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Patrick Sellers promised to be quick when he stepped up to the podium Friday at Central Connecticut State’s William H. Detrick Gymnasium where he will soon be calling plays and running practices for the men’s basketball team. A Central alum, Sellers was announced as the program’s new head coach Monday and officially introduced Friday.
Given the basketball journey Sellers, a self-described long-winded speaker, has taken, brevity was difficult. He recounted his life as a player and coach, from being a skinny kid from South Carolina venturing to New Britain for the first time and to coaching stops that took him all across the country and the world.
He thanked everyone from the CCSU staffers that were at campus when he played in the early 1990′s to the ones there now, his former teammates, fellow Central athletes who have supported him, and every single coach he’s worked under including Jerry DeGregorio at St. Thomas Aquinas High to Creighton coach Greg McDermott.
Coaching brought Sellers to a high school, seven different colleges and a professional team in China. Now, he’s home.
“I’m extremely happy to be home,” Sellers said. “I feel like LeBron going back to Cleveland.”
Sellers, who last served as an assistant coach at Fairfield University, will be a first-time head coach at the college level. He’s worked alongside plenty: Howie Dickenman and Steve Pikiell at Central; Jim Calhoun and George Blaney at UConn; McDermott at Creighton; Dave Leitao at DePaul; and Jay Young at Fairfield.
He called McDermott the best offensive coach he’s worked under, and Young the best defensive coach. He laughed at the juxtaposition of both coaches. Young would often say that if the team played its best game, it could hold the opponent to under 50 points. McDermott would say that if the team excelled, it could score more than 90.
He hopes to be the perfect melting pot of his former mentors’ philosophies.
“As a player, I was always defense,” said Sellers, who was named East Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year in his senior season at Central in 1991. “I’ve always got it on the defense end. I was a pretty good athlete as a player. My philosophy is going to be really grind on defense, rebound, make it hard for teams to score. And then we’re going to push and try to run and score early in the clock. I’m going to take a little bit of Jay Young’s defensive philosophy, Coach [Dickenman], Coach Calhoun, and I’m going to try and put McDermott’s offensive philosophy in there.”
Sellers replaces replaces UConn alum Donyell Marshall, who stepped down in March. Marshall coached the Blue Devils to a 40-104 record over five seasons. Since March, seven Central players have entered the transfer portal. Just four remain on the roster.
“The four of the guys we have here, if we get a few of the guys from the portal back, we have some good pieces,” Sellers said. “We just need a little size, and we have to defend.”
Sellers isn’t worried about the program’s recent struggles scaring off potential recruits. He said he won’t just be focusing on players coming out of the northeast and that he’d look for talent all over the map.
He will return focus to keeping Connecticut players in state. The Blue Devils didn’t have a single Connecticut native on the roster last season. Sellers remembers from his time as an assistant coach at Central in the late 1990′s, Steve Pikiell, now the head coach at Rutgers, would frequently invite in-state high school coaches to practices to foster relationships. He plans on doing the same.
“We got so many different connections from those guys,” Sellers said. “I feel confident that we can get those Connecticut kids here. I’ve heard from a ton of Connecticut high school coaches already. Once we get working out, I’m inviting them back over, and I’ll get those guys here. We’ll definitely be recruiting the state.”
After his playing career with the Blue Devils ended, Sellers played professionally in Europe. His first coaching gig was with St. Thomas Aquinas High in New Britain where he became head coach in 1997. He joined the staff at Central in 1999, went to UMass in 2003, worked basketball operations at UConn from 2004-10, then went to Hofstra, Creighton, DePaul, Fairleigh Dickinson and then Fairfield. He spent one season in China as an assistant coach with Shanxi Zhongyu.
He coached on two of the best teams in Central history in 2000 and 2002 as an assistant. The Blue Devils won their conference and played in the NCAA tournament both years. The team hasn’t done either since 2007, under Dickenman.
“When we began this process, we knew we needed a leader who would set the tone from Day 1,” Central interim athletic director Tom Pincince said. “We knew we needed an individual who would work their tail off to restore the pride associated with our men’s basketball program. We knew we needed a leader of young men. ... In the end, it was easy to differentiate between those who wanted to be a head coach, and those who wanted to be the head coach at Central Connecticut. We have found that coach.”
Among those in attendance at Friday’s press conference was Pikiell, Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina, Young and Dickenman. Sellers served under Dickenman as an assistant at Central from 1999-03 alongside Pikiell and Latina, who both went on to serve as head coaches elsewhere. Sellers thought he was close to landing the Central head coaching job when it opened in 2015. The role went to Marshall, and Sellers continued on as an assistant.
Now he’s finally able to join the ranks of Latina, Pikiell and others.
“You want to be at the top of your profession, run your own program,” Sellers said. “Some of the guys I’ve worked with — Anthony, Steve, [former Central assistant] Chris Casey — all became head coaches, and I was kind of the last man standing. I was like, ‘Well hopefully I get my opportunity.’ In the meantime, I just put my head down and went to work every day.”
Shawn McFarland can be reached at email@example.com.