Handful of Western Massachusetts, Berkshires ties to NCAA tournament

It is a time-worn statement that the acorn never falls far from the tree. In this case, the tree grew at Hoosac Valley, and the acorn — so to speak — is playing in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.

So, does University of Pennsylvania sophomore standout A.J. Brodeur get his hoop talent from his mother, the former Jerri Lewis, who played at Hoosac Valley?

"Definitely, I think so," Brodeur said during a phone interview prior to practice in Philadelphia on Monday. "As a kid, I grew up playing three sports — basketball, baseball and soccer. It was clear to me which one naturally I was headed toward."

Brodeur is the son of Jerri and Arthur Brodeur. He played his high school basketball for John Carroll at Northfield Mount Hermon before signing to play for Steve Donahue at Penn. The 6-foot-8 sophomore from Northborough averaged 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds for the 24-8 Quakers, who beat Harvard Sunday to win the Ivy League title and the automatic NCAA tournament berth.

The Quakers will travel to Wichita, Kansas, for a Thursday game against top-seeded Kansas. Penn is the 16th seed in the Midwest Regional. The tip off is at 2 p.m., and will be shown on TBS.

Extending the Six Degrees of Separation game out a bit, Williams coach Kevin App played for Donahue at Cornell. Tim Folan, a former Eph player who was on Dave Paulsen's Division III national championship team in 2003, is Penn's senior associate director of athletics for development. Brodeur and Penn teammates Colin McManus and Jackson Donahue (no relation to the coach) also played for former Williams standout Mike Crotty's Middlesex Magic AAU program.

Brodeur's mom played at Hoosac with Paula Hayden and Mary Ciuk, among others. She then went on to play at North Adams State.

"My mom always had a passion for basketball," Brodeur said. "She was always making it a point to get me out to every fall league, every summer league, making sure I'm playing year round to improve.

"To push me to continue having fun and to get better, it's been a lifetime of great experiences."

Brodeur's team left Tuesday for Kansas, and 70-degree temperatures. Penn finished 24-8 and 12-2 in the Ivy League, sharing the regular-season championship with Harvard. The Quakers beat Harvard 68-65 on Sunday in Philadelphia, as Brodeur scored 16 points and pulled down 10 defensive rebounds to punch the team's ticket to the dance for the first time since 2007.

Brodeur said that the experience of winning the title in front of a packed house at Penn's legendary Palestra was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Believe it or not, it might have paled a bit to hear Penn's name get called on the TBS selection show.

"Oh man. It was an absolutely surreal moment for all of us," Brodeur said. "That's something you dream of as a kid, being in that room in the seat that I was in and hearing your team's name.

"It's something that you worked for all season, and it's something we've worked for over two seasons now."

Brodeur is one of six sophomores on the Penn roster. Sophomore Ryan Betley leads the team with a 14.5 scoring average, with Brodeur second.

In the annals of NCAA basketball, there has been only one No. 16 team that beat a No. 1 in the tournament. It happened in the women's tournament when Harvard beat Stanford at Stanford back in 1998.

"Seeing us drawing a 16 seed, I see that as an opportunity to make some more history," he said. "It's been 11 years since we've even been to the NCAA Tournament. In a way, that's already making our mark in Penn's history.

"Now we have a chance to do it on a national level, and we're all taking that opportunity and we're going to run with it."


Dayton is the home of the Flyers of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Dayton is also host for the NCAA Tournament's First Four games, and there was a real UMass flavor there.

That's because Derek Kellogg's LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, the champions of the Northeast Conference, played Radford on Tuesday night in one of the games. In a Wednesday game, Texas Southern is playing North Carolina Central. Donte Clark, a former UMass player, is a graduate transfer at Texas Southern, while Shyrone Chatman is an assistant for Mike Davis there. Chatman worked for Kellogg at UMass.

"I think everybody was just excited to be in the tournament. I don't think it mattered who we played," Clark said at a press conference in Dayton on Tuesday. "[There were] rumors that we were going to play LIU Brooklyn, which was [coached by] my old coach from UMass. I was hoping we were going to play them."

In four years at UMass, Clark did not make the NCAAs. After Kellogg was let go, Clark decided to move on as well, landing at Texas Southern, where he is coached by the former Indiana University head man.

"I feel good that the goal was accomplished," Clark told reporters about making the dance, "because leaving UMass and coming here, the focus was to make the tournament and win the SWAC championship. It definitely feels good. I'm just excited to be here.

"When I'm excited, good things usually happen."

Chatman played at Memphis when Kellogg was with the program, and eventually joined Kellogg on his staff in Amherst.

The winner of Tuesday's LIU Brooklyn-Radford Game will play Villanova on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Texas Southern-North Carolina Central winner will play Xavier in a game at Nashville. Villanova is the No. 1 seed in the East Region and Xavier is the top seed in the West.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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