Happy homecoming for BC castoff
The last time Mo Cassara had walked into the Conte Forum was just about nine months ago, when he spent more than six hours soul-searching while cleaning out his office.
Cassara was the third member, along with Pat Duquette and Bonzi Colson, of Al Skinner's staff at Boston College that was shocked to be let go in April.
"I couldn't believe it," Cassara recalls. "This place has so many great memories for me."
After losing his job at BC, Cassara was fortunate to land on his feet quickly and secure a job on newly hired coach Tim Welsh's staff at Hofstra. Then came Welsh's DUI arrest and subsequent firing — which put Cassara back scrambling for work.
Cassara was facing unemployment with just $300 in his bank account, wondering whether he would even remain a member of the coaching fraternity.
"I had no idea what I was going to do," Cassara said.
Now he's the head coach of a Hofstra team that sits alone in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Cassara received the shocking news in early May from athletic director Jack Hayes that the job was his. He was finally able to move out of the dorm room that he and fellow assistant Steve DeMeo occupied for nearly a month after both were hired by Welsh.
Ever since, it has been a roller-coaster ride.
Two starters — Cornelius Vines and Miklos Szabo — graduated after last season. Two more signees went with former coach Tom Pecora to Fordham.
Starting point guard Chaz Williams decided to transfer to UMass, and the team's third-leading scorer from a year ago, Halil Kanacevic, left for Saint Joe's.
Neither gave Cassara so much of a sniff to keep them with the Pride.
Then another starter, Nat Lester, tore his quad in July, putting him out for the entire season.
Cassara didn't even have Australian guard Brad Kelleher, who has started four games since becoming eligible, for the first eight games because of an NCAA ruling.
Luckily, Cassara still had Charles Jenkins — arguably, the best player in the league. Jenkins is everything for the Pride, averaging 23.6 points and also playing the role of the distributor and leader.
Over the weekend, in a road win against Northeastern that ran Hofstra's league mark to 4-0, Jenkins decided to get his teammates involved in the first half and had as many assists as shots going into the break.
"He's just so unselfish," Cassara said. "I was screaming at him to shoot the ball, but he knows he needs help — and he wanted to get his teammates shots because he understands he can't do it himself."
Jenkins was in tears when he was informed last March that Pecora — who recruited him to Hofstra — was leaving to go across the state. Then after the Welsh debacle, he wasn't sure how much more he could handle.
But he bonded with Cassara — and helped push the administration to hire the young, energetic and anonymous assistant.
"With most coaches, you don't want to hear from them most days," Jenkins said. "But I reach out to him all the time. Our relationship is crazy. It's way more than just coach and player."
The coach returned to Boston on Saturday afternoon in front of less than a thousand fans at Matthews Arena, just a few miles down the road from his previous workplace.
Across the sidelines stood Duquette, who was two notches above Cassara as the top assistant at BC, now an assistant on Bill Coen's staff.
"It hit me for the first time the bus passed the exit to BC," Cassara said.
Maybe it was the 11-plus hour bus ride filled with accidents, traffic and snow from Hofstra's campus to the team's hotel in Newton, Mass., that took some of the enjoyment away from what was an unlikely and improbable homecoming for Cassara.
Cassara didn't care on the drive following Hofstra's 76-67 win over Northeastern, when he returned to Boston College to support his old program — and a few former players — in a win against Georgia Tech.
"This place still feels like home," Cassara said as he was welcomed back into the building by just about everyone he passed. "It's overwhelming and surreal right now."
Just nine months ago, Cassara had no place to live, no job and a virtually no money.
Now he's living near the beach, has a multiyear deal and more than anything, is appreciative of the opportunity.
"I'm very fortunate," Cassara said. "It couldn't have worked out any better."
"I agree," Jenkins said. "I'm not sure what I would have done without him."