During his six seasons at the helm of Virginia men's basketball, Pete Gillen has reenergized the Cavalier hoops program with his exciting up-tempo style of play, integrity, caring attitude toward his players and refreshing sense of humor.
Gillen's six Virginia teams own a 104-78 record and his 19-year career record as a collegiate head coach is 378-206 (.647 winning percentage). He posted his 100th Cavalier coaching victory when Virginia defeated Clemson 58-55 on February 21, 2004 in Clemson, S.C. Gillen won the 350th game of his career when Virginia defeated Rutgers 61-57 on December 21, 2002. He coached his 500th collegiate game against Rutgers on December 23, 2001 (a 76-68 win).
UVa made its fifth consecutive postseason appearance under Gillen in 2003-04, earning a berth in the 2004 National Invitation Tournament. Prior to last season, Gillen led the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament in 2001 and to the NIT in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
Virginia finished the 2004 season with an overall record of 18-13 (6-10 ACC) and advanced to the second round of the NIT. Gillen's Cavaliers won six of their last 10 games in 2003-04, including three victories over top-15 opponents.
UVa's late-season surge began with an 82-80 win over #15 Georgia Tech and also included back-to-back home wins over #12 North Carolina (74-72) and #11 Wake Forest (84-82). Following the conclusion of the regular season, Virginia defeated Clemson 83-79 in overtime in the first round of the 2004 ACC Tournament before falling to top-seeded Duke 84-74 in the quarterfinals. Virginia opened NIT play with a 79-66 win over George Washington at University Hall. The Cavaliers lost at Villanova 73-63 in the second round of the NIT.
Virginia finished the 2002-03 regular season with a 15-14 record (6-10 ACC), highlighted by four victories over top-20 teams. The Cavaliers advanced to the finals of the 2002 Maui Invitational in November with a 75-61 win over #15 Kentucky. Virginia also defeated #17 Wake Forest at home and swept defending national champion Maryland during the regular season for the first time since 1992-93. UVa handed the eighth-ranked Terrapins an 86-78 loss at College Park, Md., and later defeated the #13 Terps 80-78 in overtime at University Hall to close out the 2002-03 regular season. After falling to 12th-ranked Duke 83-76 in the quarterfinals of the 2003 ACC Tournament, Virginia rebounded with an 89-73 first-round NIT victory over Brown at University Hall. The Cavaliers' 2002-03 season ended with a 73-63 loss at St. John's in the second round of the NIT.
Virginia finished the 2001-02 regular season with a 17-10 record (7-9 ACC), before losing to N.C. State in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Among UVa's most notable victories were a 61-55 win over 16th-ranked Georgetown in the John Thompson Classic and an 87-84 upset of third-ranked Duke in the Cavaliers' final home game of the regular season. Following the ACC Tournament, Virginia returned home to host South Carolina in the first round of the NIT and fell to the Gamecocks 74-67.
All four of UVa's scholarship freshmen saw extensive action during the 2001-02 season, while senior guard/forward Adam Hall missed 10 games after injuring his right foot at North Carolina on Jan. 12. In addition, sophomore point-guard Majestic Mapp was sidelined for the second consecutive season due to an injured right knee.
UVa was ranked 11th in the 2001-02 preseason Associated Press poll, marking its highest preseason ranking since the Cavaliers were ranked number one in the nation before the start of the 1982-83 season. Virginia was ranked in the top-10 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls for 11 consecutive weeks during the 2001-02 season, climbing as high as fourth in both polls for the weeks of Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.
Gillen guided the 2000-01 Cavaliers to their first NCAA appearance since 1996-97. Virginia posted a 20-7 regular season record (9-7 ACC, fourth place) before falling to Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals of the 2001 ACC Tournament. UVa went undefeated against non-conference competition during the regular season (11-0) for the first time since 1981-82 and reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since 1994-95. The Cavaliers lost to Gonzaga 86-85 in the first round of the NCAA South Region Tournament.
Gillen was one of 20 Division I men's basketball coaches who were finalists for the 2001 Naismith Men's College Coach of the Year Award. He was named the 2001 Men's Basketball Coach of the Year in Virginia by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Virginia was ranked in both major polls for all but one week of the 2000-01 season, climbing as high as sixth in the AP poll and ninth in the USA Today/ESPN poll (on five occasions). The Cavaliers finished the season ranked 16th in the final AP poll and 21st in the final USA Today/ESPN poll.
