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Saturday, December 11, 2010
Learning Curves for Quinn at Winchendon

By Brendan Hall

OAKDALE, Conn. -- Matt Quinn stepped off the bus on the St. Thomas More campus this afternoon, and the deep sighs of returning to the place he called home for so long were not of nerves, but rather excitement.

After all, this was the only place he called home for the first 18 years of his life before suiting up for Bucknell University. Under the guidance of his father, long-time STM head coach Jere Quinn, this is where he not only grew up, lived, played and later worked.

This was where, as a youngster, he followed around Ed Cota, and later tracked his every move at the University of North Carolina. Where he first tagged along with future college basketball stars like Charles Minlend, Steve Frazier, Ajou Deng, and later played alongside future Pitt point guard Carl Krauser before going on himself to captain the 2003-04 squad at Bucknell. And this was also, after spending some time with The Hoop Group and Peace Players International overseas, where he first coached as an assistant over his father.

"I lived in one house my entire childhood. I spent more time in this gym than any of these guys today, except my father obviously," he laughed. "This is where I played, this is where I fell in love with the game, this is where I latched on at practices and where, from an early age, the role models, the faculty around me, I think I knew that I had some solid interest in education."

Now, the younger Quinn is in his first year as head coach at Winchendon, taking over for the legendary Mike Byrnes, who won two NEPSAC Class A titles and graduated two future NBA alums in 14 years, before taking an assistant job at Robert Morris last August. Off to a 1-7 start and playing a short bench, his charges lost 77-64 to Jere's squad, in a game that saw superstar forward and top-ranked recruit Andre Drummond leave the game for the hospital after losing two teeth on the floor.

The transition to head coach has certainly been a fun one. Matt and Jere talk on the phone after almost every game, trading notes and viewpoints, and Byrnes -- whom he also considers a mentor -- is always a phone call away, too.

"It's certainly a different ball game," he said. "You know, in the past where -- and it's typical coaching lingo -- where you go from being an assistant making suggestions to a coach where you're making decisions. So the kids don't always like you as a head coach, they like the assistants, but the decision-making has been a process. My dad gave me alot of power as an assistant, so I learned alot here, but certainly game decisions, and how to handle kids to get them to maximize their potential."

While the elder Quinn talked with ESPNBoston correspondent Matt Stout in his office, prior to the game, Matt walked in looking for a tripod for his video camera, to which Jere cracked, "You don’t really work here anymore, so you can’t just really be arbitrarily meandering around."

But on a more serious note, "He understands the whole world of prep schools and he when he came back from the Middle East, he decided that he wasn’t really enamored with the college (coaching) concept," Jere said. "The unique thing about prep school is you affect kids in many, many different ways, not just the world of basketball. You help them grow up, you help them become better students. That seems to be what Matt has his fingers around.

"So he was offered this opportunity and he always made good decisions. And I think this is a good one for him. I expect him to do a great job."

One of his duties the next few years will be maximizing the potential of Dennis Green, a promising sophomore guard from Raleigh, N.C. who so far has shown a knack for quality pinpoint passes and patience in the halfcourt in setting up plays. Consistency on defense, and with his shot, will need improvement over the next few years; but so far, Matt has liked the early returns.

"[He's] Got a chance to be very good," Matt said of Green, who scored five points off the bench in the loss. "The prep school environment is just a great world for him. He's a kid who needs to learn how to work hard academically and athletically, but he's a great kid. Not a kid who's had any problems around campus, he's a very nice kid, and he's starting to buy into all the things he needs to do to be successful."

A BYRD LANDS IN EASTERN CONNECTICUT

Jarell Byrd remembers his first day of fall practice at St. Thomas More clearly. And then again, considering what an eye-opener it was from his days last season on the much-hyped Lynn English Bulldogs -- a level of conditioning he says he's "never before" experienced before in his life -- how could he not?

"It was a wake-up call -- like a 'wow' going off in my head," Byrd said. "I couldn't believe it."

It is here, though, where he is a bench player on a Chancellors squad loaded with potential in players like Drummond and Adam Jones. Byrd says he is currently receiving interest from Southern Conference schools such as Wofford, as well as some America East schools.

Does he miss those big crowds for Northeastern Conference games?

"I do miss it. I mean, the Lynn English crowd was always big," he said. "But, I like it better here, because it's a smaller crowd but there are more coaches who come to the games."

Byrd said he still talks to his former point guard Ryan Woumn daily. You might say, with Byrd in Eastern Connecticut and Woumn on the mend at East Tennessee State with a broken foot, that the two share a common bond beyond their days as teammates -- after all, the difference between Lynn and two such rural settings is like night and day. Byrd says he'll try to go visit over Christmas break, should their schedules work out.