The Monmouth Hawks had quite a ride this season, knocking down national powerhouses, while being adopted as the ‘favorite underdog.’ The team players from right here in West Long Branch, were recognized nationally this season as one of the most intriguing and refreshing stories in College Basketball.
Assistant Athletics Director at Monmouth University, Eddy Occhipinti says, “As an alum, it’s been a pretty special season. Not even just working with the team, but being able to watch them play and grow all year and succeed. Monmouth’s basketball team used to be a real point of pride, when I was in school here, we went to the NCAA tournament, 2 times in a couple of years. So as an alum, I’m incredibly proud to see the national media attention that our school is getting, all the great success and all the great wins our team has had.”
While the ground-breaking victories and national exposure have been overwhelming at times, some may say that the real beauty of what’s taken place at Monmouth University, is the brotherhood that developed between these 16 young men.
Occhipinti adds, "Chemistry I think is the key and that’s what people don’t realize. It’s not a separately entity from the players that play. It’s not the guys on the bench or the court, they are one unit and what makes it so cool is that we notice that they feed off each other. So as the players on the court succeed, if the players aren’t making shots, the bench can’t do their thing. You know it kind of goes one with the other.”
The team, along with their famous “Bench Mob,” left their mark, capturing the spotlight and headlines like few mid major teams have ever done before – Could you tell I was a former Hawk myself??
Bench Mob Member & Team Player, Greg Noack adds, “Well I think it’s extremely special--this group of guys, because nobody cares who gets the credit and that’s where you’re really gonna find success and really gonna find fun and just a brotherhood past anything that you’re used to. So I think it’s very, very special that people can get behind the bench, and just be able to support each other regardless of who’s going where, who’s getting what- it’s a very special group and I know the bench is very thankful for it. It’s a great collective group that we have this year. "
Monmouth’s Bench Mob, consisting of Greg Noack, Dan Pillari, Louie Pillari, and Tyler Robinson, became a pop-culture sensation this season thanks to choreographed, over-the-top celebrations during games.
Director of Athletics at Monmouth University, Dr. Marilyn McNeil suggests, "We only have the one Senior, who’s just wonderful and so important- and people don’t understand the importance of leadership, and chemistry on a team. Our one senior, Deon, had to leave the team due to a broken hand. Deon left and they were a changed team. Deon returned and they were a changed team. So this year is special, we could be as good or better next year, but the really fleeting things are leadership & chemistry. No one knows how to really capture leadership and chemistry, but when you have it it’s really, really special."
However, the hype across campus came to a halt, after Monmouth was shockingly denied a bid to their fifth NCAA tournament in history. The Hawks powered through many ambitious games this season, but the NCAA committee felt that the bad losses outweighed Monmouth’s excellent wins.
McNeill adds, "I think some of the final selections were made on reputation and potential, and not on body of work. For some of us, that’s a no - win situation. Our body of work is the only thing that can speak to us… Yes, I know it’s a difficult position and I know they have a lots of discussions, but I wish there could have been a consistent response. And so that we could go back to our young men and say this is why and they can understand it. They are bright young college students and you can’t put one over on them, and I think the committee was disappointing in that regard.”
Occhipinti admits, "I think everyone associated with Monmouth University, be it coach, administrator, alum, fan, everyone was disappointed with not getting into the NCAA tournament. I think the biggest thing is what happens next? You can be disappointed on Sunday and little bit on Monday, but you have to move forward and you have to get ready for the next challenge. I think our Athletic Director, Marilyn McNeil, did a terrific job with directing everyone forward - Coach Rice does a great job with keeping his players focused, on the next goal which was now winning the NIT, but I do think if you’re a Monmouth fan and you weren’t disappointed, that why you’re here, that’s what you do this for is to get a chance to play at the highest level. We all felt the team had done enough to get into the tournament, both on and off.”
Playing in the Post-Season NIT 2nd round for the 2nd consecutive season, the 4th-seeded George Washington Colonials went to top-seeded Monmouth and escaped with an 87-71 win. Monmouth closed the season 28-8, and ends the season without ever losing consecutive games. Additionally, league officials announced that MU Basketball Head Coach King Rice was named the ECAC coach of the year, and Junior Guard, Justin Robinson earned a spot on the all-ECAC first team.
Monmouth ranks 25th or higher, in 10 of the 32 major NCAA statistical categories. Despite the huge upset that the Hawks didn’t make it into the NCAA tournament, it will still be a year for all to remember in College Basketball.
For the full news story, check it out at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GC94qeEM_w