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Bucky Gleason: Schmidt's tears after St. Bonaventure's tourney win were a long time coming

DALLAS – Mark Schmidt did everything he could after the celebration began and the moment arrived. Schmidt knew the long and sometimes sordid history behind St. Bonaventure's win over UCLA. He had been part of the struggle, too, after accepting the coaching job against the advice of others.

Schmidt is nothing if not prepared. He has been known to sit in his office for hours breaking down video, fast-forwarding and rewinding through countless games looking for every advantage he can unearth, and stealing whatever he could along the way, in an effort to improve his team and himself.

Ready? Yeah, he was ready to put everything in perspective Tuesday after Bona beat a bigger and stronger but less gritty UCLA team in the NCAA Tournament.

If you know Mark Schmidt, he's ready for just about anything. He's like Bill Belichick, the coach of his beloved Patriots, in the sense that media who are paid to criticize and fans who are accustomed to second-guessing coaches tend to question themselves when one of his decisions looks askew.

Schmidt must have considered beforehand how he would feel about a victory over UCLA, obvious because he made a point immediately after the 65-58 win to tap deep into the hearts of Bona and its fans. For 48 years, they felt the pain of Bob Lanier's sprained knee in the 1970 Final Four.

Bucky Gleason: Courtney Stockard takes lead in St. Bonaventure's thrilling win over UCLA

"We hear the stories about 1970 and how disappointing it was that Lanier got hurt and they didn't have a chance to have a full team and going to play Jacksonville," Schmidt said during his post-game presser. "And everybody talks about if Lanier was healthy they would have taken on UCLA. And this victory is for those guys."

Schmidt's message was less surprising than his delivery. His voice cracked with emotions as the words spilled from his mouth. Tears welled in his eyes while he sat beside Jaylen Adams and Courtney Stockard, who for a brief moment appeared stunned that their coach was on the verge of turning into a puddle.

You should know that Schmidt doesn't believe basketball is everything. The game is important because it's his livelihood, and he's competitive, and he loves teaching. But he's a father and husband first. When he took the job, his goal was staying long enough to turn around the program and get his three sons through high school.

But as he stood before the microphone for his postgame television interview while St. Bonaventure players and their fans relished a victory over a UCLA program with 11 national titles, and later when he sat down with the media in the bowels of University of Dayton Arena, he remembered the path leading to Bona's monumental win.

What They Said: Mark Schmidt, Jaylen Adams, Courtney Stockard after St. Bonaventure victory

St. Bonaventure will play Florida on Thursday night for the right to play the winner of Texas Tech-Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 32. Five No. 11 seeds in the past seven years won at least one more game in the Big Dance after emerging from the First Four. It's best for now to not get too far ahead.

Instead, take a peek back.

Rewind the clock 15 years, when St. Bonaventure was caught up in scandal over an average player who gained admission into the program based on a welding certificate, not to mention the subsequent attempted cover-up. It was unbecoming of a university to be guilty of something it supposedly stood against.

Or go back 11 years, four years after coach Jan van Breda Kolff was dismissed in disgrace, when Anthony Solomon was sent on his way with a 24-88 record. St. Bonaventure won a grand total of 10 conference games during Solomon's tenure, turning the program into a tough sell for any coach worth hiring.

"When we came 11 years ago, I walked into a locker room, and we had three players," Schmidt said. "They had won 24 games in four years. Some people said I shouldn't take the job. For us to go from having three players to beating UCLA in 11 years, it's something I'm really proud of."

Just so you know, Schmidt's arrival in 2007 was greeted with yawns. He was hardly some coaching prodigy. He was 44 years old and had an 82-90 record at Robert Morris. After four straight losing seasons and finishing a game over .500 in another, the Colonials were 17-11 overall and 9-9 in the Northeast Conference in 2006-07.

St. Bonaventure didn’t need some no-name who failed to finish higher than third over six seasons in a marginal league. The Bonnies needed a real basketball coach, someone who would end the drama and steer the program from the misery and irrelevance it had suffered in the post-Jim Baron era.

It had reached a point in which Bona longed for the late 1980s under Ron DeCarli or the early 1990s with Tom Chapman. People wondered how long the program would survive, assuming it would remain in Division I. College basketball was changing rapidly, and Bona seemed stuck in neutral or traveling in reverse.

St. Bonaventure would rather not revisit its darkest hours and endure the pain a second time. It suffered enough the first time. But it's important to remember the recent past because it explains how far the program has traveled and the work Schmidt has done for the Bonnies to celebrate the way they did Tuesday in Dayton.

Schmidt's teams struggled, too, going 8-22 in his first season and settling around .500 for another three before showing signs of a turnaround. Andrew Nicholson was the best player Schmidt recruited after getting overlooked by other D-I teams, but he was hardly the last. It has since become Schmidt's trademark.

For years, he found players who were under-recruited or simply cast aside coming out of high school and made it work. Bona took a baby step back after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament in 2012 and receiving an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, but Schmidt rediscovered the path to success.

He developed Dion Wright into a terrific low-post player. Youssou Ndoye could barely make a layup after he arrived from Senegal, but the 7-footer became a dominant center by the time he graduated. There were guards Charlon Kloof and Matthew Wright and Marcus Posley and Denzell Gregg.

And there were the players you see this year. Jaylen Adams was barely recruited before turning into an Atlantic 10 star. Matt Mobley arrived from Schmidt's former conference and turned into a scorer. Courtney Stockard overcame injuries for two years and blossomed in the second half of this season.

There were others along the way, many others, who contributed to the St. Bonaventure team that will play Florida in American Airlines Center Thursday night. The Bonnies stand a fair chance of beating the Gators, too, just like they did against UCLA. You can see why Schmidt became so emotional.

Years of memories flooded his soul all at once Tuesday. A good cry was a long time coming for reasons that extended well beyond Bob Lanier and what might have been.

"It's not (just) me," Schmidt said. "I've got great assistants, great players and kids that really strive to be good. Our guys, we always talk about we're a bunch of misfits. No one wanted us. We come to Bonaventure, we just work our tails off. And it's good that when you work to have some success and that's what I'm most proud of. And it is emotional because we know how much we've put into this."

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