BRIDGEPORT — Neither man will take a single jump shot on Monday afternoon, but both understand the intricacies of what it takes to make it to the Division I level for basketball.
John Bagley and Larry Kelley are at different ends of the coaching spectrum as far as high school experience goes, but both come into today with the same objective: pick up a victory at the fourth annual Martin Luther King Classic at Webster Bank Arena.
Bagley, the former standout at Boston College who went on to play in the NBA, is in his first year coaching his alma mater, Harding. The Presidents face Career in the second of four games at 1 p.m. today.
“I keep emphasizing that they can win again,” Bagley said at the MLK luncheon on Friday. “Committing to winning is starting at seventh, eighth and ninth grade levels. You have to create that type of style of conditioning and training to be able to develop into that.”
Harding is currently 3-4, struggling to find an identity in its first year as an independent and many years removed from the state championships won by Bagley’s former mentor, Charlie Bentley.
“This will take some adjustment for them because I’m a real stickler,” Bagley said. “I believe you play man to man (defense) until the cows come home. You have to be able to defend for me. That is preparation for college and if kids get lucky enough to get into the NBA, that will be what you will play.”
Obviously, none of his current players have seen Bagley play in the NBA, let alone at Boston College. But Bagley said they look at “that YouTube stuff” to see the kind of player their head coach was.
“They can’t really grasp it. It’s a very interesting dynamic when you are coming from an entirely different era in how they are taught to believe things are done,” Bagley said. “There’s a major difference between what they think and how hard they work.”
Kelley starred at Lee High in New Haven, then played for Syracuse and was on Jim Boeheim’s first team there. He then assisted Pete Evans, his former coach at Lee, when the Career position opened.
Kelley took over for Evans in 2007 and has won a Class L state championship and made another finals appearance. Career is currently 5-2.
“One of the things I was lucky with growing up in New Haven, I always played against guys older than me,” Kelley said. “I got my butt kicked, so I was seasoned when I got to college. As a (college) freshman, it’s competitive. No one is going to let you come in and take their job, one you have been working at for years. The hardest thing to get through to kids is the work ethic and what it takes to get to the next level. I go see Division III teams play and its tough. It’s a different thing from high school.”
Kelley said he spoke with Bagley over the summer and offered help if he ever needed it.
“My only advice to him was stick to your guns and do it the way you want to do it,” Kelley said. “It takes time and it takes players.”
There will be other former Division I players roaming the sidelines at Webster Bank today. Barry McLeod, a standout at Centenary and a fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1976. He has been coaching at Bridgeport Central for over a quarter-century now. The Hilltoppers face Fairfield Ludlowe in Monday’s opener at 11 a.m.
In the third game, former St. Joseph High and Providence College standout Chris Watts will lead second-ranked Notre Dame-Fairfield faces Xavieran-Brooklyn (N.Y.) at 3.
In the nightcap, Bassick faces Wilbur Cross at 5. Tickets are $12 for the day and $25 for courtside seats.