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UVM Basketball 2007-2008
HE SCORES! Former Catamount Rahim Huland El PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vermont Sports Network   
Sunday, 29 July 2007


 In 1990, the Catamounts shocked the world, beating a heavily-favored (and top-seeded) Northeastern team in the conference tournament semi-finals, 76-62. While the Cats succumbed on national television to Boston University in the subsequent championship game, this dramatic tournament run raised the bar and laid the foundation for future Catamount squads. Rahim Huland El was one of the cornerstones of the 1990 team. Huland El could flat-out shoot. This New Jersey native is the 13th leading scorer in Catamount history (1,287).

Rahim was gracious enough to give VT Sports Net this Q&A.  

VTSN:  Recall the night the Cats shocked the world and upset Syracuse. Where were you? Who were you with? Who called? Describe your emotions.

RH:  Obviously, I can vividly recall that day.  When the brackets were announced, I felt that we had a decent chance to beat Syracuse.  On the day of the game, I was at a restaurant in West Orange, New Jersey.  I was supposed to meet my buddy there, but he was unable to make it.  So, I sat there alone at the restaurant cheering every UVM basket and every ‘Cuse miss.   Right away, I thought back to the 1989-1990 season.  I think we won 15 games that year.  It was our first legitimate team.  This was also the year that Roberson emerged as one of the best defensive players in the country – he averaged about 4 blocks (and 6-8 “alters”) per game.  I have always seen the 89-90 season as the start of the run that UVM has been on for the past 17 years.  So, as I sat watching the Syracuse game, my primary emotion was extreme pride – pride that classy guys like Taylor Coppenrath and Sorrentine and Mopa Njila were creating the culmination of something that us “old guys” started many years before. 

VTSN:  Let's back track. How did you get involved in basketball? Who were your earliest mentors? Where did you learn to shoot?

RH:  I originally became interested in basketball as a sixth grader living in Irvington, New Jersey.  I was a tall kid so I figured I would try out for the local traveling basketball team.  Well, I was tall but I could not play a lick!  So, I did not make the team.  At that time, I decided that I would not be cut from another team...ever.  So I started practicing two to three hours per day on the playground.  I was like the mailman, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow would stop me from practicing.  I would play - and get beat on - by older players and grown men.  Within a year, I was the best player in my age group.  I did not get cut from the seventh grade team. Ha. 

My earliest role models as players were guys like Julius Erving, Bernard King, Michael Ray Richardson and Magic Johnson.  The common thread among these players was that they played with passion.  I always liked to play with extreme passion as well... 

VTSN:  Let's talk about the recruiting process. Who was looking at you? Did Coach Brennan visit you personally? Describe his charm? What did he say? What did he not say? How did he win you over? Did he woo you with poetry?

RH:  Ah, recruiting... In addition to UVM, I was recruited by Fordham, Cornell, Rutgers, Columbia University and several other mid-major schools.  I was part of TB's first recruiting class at UVM.  The other members of that class were TJ Whitaker, Mark Madden, Matt Johnson and Bill Bright.  Coach Brennan came to visit my home and commenced to charm the heck out of my mother.  He also mentioned that he preferred an up-tempo style of play and that I would have a chance to play as a freshman.  TB got my attention with each of these statements.  I was a pretty athletic player, so running was right up my alley.  Unfortunately, no poetry...

Prior to TB’s home visit, UVM was my third or fourth choice.  After his home visit, UVM was right at the top of my list!

VTSN:  Before choosing Vermont, did it bother you in the least that Vermont was one of the lowest ranked teams in Division One? It was a Public Ivy and all but still...

RH:  UVM's ranking did not bother me.  In fact, I knew that this would increase my chances of playing right away.

VTSN:  First impressions...When you first meet your teammates: Kevin Roberson, Kenny White, TJ, Bill Bright, Matt Johnson, Mike Lubas...what are your thoughts? Was there instant chemistry - on and off the court? Do you think 'we are going to turn this thing around?'

RH:  First of all, I was one of five freshman players during the 87-88 season.  We were a very young team.  But, we had good chemistry.  The upperclassmen – Joe Calavita, Mike Lubas, Rob Hamlin, Bart Donovan, Chris Kappas, Francis John and Brad Chandler – all looked out for us young guys.  And, since we were 3-24, we had to get along.  All we had was each other.  The first season was about survival.  Aside from a big home win against Northeastern, we did not have much success on the court.  However, the seniors, Rob Hamlin and Francis John, set the tone of working hard every day in practice.  The younger guys watched and tried to follow suit.  

The next year, Roberson (“Hutch” as we all called him), Kenny White, Mike Malachuk and Rich Tarrant joined the team.   So over a 2 year period, we added nine players to the team.   This signified the changing of the guard.      

VTSN:  What do you recall about the man that used to be known as Jesse "The Body"?

RH:  The Body.  When I first met Jesse Agel, he was a young guy coaching a local high school team. The next year, he was a graduate assistant coach for our team.  The following year, he was a full assistant coach.  Jesse is not a glamorous guy.  But I found him to be an extremely hard worker who has an excellent knowledge of the game.  Jesse, along with our other assistant coach, Jeff Brown), provided the yin to TB’s yang.  Jesse Agel was a good friend to me while I was at UVM.    

VTSN:  Discuss the upset of Northeastern in the 1990 conference semis - one of the biggest victories in Vermont basketball history. What was the game plan? Who delivered? You scored the first five points of that game, right? What clicked? After the buzzer, what was the mood in the locker-room? Any tears from Coach Brennan? What do you recall? We still remember the team's victory huddle on ESPN.

