Friday, March 17, 2017

The real deal on JMU's O'Regan: "What you see is what you get"

We thought we knew Sean O'Regan. After all, this blog is growing old at seven years and counting, and we've chitchatted with the first-year Dukes associate head coach over the years when he was an assistant to Kenny Brooks.

Nice guy, we'd say afterward. I mean really nice guy.

If we could use one word to describe O'Regan, it would be genuine, and that's refreshing. You see we're both familiar with coaches whom act one way in front of the cameras and crowds and another way behind closed doors.

Catching up with him at last week's CAA Tournament, we wondered, is he different now? I mean, he's the big boss now. Making the bigger bucks. Sitting in the bigger office. What's he really like? Who could we ask? Would Precious tell us? His assistants?

We checked with his wife, Cara. And here's what it boils down to.

"What you see is what you get," she said.

If anyone knows O'Regan, whose Dukes host Radford in a first-round WNIT game on Friday, it's Cara. Now we'd say that about any spouse, but these two go back really far. How far, exactly, is in dispute, however.

"He claims kindergarten," she said.

She says it was fourth grade. Both agree it was Union Elementary School in Montpelier, Vermont.

Now when we heard that, we had to push for a few more details. Sounds like an episode of "This is Us," right? Especially when she points to the bracelet on her right arm.

"He gave this to me in sixth grade," she said.

They knew each other through high school and connected at times in college, but then lost touch after the first year or so. He's a JMU alum;  she went to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

But one day they ran into each other back home in Vermont, and the rest is, well, O'Regan history. They've been married nine years and have two cutie-pie children, Addison and Liam.

The kids get a kick out of seeing their dad on the JMU team poster. He remains humble about all of it. O'Regan worked long hours as an assistant, so the days that spill into nights are nothing new, Cara said. He just has more to shoulder as the big cheese instead of the assistant to to the big cheese.

"I tell him, 'Don't tell me you're going to be home at 6 if it's 6:30,' "she said.

Or 7:30, 8:30. Is it 10:30 already?

"He takes a fatherly approach to the team," she said.

And, of course, he's a great dad and hubby at home (pick up the laundry, Coach).

"Truly, he's my best friend," said Cara, who wrapped up Duke Dog cufflinks to celebrate his inaugural head coaching victory. "He's just a really great guy."

Here's what else she told us, but we already knew. He cares. JMU is his alma mater. (Purple, by the way, was her favorite color before she lived in Harrisonburg.) This isn't just another job to these guys or a steppingstone. It's home.

It was hard not to notice his pain last weekend, pulling Hall out to a standing O with 1:34 left in the title game. The embrace was long, heartfelt, memorable. He answered every question postgame, taking that painful gulp when talking about losing a championship on your home floor.

But soon enough he was pumping JMU up, excited about the opportunity to play more basketball. There's more season left, and O'Regan will ensure his players understand that.

 We wrote earlier in the year that he was the right guy for the job. We stand by it. JMU's loss in the CAA title game was indeed disappointing. But the Dukes still have a chance to make a statement -- to produce a magical run as they did in 2012 when they advanced to the WNIT final. It was a run that laid a foundation for what turned into a trio of NCAA tournament appearances.

In his first season, O'Regan guided JMU to one win shy of an NCAA tournament. He didn't have reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Kayla Cooper-Williams, who went down in the preseason with an ACL tear. Starter Da'Lishia Griffin left the team in December after eight games.

O'Regan was still able to get this team to the finish line, and next year, we believe he'll finish.

Next year he'll have two more seasoned guards in Kamiah Smalls and Lexie Barrier. Cooper-Williams should be healed and Kelly Koshuta will be eligible. Perhaps he'll have a bunch of WNIT wins, maybe even a trophy, to give these Dukes the confidence they need in a conference that's gotten deeper and better since the day of Old Dominion domination.

Whatever the case, he'll have Cara in his corner or shall we say three rows behind press row opposite the bench.

Just like him, she's the genuine sort, easy to get to know. We leave you with the funniest part of our whole chat.

While Cara and Sean didn't go to prom together, they were high school classmates.
During their senior year, "he was vice president of the class," she said.

"I was president."

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