NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Long Island is assured of having a representative in March Madness. That much became clear after the semifinals of the CAA Tournament here Monday night. The one-bid league will send either Hofstra or Northeastern, which is coached by Bill Coen, Port Jefferson High School Class of 1979.
“I had a great time growing up on Long Island. It’s changed quite a bit since then, my family has all moved out of there, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Long Island,” Coen said late Monday night after his team overcame Charleston and its intense home-crowd advantage at North Charleston Coliseum, 70-67.
Northeastern, the No. 2 seed, earned its way into the Tuesday night final against top-seeded Hofstra. The teams split their two games during the regular season, each winning at home. Northeastern’s victory ended Hofstra’s national-best 16-game winning streak.
Coen grew up watching Port Jefferson star Toby Knight (Class of ’73), who went on to play for Notre Dame and the Knicks, and went through school with Knight’s younger sister. The future coach’s basketball education began under the late Jim Smith, who was the Port Jefferson boys basketball coach.
“Jim was an unbelievable coach,” Coen said. “He was also the cross-country coach, so we did a lot of running.”
Coen went on to play college ball at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and, as a math whiz, became a software engineer at Raytheon and worked on the Patriot missile system. “That was before I got into this craziness,” he said with a laugh.
Basketball kept tugging at him and led him to take the coaching job upstate at Canajoharie High School, then returned to Hamilton as an assistant coach. From there, he was on Al Skinner’s staff at Rhode Island and Boston College. This is his 12th season at Northeastern, having become respected enough to be asked to serve on the coaches advisory committee that dealt with the switch from the RPI rating system to the current NET.
Suffolk County still tugs at him, too. “I’ve still got a lot of friends who live there, high school friends,” he said. “Whenever we go to play at Hofstra there’s always somebody who pops up who I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years. So, it’s always kind of a mini-reunion.”
As for Hofstra, Coen said, “They’ve had an unbelievable year, a storybook year, really. You look at the consecutive wins, Justin Wright-Foreman is the player of the year. They’re really, really talented. Coach [Joe] Mihalich does an outstanding job, he’s the coach of the year. They have the defensive player of the year [Desure Buie]. They’ve got talent up and down the lineup. They’re an explosive offensive team and they have a matchup zone that’s difficult to attack. We’ve had two terrific games with them.”