The loser bought the next round.
That’s the wager a friend and I had on last year’s NCAA Final Four matchup between Loyola-Chicago and Michigan.
My friend was pulling for Michigan because his father, like then-Wolverines coach John Beilein, was from Newfane, and a senior at Newfane High School when Beilein began his coaching career there in 1975. I was cheering for the 11th-seeded Ramblers, not just because they were the underdog, but for athletic director Steve Watson, the former St. Bonaventure AD and a friend and fellow Walsh graduate.
I lost that bet, of course, after third-seeded Michigan topped Loyola, 69-57. But I was reminded of it some 14 months later when the Cleveland Cavaliers named Beilein their next head coach earlier this week.
Interestingly, Beilein and Bona kept coming up in the same sentence.
Beilein was steered to the Cavs, in part, by his relationship with Mike Gansey, now the assistant general manager in Cleveland. Gansey not only played two seasons at West Virginia for Beilein after transferring from Bona in 2003, helping the Mountaineers to an Elite 8 and Sweet 16 appearance, he lived with the Beilein family for a brief period after graduation.
Now a rising NBA executive, he’s been described as the linchpin between Cavs GM Koby Altman and his “father figure-like” former coach.
Then there was the ESPN segment Friday in which Beilein joined an on-set panel that included Bona grad and NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
IN IT, “Woj” recounted a story from when he was a student reporter, just after Bona hired Tom Chapman from Division II Gannon in 1989. Given that Chapman and Beilein were coaching in the same conference at the time (the latter at Le Moyne), “Woj” figured he’d reach out to Beilein for some insight on the new hire.
Amazingly, that was how Beilein found out that the position, one that he coveted, had been filled.
“John didn’t know until I called him,” Wojnarowski recalled with a laugh, “and when I told him the news, there was silence on the phone for about 10 seconds.”
“I was jealous,” the eventual two-time NCAA Final Four runner-up chimed in.
“John had tried to get an interview at St. Bonaventure,” Woj went on. “He couldn’t even get an interview, and later we talked about it, and he thought, ‘I’m never getting out of Le Moyne.’”
Said Beilein: “I grew up with Lanier and Jim Satalin; of course Larry Weise and those great coaches they had then. To coach in the Little 3 — and I did get to do that at Canisius — was like a dream for me. My uncle had been a head coach at Canisius. That was funny. I do remember that call now.”
THIS BROUGHT to mind Watson and the Ramblers’ Cinderella-like run to last year’s national semis, and their encounter with Beilein.
Did he have any kind of memorable interaction with the fellow Western New Yorker (Watson grew up 73 miles south in Franklinville)? No, Watson said. Both sides, understandably, were too preoccupied with the national title shot before them.
But he did have an amusing story involving Beilein, from when the then-Le Moyne coach was recruiting his late brother John during his senior year at Walsh in 1984.
“This was back when they did a ton of home visits,” Watson said.
“When he came in, he introduced himself to my mom, and my mom had no idea who he was. But he introduced himself as John Beilein, and she responded, ‘well, I’m Sue C. Watson,’ because she thought he was saying ‘John B. Line.’ And so we’ve made fun of my mom ever since. Whenever I see him, I bring that up.”
BY THE time Watson became the Bona AD in 2006, Beilein had already firmly established himself as a power conference coach. He was just a year away from taking the job at perennial contender Michigan.
But even then, their paths crossed.
“When we hired (Mark Schmidt in 2007), he called me,” Watson recalled. “He was calling on behalf of Jerry Dunn, an assistant with him at the time (and former Penn State head coach), and he said, ‘You know, there was a time when I really wanted the Bonaventure job, but now I’m not calling for me, I’m calling for Jerry Dunn.’ And we had a good laugh about that.”
Beilein has long been considered one of the true good guys in college basketball, the rare high-major coach who’s insisted on doing it right. Schmidt underscored that point in a one-on-one conversation about recruiting side of college basketball last summer.
Watson reiterated it Friday.
“He’s a good dude,” he said. “You’re not going to find anybody to say anything bad about him. I saw him a couple summers ago — my son’s high school team went to their team camp, and he was recruiting one of the kids on his team. He’s just fantastic. He’s asking, ‘How’s your mom doing, I know about your dad and brother (who have since passed).
“He’s the best.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)