George Washington University|
Head Coach Mike Lonergan
By Chris McManes
Mike Lonergan, after two seasons of painstakingly rebuilding the George Washington men’s basketball team, has the 2013-14 Colonials poised to enjoy success regionally, nationally and in the retooled Atlantic 10 Conference.
Lonergan took a team that started four freshmen for much of last year and led it to a 13-17 record, a 3½-game improvement over the previous season. They were the only team in the nation to start four rookies for their entire conference slate.
GW hung tough with NCAA Tournament teams Temple, Kansas State, St. Louis and Butler, while enjoying victories at James Madison and UMass.
The year began with a successful four-game, 12-day tour of Italy and ended in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the A-10 Tournament at the palatial Barclays Center.
Junior Nemanja Mikic was named to the A-10’s All-Academic Team and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Honors Court.
Lonergan, who won his 400th career game in the regular-season-finale, has averaged 20 wins per season. A native of Bowie, Md., he has six times been named conference Coach of the Year. The pinnacle of his career came when he led Catholic University to the 2001 NCAA Division III National Championship.
“He has the skills, experience and drive needed to take the GW men’s basketball program to new heights,” said Colonial Athletic Director Patrick Nero when Lonergan was hired on May 6, 2011. “Out of an extremely talented national field of possible candidates, Mike distinguished himself as the right fit for George Washington University and the best candidate to lead our men’s basketball program to future success.”
After posting a 126-68 record in six years (2005-11) at the University of Vermont, Nero hired Lonergan to become GW’s coach on May 6, 2011. He cited his “skills, experience and drive” and said he was the “right fit” to lead the program to “new heights.”
In addition to his character and high moral values, Nero cited four key credentials he was looking for in a head coach: players’ academic achievement, reputation, Washington-area ties and a history of producing winning teams.
“When we took into account those four criteria, Mike stood above everyone,” Nero said. “He has had a 100 percent graduation rate of his student-athletes. He has a wonderful reputation at both Catholic and Vermont. He’s a Bowie native.
“And very importantly, Mike has been an extremely successful coach.”
You can say that again.
Lonergan enters his 21st year as a collegiate head coach with a career record of 400-194 (.673). He has guided three programs to a total of 15 winning seasons, 13 NCAA Tournament victories, 13 postseason appearances, 12 regular-season conference titles, 12 years of 20 or more victories, six conference tournament championships and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Lonergan’s success at Vermont translated into a .649 winning percentage, the highest in school history. In addition, the Cats’ 69-27 (.719) America East Conference mark during that time was tops in the league.
Lonergan guided UVM to four postseason appearances, three regular-season titles and one conference tournament championship. His team’s appearance in the 2010 NCAA Tournament was his first in Division I.
Lonergan and his staff’s hard work on the recruiting trail in 2012 resulted in GW being the only school in the country to land two Washington Post first-team All-Mets: Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald. Patricio Garino was so impressive as a freshman last season that was chosen to this year’s preseason A-10 All-Defensive Team.
The previous year, Lonergan convinced Villanova’s Isaiah Armwood to transfer to Foggy Bottom. His first season in a Colonial uniform played a major role in the team’s ascent. Armwood led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. A 2013-14 preseason All-Atlantic 10 second-team and All-Defensive Team selection, he leads by example and should close out his college career this season with a stellar campaign.
Lonergan pulled off another major coup this past offseason when he enticed Indiana University shooting guard Mo Creek to play his final season at GW. Creek was eligible to compete right away because he had already graduated from Indiana, which featured two players who were lottery picks in the NBA Draft (Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller) and was ranked No. 1 for much of the season.
Creek, like Armwood, were both top-50 players coming out of high school.
Lonergan’s success recruiting should come as no surprise. He has a knack for finding talented players and developing them to their full potential. One of his best recruits was an under-the-radar player he recruited to Vermont in 2006.
Marqus Blakely blossomed into the 2010 America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player. He won three league Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Player of the Year honors, and was a two-time honorable mention All-American. During the 2010 Final Four, he captured the State Farm Slam Dunk championship.
Blakely was the final cut of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010 and went to camp with the Clippers again in 2012. He finished the 2010-11 campaign with the Houston Rockets, making him the first former Catamount to suit up for a regular-season NBA game. He has played in the NBA Developmental League and is one of the top players in the Philippines Basketball Association. He is the 12th Lonergan-coached player – including three from Catholic and former Colonial Tony Taylor – to play professionally.
