Men’s hoops finding success in year two of Cleary era

Contributed Photo
Former player, assistant coach, Pat Cleary, is in midst of second season as head coach of the men’s basketball team.

By Mike Fenner
Staff Writer/Spectator

898 games coached, 584 career victories, 31 years in the business, four different decades spent with one program: These are all marks left behind from former Edinboro head men’s basketball coach Greg Walcavich. 

The 2013-14 group represented the first Fighting Scots men’s basketball team not under the direction of Walcavich, but rather his former player and assistant, Pat Cleary.

“He was the best,” Cleary said of his predecessor. “Edinboro doesn’t realize what they had. He was so good at what he did and just the approach he took to things. Edinboro was lucky to have him here for all those years. He was awesome to work for.”

Hired away from West Virginia Wesleyan prior to the 1989-90 season, Walcavich would embark on a 24-year Fighting Scots coaching career that saw 430 wins, 17 PSAC playoff berths, 3 PSAC championships, and six NCAA Division II playoff appearances.

“He’s one of the people I’m closest to on this planet and I think of him like family,” Cleary said.  “He was a great boss. I’ve tried to take so many of the ways he’s approached things and use them with the way we’re doing things now.”

The appointment of Cleary to head coach on March 26, 2013 signified a new beginning for the Fighting Scots on the hardwood. The transition from being an assistant to taking on the roles of a head coach was something Cleary admittedly noticed to be a night and day difference.

“I thought before (that) I knew what the stress was... But moving over and after I got promoted things really changed,” Cleary said. “I got a whole new appreciation for what coach Walcavich did for all those years.”

After being elevated, the overall approach, along with the vigorous traveling in the world of recruiting, changed according to Cleary. The hours have remained the same, yet the duties involving overall planning, scheme and video work have changed.

“The way we’ve always done it here at Edinboro is that the assistant coach kind of tries to find more of them and then the head coach goes out and gives the final say-so,” Cleary said about recruiting. “Last year I was fortunate to have coach [Chris] Bess work with me. He was familiar with Edinboro before he got here, so he knew the people that we needed to do things with, he knew the terminology that Edinboro uses on its campus, he knew so many people in various offices around campus. It really helped in the transition.”

One of those recruiting efforts culminated in the signing of hometown product Jaymon Mason.  Mason, a redshirt freshman combo guard and former General McLane Lancer in Edinboro, bought into the coaching staff and their overall system, enabling him to stay close to home. “Playing for those two is great,” Mason said of Cleary and Bess. “They push us every day so we can be the best we can be. They know what they are doing.”

Cleary’s first team finished 10-16 overall, 3-13 in the conference, and 7-7 within the confines of its home court at McComb Fieldhouse in 2013-14.

Although the Scots failed to qualify for the postseason a season ago, Cleary placed a major emphasis on off-court success in the classroom as a mark of great progress within the program. 

“There was a lot that went on last year,” Cleary said.

“A lot of the things that were really good were the guys. Guy Rundle doing great in graduate school, Bryan Theriot and Bobby Davis graduating, John Logan, Alex [Moore], and ‘X’ [Xavier Churnac] being back here to graduate now. Just the fact that these guys just didn’t give up on school, that they’re all back from that senior class.”

The goals and aspirations in the second year of the Cleary era of Edinboro basketball include contending in a western division that features battles every night and no easy games, according to Cleary.

“Year two, I want our guys, to win those close games,” Cleary said. “I want to win in the west. I want to get us to host a home conference tournament game. I want to get us back on the winning side of things.”

Mike Fenner is the staff writer for the Spectator. He can be reached by sports.spectator@gmail.com