Discover more from UB In 5
UB MEN'S HOOPS IS NOW ON HALCOVAGE TIME
A quick look at the offseason carousel that is Buffalo basketball.
Image from villanova.com
Welcome to the George Halcovage III Era in Buffalo
The Bulls are coach-less no more: longtime Villanova assistant George Halcovage III has left the City of Brotherly Love for the City of Good Neighbors, and was announced as the new University at Buffalo men’s basketball head coach on Thursday.
“George has proven himself as one of the top assistant coaches in collegiate basketball,” Buffalo Athletic Director Mark Alnutt said in a prepared statement. “He has experience winning at the highest level, he's a tenacious recruiter and has the exceptional ability to connect with people. He has a very clear vision of sustained excellence for UB Basketball which will position our program to regularly compete for MAC Championships and perform at a high level in the classroom while developing young men who will be champions in life.”
Halcovage’s resume, from UBBulls.com:
As a trusted assistant to legendary Villanova head coach Jay Wright , Halcovage helped lead the Wildcats to a record of 389-131 (.748), two national championships, four NCAA regional championships, seven Big East regular season championships and five Big East Tournament championships during his time there.
Halcovage was elevated to associate head coach in June 2021. That season, Halcovage helped lead Villanova to a 30-8 record, a Big East title and a spot in the Final Four in New Orleans.
Halcovage worked his way up the ranks at Villanova, beginning as a graduate assistant in 2008. He was a part of the Villanova staff that guided the Wildcats to the 2009 NCAA Final Four in Detroit. In 2010, he was promoted to video coordinator. He later was elevated to the role of director of basketball operations and served in that capacity during the Wildcats' run to the 2016 NCAA National Championship. In 2017-18, he was an assistant coach as the Wildcats posted a 36-4 record on their way to another NCAA title.
Image from ncaa.com
There was a lot of chatter about who the Bulls didn’t get for the position, including Xavier Associate Head Coach Adam Cohen—who has extensive ties to both the Western New York community and UB basketball—and Northwest Missouri State Coach Ben McCollum (pictured above), whose Bearcats have dominated Division II men’s hoops. Halcovage’s blue-blood resume seems to have quelled the concerns that Buffalo would be left flailing indefinitely in its search for a sideline leader. They have for me, anyway!
(Halcovage’s) been part of a very successful, perhaps the most successful, college basketball program over the last 15 years. On paper, you can look at this, in a way, that this is Jay Wright’s right-hand man, and that he has been a part of all of the success that Villanova has had, and at the very least, has been a witness to all of the success Villanova has had. He knows what a championship program looks like, and how it’s run, and can bring that structure and knowledge and culture into Buffalo. I think there’s reason for hope, in that sense, that if he just implements the Jay Wright blueprint, what he’s learned, what he’s been around, that it should lead to a winning culture…
But it’s not that simple. It doesn’t always work that way when you hire the top assistant from a Power Five1 to become a head coach at a mid-major. Sometimes those coaches don’t do so well in their first job, and it’s their second job where they do better. Sometimes those coaches hit it out of the park. Sometimes they weren’t good coaching material from the start. You can’t just look at Jay Wright’s record and Villanova’s record and extrapolate that out to George Halcovage’s record, and how that’s going to play out for UB. And there are some reasons to be, if not concerned, wonder if this is the home run hire it looks like on just the bullet points.
Image from horizonleague.org
Those concerns Bronstein mentions include the facts that Buffalo couldn’t land Cohen, McCollum, or perceived Youngstown State Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun—a Bob Huggins acolyte and the 2023 Horizon League Coach of the Year. What scared them off?
Theories abound, but the perceived dearth of Name, Image, Likeness opportunities at UB and the lack of a powerful alumni/corporate donor base and NIL collective infrastructure have to be factors.
Big-time college sports have always been a pay-to-play situation, on some level, and the new NIL scenario has created a Wild West where dollars are weapons and those without cash are going to have—are having—a hard time recruiting, or keeping, talent.
UB and NIL: A Problem Begging for a (Marketing) Solution
Image from businessofcollegesports.com
What’s the NIL situation at Buffalo? Your guess is as good as mine, which is not a good thing. Consider the competition:
Here in New York, Adam Weitsman has pledged $1 million to keep student-athletes (including former UB women’s basketball star Dyaisha Fair) at Syracuse.
Memphis, a state university with 10,000 fewer students than Buffalo but a similar metro area population and median income numbers, has a well-established NIL collective—the 901 Fund—led by local banker Bob Byrd. The 901 Fund is now sponsoring athletes across every Tigers athletic program.
The Cincy Reigns collective at Cincinnati, a state university roughly the same size as UB, recently announced that an anonymous donor is matching gifts up to $50,000. The “Let’s Reign” campaign is trying to garner 7,000 donors who give $350 or more by July to help the Bearcats prepare for their jump to the Big 12.
Virginia Commonwealth University, another state school with enrollment similar to UB—and located in Richmond, a metro area almost exactly the same size as Buffalo’s—launched the HAVOC Collective in February. “In order to stay competitive on the field of play, we have to win the NIL game,” Rodney Ashby, a former VCU basketball player and current radio host, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I wouldn’t say we’re way behind, but we’re definitely behind.”
