Early offseason practices can get lost in the dog days of the Summer if not for a dose of coaching enterprise. And new Manhattan College hoops coach John Gallagher has wasted little time providing just that when it comes to the program’s history, which includes a trio of NCAA Tournament wins and back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles not even a decade ago.
His modus operandi involves an open door for program legends to stop by and share their experiences.
“He is a New York legend and a well known figure in basketball,” Gallagher said of program legend George Beamon, who visited Manhattan’s practice on July 11.
The new-look Jaspers, which feature nine new players and counting, benefit from any advice they get from those who once walked in their shoes. Beamon, specifically, won a MAAC Championship for the 2014 Manhattan team and finished 4th-all time in the program’s scoring book with 1,843 points. That made Beamon’s perspective even more refined than the average alum as he spoke to the current generation of Manhattan players.
“It shows how much past players care and how much the community cares,” Brown University transfer Perry Cowan said. “It’s important to have older players come back here and introduce themselves because we are all under the same umbrella.”
On a team that skews younger, Cowan will be counted on in ways he never was at Brown. He decided to join a system similar to what he was part of under head coach Mike Martin, a friend of Gallagher. As for league competition, Cowan is not sure yet how well the Ivy League prepared him for the MAAC, but he is excited for the challenge.
“One of my teammates at Brown played in the MAAC,” the 6-foot-4 Cowan said. “So he was telling me about the games, the crowds and everything. It’s a really good conference.”
The first recruit for Manhattan this offseason was 6-foot-4 guard Briggs McClain, a former player for Gallagher at University of Hartford. McClain is familiar with the system even though he has yet to see much game action playing for Gallagher.
Last season, McClain averaged a career-high 14.4 points-per-game playing for Hartford’s interim coach Tom Devitt.
Gallagher-coached teams like to slow the pace and dictate tempo, McClain says. That style yielded a national rank of 31st in scoring defense at 63.1 opponents points-per-game for the 2020-21 season. Twice Hartford registered top-10 nationally ranked three-point defenses under Gallagher, including a second-ranked unit which limited opponents to a hair under 28 percent from three for the 2019-20 season.
“The way he plays is not your normal MAAC style of play, which is up and down,” McClain said of Gallagher’s style. “He tends to want to play a little slower.”
Gallagher has brought in four freshmen so far counting the addition of Allen Meyers, a 6-foot-9 wing out of New York Military Academy who committed earlier this week. Another neophyte is Seydou Traore who is opening eyes in his own right.
“He’s a versatile four who can score and defend any position,” McClain said of the 6-foot-6 Traore, who played at Our Savior Lutheran School in the Bronx.
Brett Rumpel, a 6-foot-4 guard, arrives from St. Bonaventure where he saw limited action last season. Rumpel, who was once described as “arguably the quickest guard in the nation” by scouts, picked Manhattan after hearing reviews from some of Gallagher’s former players.
“What stood out to me most is how much his players love playing for him,” said Rumpel, who averaged 45.5 points-per-game his senior season at Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton. “Everything I’ve heard has been positive.”
All but two players on the team have more than one year of eligibility remaining, making the Jaspers the youngest they have been in a few seasons. Last season’s team featured nine seniors or fifth-year players.
“Get better every day and keep trusting the process,” Cowan said of Gallagher’s message during Summer practices.
The Jaspers will have no shortage of tests out of the gate as they visit Kansas on Nov. 10 and defending National Champions University of Connecticut on Nov. 24. The bigger lights are not totally foreign for McClain, who was a freshman when Hartford lost to eventual national champion Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, and Cowan, who recalls Brown playing at Duke and Syracuse.
“We will be thrown into the fire, but in college basketball any game is winnable,” McClain said.
“The margin of error just gets much tighter.”
Beamon’s freshman season in 2010-11 resulted in a 6-25 campaign before hoisting the MAAC trophy his senior year. That may be all the proof needed for the unpredictability of college basketball from one year to the next.
“We have a great group of guys that love the game and get along really well together,” Cowan said. “We’re trying to take this program to places it hasn’t been in a while.”