St. Bonaventure basketball enjoying afterglow of last year's double NCAA tournament berths

St. Bonaventure men's basketball coach Mark Schmidt isn't making any promises, and women's coach Jim Crowley has lowered his expectations. So don't hold your breath anticipating any immediate encores in Olean.

Reproducing a once-in-a-lifetime magical March — when both Bonnies men's and women's basketball teams earned NCAA tournament berths — might be asking for a little much two years in a row.

"Yeah right," Crowley said, starting to laugh. "Hopefully, we get a little leeway."

As for Schmidt, he has but one regret when fondly recalling last season.

If only someone had the foresight to have laid a bet on both teams winding up in the tournament, a first at St. Bonaventure.

"If we put a $1,000 on that, then we wouldn't have budget problems," Schmidt said, chuckling. "That line was probably a million to one."

Try a billion to one, Crowley said, before adding: "It was quite a story."

And it's a story that still resonates months later, even as the cores of both teams have changed dramatically.

Forward Andrew Nicholson is now in the midst of opening his NBA career in Orlando, after the Magic drafted him with the 19th pick. And the women's team is moving on after losing its two stars, Megan Van Tatenhove and Jessica Jenkins, to graduation.

What remains, however, is the afterglow of success that continues to shine on this tiny Atlantic 10 Conference school tucked in the shadow of the Allegany Hills of New York's southern tier.

"I think what we did last year made all Bonaventure alums proud of their school," Schmidt said. "It energized us. It's been a tremendous thing. If one person came up to me and cried, 100 people came up to me and cried."

They were tears of joy, and a long time in coming for the men's team in particular.

Schmidt restored a proud basketball tradition at a school that produced Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. In his fifth season, he proved it's possible to build a winner at St. Bonaventure, and transform a program that had been reeling from a player-eligibility scandal in 2003 that eventually led to NCAA sanctions.

In going 20-12, the Bonnies won their first A10 tournament championship to secure their sixth NCAA tournament berth, and first since 2000.

"A lot of people didn't think that Bonaventure could come back to the days prior to the scandal," Schmidt said. "So it's very satisfying, gratifying."

Looking ahead, Schmidt faces the challenge of replacing Nicholson's dominant presence, and the 18.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and near two blocked shots per game he averaged last year.

"Is it going to be difficult? Absolutely," he said. "But we're going to put our best foot forward. And I can say that when teams play us, they're going to know they're in for a battle."

The Bonnies, who open hosting Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 9, return three starters, including senior forward Demitrius Conger who averaged 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds last year.

The Bonnies women had no tradition to speak of in producing 16 losing seasons in their first 20 years as a Division I program. They've since enjoyed six straight winning seasons, topped by last year when they (31-4) set a team record for wins, earned their first NCAA berth, and reached the tournament's third round before unraveling in a 79-35 loss to Notre Dame.

Aside from losing Van Tatenhove and Jenkins, the Bonnies were dealt another blow last month when forward Chelsea Bowker sustained a season-ending ankle injury. That puts further pressure on a team that features six freshmen.

"It's the biggest challenge we've had over the last few years," Crowley said. "The only way you get invested is through time. The only way you get better at what we do is through repetition. Half our team has neither."

Entering his 13th season, Crowley is taking a more patient approach as the team prepares to open its year hosting Binghamton on Nov. 10. He can appreciate the challenges the newcomers face adjusting to their first year at college, while also burdened by the expectations of what happened last season.

"I'm pretty honest with it, we're not going to the Sweet 16 this year," Crowley said. "We're not gonna. Miracles happen, but we're just not ready."

That doesn't mean the Bonnies, men or women, are starting from scratch.

Athletic director Steve Watson is confident last year's success established stable foundations for both programs.

"I don't think anybody feels like we're starting over," Watson said. "It kind of gives us credibility. ... We've proven it in basketball. We've proven it in our other sports. And the future looks bright."

As a reminder of what's possible, on a table in his office, Watson keeps a copy of a commemorative yearbook, titled "Legacy Defined," the school produced to honor both teams.

"If there's ever been a bad day, you can always pick that thing up and think back to last season," Watson said. "Yeah, it definitely puts a smile on your face.

"Because it really was an amazing run."