RH:  I remember that we felt extremely confident going into the game.  We had been very inconsistent coming into the league tournament.  However, we had played very well against Maine in the first round.  Also, during my time at UVM, we had always played well against Northeastern.   The game plan was simple - play good defense and play hard.  Personally, I remember that I had a decent game.  I think I scored 19 or 20 points in the game.  I also had a dunk that made it to ESPN SportsCenter that night.  However, my personal accomplishments aside, the thing I remember most was exhilaration in the locker room after the game.  Specifically, I remember seeing the sheer joy on the face of Chris Kappas.  Kappas had graduated the year before.  During his time at UVM, Kappas had seen some tough times – not a lot of wins.  He had come to the game to cheer on his former teammates.  I was so glad that we were able to win one for him and the other guys who had come before us.   

VTSN:  After the subsequent loss to Boston University in the finals, what words of wisdom did Coach Brennan impart, if any?

RH:  Coach just told us he was very proud of the way we had played. 

VTSN:  Villanova at The Pat: Take us back. We hear that the crowd was pretty wild and that Rollie was quite demanding. What do you recall about that game?

RH:  The “Litterbox” was really pumped that day.  Again, we were very confident coming into the game.  Remember, the same core group - Kevin Roberson, Kenny White, Matt Johnson, Richie Tarrant, and myself - had started virtually every game for two and a half seasons.  So, we were a very cohesive unit.  We expected to play well in every game.  We did play well; we just came up a little short.  As far as Massimino is concerned, we always got a kick out of his sideline routine.  You could not really take him too seriously though.      

VTSN:  Best Coach Brennan story? We'll take two if you have another.

RH:  There are many TB stories.  However, the first one that comes to mind was during my senior year in high school.  I had already verbally committed to attend UVM.  My team, Randolph High School, played a basketball game against Seton Hall Prep.  I was the best player at Randolph.  Mark Madden and TJ Whitaker were the stars of Seton Hall Prep.  Madden and Whitaker had also committed to attend Vermont. 

I think the final score of our game was Randolph High 29 – Seton Hall Prep 28.  I don’t think there was one fast break basket in the entire game. 

Later that night, TB calls me and said: 'Son, I have to take back my scholarship offer, you won’t be playing at UVM next year.'  I asked what was going on.  He said, 'don’t worry it’s not personal, I just spoke to Madden and Whitaker and told them the same thing.'  So, now I was really getting nervous.  Again, I said, 'Coach, what’s up?'  Finally, he said, 'how the heck am I going to play fast break basketball next year when the heart of my recruiting class just played in a game with a final score of 29-28?'  After a pregnant pause, TB let me know that he was only kidding.  However, he made me promise that I would not be part of another 29-28 game again.  I promised.  A few weeks later, we had the second Randolph – Seton Hall Prep match-up.  I think the teams combined to score 70 points in that one.           

VTSN:  After graduation, did you play professionally? Discuss your life after graduation. What did you pursue?

RH:  I did not play professionally.  I had an opportunity to play overseas after graduation.  However, I had had enough of basketball at that point.  After UVM, I attended and graduated from Rutgers University School of Law. 

About seven years ago, I started coaching youth basketball.  I currently coach a boys AAU basketball team, the New Jersey Panthers, which is ranked in the top ten in the nation.  I also coach my daughter’s basketball team.  Coaching kids is my way of staying involved in the sport.  

VTSN:  Over the years, how much contact have you had with the Vermont program? Have you seen many games? Have you been back to Church Street? Which teammates are you close with? Has Coach Lonergan reached out to you?

RH:  My wife, Leslie-Ann, and I used to attend at least one game per year.  We also used to visit Burlington at least once a year during the summer months.   However, it has become increasingly more difficult as the years pass.  I still follow the team as closely as ever via the internet.  During my time at UVM, I was closest to TJ, Matt Johnson and Billy Bright.

VTSN:  What lessons from Coach Brennan stand out most?

RH:  The lessons learned from Coach Brennan have to do with more than basketball.  He set the example of always keeping a positive perspective in life.  During my freshman year, we only won three games.  Yet, Coach never let us see his frustration.  He let us know that you have to believe you will be good before you can become good.  The power of positive belief is essential.    This was TB’s greatest gift to me.

VTSN:  How do you feel about the resurgence of Vermont football?

RH:  I love football, so I am all for the resurgence at UVM.  Nothing galvanizes a university student body like a competitive football team.  Here in New Jersey, I see how the Rutgers U program has really pumped up the entire New York-New Jersey region.  I would love to return to a UVM Homecoming weekend and take in a UVM football game!

VTSN:  If the Frost Heaves asked you to suit up now, would you do it?

RH:  Only if they gave a few weeks to get back in shape – I would not want to embarrass myself. 

VTSN:  If you have anything to add, the floor is yours.

RH:  I thank you for allowing an old catamount the opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane.  My days at UVM were truly some of the best of my life.  The boosters at UVM – people like Mrs. Gucciardi, “Mama Gooch,” and others – helped to ensure that a Jersey kid felt right at home in the Green Mountain State. Finally, I would like to congratulate my old track & field teammate and roommate, Dan Bokan, on his pending induction into the UVM athletic Hall of Fame.  Dan was an excellent athlete and good guy.

VTSportsNet thanks you for your contributions, as well as your time.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 July 2007 )
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