UVa was 6-4 during the 2000-01 season against teams ranked in the AP top 25 poll at game time, including four victories over top-10 opponents and three wins over top-five foes. The Cavaliers rolled over fourth-ranked Tennessee 107-89 in the Jimmy V Classic in December, followed later in the season by victories over 20th-ranked Missouri, ninth-ranked Maryland, 16th-ranked Wake Forest, third-ranked Duke and second-ranked North Carolina. UVa's three top-five victories in 2000-01 are the most in one season in school history.
Spurred on by zealous fan support for Gillen and his team, Virginia was nearly invincible at home in 2000-01. The Cavaliers went 14-1 in University Hall, posting the best home court winning percentage (.933) of any team in the ACC.
Virginia's outstanding performance under Gillen during the 2000-01 season was preceded by a successful 1999-2000 campaign in which the Cavaliers advanced to the National Invitation Tournament, compiled a 19-12 record and tied for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 9-7 finish. It was UVa's first winning season and first postseason appearance in three years. In addition, the 19 victories and nine conference wins were the most by a Virginia team since the 1994-95 Cavaliers finished 25-9 and tied for the ACC regular season championship with a 12-4 mark. Virginia was picked to finish seventh in the conference during the 1999-00 preseason by media attending the ACC's Operation Basketball.
Featuring considerable depth, following the addition of five new scholarship players and one transfer who sat out the previous year due to NCAA rules, the Cavaliers ranked second in the ACC in 1999-00 in scoring (81.5 ppg) and fourth in field goal percentage (45.1).
Among Virginia's regular-season highlights, UVa posted its first victory over North Carolina (90-76) in Chapel Hill since 1981. Virginia also swept both regular season games from the Tar Heels for the first time since 1981. The Cavaliers finished the 1999-00 regular season with an 89-87 overtime victory over then 17th-ranked Maryland, snapping the Terps' nine-game ACC win streak.
In his first season at UVa in 1998-99, Gillen led the Cavaliers to a deceiving 14-16 record (4-12 ACC) against considerable challenges.
Virginia's most memorable victories that season included conference wins over 25th-ranked Clemson, Florida State (in Tallahassee), Wake Forest and N.C. State. Over half of UVa's losses were to top-20 teams.
Hidden in Virginia's won-loss record, however, are the many obstacles Gillen's maiden Cavalier team had to overcome. To simply say they overachieved is an understatement.
Consider: With the previous season's two leading scorers gone to graduation, Virginia opened the 1998-99 season with just seven eligible scholarship players (only one taller than 6-9) and seven walk-ons, five of whom were chosen from the UVa student body during preseason tryouts. Then, two days after the season opener, starting center Colin Ducharme slipped on some wet steps and broke an ankle. He would end up missing the rest of the season. Later, key reserve and sophomore walk-on Josh Hare broke his left ankle against Delaware in late December and did not return until the N.C. State contest on February 14. Three Cavaliers-Willie Dersch, Kris Hunter and Chris Williams-were hospitalized due to illness during the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, while guard Chezley Watson was out for two games with a sprained ankle.
Rather than give up or make excuses, Gillen and his coaching staff encouraged the team to rally together and keep working hard during practice and in game situations. The team responded by showing tremendous character and courage.
Rallying around Gillen's exciting up-tempo style of play, Virginia finished third in the ACC in scoring, averaging 72.8 ppg., and set a school record with 257 steals. UVa led the ACC in free throw shooting percentage (73.4 percent).
Gillen became Virginia's ninth coach on March 28, 1998. Before coming to UVa, he spent the previous four seasons at Providence College where he coached the Big East Conference school to a 72-53 overall record. His 1997 team reached the championship game of the NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament before losing to eventual national champion Arizona. Providence competed in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) under Gillen's direction in 1995 and 1996.
His success at Providence came on the heels of a remarkable nine-year stint as the head coach at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he became the winningest coach in Xavier men's basketball history with an overall record of 202-75.
Inheriting a program that made only two previous NCAA tournament appearances in the school's history and never won an NCAA postseason game, Gillen led the small Catholic institution to unprecedented national success. The Musketeers participated in the NCAA Tournament seven times during Gillen's tenure, reaching the Midwest Regional semifinals in 1990. Gillen was named Coach of the Year in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference five times. Xavier won six regular season conference championships and five conference tournament championships under Gillen's guidance.
