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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 29, 2005

By Al Myatt

New challenge brings Herrion to familiar terrain


Bill Herrion is a voice from East Carolina's Christmas past.

On Wednesday night that voice could be heard on the sideline at the RBC Center as the former Pirates hoops coach was back in the area coaching outmanned New Hampshire against N.C. State in Raleigh.

Herrion has a 4-3 record in the spacious building after an 81-62 loss to the No. 18 Wolfpack.

It was actually Herrion's closest game with the Pack. After beating Rutgers and Northwestern in the BCA Invitational to open the 2001-02 season, the Pirates absorbed a 71-47 thrashing from State in the final.

ECU blew out Pepperdine and nipped Oregon State last season before the Wolfpack rolled to a 100-66 triumph in the BCA championship game.

"This is a great place to play," Herrion said. "But I'm not sure how great a place it is to play N.C. State."

The Wildcats may have been out of school but their schedule has certainly been no holiday for them. Their trip to Raleigh completed a gauntlet of three financial guarantee games — at No. 2 Connecticut, at Penn State and at NCSU — which combined will bring in roughly enough dough to pay Herrion's $130,000 annual salary.

About the only break the visitors got was that many of the State students were home on break, reducing the noise level and dropping attendance at the RBC Center to 13,526. The din was diminished to the point that Herrion could be heard telling the Cats to box out on some of the 29 free throws the Pack shot — compared to six for UNH.

But that was part of Herrion's plan — put State on the line when it got the ball down low to its bigger post players. And the Wildcats used long possessions to shorten the game on offense, searching for good shots within their motion offense.

State had Herrion and the Wildcats in a huge hole at halftime — the Pack was leading 44-18. But UNH actually outscored its host 44-37 over the final 20 minutes.

"We made some adjustments at halftime but I'm not sure you can print what I said," Herrion stated. "Mostly we talked about playing harder."

Herrion called timeout with his team trailing by 20 points with 1:07 left and in typical fashion he challenged his charges to play to the end and try to get the margin under 20.

They did.

"New Hampshire made us look bad," said NCSU coach Herb Sendek, who saw the Wildcats make 11 of 28 tries from 3-point land. "Our attention has got to be on our defense."

During his days in Greenville, Herrion refused to accept moral victories against the giants in the old Conference USA alignment and he hasn't changed that policy in the months since he was dismissed.

He didn't make the demanding UNH schedule that has produced losses by a total of 85 points in the last three games. It was in place when he took the job in his native New England at the end of May, but he's trying to use it to get his team ready for their ultimate shot at the NCAA Tournament — the America East Tournament in Vestal, NY, coming up March 4-6.

"We've been beaten around a little early in the year," Herrion said. "Ten of our first 12 games have been on the road. It's been a little tough to keep the kids up."

The Wildcats fell to 2-10 and are 0-2 in the conference with a break before Binghamton comes in for a league game on Jan. 5.

In a way, Herrion has a task similar to the one he faced at ECU — trying to develop a winning program where there is little tradition for a foundation.

"They've really never been good here," he said, referring to UNH. "The program has not enjoyed any success."

But the school has been to the Frozen Four in hockey and produced one of the nation's premier Division I-AA football teams in 2005.

Still, accepting the challenge at New Hampshire was a no-brainer for a guy who regularly beat the odds while compiling a 167-71 record at Drexel that included three NCAA appearances.

Herrion left for UNH five weeks into a stint as an assistant at Arkansas after having gone 70-98 in seven seasons at ECU. The Pirates moved from the Colonial Athletic Association to C-USA during Herrion's tenure.

"Arkansas would have been a great situation if that was what I had to do," Herrion said. "But I felt like if I didn't take this opportunity, I didn't know when I might have a chance to be a head coach again."

Herrion is about an hour from his mother's home in Worcester, MA, and for the first time in many years was able to visit her for Christmas. His wife is near her relatives as well.

"We're back where we grew up," he said. "The biggest thing I'm getting used to is the weather. I called my wife from Crabtree Valley today where it was 65 degrees and she said it was 25 up there. I'm going to have to work on my shoveling skills, too. We've already had some big snows and I haven't been used to shoveling."

Boston and his beloved Red Sox are about an hour from Durham, New Hampshire.

Herrion offered a position on his UNH staff to Greg Herenda, his top assistant at ECU, but Herenda declined.

"He's taking a year off from coaching," Herrion said. "He's living with his wife's family in the Chicago area."

Herrion said he has been so busy with his new team that he really hasn't followed the Pirates this season.

Led by 25 points from Wake Forest transfer Jeremy Ingram, ECU (4-6) snapped a five-game losing streak by overwhelming Limestone 87-54 while Herrion was in Raleigh.

"ECU had a lot of good fans and I appreciated 'em," Herrion said.

Fan support would be appreciated at UNH as well, where the Wildcats have averaged a meager 598 for two home games.

Herrion plans to build the program by recruiting the New England prep schools. He has signed 6-foot-2 combination guard Dan McGeary from Northfield-Mount Herman and 6-5 power forward Radar Oguento, a Cameroon native at New Hampton Prep.

He expects to bring in three or four more players for next season.

"There are Division I players in the state," Herrion said.

For now the focus is on the new year and developing a new direction for a struggling program.

"We're trying to build for the second half of our year and our league season, which really gets going in January," he said.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

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02/23/2007 12:33:55 AM


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