Niagara Gazette

Sports

April 6, 2013

Native son seeks national title

Local connections raise interest in Syracuse-Michigan Final Four matchup

Niagara Gazette — John Beilein has long been an important figure at the Final Four.

For years, the Newfane native has brought together friends, family and colleagues in town for the annual National Association of Basketball Coaches convention at a Sunday morning Mass near the site of the NCAA championships.

In his 35th year of coaching, Beilein was blessed to be too busy to organize a congregation at the Final Four. His Michigan Wolverines will be playing Syracuse tonight in the national semifinals.

On Monday morning, at the begining of the biggest preparation week of his career, Beilein called up Joe Mihalich, an old friend and the coach at Niagara University, where Beilein earned his Master's degree.

"You must have pocket dialed me," Mihalich remarked.

"I need your help," Beilein said.

"You're not calling me to talk about zone offense, are you?" Mihalich said.

Mihalich always goes to breakfast with Beilein following Mass at the Final Four. So after Beilein made the initial call to a priest in Atlanta, he recruited Mihalich to do the rest of the planning.

"He's in the middle of watching tape and getting ready for his game and he's taking the time to make sure everything is going to work with the priest he talked to and all of the people going to this Mass," Mihalich said. "That tells you everything you need to know about John Beilein."

"He's a great coach and an even better person," said Medaille College coach Mike MacDonald, an assistant under Beilein at Canisius in the '90s. "He is the ultimate role model for all of his assistants on how to act as a coach, as a person, as a father and a husband. He's a great family man."

Those traits Beilein took from his father, Art Beilein, in Apple farmer in rural Burt who worked as a plant supervisor at a paper mill in Tonawanda.

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