During his time at Xavier and Providence, Gillen also coached U.S. Olympic Festival and USA Basketball teams. He served as an assistant coach to Don Nelson for Dream Team II which won a gold medal at the World Championships in Toronto in the summer of 1994. He served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Festival's North Team in 1993, leading that squad to a gold medal and a perfect 4-0 record. In 1991, he was an assistant coach for USA Basketball's World University Games men's team which captured a gold medal after finishing with a 6-0 mark.
It is not sheer winning alone, however, that has catapulted the one-time grade school teacher from relative anonymity to his current stature as one of college basketball's most coveted coaches: it's his whole approach to the game and to life. Above all else, he is able to keep everything in perspective.
"This isn't open-heart surgery," says Gillen. "We want to win, but we also want to have fun and enjoy playing together. The hard work is always there. The stress, the anxiety and the sacrifice ... that's all part of it. But if the journey is all pain and misery, then, to me, you're missing a big ingredient to life."
Another important aspect of Gillen-coached teams is the overriding sense of teamwork and family that exists among the players and coaches.
"That's our goal," says the 57-year-old coaching veteran. "To remember that we're all in this together. We'll win together, lose together, cry together, pray together. I really think that is important: to try to do things together as a family.
"I think part of the reason our kids play hard is that they know we care about them. We care about them as people, their health and their academics. You can't fake that. We want them to get a good education, graduate, be successful and do the right things. I think our kids sense that our whole staff cares about them as individuals and doesn't treat them like basketball robots."
Like he did during his tenure at Providence, Gillen had the words "Family" printed on the back of the UVa players' practice shorts. He and his assistants also regularly visit the Virginia players away from the basketball court. "I've always done that," says the native of Brooklyn, N.Y. "We try to visit the kids in their dorms, especially early in the year, to make sure they are in with the right group and not being dragged down by outside influences which are not good. The players are somebody's children. The parents hand them over to us as young men, and hopefully after four years, we hand them back as more mature adults. It's our job to look after them. We can't be with them for 24 hours a day, obviously, but we can try to watch them and make sure they are headed in the right direction."
In addition to genuinely caring about his athletes, another key to Gillen's success as a Division I head coach is his proven ability to consistently recruit some of the nation's top high school prospects. His first class at Virginia received a Top Five ranking by college basketball recruiting analysts and was ranked as high as second best in the nation.
Much of the credit for his recruiting success, says Gillen, goes to his assistant coaches. "They do the ground work. I don't know if I'm a good recruiter or not, but my assistants have done a great job in my time as a head coach.
"With us, what you see is what you get. We're not going to be one way while recruiting and then, when you choose the school, be different ... like Jekyll and Hyde."
One of the easiest parts of recruiting for Gillen and his staff since coming to Virginia is selling the school's academic reputation. "We know what a young man can do for UVa, but we let [each recruit] know how the school can help him, not just for the next four years but for the next 40 years of his life."
When identifying and evaluating prospects, Gillen says he and his staff focus on athletes who are well-suited for his up-tempo, pressing and running style of play. "We want young men who can move their feet; kids who play quickly in an impressive running style. We're looking for shooters also, but mainly quickness and athleticism. If they don't have that, then they have to do something else really well: rebound; be a great shooter; or be a great ball-handler."
He also expects his players to graduate.
"We don't want someone who is going to come in, stay a year, not worry about his academics and then leave to go play in Europe or something. When they come here, we want them to have the intention of graduating and representing the University well on and off the court."
Despite the tremendous pressures that come with coaching on the Division I level, where happiness often seems to hinge on wins or losses, Gillen has not lost his ability to laugh through it all and to see humor in his job and everyday life. It's his best way, he says, of dealing with stress and anxiety.
"I'm in a tough profession: win or you're gone. I understand the rules but I like to laugh, mainly at myself and the situations that arise," he says. "I think most people really want to have fun during the day and laugh a little bit."
Behind the humor is an intensely competitive man who says he can deal with losing as long as he knows that he, his coaching staff and players gave their best effort. "We put a lot of time into game preparation ... we watch a lot of film," says the veteran head coach. "There are teams that are going to be better than us--quicker, bigger, stronger--but as long as I know I did my best, I can live with losing. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning but as long as I am prepared, I'll sleep decently. I'm not going to be up all night walking the river, talking to the ghosts of coaches past."
