Thursday, February 29, 2024

Basketball still fun for Mercyhurst men’s coach Gary Manchel after his 500th coaching win

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Job-hopping is all but a given for those starting out in the coaching profession.

Establishing oneself often means not establishing oneself with a team for multiple years or seasons.

Gary Manchel is no different. The 1985 University of Vermont graduate required at least four different change-of-addresses over 18 years before his current 21-season tenure in charge of the Mercyhurst University men’s basketball program.

However, that nomadic lifestyle and the sacrifices associated with it were worth it for the Burlington, Vermont, native.

That’s because they didn’t always feel like sacrifices, according to Manchel. He felt the same way after his 500th NCAA career coaching victory on Feb. 7 as he did as a Slippery Rock University graduate assistant nearly 40 years ago.

“I never wake up worrying about going to work,” Manchel said. “I enjoy every day I approach the office. It’s nice to know you can make a living doing something you love and are passionate about.”

Manchel spoke to the Erie Times-News two days after the Lakers upset Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the defending PSAC champion, 93-85 in double overtime at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center.

The first 130 of Manchel’s 500 coaching victories were with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. The Lakers’ dramatic win against the Crimson Hawks was his 370th for a program he’s led since 2003.

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Manchel wasted little time before he thanked those who contributed to his career milestone.

“I’m a big believer in not caring about yourself. It’s about caring about the guy next to you,” he said. “We got this milestone with the players, the assistant coaches, the team managers, the trainers and the athletic directors. They also have a piece of that accomplishment.”

The Lakers’ first game since Manchel’s milestone will take place Wednesday. They’ll make the short trip to Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse for a 7:30 p.m. opening tip against the Fighting Scots.

Here are five notable moments from Manchel’s head coaching career going into that game:

His first head coaching job

Manchel was on the men’s basketball coaching staff for Yale University when provided his first opportunity to lead a team.

That team was another New England school, the 1992-93 University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.

Manchel took over that Division II program from Stan Van Gundy, who later coached for four NBA franchises before his current role as a television analyst.

The River Hawks went 13-15 and 9-18 for Manchel’s first two seasons. His first winning season as their coach was their 1994-95 team that finished 16-11.

Manchel went on to have three seasons of 20-plus wins at UMass-Lowell.

Initial NCAA appearance

Manchel’s first coaching experience in an NCAA Division II tournament occurred at the end of his last season with UMass-Lowell.

The 2000-01 River Hawks, who transitioned to Division I status in 2013, received a Division II playoff berth for the first time since their national championship season of 1987-88. They were seeded third for Northeast Region games hosted by Adelphia University, a Garden City, New York, campus located on Long Island.

Lowell beat nearby Queens College 85-67 and then lost to Vermont’s Saint Michael’s College 80-69 the next day.

That was Manchel’s last game in charge of the River Hawks. He made a lateral move to join the coaching staff at Division I Ohio University.

First ‘Hurst win

It was the summer of 2003 when Manchel was hired as the eighth coach in the history of Mercyhurst men’s basketball. He succeeded Karl Fogel, who was fired after eight seasons.

The on-court start of Manchel’s tenure with Mercyhurst began on Nov. 16 of that year. The Lakers scored 38 points in each half for a 76-53 home victory vs. Columbia Union, a Maryland school now called Washington Adventist University.

Joshua Helm had a game-high 22 points for Mercyhurst. McDowell graduate Justin Shouse, whose ensuing professional basketball career took him to Iceland, followed with 19.

Manchel watched the 2003-04 Lakers go 16-12 overall. Their season concluded in the quarterfinals of the former Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.

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Elite Eight experience

No team in Manchel’s head coaching career has competed deeper into a postseason than the 2018-19 Lakers.

IUP lived up to its status as that year’s favorite to win the PSAC tournament. The Crimson Hawks defeated the Lakers 56-49 in the final at the Kovalchick Complex.

Based on that victory and IUP’s overall record of 29-2, the NCAA designated the Hawks as hosts for the Atlantic Region portion of its Division II tournament. Mercyhurst still qualified for nationals with an at-large berth in that specific bracket. The Lakers returned to Kovalchick, where they eliminated Fairmont (West Virginia) State 63-60 in overtime.

That was followed by Mercyhurst’s shocking 75-65 upset of the same team they lost to exactly one week earlier. The Lakers led IUP by nine at halftime and never throughout the second half.

Patrick Smith topped Mercyhurst’s offense with 20 points, followed by 19 for Jason Massey and 12 for MiyKah McIntosh.

The Lakers remained at IUP for the region’s final. Their 82-70 victory against West Virginia’s West Liberty State assured them a trip to Evansville, Indiana, for the tournament’s remaining rounds.

It was there Northwest Missouri State’s 55-51 victory ended Mercyhurst’s memorable 26-8 season.

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Fantastic finish for 500

An argument could be made that who the Lakers defeated for Manchel’s career milestone, plus how they did it, was more satisfying to his notable total.

Mercyhurst recorded its signature victory in what’s been a break-even season (12-12) with its double-overtime upset of the favored Hawks.

The Lakers never trailed IUP after Sean Fullerton scored the first eight points of the last period. The sophomore guard finished with 19 points, while teammate Jeff Plantius recorded a double-double with 35 points and 15 rebounds.

The victory also left Manchel with an overall record in charge of the Lakers at 370-215.

Contact Mike Copper mcopper@timesnews.com. Follow him on X @ETNcopper.

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