Lonergan Punctuates Tenure at Vermont
After losing four starters – Blakely included – little was expected of Vermont in 2010-11. America East coaches predicted the Catamounts would finish fifth. Victory totals ranged from 12 to 17. The end result was far different.
UVM began the season by ending Siena’s 38-game home winning streak. Coupled with victories at Quinnipiac and Iona, the Cats raced to a 9-3 record. Two of the losses came at the hands of a pair of the nation’s best teams: Brigham Young, which advanced to its first NCAA Sweet 16 in 30 years, and eventual national champion Connecticut.
Vermont proved the prognosticators wrong by winning the America East regular-season championship with a 13-3 record and qualifying for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Lonergan and his staff were honored for the achievement at the NABC Champions Luncheon during the Final Four. UVM’s 23-9 final tally was its fourth straight season of at least 23 wins. Eleven of those victories came on the road.
Once Lonergan’s players bought into his philosophy of rebounding and defense being the underpinning of championship teams, the Cats embarked on a 10-game winning streak. For much of that time, they were starting two sophomores and two freshmen. Vermont was definitely not the most talented team in the league, but no team was more determined or worked harder.
Lonergan, for the second time, was named America East Coach of the Year. Sophomore Brendan Bald was recognized as Defensive Player of the Year, the fourth straight season a Catamount was honored for his defensive ability.
Brian Voelkel joined first-year sensations like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger as a freshman All-American. The only honoree from New England, Voelkel was also named America East Rookie of the Year. He was the second Lonergan recruit to be so honored, joining Mike Trimboli (2005-06).
Evan Fjeld was chosen first-team All-Conference, All-District and America East Men’s Basketball Scholar Athlete. He became the third league Fans’ Choice Player of the Year (Blakely, Trimboli) under Lonergan and was named to the Division 1-AAA Athletics Directors Scholar-Athlete Team.
“When I had the opportunity to meet Coach Lonergan and speak with him firsthand,” George Washington President Steve Knapp said, “I was really impressed by his integrity and his commitment to the student-athletes he leads.”
A Championship Season
Lonergan steered the 2009-10 Catamounts to a 25-10 record, including the America East Tournament championship. They were 12-4 in conference play and tied the school mark for wins in a season, twice under Lonergan. The Cats’ 12 road victories ranked second nationally.
Lonergan led Vermont to a 77-71 win at Big East foe Rutgers and to victories in 11 of its final 13 games. His team’s 78-69 win over Binghamton was his 100th at UVM. He recorded his 350th career victory in a 77-67 defeat of Fairfield.
The Cats earned the America East’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with victories over UMBC, New Hampshire and Boston University. The win over BU was Lonergan’s 500th game as a head coach. The season culminated in the NCAA West Regional with a loss to top-seeded Syracuse in Buffalo, N.Y. CBS carried the contest live.
Building a Winning Program at Vermont
In his first season at UVM (2005-06), Lonergan led the least-experienced team in the nation to the America East title game, becoming the third first-year coach in conference history to take his team that far.
Lonergan guided Vermont to a 25-8 record in 2006-07 and earned the America East regular-season championship with a 15-1 campaign. The Catamounts tied the season school record for victories and advanced to the NIT for the first time in school history. UVM also tied for the national lead in road/neutral site victories with 16 and enjoyed a 13-game winning streak. The highlight of the campaign came when Vermont earned its first regular-season victory over a ranked opponent, 77-63 at No. 14 Boston College.
Following the season, Lonergan was named America East Coach of the Year by the league and CollegeInsider.com, and District I Coach of the Year by the NABC. He was a finalist for the Hugh Durham Mid-Major Coach of the Year award. When Vermont headed back to the America East championship game that season, Lonergan became the first league coach in 20 years to take his team to consecutive title game appearances in his first two seasons.
Three of his players from those teams played professionally: Martin Klimes in the Czech Republic and Spain, Ryan Schneider in Portugal and Chris Holm in Spain and Japan.
In 2007-08, UVM’s 16-15 mark included a victory at Binghamton in the league tournament. Lonergan earned his 300th career victory in an 81-76 win at Hartford.
