Although tracking total career wins may be important to other head coaches, third-year Emerson men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien said he wasn’t even aware that he was pursuing career win No. 400 when the Lions hosted Wheaton College eight days ago on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
“I really don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all that stuff,” O’Brien said. “It’s always nice but it just tells you [about my] longevity and that I have had the chance to coach some good players.”
Sophomore point guard Michael Thorpe drained a shot with 5.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter versus the Lyons to lead Emerson to a dramatic 62-60 victory that improved the Lions’ New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference record to 3-2 as of last Wednesday. Emerson has since fallen to 3-5 in conference and 10-8 overall.
The game ended in spectacular fashion and secured the Lions an important win toward the NEWMAC Tournament, but transcending all else was the landmark win for the 25-year veteran of college basketball, in front of a packed home crowd at the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym.
Senior swingman and co-captain Jon Goldberg said he informed O’Brien about his accomplishment after the team’s victory over Wheaton.
“I was just doing research on his career and I saw that he had 390 wins going into this season, and I knew that we needed another 10 to get his 400th,” said Goldberg.
O’Brien said that winning is important to him as a coach, but not his primary focus.
“He doesn’t really care about the wins or losses,” Goldberg said. “He just cares about the individual and the team and having an impact on someone’s life. I find that quite amazing and it’s such a great characteristic to have. Hopefully when I get into coaching I can do that as well.”
O’Brien is from Brooklyn, N.Y., but had played and coached at nearby Boston College before coming to Emerson. He got his start as a head coach in 1982 with St. Bonaventure, a Division 1 school located in Upstate New York, just above the Pennsylvania border.
The 64-year-old O’Brien returned to Boston College in 1986, coaching the Eagles for 11 years before moving on to Ohio State, a member of the Big Ten Conference, ahead of the 1997-98 season.
O’Brien was dismissed from Ohio State in January 2004 amid allegations of recruiting violations. The NCAA vacated 82 victories from 1998-2002 seasons.
After being out of coaching for seven years, O’Brien said he found himself becoming bored and wanted basketball back in his life. He said he volunteered for the Boston Scholar Athlete Program, which helps inner-city schools with basketball coaching and logistical needs.
“I was involved with 14 high schools and then I got back on the court with kids doing a demonstration and said to myself, ‘This is what I miss the most,’” O’Brien said, “It’s not being on TV, it’s not the money, I missed being in the gym with the kids.”
Although O’Brien knew he wanted to get back into coaching college basketball, he knew he had certain parameters for himself if he would return.
“I needed to stay local, the school needed to be good academically, and it needed to be Division 3,” O’Brien said. “Low and behold the Emerson [job] opens up.”
“Those were the three things I needed to see and Emerson fit it to a T,” O’Brien said.
Assistant sports editor Mike Lucas did not edit this story because he is a member of the men’s basketball team.