Becker excels in first year

Men’s basketball is cruising through the final stretch of the regular season, with a late season 10-game winning streak and at least a second place finish in America East, with a chance to claim the top spot.

The Cats beat first-place Stony Brook at home on Feb.12, a team they lost to earlier this season and the same team that pulled an upset against them in last year’s America East tournament. 

This year is different, however, as this season’s athletes have put together a seemingly more successful team.

Their defense is among the best in the league, their offense is spread among all players and they have an increasingly threatening presence behind the arc in first-year Four McGlynn.

At the head of this successful season is coach John Becker, a first year head coach from Connecticut who has been involved in UVM’s basketball program since 2006. 

Becker is one of only five out of the 16 Vermont men’ s basketball coaches to end the season with a winning record — an accomplishment that was reached well before the end of the regular season. 

He is also UVM’s winningest first-year coach, notching more victories in his debut season than any other Vermont men’s basketball coach. 

Becker shifts a lot of the credit onto his coaching staff and players.

“The coaching record is a great accomplishment and my coaching staff is great and we have a good team, so I feel fortunate,” Becker said. “It’s kind of a statement as to where our program is.”

And a statement it is. With one more win against the second-to-last place America East team UMBC — a team that has lost as many conference games as Vermont has won — along with a Stony Brook loss, the Cats will seal the top spot in America East, home court advantage in the championship game and an automatic NIT bid. 

If not, they will still land in second place and remain in good contention for America East’s championship title.

Either way, this season marks the second consecutive that Vermont has excelled in the standings and Becker has an explanation for this recent surge as a mid-major power in college basketball.

“The character and the work ethic of the kids we have is really what makes us successful,” Becker explained. “Everyone really likes each other, cares about each other, and everyone is about winning, not stats.”

Vermont is a young team and had to work through the lack of experience early in the season.

“We had a lot of guys who either never played or didn’t play many minutes — Clancy Rugg was a walk-on, didn’t really play last year; Josh Elbaum never played last year; Pat Bergmann and Ben Crenca and even Luke Apfeld to a certain degree were limited, minor role guys,” Becker said. “We lived through a lot of mistakes with those guys early in the season as they were gaining experience. Now that has paid off … now they’re performing and contributing in league play.”

The youth and lack of experience, however, is what Becker is most optimistic about.

“We still have a lot we can improve on; we’re still a young team,” he said. “We start two sophomores and our leading scorer is a freshman, so we have things we can continue to get better at. Our best basketball is still ahead of us.”

That’s great to hear from one of the two best college basketball teams in America East. And with better games, a promisingly exciting playoff appearance and potential to make a return to the NCAA March Madness, the Cats are drawing more student support than ever before.

Becker says that student crowd involvement is key for the Cats.

“If we can get that student section sold out every game, it makes a place that’s already very difficult to play in all that more difficult, because students bring a whole different energy and it’s great,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for coming out against Stony Brook … hopefully we can get the championship game back here and keep the students coming.”

Patrick Gym, it appears, will only be more packed as this season comes to a close, as well as in the years to come.

Apart from UConn, Vermont has won more games than any Division I New England team in the last 10 years, and Becker has plans to improve even that statistic.

“We lose two important seniors in Matt Glass and Pat Bergmann, but we return everyone else and we have some good recruits coming in,” he explained. “Hopefully I can continue recruiting top-level student-athletes. I want to continue what we’ve been doing here, and that’s having a 3.2 GPA in the classroom and competing for conference championships.”

With a midday game on Feb. 25, Becker will have completed his historic first-year regular season. He can then look ahead to do what only one men’s basketball roster has managed to do — win an NCAA tournament game in March. 

Even if Becker can’t manage another Syracuse upset, one can only be optimistic about the years ahead — Coach Becker sure is.

“I’m really excited about the future,” he said. “Hopefully I get the chance to coach here for a long time. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”