Lonergan propelled the 2008-09 Catamounts to a 24-9 record, a share of the America East regular-season crown (13-3) and only their second postseason victory ever. Vermont’s win at Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational came against a team that had won 22 games and entered the contest 13-1 at home.
UVM earned wins over George Washington and Colorado at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, marking its first victories over schools from the Atlantic 10 and Big 12 conferences. Vermont finished 11th in the nation in shooting percentage (48.1 percent) and 34th in scoring (76.8 ppg).
Under Lonergan’s tutelage, Blakely was named Kevin Roberson America East Player of the Year and America East Defensive Player of the Year. He is the only player in league annals to be named top defenseman three times, and is one of only six players in conference history to earn player of the year honors more than once.
Trimboli, Lonergan’s first major recruit, ended his Catamount career in 2009 as the school’s all-time assists leader (624) and finished fourth all-time in scoring with 2,008 points. He played professionally in Poland, and one of his fellow seniors, Colin McIntosh, played in Portugal. Maurice Joseph, a junior that year, played pro ball in Israel three seasons ago, and Joey Accaoui competes in Lebanon.
A Maryland Interlude
Lonergan came to Vermont after serving one season (2004-05) as an assistant coach under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, where he helped the Terrapins reach the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Maryland’s 19 victories included a 75-66 win at Duke that ended the No. 2 Blue Devils’ 15-game winning streak. The Terps also played in Italy the summer before.
“Mike is a proven winner as a head coach because of his success at Catholic University and Vermont,” said Williams, who announced his retirement the day before Lonergan’s hiring at GW. “His teams are fundamentally sound, and he has had a number of players who flourish in his programs.
“Mike was an outstanding assistant coach in his year at Maryland.”
One of the Nation’s Finest Programs
Prior to his stint at Maryland, Lonergan was head coach at Catholic University (1992-2004), where he built the Washington, D.C., school into an NCAA Division III powerhouse. Lonergan’s teams qualified for seven consecutive NCAA Division III tournament appearances and nine overall. He compiled a 251-88 (.740) record during his 12-year tenure and averaged nearly 25 victories over his last seven years. The Cardinals were 88-10 (.898) in Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) regular-season play during that time.
He was named CAC Coach of the Year four times and is the only coach in conference history to lead his team to a 14-0 league record (1997-98).
Lonergan was the only coach in the nation at any level to win the regular-season conference title each season in the seven-year span from 1997 to 2004, and he was honored for the feat at the NABC Champions Luncheon during the 2004 Final Four. He was also the only coach to lead his team to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen each year between 1998 and 2002.
Lonergan guided Catholic to its finest moment in Salem, Va., on March 17, 2001 when his club rallied for a 76-62 victory over William Paterson in the NCAA Division III championship game. The Cardinals culminated the campaign with a school-record 28 victories and Lonergan tied the school mark for career victories in the title game.
In the national semifinals, Catholic stormed back from an 11-point deficit with 8:14 to play to vanquish top-ranked Ohio Northern, 82-77. His senior point guard, Pat Maloney, was named Most Outstanding Player, and sophomore forward Matt Hilleary was named to the All-Tournament team. Lonergan was the consensus choice as Division III national Coach of the Year.
Hilleary played professionally in Italy and Ireland, and another former Cardinal, Patrick Dwyer, played in England. In Lonergan’s final year (2003-04), Will Morley became CUA’s first first-team All-American.
The Cards followed up their national championship campaign by going 26-3 to set the school winning percentage record (.897). ESPN produced a feature on the team.
Lonergan is proud that all of his players at Catholic graduated. Two who finished their careers after he left for Maryland, Shane Sowden and Stephen Wheeler, received the Harris Cup, the school’s highest honor for male graduating student-athletes. The award is presented in recognition of outstanding achievement in athletics, academics, leadership and service.
Sean Tuohey, who played under Lonergan from 1996-99, is a founder and former director of PeacePlayers International, an organization that uses basketball to unite and educate youngsters in divided communities. It currently operates programs in South Africa, New Orleans, Cyprus, the Middle East and Northern Ireland, where Tuohey played pro ball.
Lonergan’s Cardinals annually played one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Division I opponents included Princeton, American, Davidson and William & Mary. Catholic’s victory over Albany in 2000 was the program’s first over a Division I school since 1981. He also coached a Division III All-American in each of his last five seasons.
