Oct. 18, 2013
The longest-tenured coach in the BIG EAST, stepped back in time Wednesday, at the league’s media day, in New York City.
Harry Perretta’s career at Villanova began in 1978 – shortly before Dave Gavitt brought a group of schools together, with a common interest – basketball. According to Perretta, that excitement has been rekindled.
“An energy exists, that I saw when we started this years ago,” Perretta said. “I feel it now.”
Perretta is the veteran among the group, which features three new schools, a new head coach, in Seton Hall’s Tony Bozzella, and a new commissioner – Val Ackerman, the WNBA’s 1st commissioner, and a longtime friend of Gavitt.
Doug Bruno’s DePaul Blue Demons were picked to win the BIG EAST, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Bruno, entering his 28th season, guided DePaul to its 11th straight NCAA tournament last year – a mark currently shared by only nine other schools. And after years of traveling east for the conference championship in Connecticut, the Blue Demons have a far shorter commute this time around. All-State arena, home of the DePaul men’s basketball team in nearby Rosemont – will host in early March.
The sharp-shooting Creighton Bluejays, led by sophomore Marissa Janning, were the 2nd choice. Jim Flanery enters his 12th year coaching his alma mater – half the league’s coaches have been at their respective schools for at least 10 years.
Same goes for another newcomer, butler, led by Beth Couture. The Bulldogs were picked to finish 7th.
Different story at Xavier, where Brian Neal has been on the job as head coach, for just a week, taking over for Amy Waugh, who resigned after two seasons. Neal’s experience isn’t limited to his two years as an assistant with the Musketeers – he led NCAA Division III Thomas More to 171 wins, in seven seasons as head coach.
St. John’s graduated two of its all-time greats, in Shanneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith. Classmate Eugenia McPherson returns for a fifth year, following a season-ending knee injury – she hopes to lead the Red Storm to its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.
The wait is longer at Providence – where the women’s team last went to the big dance in 1992. Former Penn State great Susan Robinson-Fruchtl enters her 2nd year leading the Friars.
After graduating just one senior, Marquette was picked to finish fifth, followed by Georgetown. Seton Hall was chosen 10th, perhaps a source of motivation for Bozzella, who returns to his alma mater after 11 years at Iona. While in the MAAC, Bozzella grew accustomed to a schedule that seemed foreign in the BIG EAST – 18 conference games, with each team playing its opponent twice, home and away.
Back when Ackerman was playing at Virginia, the NCAA allowed for just one scholarship per team – one that Ackerman shared with the player she roomed with. Fast forward to 2013 and a new-look league, spanning the east coast all the way to Omaha. The names and faces are different – but as Perretta said, the energy that is the BIG EAST, is well in place, for another chapter in the league’s history.