LEWISTON — At Niagara University, they’re pretty confident they’ve found the perfect replacement for their perfect replacement.
Greg Paulus was officially introduced as full-time head coach of the men’s basketball program, Thursday afternoon in the atrium of the Gallagher Center, dropping the interim title he was given when elevated to the position in the wake of Patrick Beilein’s sudden resignation on Oct. 24.
“I can say that from the moment I met Greg, which was during his interview coming onto campus, that I was really impressed with him,” said Director of Athletics Simon Gray. “And it didn’t take long for me to get to know him just a little bit to know he was head coach material.
“And so, we were having conversations about what his future was to be like from the moment he got here. Circumstances being what they are, we had the opportunity to make him interim head coach, and then, the script switched and we were able to really look at him and evaluate him as a potential head coach for Niagara basketball on a full-time basis.”
Paulus might be specially equipped to handle the transition facing Niagara. While he’s best known for his time as a player at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski and an assistant to Thad Matta for six seasons at Ohio State, Paulus has experience stepping in at a program in turmoil.
In 2017-18, he joined interim coach David Padgett’s staff at Louisville following Rick Pitino’s dismissal. The Cardinals went 22-14 and won a pair of games in the NIT.
While Padgett and his staff were ultimately not retained, it’s an experience Paulus has surely pulled from in the past two weeks.
“David and I are good friends,” Paulus said. “We talk all the time. He watches games, no matter where I’ve been. He’s been supportive and been a great friend. (I) certainly learned a great deal with him in being a part of his journey at Louisville.”
Paulus said he’s also been in touch with the legendary Krzyzewski during his transition to the top at Niagara. Coach K’s voice echoes in his head “all the time.”
“I use the experience of playing for Coach K and Duke. That’s been my foundation in coaching,” Paulus said. “And to me, there’s no better person to learn from, from all aspects of the program.
“For me, it’s remembering what it was like as a player, the communication, the leadership, all the different aspects of the program.”
If early indications are to be believed, Paulus has had no problem earning the trust of his players. No Niagara player has voiced any disappointment over Beilein’s resignation.
In Friday’s exhibition win over Division II Roberts Wesleyan, the Purple Eagles were energetic and united. If you hadn’t known it going in, you wouldn’t have picked up that this was a program that had just taken a shot to its foundation.
“That’s 100% credit to Greg, his staff and the players, who have been focused on the task at hand, and that’s getting better and representing Niagara during the season,” Gray said.
The players have been the focus all along for Paulus, another lesson from his impressive mentors.
“I think the relationships for student-athletes ... it’s one of the reasons I coach,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have such great mentors that have now become friends.
“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to coach, is to have that type of impact. So for me, every stop that I’ve been ... it’s been about the team. It’s been about the players, been about the program, and it was no different here.”
Paulus and his players will make their 2019-20 debut tonight at Drexel as part of the Garden State Hardwood Classic. They continue the event Sunday at Rutgers and Wednesday at Stephen F. Austin before closing with their home opener against Bryant on Nov. 18.
Paulus will retain his current staff, assistant coaches Bryan Smother and Brett Ervin and director of basketball operations Madison Hahesy.
He has the opportunity to bring in one more assistant to fill his vacated position, but he was non-committal Thursday on what he’ll do with the spot.
“We’re going to work through the process on that,” Paulus said. “And as time goes on, hopefully we can have a little bit better picture of what we’ll do with that.”
Gray did not provide any updates as to what caused Beilein to step down.
“We’re here today to talk about Greg,” he said.
Gray added that Paulus and his addition will be formally introduced to fans, alumni and students “at a later date.”
The Niagara women opened the new season with a 71-67 overtime loss Thursday night at Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure.
Preseason first team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pick Jai Moore scored a game-high 22 points for NU, while seven other players netted between four and nine points.
Freshman Adia Brisker had seven points and nine rebounds, earning the start in her debut.
NU led by 10 with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter, but the Bonnies rallied, tying things on a pair of free throws from Asianae Johnson.
St. Bonaventure scored the first five points over overtime to earn the victory. Last year, facing the Bonnies in their opener, Niagara fell behind 45-15 at halftime and lost 76-48.