m here, I might as well do it,’ ” said O’Brien, who has already stated that he will step down after two seasons. “And I’m glad I came back, the kids are awesome, but I do go out of my way and tell them to stop me if I say, ‘Hey, we always used to do it like this.’ ”
But O’Brien has enjoyed some trips down memory lane, like when Fowler and his H-D team came to Penacook for a game against the Pride on Jan. 4. And O’Brien wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it.
“I thought it was going to be just another game, but when I walked into that gym where I used to play and everything I had been through with (O’Brien), that was a lot of emotion,” Fowler said. “And when I was leaving the gym it was tough to leave, I have a lot of great memories in there.”
Hoops for Hunger
If you’re going to a high school basketball game any time between this Friday and next Saturday (Jan. 17-25), don’t forget to bring a can of food or an extra dollar to donate to the NHIAA’s “Hoops for Hunger” initiative. The project, now in its sixth year, collects food donations and money to help out food pantries within each school’s community.
The program has raised more than $44,800, including $8,090 last year. Pembroke Academy was the top fundraiser in Division II during the 2012-2013 season and Winnisquam was the top fundraiser in D-III.
Game of the week
The Hopkinton girls’ basketball team (7-1) will get a chance to hand Campbell (4-0) its first loss of the season when the Hawks travel to Litchfield tomorrow night. The Cougars and Bishop Brady (7-0) are the only two undefeated teams in D-III. Hopkinton’s only loss came against Brady, and that 43-40 game on Dec. 18 was the closest regular-season game the Green Giants have played this season.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)