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"We had one of the best classes to ever attend UVM in my opinion.
We all worked very hard and played the best we could every day.
-Taylor Coppenrath, Former Univ. of Vermont Basketball Star
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Born to Coach: UVM The View PDF Print E-mail
Written by VT Sports Network News Feed   
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
The walls of Mike Lonergan’s office in Patrick Gymnasium are covered with photographs of people from all stages of his 42-year-old life. They represent his professional life leading up to his current job as head coach of the UVM men’s basketball team as well as his family life. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two based on the pictures, which blend the boundaries of team and family.

A father of four who grew up the youngest of six children, Lonergan points out five individuals as especially significant: his mother Maureen, who played basketball and coached Lonergan in elementary school; his father Jack, a mentor and pitcher who led Holy Cross to the 1952 NCAA College Baseball World Series title at the same time Bob Cousy was a Crusader; Morgan Wootten, the winningest high school basketball coach of all time; Gary Williams, coach at the University of Maryland where Lonergan served as an assistant; and the late Jack Bruen, Lonergan’s college coach at Catholic University who later hired him as an assistant at Colgate.

“My mother was way ahead of her time. She was a jock and a coach before it was fashionable for a woman to even play sports,” says Lonergan, whose mother was a coach and athletic director at Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md. where the playing fields are named in her honor. “She died on June 9, 1995. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people help me along the way. I’d like to do the same for my players and my kids.”

When Lonergan recruits student-athletes he makes sure they feel like they are joining a family. And that includes his own, which includes Jack, 9, Margaret, 8, Michael, Jr. 3, and Robert who will be one in November. Lonergan’s wife Maggie, who coached the women's basketball team at Catholic, helps with various aspects of the UVM team. “In my mother’s will she left her wedding ring with instructions that it be given to my future wife, but only if it was Maggie,” Lonergan says with a smile.

‘From Orphans to Champions’

While in junior high Lonergan read a book by Wootten, the legendary coach from DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, titled From Orphans to Champions that left no doubt about him wanting to be a basketball coach. After a successful high school career as a point guard at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., where he was also the class salutatorian, Lonergan immersed himself in every aspect of the game. He started working at camps and clinics including Wootten’s basketball camp where he would spend the next 20 summers learning and teaching the game.

After high school Lonergan went to Catholic University where he was senior co-captain on the basketball team and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. He then took a job as an assistant coach at American International College and earned a master’s degree in criminal justice. His final stop before returning to his alma mater in 1992 as one of the youngest head coaches in America was as an assistant at Colgate under Bruen. Lonergan led Catholic to nine NCAA tournament appearances including the 2001 NCAA Division III national championship. Just prior to coming to UVM, he spent the 2004-05 season as an assistant under the legendary Gary Williams at Maryland.

“Mike Lonergan is a proven head coach, having won a national championship at Catholic University," says Williams. "Mike is a very good motivator of people, which is as important as any skill in coaching.”

Following an icon

Lonergan, who has compiled a 54-40 record in three seasons and has challenged for the America East title each year, has successfully managed to bridge the gap between the Tom Brennan era, which included three straight NCAA tournament appearances, through hard-nosed coaching and highly successful recruiting. Brennan, a state icon known as much for his charismatic personality as for his coaching, says his goal was to help Lonergan build on the success he enjoyed while not being too intrusive.

“There’s no doubt that we’re very different philosophically, but Mike knows how much I love the program, the school, and the state, and I wanted him to know I was there for him,” says Brennan, now an analyst with ESPN. “It’s a fine line because I didn’t want to be too involved while he was implementing his own system, but it ended up working out really well. He’s doing a fantastic job and has consulted with me on a number of occasions. He’s invited me to speak at an event honoring the seniors I recruited. He didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of guy he is.”

Lonergan, whose five siblings and father were born in Massachusetts and his mother in Connecticut, considers himself as much a New Englander as he does a Marylander, and has landed some of the top recruits from both locales. This year’s crop includes highly touted 6-foot-7 Jordan Clarke of Rockville, Md., and 6-foot-4 guard Garvey Young of Washington D.C., both considered among the best players at their positions in the East.

"I think it's safe to assume a few things about Vermont basketball," says Dave Telep, national recruiting director for Scout.com. "For starters, Mike Lonergan and his staff are making great decisions on kids. Second, they're involved with strong mid-level players, the kind that you win the league with and there's been a lot of them the past two seasons. It's hard to gauge classes in terms of historical standing until the banners are hung and the jerseys raised in a few seasons, but these guys give the Catamounts a chance to win the league more than once."

Vermont already has verbal commitments from another strong class next year. When combined with Clarke and Young, it could be UVM’s best two-year recruiting period ever. Lonergan has also met two other goals: recruiting quality students and improving team diversity. The number of African Americans on the team has gone from one to four and the team has graduated 100 percent of its players (for students entering school in the 2001-02 academic year and graduating within six years), according to the NCAA.

“He knows what he’s talking about, and although he expects a lot and can be tough to play for, he gives you a lot in return,” says Marqus Blakely, who was named both the Kevin Roberson America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in conference history. “You have to prove it to him in practice. He may come off as hard-nosed, but once you understand him you know he’ll be there for you when you need him.”

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