03/27/05 — Saints' Connelley named men's coach of the year

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Saints' Connelley named men's coach of the year

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on March 27, 2005 2:10 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mike Connelley was looking for a sense of community. Southern Wayne High School was looking for wins on the basketball court.

It turned out to be a match made in heaven.

In his first season with the Saints, Connelley led the team to the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference regular-season title and the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff -- earning News-Argus men's coach of the year honors in the process.

"I've always talked about getting out to a community school," Connelley said. "I think Southern Wayne has the potential to be a really good job. I like the idea of knowing who is going to be coming to Southern Wayne and the people that support the school. That idea held a lot of appeal for me."

After spending 18 seasons guiding Charlotte-area schools Myers Park and Butler among the state's elite prep programs, Connelley packed his bags for Dudley -- and hasn't looked back since.

"Charlotte is very competitive ... great athletes," Connelley said. "That's the positive. The negative is that Charlotte doesn't support the teams. You don't know what players you're going to get, because they change school districts. Personally, I like it here a lot better."

Support wasn't been a problem with the Saints. And for good reason.

Success seemed to follow Connelley and Southern Wayne wherever they traveled during the 2004-05 season -- literally.

The Saints went undefeated on the road in conference play while going 13-3 to top the league standings. Southern Wayne was 16-10 overall on the season.

His team's 8-0 road mark in ECC 3-A play still leaves Connelley a bit slackjawed.

"Going into that last (conference road) game (at Goldsboro on Feb. 8), we were all saying that we couldn't believe how well we had played on the road," he said. "I think we just focused better on the road. I don't know ... it was a really funny year. It seemed like we just made good decisions at the end of games."

Having an experienced, knowledgeable coach can help young players -- the Saints featured no seniors in their starting lineup -- make those good decisions.

A quick check of Connelley's resume reveals such stops as N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association powerhouse Gaston Day School, Bucknell University and Coastal Carolina University.

He's even taken the time to coach basketball clinics abroad.

Now, his players from Southern Wayne are buying into his system.

The results have been instantaneous. Hard work does have a way of paying dividends -- something the Saints now clearly understand.

"Even if we didn't win a particular game this past season, it wasn't because we didn't make good decisions," Connelley said. "It was because we didn't make a basket, or we missed a free throw. It wasn't like we weren't executing."

With Connelley now at the helm, execution and brainpower on the court are likely to become trademarks of Southern Wayne basketball.