West Hartford celebrates the University of Hartford men’s basketball team’s historic NCAA berth

Lori Riley, Hartford Courant
·2 min read

Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Matt Ritter and officials in West Hartford honored the University of Hartford men’s basketball team Wednesday for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament last month.

“I would like to say how much pride you gave the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “We were all cheering you on.”

The Hawks beat UMass Lowell to win their first America East tournament championship and then lost to Baylor, which went on to win the national championship, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis.

The celebration, organized by West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, was set against the backdrop of the university’s exploration into dropping athletic teams from Division I to Division III designation to save money. The school commissioned CarrSports, led by former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway as managing partner, to submit a report, which concluded that Hartford is losing $13 million a year on its athletic programs and should drop down.

“Well, it’s a private college so they’ve got to make up their own mind,” Lamont said after the ceremony. “But I think they know how important a team is to school spirit, what it means to the University of Hartford, what it means to the entire campus, I think that’s what today was all about.”

Ritter alluded to the issue in his remarks.

“I know a lot is going on at the university,” he said. “We support you in the challenges going on. We hope everything works out. We couldn’t be prouder of you as a basketball team and as a college and a university and an institution.”

Ritter asked coach John Gallagher if Gonzaga coach Mark Few had called him before the national championship game against Baylor (Gonzaga lost 86-70). Gallagher said no. He then asked graduate student Traci Carter if Gonzaga’s star Jalen Suggs called him. Carter said no.

“I watched your game and I watched that game,” Ritter said. “They should have called you for some tips. You guys should be really proud.”

Senior Austin Williams, who will return next season, said he was happy to get recognition for the team’s accomplishments. The season and the America East tournament were played without fans and there were a limited number of fans in Indianapolis due to the pandemic.

But he said it hurts to hear talk of moving to Division III.

“We’re just trying to raise awareness and get people to sign a petition and get people to come to our side,” he said. “After all this, after March Madness, we want to leave a legacy at the school, we just don’t want to do it for nothing.”

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.