By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — It didn’t take the St. John’s Prep administration long to find Sean Connolly’s successor. The school’s new basketball coach had been under their noses for the past five years.
At a press conference yesterday afternoon in Xavier Hall on the school’s campus, John Dullea was introduced by St. John’s Principal Keith Crowley, Ph.D. and Athletic Director Jim O’Leary as the program’s new head coach.
Dullea, a Peabody native, spent the past five seasons as the varsity assistant under Connolly.
“We are looking for someone who understands the mission of our school and we feel can live that out with our student-athletes, and understands the role of coach as educator,” Crowley said. “We feel very lucky and blessed to have our next boys basketball be John Dullea.”
Dullea was Connolly’s assistant and the junior varsity coach at Bishop Fenwick High School from 2004-2008 and thrived in the top assistant role at St. John’s Prep, beginning in 2009. The Eagles won a Division 1 state championship in 2011 with Dullea as the assistant, and captured Catholic Conference championships in 2010, 2011 and this past season.
For the past five years, Dullea was linked to several open boys basketball coaching positions on the North Shore, including the Peabody High job a few years ago.
“Everything worked out the best that it could possibly work out for me,” said Dullea, who played college basketball at the University of New Hampshire. “As a school the academics are second to none, and athletics, you can’t get a better place than this.
“For me this is the best situation that could have happened. The past was the past and I don’t hold any grudges to anybody, but this worked out great and I’m just really excited to get going here at St. John’s.”
St. John’s moved swiftly in naming Dullea as head of the program; Connolly stepped down only two weeks ago.
“It really became an easy decision for us,” O’Leary said. “The direction of the program is such that it’s going in the direction that we feel is positive. We’ve been very successful, and John has been with Sean for the 10 years that he was a head coach as an assistant. He understands what we’re trying to do here at school, and coaching here at St. John’s is a lot different than coaching at a lot of other places. The expectations from the administration at the school, the students, the parents, our alumni, it’s very high profile, and John really for the last five years has been the liaison to the athletic office from the basketball program.”
Dullea is a physical education teacher in the Peabody school system. His role as an educator, in addition to his familiarity with St. John’s Prep, made it an easy decision.
“He’s an educator and understands that that’s the first thing we do; we always have to be educators first. He understands that the priorities are school here because he’s been in the program,” O’Leary said. “We weren’t looking for a huge change because we liked the direction the program’s going here.”
The Eagles are coming off an impressive season, having exceeded expectations by winning the Catholic Conference title and earning the No. 1 seed for the Division. 1 North tournament.
St. John’s is losing a trio of good seniors in conference and Salem News Player of the Year Drex Costello and league all-stars Tyler Dooley and Josh Syska.
Dullea does have a good core of players returning, including lanky sophomore Ben Judson, who is one of the area’s top three-point shooters. Juniors Quentin Bullen, Max Burt and Max Butterbrodt, as well as sophomore Jake Burt, also got significant playing time this year.
Dullea offered thanks to the administration and his family. His parents, John and Linda, sisters Bridget and Loren and niece Ella attended the press conference to offer support.
The Eagles’ style of play will most likely look very similar to what it was under Connolly. Dullea is also hoping the assistant coaches, notably Joe Lovett and Luke Richards, return.
The Prep program went to another level under Connolly, and Dullea said he hopes to keep the Eagles among the yearly contenders in Division 1.
“We’ve been best friends since we were little kids. Sean did a very good job coaching on his feet at the moment. You’re trying to come up with a play that’s going to work or a defense, he was very good at drawing something up that was going to be successful,” Dullea said. “When you call a timeout and you’ve gotta come up with something in a minute and you win or lose on that play, hopefully I can take some of what Sean did and go from there.”