LEWISTON — A chance meeting over two decades ago in central New York may just go down as a key moment in Niagara University basketball history.
That's when the Paulus family, freshly moved from Wisconsin, met the Nilands, and eventually their cousins, the Beileins. After Patrick Beilein hired Greg Paulus as an assistant back in April, those names occupy two two-fifths of the NU coaching staff.
Beilein, 36, first met Paulus, 32, during their teenage years, on summer vacation with the Nilands. While Beilein was aiming to join his father, John, at Richmond — eventually, West Virginia — Duke was but a dream to a young Paulus, who was a few years from breaking out as a star at Syracuse's Christian Brothers Academy.
"The Niland family has several kids that matched up age-wise with the Paulus family, and we became very close family friends and have been that for over 20 years," said Paulus, who is one of seven children.
Beilein was a senior at West Virginia when Paulus got to Duke for the 2005-06 season. You might remember that Duke team as J.J. Redick's last, and those Mountaineers for Kevin Pittsnogle.
Their teams, seeded first (Duke) and sixth (WVU), would've played in in the Elite Eight had they both not lost in the Sweet 16. Duke was upset by Glen "Big Baby" Davis' fourth-seeded LSU Tigers, while West Virginia came up short against sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge and the second-seeded Texas Longhorns.
"I told him the other day I would've held him to like four points if we had got the chance to play each other," Beilein laughed. "He's like, 'You probably would have. I'd just pass the ball to J.J.'"
Paulus would get the chance to compete against a Beilein a few years later, as an assistant coach at Ohio State. From 2011-17, he game planned for John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines numerous times in one of college sports' top rivalries.
But Thad Matta stepped down in 2017, ending Paulus' time at Ohio State and kickstarting a nomadic stretch. Paulus landed at Louisville in the wake of Rick Pitino's final scandal, serving for a year under interim coach Dave Padgett, who was not retained as head coach. Last season, Paulus joined George Washington, whose head coach, Maurice Joseph, was fired in March.
Paulus said bouncing from job to job made joining Niagara an easy decision.
"We're fortunate," Paulus said. "It was really exciting when Coach (Pat) Beilein called. ... I was just thrilled to get a chance to come back home in New York."
"He probably would still be at Ohio State if Thad Matta doesn’t retire," Beilein said.
While Beilein called the hire a "home run," he admitted he didn't have Paulus on his initial shortlist when filling his final coaching position.
With Brett Ervin (27) and Bryan Smothers (30) already locked in, Beilein said he thought he needed someone a bit older to add some experience to the group. But Beilein soon realized age and experience were not mutually inclusive.
"As I brought people in, I needed somebody to help us connect with the players," Beilein said. "I think ... it's important to show the guys how to play, to be able to go out there and show them a drill. And I was like, I know Greg is looking."
Beilein said Paulus aiming to replace him at Division II Le Moyne before he made the call.
"I needed one guy that brought a lot of experience on the road, Division I recruiting," Beilein said. "(Paulus has) got experience on the bench at an extremely high level and experience recruiting at a high level, and he's done so many things so far for us."