By Matt Jenkins
---- — Sean Connolly’s extremely successful five-year run at the helm of the St. John’s Prep basketball program has come to an end.
Connolly, citing time constraints, announced his resignation yesterday after meeting with his players.
A 2,000-point scorer during his high school days at Bishop Fenwick and a standout at Division 1 Providence College and Ohio State, Connolly took over the Prep team for the 2008-09 season and led the Eagles to the tournament each year.
St. John’s won its first basketball state title under Connolly when the Eagles went 25-1 and captured the Division 1 championship with a 72-57 win over St. John’s of Shrewsbury in 2011.
“It’s just a lot of time and I have to finish grad school for my teaching certificate. Since I started coaching at the Prep I’ve been putting it off,” Connolly said. “I’m not closing the door (on coaching) but for right now I don’t have the time to commit to where I want to run a good program.”
Connolly’s commitment to the job the last five years has pushed St. John’s to the position where it is now as a contender for the North title every winter.
“I’m definitely proud of the job the coaches have done. I think we made the program one of the top in the state the last four or five years and I’m definitely excited about that. Hopefully they can keep that tradition, whoever gets hired next,” Connolly said.
Connolly and assistant coaches John Dullea, Joe Lovett and Luke Richards compiled an 89-25 record at St. John’s, including a 10-4 mark in the postseason.
Overall, Connolly’s career record, including four years at Bishop Fenwick, is 136-65.
“Sean has been a real asset to the basketball program at St. John’s. His background as a Division 1 college player, and his years of experience as a high school coach prior to St. John’s, helped bring basketball at the Prep to a new level,” said St. John’s Principal Keith Crowley, Ph.D., in a statement released by the school.
“Sean was highly successful in bringing out the best in his student-athletes. He expected them to work hard, put the interests of the team first, and respect their opponents, on and off the court. We are grateful for his commitment to the Prep, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Connolly, The Salem News boys basketball Coach of the Year in 2010, arguably did his best job this season.
The Eagles entered the year with low expectations, but finished 18-2 in the regular season and captured the Catholic Conference championship.
Their season ended in heart-breaking fashion in the Div. 1 North quarterfinals against Andover. St. John’s lost in overtime, 62-59, after Andover converted a controversial buzzer beater at the end of regulation. Andover guard David Giribaldi’s layup attempt was initially ruled to be too late, but the officials overturned that call moments later, forcing overtime.
“He always pushed us to keep going, to constantly get better. If we took a step back, he made us take two steps forward,” senior forward Josh Syska said. “He believed in us all the way. From the end of the season last year he told us he knew we’d be good and he wouldn’t give up on us. He knew people weren’t going to believe in us, but he stayed true. He knew we were going to be good.”
Delivering the news to his players was the hardest part of the Connolly’s decision.
“They were kind of shocked. That was the toughest part of it, talking with the kids and meeting with them,” Connolly, 33, said. “They’re a great group and they put a lot of time and effort in. It was just tough telling them, feeling like you’re letting them down.”
St. John’s has a solid nucleus of players returning, including sophomore guard Ben Judson, junior forward Max Butterbrodt, sophomore forward Jake Burt, and junior guard Max Burt.
Sean Connolly's Head Coaching Record Bishop Fenwick 2004-05: 5-15 2005-06: 12-9 2006-07: 17-6 2007-08: 13-10 Bishop Fenwick totals: 47-40St. John's Prep 2008-09: 11-10 2009-10: 21-3* 2010-11: 25-1% 2011-12: 13-82012-13: 19-3* St. John's Prep totals: 89-25 Career total: 136-65 %Division 1 state champions*Catholic Conference champs