The small town of Olean, N.Y. is alive with basketball fever as both the St. Bonaventure men’s and women’s teams earned spots in the NCAA Division I tournament.
The success of the Bonaventure women (31-3 overall), who went undefeated in the Atlantic 10 conference and won the most games in a season in school history, can largely be credited to longtime head coach Jim Crowley, a 1993 Keuka College graduate who played for the Storm’s men’s basketball team and also coached the Storm’s women’s basketball team.
Crowley, who has spent the last 16 years with the Bonnies, including the last 12 as the women’s head coach, was named the 2011-12 ESPN.com National Coach of the Year after leading Bonaventure into the Big Dance for the first time in school history.
Bonaventure earned an at-large bid and the No. 5 seed in the Raleigh Region and rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to knock off No. 12 seeded Florida Gulf Coast University in the first round. Facing No. 13 Marist College in the second round, the Bonnies advanced into the Sweet 16 with a 66-63 victory that snapped the Red Foxes’ 11-game win streak.
The Bonnies are preparing to face top seed Notre Dame (32-3) on Sunday for a spot in the Elite Eight, but while his team is gearing up for the biggest game in school history, Crowley took some time to chat about his past.
“The best thing I could say about Keuka is I knew I made the right choice because I don’t ever recall having a bad day at Keuka,” Crowley said by phone from Olean on Thursday.
“When you’re dealing with 18-22 year-old students, they’re looking for every reason to have angst, but even as I was going through my four-year career as a student-athlete, I was able to enjoy every day. Certainly there were rough times, and I would have loved to win more games, but there were great people and if I had to do it all over again, I’d pick Keuka every day of the week and twice on Sundays.”
In claiming the school’s first NCAA appearance, Bonaventure sported an 18-game winning streak until suffering a 56-53 setback to Dayton in the A-10 title game. It was the school’s first appearance in the conference championship game, and it came after Crowley’s Bonnies won the school’s first-ever A10 regular-season title.
It is a remarkable turnaround for Bonaventure, which posted five seasons with single-digit win totals during Crowley’s first eight years, but has won 20-plus games in each of the last four years. Crowley’s career record at Bonaventure stands at 185-177, and he’s the second-longest tenured women’s basketball coach in school history.
Dave Sweet, the current Keuka College Athletic Director and women’s basketball coach, remembered recruiting Crowley out of Windsor, N.Y. as a potential point or shooting guard for the Storm’s men’s basketball team.
Crowley was a four-year letterman for the Storm, including serving as one of the team’s captains for his final three seasons. His leadership potential as a student-athlete was evident to Sweet almost immediately, and Sweet made sure to offer Crowley a coaching position when it became available.
“While he wasn’t the most gifted athlete, Jim always had a good head for the game, and with his knowledge and understanding of the game, those skills helped him become a good Division III ball player for us,” Sweet said recently.
“Jim had a certain leadership ability, and we had an opening to coach the women’s basketball team and we offered it to him, knowing Jim had a good work ethic and he would work hard to make our team’s successful. From that first coaching job here at Keuka he’s blossomed into a tremendous coach.”
In Crowley’s three-year stint leading the women’s basketball team, the Storm posted a 39-37 overall record. Following a 14-11 record in his inaugural campaign, Crowley’s best season at Keuka came during his second year, when the Storm recorded an 18-10 record and qualified for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Upstate New York tournament.
Under Crowley’s watch that year, Keuka advanced into the championship game before suffering a loss to Elmira College, the first of three consecutive ECAC titles for Elmira.
But Crowley was more than just a women’s basketball coach during his time in Keuka Park; he also served as the head men’s and women’s cross country coach during both the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Crowley, who graduated from Keuka with a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education, also served as a student-assistant coach with the Keuka men’s basketball team before taking over the reins of the women’s program.
What stood out about Keuka for Crowley was its small student-body size, the intimate feel of the campus, the strong academic programs and the chance to play basketball for an improving program.
Following his time in Keuka, Crowley served as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Bonaventure for four years before being appointed the new women’s head coach in March of 2000.
Sweet said that when Bonaventure called about Crowley’s candidacy for the head coaching gig, he didn’t hesitate to highly recommend Crowley as the eighth women’s basketball coach in school history.
“I gave Jim a real good recommendation because of how much he accomplished here at Keuka,” said Sweet, who credited Crowley’s ability to go out and land talented student-athletes who fit into his basketball system.
“To have one of our own, one of our alumni receive this national honor is tremendous; it reflects highly on Jim and his coaching abilities, but also what Keuka provided for him, both in the classroom and in the gym.”
When Sweet arrived on the Keuka campus in 1984, Keuka was still a women’s college, and the women’s basketball team competed as a club team during the 1983-84 season. But through hard work and dedication, Sweet has overseen the Storm’s rise to a Division III power that has appeared in the NCAA tournament four times in six years.
It is a similar storyline to what Crowley is authoring with the women’s basketball program at Bonaventure.
Crowley said he learned a lot from both Sweet and then-president Dr. Arthur F. Kirk, Jr. about handling adversity and how to, when things weren’t going according to plan, not rely on making excuses but rather surround yourself with the right people, work hard and achieve the desired results.
“Coach Sweet taught me that the best thing you can learn from people is what you would do differently in a certain situation,” said Crowley, who keeps in touch with Sweet, head athletic trainer/assistant athletic director Jeff Bray and Kirk on a semi-regular basis.
“The message is to be your own man, don’t be someone else, and that’s what I tell my players and assistant coaches. Keuka was such a great place to learn. Coach Sweet and President Kirk were willing to help me get my career going and I can never repay them for that. Keuka helped mold me into the man I am now; it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
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