Pat Skerry, a long-time basketball coach at the college level, used to sneak into sporting events at Tufts as a young boy growing up in Medford.
“I was about 12. I used to sneak in there all of the time, and sneak in to play pickup ball,” said Skerry, who grew up on Wyman Street in Medford and eventually graduated from Tufts in 1992.
But, like many in Medford, it was ice hockey, and not hoops, that was the first athletic love of Skerry.
“I grew up playing hockey with the Bates brothers and the Sacco brothers. Those are my roots. I am a Medford guy always,” Skerry told Patch.
A long-time Division I assistant, Skerry is in his first year as the head coach of Towson University of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Skerry, now 41, took over a Towson program that has not had a winning season since 1995-96. The Tigers were 4-26 overall last season and 0-18 in the CAA, which sent VCU to the Final Four. Towson lost Nov. 30 in Amherst against UMass of the Atlantic 10.
“We have some guys who are keepers. We are going to get it done,” said Skerry, whose team was 0-10 going into a game against Manhattan Dec. 20. “We walked into a depleted situation in a lot of fronts. We have to repair some of that.”
Mike Waddell, the athletic director at Towson, told Patch on Tuesday of Skerry: “He was one of the first people that was mentioned to me when I started the search process. He is a very special coach. He recruits like an assistant. The one thing we need from our head coaches are people who appreciate the recruiting process. You have to grind. You have to work a little harder when you are at a school like Towson” compared to major college hoop powers.
Despite a low profile, Skerry and the Tigers got a taste of the big time in a home game Nov. 26 against Oregon State of the Pac 10 Conference.
The head coach for Oregon State is Craig Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama. President Obama and his family attended the game at Towson, just as they attended the Oregon State at George Washington game a few blocks from the White House earlier in his administration.
So did Skerry hear from a lot of his friends after hosting the President at Towson? “I think since some people think we are struggling they can’t reach out to me,” Skerry said. “I am keenly aware of what I walked into. I did not change. I am still intense.”
Skerry can take solace in the Towson football team, which did not win a game in the CAA in 2010 but won the league title this year under third-year head coach Rob Ambrose.
“He has been a great role model for us,” Skerry said of Ambrose, a former Towson player who was an assistant at the University of Connecticut.
Skerry coached at Tufts from 1992-95 and at eight other schools, including Pitt in 2010-11 as an assistant, before he got the Towson job earlier this year. He was a point guard at Tufts and had 650 assists in his career, still on the all-time list at the Division III level. He was a two-time captain at Tufts.
"Pat was in my first class of recruits, and as a freshman he beat out our senior point guard," Tufts coach Bob Sheldon said on the school website. "From day one, he's been a winner. As a player and as a coach, he worked hard every day. He was relentless at it. He will carry that work eithic into recruiting and coaching at Towson, which is what's needed to turn that program around."
Skerry’s coaching staff also has a celebrity connection. One of his assistants is Luke Murray, who is the son of comedian/actor Bill Murray. Luke Murray graduated from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2007 and his father was also at the Towson game and met President Obama.
While Skerry has been all over the East Coast as a hoop coach, his family still has strong ties to Medford. His father, David, is an attorney in Medford and his mother, Bernadette, works at the Tufts Fletcher School. His brother, Brian, is an attorney in Medford.
Skerry recalls that former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette grew up in Medford. He was born in Medford in 1936 and pitched for the Red Sox from 1958-65. And Mike Pagliarulo was born in Medford in 1960 and played in the majors from 1984-95 as a third baseman.
Now it is Skerry, with young memories of playing with future NHL players, who is making his own mark in college basketball and adding to the Medford sports legacy.