For one of the few times in his life, Tom Sullivan was not involved in basketball last season. Instead, the former Fordham star, Division II head coach and Seton Hall assistant spent four months with his father, Raymond, who had cancer.
Sullivan returned to the game yesterday when he was introduced as UMBC's new men's basketball coach.
His father was not there. He died in December at 78.
"One of my regrets is that he's not around to see me take this job," Sullivan, 44, said. "He was interested in me getting back into basketball, and I told him I would."
An assistant at Seton Hall for seven years, Sullivan was one of two finalists there to replace P. J. Carlesimo, who left to coach JTC the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers after the 1993-94 season. When Sullivan did not get the job, he went to Fort Pierce, Fla., to be with his father, a World War II veteran, who, like his only son, grew up in New York City, in the Bronx.
In New York, basketball was the younger Sullivan's passion. A star center at St. Helena's High School and at Fordham, he won the Haggerty Award his senior year of college as the New York area's top player. He was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1972 and played several seasons in Europe before going into coaching.
From 1976 to 1985, Sullivan coached Division II New Hampshire College, where he had a record of 152-99 (.606). After one season as coach at Manhattan College, he went to Seton Hall, where he recruited future NBA players Terry Dehere, Anthony Avent and Luther Wright.
In replacing Retrievers coach Earl Hawkins (77-119 in seven seasons), Sullivan came highly recommended. Charles Brown, UMBC's director of athletics, said he received phone calls from many head coaches on Sullivan's behalf, including Carlesimo, Bobby Cremins of Georgia Tech, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls. Former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps also called.
Sullivan, who said he will recruit along the East Coast, plans to bring an up-tempo style to UMBC. He is excited about the possibility of turning the school into a basketball power, and has already begun to sell the program.
"I think it's a diamond in the rough," Sullivan said. "It's a beautiful campus."
He cannot wait to begin after the year off, which he said gave him a sense of perspective on the game and provided him with cherished memories of the father he loved.