By Mike Meiler email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Sitting Wednesday in one of eight locker rooms set up at the First Niagara Center for the NCAA Tournament, Kyle Neptune didn’t appear ready to take a trip down memory lane.
He didn’t have the time. Not with Villanova, for which Neptune is an assistant coach, preparing to take on Milwaukee in the Round of 64.
Just over a year ago, Neptune was an assistant to long-time Niagara Purple Eagles coach Joe Mihalich on a 2012-13 team that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season title and earned a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. Now he’s working to help the Big East regular season champion Wildcats succeed on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“It’s not much different,” Neptune said. “Everyone’s goals are the same, to be the best you can possibly be. The arenas are a little different and you might be on TV a little bit more, but there’s the same connection with the (players) and trying to get better every day.”
Neptune’s ties to the strong Philadelphia college basketball scene led to his joining Mihalich at Niagara in 2010. A basketball player at Lehigh University, Neptune caught on with Villanova for three seasons as an administrative intern and video coordinator before leaving for Monteagle Ridge.
When Mihalich left to take the head coaching job at Hofstra, Neptune followed. The Brooklyn native spent six months helping Mihalich rebuild the Pride before Villanova coach Jay Wright came calling.
“There was just an opening,” Neptune said. “I’m part of the Villanova family, and it just so happened the coach called me. I went down to interview and it worked out.
“The good thing about Villanova is that it is a family. (Wright) has a big coaching tree with a lot of people in it. He values the family nature, and it just so happened that it was my turn.”
While the stage is certainly bigger, Neptune said the job remains the same. At Villanova, he chips in with recruiting, coaching and helping the players with academics.
While Villanova’s success has kept Neptune from dwelling too much on his return to Western New York, he did mention that he remembers his time at Niagara fondly.
He called Mihalich a “father figure” and said Niagara will always provide him with fond memories.
“Anybody in this field will tell you how tough it is to keep up with what’s going on elsewhere when there’s so much going on with yourself, but I’m definitely rooting for (NU). I made a lot of good relationships there with the players, fans and administration. I’m definitely a fan of NU and will always be.”
The Wildcats (28-4) earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament and take on the 15th-seeded Panthers at 9:25 tonight. During Neptune’s first stint at Villanova, the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four in 2009. He said there are definitely some similarities between this year’s and the 2009 squad.
“The personalities are similar,” he said. “The team might be a little different, but in terms of how (the players) play hard and together, it’s very similar.
“It’s been a great year. It’s a testament to our guys. You could tell from day one, walking into the gym, the character we have on this team. They’re so unselfish and really just want to do what they can do for their teammates. It really shows on the court how you can have a special year based off guys just really getting along, sharing the ball and playing for each other.”
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