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The worlds of college basketball coaches expand and detour like the overlapping roads of an overcrowded highway.
A menagerie of butterfly exit ramps curve over and around straightaways like giant soft pretzels. You might see a familiar face at one stop, depart for a different interstate, and see that person again at some out-of-the-way rest stop. That's the profession.
Pathways separate and reunite. Always, worlds manage to collide, to quote that thick-walleted philosopher George Costanza. Who knew so many coaching paths could criss-cross through a hub known as the Air Force Academy?
Air Force Academy Prep associate head coach Marc Holum will sit down to watch Monday night's national championship game with divided loyalties.
He'll root for Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney to have another historic performance. Mooney scored a season-high 22 points in the semifinal win over Michigan State on Saturday, a 61-51 victory. Holum had coached Mooney at the Academy before Mooney's journey rerouted to South Dakota and to Lubbock, Texas.
On the opposite bench Monday night, Holum will recognize a man who helped coach him at Air Force--Larry Mangino--assisting the Virginia staff. Holum, 37, will want the best for him, too.
On Sunday afternoon Holum texted Mangino to offer his congratulations after Virginia had escaped the semifinal game against Auburn with three last-second free throws.
Holum had texted Mooney earlier this season after Texas Tech broke Kansas' record 14-year Big 12 regular-season title streak.
The 6-foot-5 forward has other loyalties to Virginia. He and another Air Force coach visited Charlottesville, Va., last April to watch Coach Tony Bennett and his staff conduct spring drills after their early exit in the NCAA tournament.
"They gave us full access," said Holum. "They were great to me. We watched film with them. They're just first class, all those coaches. It was a neat experience."
Holum sensed the Cavaliers would make a deep run in the tournament this year after seeing how hungry the entire program was last spring. Mangino fit the description.
Mangino's winding path included head coaching stops at Clark and Ferrum universities. He assisted programs at George Washington, Yale, Montclair State and Air Force, not to mention the Denver Nuggets of the NBA.
He spent three years off-road as an athletic director at Charlottesville High School in Virginia, officially out of basketball.
During that time his daughter Chelsea became a student basketball manager for Virginia under Coach Tony Bennett (Chelsea is now director of basketball operations at Liberty, another tournament team) for four years. That connection led to a job for Larry as Virginia's director of scouting.
"He's a basketball expert," said Holum. "He's a lifer."
Mangino's daughters work under former Virginia associate head coach Ritchie McKay, now the boss at Liberty University. McKay's Flames upset Mississippi State this year to ruffle a few NCAA brackets.
Kevin Bacon has his six degrees of separation. College basketball, for those who can last, needs only four.
"I played for Coach Mangino for four years," Holum said from Minnesota, site of the Final Four and the coaches convention. "This is his big opportunity for a national championship."
When Air Force basketball fans think of Mooney, the name Chris, not Matt, first comes to mind. The Philadelphia native started out coaching high school basketball at Lansdale Catholic where his team ran into Holum's Saucon Valley High squad during Holum's sophomore year. Mooney's boys won the state playoff game, but he was impressed with Holum's talent.
Said Rich Matus, Holum's high school coach: "I only remember him making a mistake once in his entire career. He committed two early fouls and had to come out of the game. That's it. He was a smart player on a smart team."
Matus's Panthers won three straight Colonial League titles with Holum.
Mooney later coached at Beaver College (now Arcadia) and tried to recruit Holum. By 2000, Mooney had gone west to assist Air Force at the Division I level, following Princeton's Joe Scott where the former disciples of Pete Carril could run "Chin" in the Mountain West Conference.
Mooney lured Holum to Colorado Springs.
[Marc Holum drives to score during his days playing at Saucon Valley High School. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.]
Marc Holum drives to score during his days playing at Saucon Valley High School. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.
Holum played first for the Air Force prep team and then for the academy, becoming captain his senior year. An early-season injury compromised over half of his games in his final season, however.