Having learned from some of the most successful coaches in the business during his days as an assistant, Gillen says he has derived his coaching philosophy from many people.
After spending one season as an assistant coach at Hawaii (1975-76) and two seasons at VMI (1976-78), Gillen was hired as an assistant coach by Rollie Massimino at Villanova. It was there that Gillen saw first-hand the value of treating a team like family.
"Rollie was an old-fashioned coach. He used to have the team over every Sunday for macaroni and hamburgers. His wife used to stay up late and cook sometimes. I thought that was neat. He was tough on his players but he was also close with them."
After spending two seasons at Villanova, Gillen coached under Digger Phelps at Notre Dame from 1980-85.
"Digger had a great influence on me," says Gillen. "He taught me a lot about organization and trying to plan ahead. Digger was very meticulous. He did all the little things. He used to say, `the little things are the big things.' Things like the rims--making sure they are tight and just the right size--every little detail."
Borrowing a page from his former mentor's playbook, Gillen has his teams prepare for road games by practicing with the same brand of basketball being used by the host team. "There really is a difference," says Gillen. "The seams aren't the same and part of it is psychological. I don't always check the rims, but I'm pretty meticulous."
Despite the overwhelming details involved with coaching at the highest collegiate level, Gillen takes time to invite local religious leaders or other speakers to visit with his team for a few minutes before each game--home or away. The purpose, Gillen says, is not to force religion on anyone. Rather, it is an opportunity for his team to meditate and reflect. "We try to have people from different religious faiths come in and talk to the players. The speaker usually delivers a short soliloquy or talk about life. It's not a hard sell, just telling the kids to appreciate what they have--their families, health, talent, opportunity to get a great education--and not to take anything for granted."
The oldest of three children (one brother and one sister) from a lower middle-class Catholic family in Brooklyn, Gillen says his work ethic and moral values came from his parents. His father did clerical work for Con Edison, Inc., a New York City based utilities company, during the weekdays and sold tickets for bus and boat tours of Manhattan at night. His mother stayed at home until he was in junior high school and then did clerical work as well.
"My parents worked hard to put three kids through college," says Gillen. "They also taught me good values: be on time, respect everyone, go to church and be a good person."
When not working, his father took time to pass on his love for baseball to his eldest son. "He taught me baseball when I was young," says Gillen. "I threw right-handed, but he taught me how to hit lefty because there were more right-hand pitchers and it would give me an advantage ... a good step-and-a-half [toward first base]."
Gillen was a high school standout in basketball and baseball at Brooklyn Prep. He later attended Fairfield University (Fairfield, Conn.), earning his bachelor's degree in English Literature in 1968. He joined the basketball team at Fairfield as a freshman walk-on before receiving a scholarship during his junior and senior seasons. Gillen also played collegiate baseball, excelling as a second baseman. He captained the team as a senior.
After graduating from college, Gillen accepted a teaching position at Holy Name grade school in Brooklyn. He later returned to his alma mater, Brooklyn Prep, where he coached the freshman team for a year and the varsity team for two years. While there, he began a long-time association with Howard Garfinkel's Five-Star basketball camps. During a Five-Star camp in 1974, Gillen met fellow camp teacher Rick Pitino, then an assistant at Hawaii. Impressed with Gillen's coaching talent, Pitino helped convince Hawaii head coach Bruce O'Neil to hire Gillen on his staff.
During his tenure in Hawaii, Gillen married Ginnie Scarlata, whom he had been dating for several years, on Waikiki Beach. Gillen originally met his future bride in New York City at the wedding of a former Fairfield University basketball teammate. Reflecting on their first encounter, Gillen says,"There I was at this wedding, drawing basketball diagrams on napkins. She knew she was in trouble."
Gillen and his wife celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary in April of 2004. They have a son, Brendan, and a daughter, Shannon. Having previously journeyed with his family from South Bend, Ind., to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Providence, R.I., Gillen hopes this coaching move will be his last.
"Virginia is a tremendous university with a great academic and athletic tradition," he said. "It is a special place."
During the summer of 2001, Gillen agreed to a new 10-year contract designed to keep him in Charlottesville throughout the remainder of his coaching career. He originally signed a seven-year contract when he was hired before the start of the 1998-99 season.
Gillen has served on the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee, the NABC Recruiting Committee and USA Basketball Selection Committee. At the University, Gillen participates in the Fellows Program at Hereford Residential College as a Friend of Hereford.