Fagula’s/Nashua’s glorious past comes to the forefront
The past is very often the key to the future, isn’t it?
For example, when he was candidate for the Bishop Guertin High School girls basketball head coaching job nearly five years ago, Brad Kreick sought some research help.
And what a better source for that research than Nashua girls hoop coaching legend John Fagula. And after he got the job, there were a lot of coffee meetings at a local eatery. Fagula even went to a few practices.
Certainly the advice was valuable. Why not consult the guy who won 11 titles at Nashua High School, one at Londonderry, had the No.1 ranked team (by USA Today) in the nation in 1987, and won more games (624) at the Class L (now Division I) level than any other coach in New Hampshire high school basketball history.
“After the first state title,” Kreick said, “the first hand I shook was his.”
That Fagula magic has stayed with Kreick for his coaching tenure thus far, as he’s known nothing but state titles (four) since he’s been on the job, the most local girls hoop success since, well, Fagula’s Nashua tenure.
That tenure was honored on Sunday in Concord, as the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization (NHBCO) made Fagula, along with five other successful coaches from around the state, their first class of inductees into their Hall of Fame. Fagula has been out of the public eye basically since he went out a winner with his 12th title in his final year at Londonderry in March of 2014.
But he still has plenty of advice and knowledge to impart. Just what did he tell Kreick?
“He wanted to talk basketball, not just x’s and o’s, but how do you run a program,” said Fagula, who knew Kreick when he played JV baseball for him at Nashua High School. “You know, it was different things. It was advice about how to deal with the parents, about being consistent with the players as far as treating them all the same way; the expectation should be the same whether they’re the best or the weakest. … If you’re consistent, they can settle in and know what to expect from you every day at practice and for games and things like that.”
It had to mean a lot for Fagula.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “For (Kreick) to feel comfortable enough. He’d call me up and say, ‘OK, we’re going to breakfast.’ We’d sit there for two hours.”
It’s a different world since Fagula’s heyday in Nashua, and he certainly knows it.
“Obviously the attitude of some of the kids has changed,” Fagula said. “They feel more entitled. They feel they can put demands on different things. … I think obviously the style of basketball has changed. Everybody just wants to play outside the 3-point line, maybe a little pick-and-roll, nobody runs a post game anymore.
“I don’t mind the fact they want to do the perimeter stuff. But the ability to have both, and to realize what are the strengths and weaknesses of this particular team? It may be they couldn’t stop you if you had a decent big kid. You’re not taking advantage of it.”
He had plenty of them when he was at Nashua. In fact, his line often during that famed 1987 season was “We don’t take 3-pointers.”
“One of the things of the club that ended up winning the national championship,” he said, “one three point shot all year. And that was a called inbounds play. And we missed it.”
That team with its tenacious press,incredible Division I college caliber talent, and basketball IQ didn’t have to. It’s that last factor that Fagula hasn’t seen in recent years.
“I don’t think,” he said, “that they think the game as much as they used to, and understand why if this, then that.”
Another thing he’s noticed: “I do see,” eh said, “a lot of specialization (on the part of student athletes) way too soon. … I never would say to them, ‘I don’t want you to play soccer or volleyball’. Most of them played AAU ball, but that didn’t conflict with anything.”
Fagula hasn’t been able to get out to see a lot of games the last couple of years, hampered by back woes that have kept him home.
“I’ve been a lot better,” Fagula said, citing his back woes,citing hospital and rehab visits. “For awhile, I was in a lot of pain. Pain is not the problem now, but just a lack of use of legs and I’m starting to shrivel up a bit. But mentally I’m fine. Energy-wise, I’m fine.”
Which is great because it was nice to see him out and being recognized. Other coaches Sunday came over to his table – such as fellow inductee Mike Lee of Farmington – to just chat and honor the honoree. Others besides Fagula and Lee who inducted were Groveton/White Mountains coach Gary Jennes, the late Jack Ford (Winnacunnet), Lebanon’s Lang Metcalf and Portsmouth’s Dan Parr.
“I appreciate (the honor),” Fagula said. “What people didn’t seem to understand at the time, they kind of took everything for granted (in Nashua and the state). But to be a nationally ranked team, from a small state – like we were saying, not prep schools or parochial school where you could go get anybody you want – to do that. And the consistency of that program, but not just athletically, but academically as well, it’s amazing.
“You got half my speech already.”
Fagula changed girls basketball and it’s perception. As he noted, the attention Nashua got lured college scouts to see other players from around the state who may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Brad Kreick made the right call. So did the NHBCO. A lot of kids who take the floor today probably don’t know of Fagula or Nashua’s storied past. You can bet Kreick makes sure his players do.
“You know in John’s case, he’s been gone for so long, and the game has changed a lot for men and women,” said former longtime Nashua boys coach George Noucas, Fagula’s old buddy who was on hand Sunday. “That (the Fagula years, especially 1987) was a moment in time that’s not going to be surpassed by anybody. Not in this state. … John got in on the ground floor (of girls hoop) and was able to turn it around and get the right kids at the right time. Now it’s kind of tough a little bit. … And five years after you leave somewhere, nobody knows who you are any more.”
We should always remember that kind of glorious past. Consult it. Learn from it. Cherish it, and coaches like John Fagula.
Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,firstname.lastname@example.org, or@Telegraph _TomK.