Hilleary keeping Catholic on top of things

He had a clear shot at the basket and Matt Hilleary planned on dunking the basketball without any hassle. But as the Catholic University junior forward went up toward the hoop, a player from Salisbury State University undercut him.

Now Hilleary, being a veteran post player, knows some things go on that you have to tolerate. This, though, offended his sense of fair play, especially after the player offered no apologies or an extended hand to help Hilleary up off the court.

“It was really annoying,” said Hilleary, who graduated from Seton in 1999. “I can’t stand that.”

So on the next trip down the court, Hilleary decided to vent his frustrations. He grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked the ball.

What came next was a rare sight for those who know Hilleary.

He raised up his jersey and talked a little trash. Although it was enough to warrant his first-ever technical for such behavior, he couldn’t help himself.

“I was pretty upset, but I know it wasn’t in my character,” Hilleary said.

So much so that fans came up to him afterward and told him how shocked they were to see him act like that.

If it was up to Catholic head coach Mike Lonergan, he would like to see Hilleary display that fire everytime out on the court. But after coaching for him this long, Lonergan understands basketball is not the most important thing for Hilleary.

“As good as he is, it’s frustrating because I would like to get so much more out of him,” Lonergan.

In Hilleary, Lonergan sees a player with enough potential to become the best player he’s ever coached. At 6-foot-6 with long arms and excellent jump ability, Hilleary has developed into an effective post player with a soft shooting touch from outside.

He is one of two returning starters from last year’s Division III NCAA Champions, but he is clearly the go-to guy. Hilleary, a front-runner for Capital Athletic Conference player of the year honors, averages a team-high 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and shoots almost 57 percent from the floor.

On Wednesday, he scored his 1000th career point in a 70-47 win over Mary Washington.

“I see him as a national player of the year candidate,” Lonergan said. “He’s that good.”

But Hilleary isn’t a gym rat. Nor is he one to spend much time in the weight room. When Lonergan saw Hilleary shooting around one day in the gym before practice earlier this season, he was surprised.

“He’s always had the talent, but basketball is more of a hobby,” Lonergan said.

Hilleary doesn’t disagree with that.

“But that’s why you play Division III basketball because the sport isn’t the whole focus,” Hilleary said.

Hilleary had received some interest from Division I schools coming out of Seton, but Catholic offered him a nice package that included a good engineering program and a chance to play right away. And it didn’t hurt that his mother is a graduate of the Washington D.C.-based school.

As a freshman, Hilleary struggled with the adjustment of being away from home and his friends. An unpleasant roommate situation and the difficult transition from high school hoops to college basketball only made things worst.

Hilleary said he thought about transferring, but didn’t give it any serious consideration.

“Coach sat me down and said I should start enjoying myself and stop looking back at what I had done in high school,” said Hilleary, who averaged 22 points a game his senior season at Seton.

He heeded Lonergan’s advice and started to come into his own last season when he averaged 12.5 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game.

With the graduation of the three starters from the championship team, Lonergan wondered whether his team would struggle. But three new faces into the starting lineup plus the play of Hilleary and fellow post player Kevin Morley has helped Catholic to a 21-2 record and a No. 3 national ranking.

“It hasn’t surprised me,” Hilleary said. “In seeing what we had in the preseason, I didn’t think there would be much of a drop-off. I could tell we were going to be good.”

Playing professional basketball overseas is something Hilleary has thought about, but he doesn’t seem sold on the idea yet. There’s another year of college and an engineering degree to put to good use.

Basketball, as always, is on his mind, just not at the front of it.

Similar Posts