A College Point Guard Learns How to Coach
As a senior co-captain and starting point guard in 1987-88, Lonergan helped guide the Cardinals to a mark of 18-8, averaging 8.5 points, 5.2 assists, 3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. In 1985-86, the three-year starter helped the Cards (19-8) win the ECAC South Region Tournament. Jimmy Patsos, now head coach at Siena, was his teammate for two seasons (1986-88). Lonergan graduated from Catholic in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
While working as an assistant coach at American International College in Springfield, Mass., in 1988-89, Lonergan earned a master’s degree in criminal justice. Before returning to lead the Cardinals, he was an assistant at Colgate University for three seasons (1989-92). He served as the top recruiter for his former college coach, the late Jack Bruen, who was named Patriot League Coach of the Year in Lonergan’s final season with the Raiders.
Lonergan received a special honor in 2000 when he won the first Jack Bruen Award for “unending dedication to the game of basketball.” In 2001 he accepted Catholic’s Young Alumni Merit Award. Previous winners include New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, with whom Lonergan attended college. The university bestowed the President’s Medal on Lonergan in 2004, his alma mater’s highest honor. The next year he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Many of Lonergan’s former players and coaches are now coaching in the college ranks. Former UVM assistant John Sanow is in his eighth year as head coach at Bloomsburg (Pa.). Kyle Cieplicki, who played on Lonergan’s first three teams at Vermont and was his director of basketball operations in 2010-11, is a Vermont assistant. Another former Catamount player, Maurice Joseph, is a GW assistant coach.
Two of Lonergan’s other UVM staff members remain with the Catamounts: John Becker as head coach and Matt O’Brien as an assistant. Ryan Schneider, a member of Lonergan’s first team at Vermont, is the Cats’ operations director.
Steve Howes, who played and coached under Lonergan and succeeded him at Catholic, is heading into his 10th year piloting the Cardinals. Aaron Kelly, a former Catholic point guard, is an assistant at Bucknell.
The Colonials and Cardinals met in a 2012 exhibition game.
Contributing to His Church and Community
Lonergan is active in community and professional organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and the NABC, and has volunteered with Special Olympics. He has served as a spokesperson for the America Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer program and was co-chairman of its Three-Point Shootout Committee. In addition, he was a member of Catholic’s Alcohol Awareness Advisory Committee and served on the board of the St. Gabriel Parish Youth Organization in Washington.
During the summer of 2007, Lonergan spent a week in Kuwait coaching U.S. soldiers as part of “Operation Hardwood IV: Hoops for Troops.” He was joined by, among others, the late Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey.
Michael Thomas Lonergan was born in Silver Spring, Md., on Jan. 28, 1966, the youngest of six children. He grew up in Bowie, Md., with sisters Patty, Betty Ann, Susan and Margie, and brother John. Mike attended grade school at Bowie’s St. Pius X before going to Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington from 1980-84.
He was Carroll’s salutatorian during his senior year and was honored with the Georgetown University Outstanding Scholastic Achievement Award. He played baseball, soccer and basketball, the latter as a reserve point guard under Carroll Holmes. He graduated with Derrick Lewis, who starred at Maryland, is the Terrapins’ all-time blocked shots leader and enjoyed a 16-year pro career in France.
Lonergan’s mother, Maureen, was a legendary coach and athletic director at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md., where the playing fields are named in her honor. His father, Jack, won a national championship as a left-handed pitcher at Holy Cross when the Crusaders captured the 1952 College World Series.
Lonergan is married to the former Maggie Meagher, who played at Mount St. Mary’s from 1990-94 and, as a senior captain, guided the squad to the NCAA Division I Tournament for the first time in school history. She coached Catholic’s women’s basketball team for four years and piloted the Cardinals to a 20-7 record in 2004-05. As an assistant girls coach at Rice Memorial High School, she helped the Green Knights win the 2011 Vermont Division I state championship.
The Lonergans attend St. Pius X Catholic Church with their five children: Jack (3-8-99), Margaret (10-19-00), Michael, Jr. (10-21-05), Robert (11-4-07) and Regina (5-16-12).
Chris McManes is content director for MikeLonergan.com and was Catholic’s sports information director when it won the 2001 NCAA Division III National Championship.