In the MAC, Toledo’s Friends of Rocky collective sponsored 40 football players last season. Ohio has the 1804 Sport Collective, which doesn’t have much traction yet, but the school does have a group licensing deal which allows athletes to gain access to university logos and marks in an ad activation. Buffalo explicitly does not. Bowling Green AD Derek Van Der Merwe, a former associate vice president and COO at the University of Arizona, offered his support for the new Ziggy Collective, which launched this week. Western Michigan has the fledgling Broncos Will Reign program. Eastern Michigan doesn’t have an active collective, but former quarterback Charlie Batch allegedly offered Caleb Williams $1 million to play football for the Eagles (which makes one wonder what Emoni Bates got to come home).
The next step to keep Buffalo competitive across all sports—not just football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball—is building an NIL community. The school can’t establish NIL collectives itself, but it can nudge donors to do so themselves; in the case of UB, and many state universities, however, those donations are critical to the overall operating budget of the institution.
Buffalo gets just 16 percent of its total operating budget from New York State—a number which may shock many casual observers. Check out this sweet pie chart from the 2020-21 annual report:
Image from buffalo.edu
In other words, UB is in a very difficult position in terms of taking that three percent of private sources and gifts that help the school to, you know, teach students, and encourage a healthy chunk of it to be shuttled into an independent 501(c)(3) to ensure Zid Powell doesn’t take his cringe-inducing three-point shooting to LaSalle (see more below).
All of which to say is this would be a great time for some white knights in the community to step up and establish a NIL collective. This process could, and should, go hand-in-hand with a total re-evaluation of the way Buffalo athletics are marketed both within Western New York and to the alumni (also known as the donor) base, which is currently as stale as a crouton convention.
There’s absolutely no reason the Bulls, who have fielded very competitive football, men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, women’s volleyball, softball, and other athletic programs over the past several years, should be as anonymous as they are.
As a marketer, I find it all a deliciously juicy opportunity for UB, and a massively frustrating gap in the program at the same time.
Politics have taught us, over the past 15 years, that thousands of small-dollar donors, when properly motivated, can literally change the course of history. Certainly we can find a way to keep Hattie Ogden, Cole Snyder, and other promising student-athletes in the Blue and White for years to come.
Thanks for reading UB In 5! Subscribe for free to stay connected to a steady, but never overwhelming, stream of UB basketball news.
Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Buffalo Basketball Roster Update
Image from ubbulls.com
On that somewhat grim note, here’s an update on the players exiting the men’s program:
Freshman guard Devin Ceasar, a high-scoring guard from Waldorf, Maryland, is moving closer to home. He’s committed to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Leading scorers Curtis Jones (15 points per game, pictured above), a sophomore, and junior Zid Powell (13 ppg) are in the portal, as well. Powell and fellow Philadelphia native LaQuill Hardnett—UB’s leading rebounder in 2022-23, also looking to transfer—are rumored to be heading home to play for the middling Atlantic 10 program at LaSalle.
Kidtrell Blocker, a guard from Rochester, New York with two years of eligibility remaining, has hit the portal. Blocker averaged four points and two boards last season, but had flashes of brilliance. Tough to see him go.
Kuluel Mading, a 6’9 sophomore forward who appeared to be making a move towards a spot in the rotation before missing a significant chunk of the season following the unexpected loss of his father, is also on his way out.
This leaves guards Kanye Jones and Jaden Slaughter, forwards Zaakir Williamson, Sy Chatman, Jonnivius Smith, and Isaiah Adams, and center Isaac Jack among the currently rostered students (at least from what I can see on the socials).
That’s not a terrible place to start. Adams and Jack were effective starters, Smith was playing a bigger role by the end of the season, Chatman’s an unknown quantity after missing an entire season but was an impact player at UMass and Illinois State prior to his Buffalo days, and Kanye got significant minutes as a freshman at Boston College before falling into Jim Whitesell’s black hole.
Frankly, all of these guys would benefit from some solid coaching, which, based on the moves made, they weren’t getting last year.
There’s not much info on new recruits at this point, which is to be expected; it’s disappointing to note that the top recruits to the program since 2018 (Jeenathan Williams, Ronaldo Segu, David Skogman, Chanse Robinson, and Mading) are now all gone.
Who’s Back from the 2022-23 UB Women’s Basketball Team?
Image from ubbulls.com
We know guards Latrice Perkins, Jazmine Young, Re’Shawna Stone, and Zakiyah Winfield are all done, having used up their eligibility. Each of those losses hurt. Center Kayla Salmons announced via Instagram she has returned to Australia for personal reasons and is no longer with the team. Forward Kiara Johnson, a fifth-year transfer who missed much of the season with injury, is also likely done. Whether walk-on seniors Briyanna Baron and Olivia DeBortoli return is an open question, although neither had much of an on-court impact for the Bulls.
