Lots of people used to think John Chaney was certifiable for traipsing his Temple basketball team across the country to play top-level competition while everyone else was scheduling Oh By the Way State.
Dan Leibovitz wasn't one of them. Chaney's assistant for 10 years long saw the smarts in the wise old Owl's game plan. Yes, there were often difficult losses and tired players in December, but there were huge rewards in January.
Which might explain why Leibovitz, in his second year as head coach at the University of Hartford, has put together a schedule Chaney would love. Already this season, the Hawks played at No. 22 Louisville and 3 days later woke up in Provo, Utah, for a date with No. 23 Brigham Young. Tonight, Hartford adds No. 23 Villanova to the mix when the Hawks come to the Main Line for a 7 o'clock tip and before the year ends and the America East schedule begins, the Hawks will be in Charlottesville for a game against Virginia.
"I'll never do it to the extreme that Coach did," said Leibovitz, a Penn graduate who, along with associate head coach and Saint Joseph's graduate John Gallagher, is looking forward to his Philly homecoming game. "He had a little more tenure and a stronger foothold at Temple to do that sort of thing, but I do think there is something to be said for it. You find out about yourself when you play the best."
What Leibovitz has learned so far is that his young team - the Hawks have only two seniors on the roster and start a sophomore (Archbishop Ryan's Joe Zeglinski, the team's leading scorer with 14.2 points per game) and a freshman (Plymouth-Whitemarsh's Anthony Minor) - is made of some pretty sturdy stuff.
Leibovitz said the Hawks boarded a plane in Kentucky the day after the game against Louisville, a game in which they made news for giving up 22 three-pointers to the Cards in a 35-point loss, landed in Utah and hit the gym for an inspired practice, with players diving all over the court for loose balls.
The trick now is to parlay the lessons of December into January success. Last season Hartford finished 13-18 overall and 6-10 in the America East, losing to Vermont in the quarterfinals.
"We have great character guys," Leibovitz said. "After that loss to Louisville, we were splattered all over ESPN and 'SportsCenter' and we were embarrassed because we pride ourselves on defense. But the practice in Utah, that showed me we have winners, guys who don't feel sorry for themselves. They don't quit." *