When Joe Mihalich took over as head coach of the Hofstra Men’s basketball team for the 2014-15 season, the program was in bad shape.
The University had to deal with a number of issues like new head coach Tim Welsh resigning in 2010 without every coaching a game not long after being hired following an arrest for DWI. Mo Cassara took over as head coach but he was fired after three seasons on the job. Cassara was let go following a 2012-2013 season that saw the Pride go 7-25 that season and six players were arrested as a result of off-the-court incidents.
As the Pride gets set for the start of the 2018-19 season, the program has been rejuvenated and is a contender in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“Things were a mess when I got here,” said Mihalich during a recent phone interview with New York Sports Day. “We now have a team that legitimately is contending for championships and they’re all doing well in the classroom. We’re proud of what we’ve done and anxious to do more.”
Coming off a 19-12 record last season (12-6 in CAA), Hofstra will open the new campaign on Friday November 9th when they host Mount St. Mary’s at the Mack Sports Complex. The Pride is ranked anywhere from second to fourth in various pre-season polls and there is optimism that this could be the year that Hofstra wins the CAA and punches their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The Pride has ten returning players including the reigning CAA player of the year Justin Wright-Foreman. The 6-2 senior guard averaged 24.4 points per game last season and he’s joined in the backcourt with 6-5 junior Eli Pemberton who was second on the team in scoring last season at 15.9 points per game.
So, can Hofstra do some damage this season?
“I feel like we can win the league,” said Mihalich. “I know Northeastern is saying that, I know Charleston is saying that, and William and Mary is saying that and probably a couple of others. It’s all you should ever promise to somebody is that you’re going to have a chance every year.”
Under Mihalich’s guidance, Hofstra has turned the page on the issues that plagued the program before his arrival. In fives seasons at the helm, Mihalich has amassed a record of 88-76 including a pair of 20 win seasons. In April, Mihalich signed a contract extension as he continues to build this program to the point where they can get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Mihalich. “I love Hofstra University. I’m so lucky to be the coach here. I think (Long Island is) a great place to live and work. I think good things have been happening. We’re knocking on the door…we’re right there and hopefully we’re going to get through that door one of these days I do believe we have a chance to win it if we can continue to improve and develop the way I think we can, come March I think we can go down (to Charleston) and win three games.”
Hofstra continues to be one of the hidden jewels within the New York area college basketball scene. They have a good team that plays in a terrific venue that has undergone a $1.1 million renovation including the installation of new LED video displays and a new sound system. Hofstra has struggled to fill the seats at “The Mack” and the reason remains a mystery.
They have a terrific product and local fans that haven’t been to a game at Hofstra are missing out on something special that is happening.
“I get frustrated,” said Mihalich. “It’s such a beautiful place to play. We play a great style of basketball…up and down the floor. We’re a fast-paced team…we’re going to score points…it’s going to be exciting and fun. Why more people don’t come out is really frustrating because I think it’s a good situation. It’s cheaper than a movie.”
To that point, Hofstra hopes to write a script this season that is a thriller and has a happy ending. The schedule includes a solid slate of thirteen non-conference opponents that amassed a total of 217 wins last season. The plan was to put a schedule together that will have the Pride ready for their CAA opponents.
“You want to sharpen your teeth for league play and more than ever this year I think we’re doing that,” said Mihalich. “We’ve got some really good games at home, we have the local rivalry with Stony Brook, we’re at Maryland, we’re at VCU and it’s a little bit of everything.”
At the end of the day or in reality at the end of the season, Hofstra is hoping that each and every little bit of everything adds up to cutting down the nets as CAA champions and making a long awaiting return to the big dance.