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After coaching the girls’ basketball team at Adams Middle School for the last three years, North Haven resident Bernie Brennan is taking the helm as head coach of the Guilford High School girls’ basketball squad this winter. (Photo courtesy of Bernie Brennan )
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The Guilford girls’ basketball team is welcoming a familiar face to the bench as its head coach this winter. The new head coach of the Indians is Bernie Brennan, who has spent the past three seasons coaching the girls’ basketball team at Adams Middle School, where he teaches math. Bernie, a North Haven resident, takes over a program that went 10-13 on its way to making the SCC and Class L State tournaments last year.
“I was more or less recruited to take the job,” says Bernie. “Many of my kids here that I coached wanted me to take it. So did many of the parents.”
A veteran of more than 30 years in the sport, Bernie coached the girls’ basketball team at Bloomfield High School during the 1989-’90 season. At Bloomfield, Bernie coached Nykesha Sales, who went on to become a star at both UConn and in the WNBA. After that, Bernie served as the girls’ basketball coach at East Haven alongside his wife Cindy from 1990 to 1995.
“When I took over the East Haven program, they had gone through back-to-back years at 2-18,” Bernie says. “Our first year, we won six games, then nine the following year. Then we had seasons with 11, 14, and 16 wins.”
Bernie, who graduated from Hamden High School in 1975, coaches basketball on a year-round basis. In addition to coaching in Guilford, Bernie is an assistant director and coach of the Connecticut Cobras, an AAU team based out of Middletown. He also runs the Slamma Jamma Basketball Camp in Hamden, as well as the Hamden Fathers Basketball Clinic.
Russ Hill, the director and owner of the Cobras, believes that Bernie is a perfect fit for the Indians.
“It’s hard to find anyone who’s more passionate about basketball than Bernie,” says Hill. “We originally met when I was coaching the women’s team at the University of New Haven and Bernie was an assistant on the men’s team under Stu Grove. I know that Bernie is going to do at great job at Guilford. He knows the players and has coached most of them through the middle school program. They’ll learn from Bernie.”
Bernie has guided the team at Adams Middle School to a combined record of 25-1 during the past two seasons, including an undefeated campaign last winter. When he got the job at the high school, Bernie didn’t waste any time letting the Indians’ athletes know that he expects the best out of them.
“The first thing I did was show them last year’s Class L standings from the regular season. Guilford was in the bottom third [with a regular-season record of 9-11],” says Bernie. “Then I showed them the team they were about to scrimmage, which was Windsor, which finished 19-1. We do have lots of room for improvement from last season.”
Guilford will be led on the court by seniors Elle Petra and Sam Leiby this year. While there are only two seniors on the squad, the Indians have a big contingent of 19 underclass athletes who worked with Bernie at Adams.
“We’re going to be young, and it will be a work in progress,” Bernie says. “I do know all of the younger kids in the program, and I do know what they’re capable of.”
Bernie has a pretty straightforward coaching philosophy. He is going to have Guilford play man-to-man defense, while spreading the floor on offense.
“I like the offensive style that both the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics use,” Bernie says. “We want to create space where we can work the passing lanes, get good cuts, and look for as many backdoor plays as we can get.”
Like most new coaches, Bernie is bringing some new assistants on board at Guilford. The Indians’ assistant coaches are Kim Van Bourgondien, a permanent substitute teacher at Adams who will coach the JV team and work with the post players on varsity; and Marisa Ceneri, who played for him at East Haven. Van Bourgondien went on to play basketball at St. Rose College, and Ceneri was a longtime assistant at Sacred Heart Academy.
“I know a lot about Marisa, because she played for me,” says Bernie. “Kim was a good college player and can help with our taller kids inside.”
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