The list of returnees is headlined by 6’2 freshman forward Hattie Ogden (pictured above), who developed into one of the top-three-point shooters in the country by the end of the season. Another 6’2 forward, Buffalo native and former Georgia Tech and Saint Louis recruit Ronnie Nwora, should be back in the lineup after missing the 2022-23 season for personal reasons. Guard Caelen Ellis, who played limited minutes but has some long-distance range, will be a sophomore.
And, of course, six-foot swing Emerita Mashaire, who committed herself to the dirty work for the 2022-23 squad, will be back. It will be interesting to see Mashaire get more work on the perimeter after a lack of team size forced her into the paint for much of the season.
Head Coach Becky Burke has expressed excitement over the return of redshirt junior Chellia Watson, the 2021-22 Big South Player of the Year for Burke’s USC Upstate squad. Watson missed the 2022-23 season with injury. Chellia, like Mashaire, started her career at Cincinnati.
Image from twitter.com
Unlike the men, the UB women have an impressive list of commits for 2023-24, including (notes from UBBulls.com):
Timberlynn Yeast: “A 5’9 guard from Harrodsburg, Kentucky who committed to Buffalo after receiving more than 20 other Division I scholarship offers. A top-15 scorer and All-State second-team selection as a junior, Yeast averaged 20.9 points per game on 52% shooting during Mercer Country High School's run to a District 46 championship.” Yeast missed this past season with a knee injury.
Ella Weaver: “A 6’1 wing from Charlottesville, Virginia who comes to Buffalo after receiving interest from a number of Division I programs. Weaver is coming off a breakout junior campaign at William Monroe High School in which she garnered All-Northwestern District and All-Region 3B First Team honors after averaging 17.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, finishing the season with 16 double-doubles.” Weaver was named to the 2nd-Team All-Virginia squad in March.
Jakayla Thompson: “A 5’8 guard from Louisville, Kentucky who committed to Buffalo after receiving offers from over a dozen Division I programs. She was named First Team All-Region and earned All-State honorable mention honors after leading Manual with 15.7 points per game on 48.6% shooting as a junior.” Thompson earned The Lexington Herald-Tribune’s 1st-Team All-State honors as a senior.
Paige Kohler (pictured above): “A 5’6 point guard from Olmsted Falls, Ohio. She is coming off a dominant junior season in which she was the Southwestern Conference Most Valuable Player, Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year and an All-Ohio and All-District First Team selection after averaging 13.1 points, 5.0 rebounds 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game.” Kohler was named #1 in the Cleveland.com Northeast Ohio Fab 50, a list that includes the top girls’ basketball players from seven counties in the Greater Cleveland-Akron area.2
Paula Lopez: “A 5’7 shooting guard who hails from Spain. She is coming off a big summer in which competed for the Argentinian national team at the FIBA U17 World Cup where averaged 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.” Lopez has played in the Spanish club system since she was 13.
Madison Heiss: “A 5’11 guard from Dallas. She previously played for Highland Park High School, where she was named First Team All-District and the Defensive MVP, before transferring to Bishop Lynch High School for her senior year.” Heiss was named 1st-Team All-TAPPS (Texas Association of Parochial and Private Schools) 1-6 this past season.
Ella Take: “A six-foot wing from Kingston, Ontario who plays for Capital Courts Academy where she played in seven games during the 2021-22 season averaging 2.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.”
And Finally…More Buffalo Coaching Moves
Arkansas State announced Wednesday that Jamie Quarles, who was an assistant for the Bulls (men’s basketball team) for the last six seasons, will join the Red Wolves' staff. Bryan Hodgson, an assistant at UB from 2015-19, was introduced earlier this week as Arkansas State's head coach.
Hodgson was also rumored as a possible candidate for the Buffalo head coaching position.
UB's athletic department announced Thursday that James Ewing, a Cardinal O'Hara graduate, will join head coach Becky Burke's staff as an assistant coach.
Ewing joins the Bulls after a season at St. Bonaventure, where he was an assistant coach and was the director of basketball operations this past season. The 2008 O’Hara graduate was an assistant coach and a recruiting coordinator with the Daemen University women's basketball team in 2021-22, and was also an assistant coach at Bryant and Stratton College in 2020-21.
UB's athletic department announced Wednesday that Erin Sinnott has been promoted to an assistant coach with the women’s basketball team. Sinnott is a former Daemen University player who was UB’s director of basketball operations during Becky Burke’s first year as head coach in 2022-23.
Sinnott’s promotion comes after the departure of UB assistants Asia Dozier and Candyce Wheeler. Burke is in the process of finalizing the remainder of her staff, which also includes assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Wyatt Foust.
Disappointing to see Dozier—a two-time captain and three-year starter for a dominant South Carolina team—and Wheeler, a longtime pro whose relationship to Burke dates back to their playing days in Louisville, move on.
That’s the life of an assistant coach: always on the move up that ladder. Good luck to them both.
Thanks for reading UB In 5! Subscribe for free to stay on top of UB hoops without having it dominate your life.
College basketball often uses the term “Power Six,” including the Big East (Villanova’s home) along with the five big football conferences—the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC.