DANVERS, Mass. -– St. John’s Prep officially promoted assistant John Dullea to head basketball coach on Monday afternoon, in a press conference in the Xavier Hall building on campus. His promotion came following former coach Sean Connolly's decision to step down last month.
As assistant varsity coach since 2009, he worked with Connolly to guide St. John’s to the program's first-ever Division 1 state championship in 2011, and three Catholic Conference titles (2010, 2011, 2013). Dullea is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where he was a member of the school’s Division 1 men’s basketball team from 2000 to 2003. He was also a member of the America East Basketball Conference All Academic Team.
“It’s a great honor to be coaching here at such a great establishment like St. John’s Prep," Dullea said. "Academics and athletics combined—there’s not a better player around to be coaching. They’ve shown confidence in me that I can keep the program going in the same direction with the success that there’s been the last five years."
The hire didn’t come as too much of a surprise. Dullea was a highly-respected assistant in the basketball community, especially among current and former players. Two of his returning players, sophomore Ben Judson and junior Quentin Bullen, both showed a lot of excitement about hiring the Peabody native.
“For me, I was really hoping for that. He’s the closest person who knows how [Connolly] ran the team,” Judson said.
Said Bullen, “He’s been the assistant here so long so we know him really well. Whenever Coach Connolly had to miss practice, he would step in and take things over. We’re already used to him. We’re kind of excited."
Another who was ecstatic about Dullea’s hire was storied Prep hero Pat Connaughton, who led the Eagles to their first-ever Division 1 state championship in 2011 and was the recipient of ESPN Boston's inaugural "Mr. Basketball" award. The Arlington native now plays both basketball and baseball at Notre Dame.
“I think it’s a great hire," Connaughton said. "Dullea has been there throughout this uprise of the program so he knows how to keep it in the right direction. He has a good future of coaching at the Prep."
Dullea was very complimentary of Connolly, who in his time at Prep quickly developed a reputation as one of the MIAA’s best coaches. Connolly took the Prep job in October 2008 after four seasons at his alma mater Bishop Fenwick, and in five seasons at the Prep helm amassed an 89-25 record, including 10-4 in the playoffs.
Bullen said that there were questions about the team coming into this past season season, especially after losing four valued seniors and seeing two other would-be starters transfer to prep schools. Connolly, with plenty of help on the bench from Dullea, did perhaps his best coaching job of his career with the 19-3 Eagles -- which is why Prep decided to make a hire in-house.
“I’ve been with [Connolly] for 10 years, but our relationship goes a lot further than that. I don’t think I would be in this situation without him,” Dullea said.
Athletic Director Jim O’Leary talked about continuity in explaining why the coaching search was such a quick one.
"We weren’t looking for a huge change because we liked the direction of the program here," O'Leary said. "I think you have worldwide searches when you think you need a change in the program. We don’t think we need a change in the program.
"The way he carries himself, the players play hard for him, which is the most important thing. The players like him and understand where he’s coming from."
Dullea's playing background, along with his systematic similarities to Connolly, has players and supporters feeling very optimistic for next season, already.
“If we had a new coach coming in, it would be a whole new system. We’ll know what to do because it’s the same system...and be able to get right back into it next year,” Judson said.
At the press conference, Dullea expressed an extreme amount of gratitude and excitement to get started with a team that will once again considered to be one of the state’s most talented next year. He plans on meeting with players this week to discuss workouts and summer plans.
“When the day comes next year coaching my first game, and my parents across the room, that will be a very proud moment for me,” he said.