This article appeared in the Times Argus on Jan. 17, 2008; it was written by Pete Hartt.
NORTHFIELD, Vt. - When Paul Booth moved
from Thomas College in Maine to Northfield to take over the Norwich
University men's basketball program in 1993, he was both replacing
a legendary coach and taking over a program with problems.
As of Tuesday's win over Emmanuel College, Booth has equaled the legend and the program is on solid ground.
The 66-63 victory over Emmanuel on Tuesday was victory No. 182 for Booth, equaling the victory total of the late and legendary Ed Hockenbury who rang up his 182 wins from 1976 to 1992. Booth, who had coached against Hockenbury, replaced the former Boston College star after the program had one season and a 1-23 record under Troy Amaris.
Now, more than 14 years later, Booth is uncomfortably on the edge of stepping past his friend and mentor.
"I am very uncomfortable and very humbled by this," Booth said Wednesday. "Ed is the foundation of what Norwich basketball is all about, he still is. When I came I was just hoping that I could uphold the standard he set. There are such mixed emotions - Ed was a dear friend."
Booth will have a chance to move alone into the top spot this evening when the Cadets play at Rivier in Nashua, N.H., as part of a season that highlights the reason both men have been successful. Norwich finished at 13-12 last season and had to replace graduated star Renee Cheatham. The team started out 4-1, but lost its first three league games before getting back into the win column with big victories over two of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference leaders, including previously unbeaten Emmanuel on Tuesday.
"In terms of the games so far, I'm pleased with the efforts of the players," Booth said. "They have started to really step up. The known commodities have played like we thought they would, and the new players are starting to contribute."
The milestone, which Booth was barely aware of when the season started, is a byproduct of the team's improvement.
"A couple of years ago in one of the programs it said that I was the second winningest coach," Booth said. "I knew it would be coming up sometime. It's not something I pay much attention to, but I know that it's here and it's something I have to deal with."
When Booth was coaching at Thomas, games against Hockenbury and the Cadets were regular fixtures on the schedule. After moving west to Northfield, Booth went to talk with his predecessor.
"I sought him out," Booth said. "He had a lot of input. I knew he had a lot of success, I knew there were a lot of his former players who wanted to be involved with the program. He was instrumental in getting me involved with his former players, and that has been one of the best things he did for me. He was everything I envisioned I would want my coach to be."
For Booth to pass Hockenbury tonight, the Cadets will have to step up again against another team ahead in the league standings. Rivier is 4-1 while Norwich is 2-3. If the Cadets don't pull off their third consecutive upset and push Booth over the mark, he'll have another chance when Albertus Magnus visits Northfield on Saturday.
Either way, Booth will be happy to step out of the spotlight once the milestone is reached.
"Ed Hockenbury built this program," he said. "When he started it was all military, he didn't have the non-military players and it was much harder. Even now people come up to me at games, or when they know I am from Norwich, and want to talk about Ed. It's incredibly humbling."