In all, Holum would play for three name coaches at the Academy: Princeton's Joe Scott, Princeton's Mooney, and Jeff Bzdelik, another hoops lifer who's spent as much time coaching in the NBA as he has coaching in college.
Accepting the head coaching job at Air Force in 2004, Chris Mooney moved to the University of Richmond a year later. He's been there ever since, taking the Spiders to two NCAA tournaments (2009-2011).
That OTHER Mooney--the 6-foot-3 guard who banged four three-pointers in the Final Four win on Saturday for Texas Tech--arrived at Air Force back in 2014 out of high school with a broken leg.
Rather than ask Matt to survive the rigors of basic training at the Academy with a broken fibula, Air Force let him join the less-demanding prep program where he could rehabilitate then play for Holum and head coach Bob Cavera.
Mooney showed flashes of excellence, scoring 13 points per game to rank second on the squad. He was the kind of player who fit the Princeton scheme. He could dribble, pass and shoot.
"He always had a head for the game," said Holum. "He worked really hard. He was always in the gym."
The next year, playing for the Air Force Academy team, he "had a span of six or eight games where he was averaging about 12 points per game," according to Holum.
Ultimately, Mooney wanted more basketball than the military schedule would permit, so he transferred to South Dakota where he averaged 18 points per game over two seasons (after sitting out a year for transfer protocol).
"He had great hands and he knew how to play," said Holum. "He's not as athletic as some of the studs in the Big-12 (like Tech's 2018 NBA first-rounder Zhaire Smith or 2019 projected lottery pick Jarrett Culver), but he was all Big 12 defensively. He just kept getting better."
[Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo from Saturday's Final Four action in Minnesota.]
Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo from Saturday's Final Four action in Minnesota. Tonight's national championship will be played here.
In all, three players from Cavera and Holum's Air Force Prep program made the 2019 NCAA Tournament: Matt Mooney, Iona's Ben Perez, and Ohio State reserve Danny Hummer.
"If you look at the Air Force Academy roster," said Holum, "over 98 percent of the points are guys we've coached at the prep school."
The prep experience isn't tantamount to Division I basketball, but it's not to be patronized.
"A few years ago we played in a huge prep school tournament at the Olympic training center," said Holum. "We won the tournament. We beat teams like IMG Academy, Sunrise Christian, and South Kent, and we beat them all by over 15 points."
IMG's just won the national prep title this week.
Air Force basketball is filled with east coast transplants. Current assistants Kurt Kanaskie (former Indiana University of Pennsylvania assistant) and Andrew Moore (Ohio native, California University of Pennsylvania former assistant) cut their teeth in the East. Both men spent time at Virginia Tech before coming to Air Force.
Kanaskie is a Keystone State native. His IUP teams broke into the Division II national rankings, including time at No. 1 the year the Crimson Hawks reached the national semifinals. He also revived the program at Lock Haven University near Williamsport.
When Holum played, Mike McKee was an assistant coach. He had played at Lehigh and coached at King's and Lafayette, all in Pennsylvania. When McKee was on the staff at Lafayette, he recruited Holum.
This year he led LaSalle High School on a deep run in the state high school playoffs.
And current Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich started his career at California University of Pennsylvania, giving the Falcons a wealth of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference veterans.
Holum loves his coaching situation.
"I've been really fortunate to coach really good kids," he said. "The coaches at the academy do a great job of placing the right kind of kids in the prep school. A lot of the players I coached are out there as pilots and doing great stuff. Just to be around basketball is great. I've been fortunate enough to teach and coach."
And to buckle up for an odyssey that brings players and coaches to your front door at all hours.
"I've just been blessed to be around great basketball minds," said Holum.
Basketball has been, if anything, one helluva ride.
[Saucon Valley basketball players L to R: Marc Holum, Matt Lang, Robbie Thomson, Marty Lewis and Jim McKeown.]
Saucon Valley basketball players L to R: Marc Holum, Matt Lang, Robbie Thomson, Marty Lewis and Jim McKeown. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.
[Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo at Saturday's Final Four in Minnesota.]
Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo at Saturday's Final Four in Minnesota.Share this post: