Buffalo has always held a special place in George Halcovage III’s heart.
While coaching under Hall of Fame head coach Jay Wright at Villanova, the Wildcats played their first and second round games at the KeyBank Center.
The Wildcats lost to Wisconsin in the second round, but that tournament led to one of the most important days in Halcovage’s life. He met his future wife, Lizzy, a few weeks later during the Final Four.
Halcovage says when UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt offered him the head coaching position at UB, he and his wife were “elated.”
“I was speechless,” Halcovage told The Spectrum. “I put the phone on speaker so my wife could hear what Mark was saying.”
After spending the last 15 seasons at Villanova, Halcovage felt it was time to find an opportunity to succeed elsewhere, and Buffalo was the right place.
“As an assistant, I was always looking for new opportunities, for a place that felt like home,” Halcovage said. “We wanted a special place to be able to succeed, and at the end, we felt Buffalo could give us that opportunity.”
From 2013 to 2019, UB built a reputation as one of the Mid-American Conference’s (MAC) premier programs. The Bulls made four NCAA Tournament appearances during that span, and defeated storied programs such as Arizona and Arizona State in 2018 and 2019.
But after former UB head coach Nate Oats departed for Alabama, the program couldn’t maintain the same level of success under Halcovage’s predecessor, Jim Whitesell.
It’s now Halcovage’s mission to bring the Bulls back to prominence.
“This program has already done it, being here at UB is a job where you can compete for MAC Championships year in and year out,” Halcovage said.
UB hasn’t won a MAC Championship since the 2018-19 season.
After accepting the job, Halcovage made a number of notable changes to the UB coaching staff, including the additions of assistant coaches Hamlet Tibbs (previously at Notre Dame), Jake Presutti (previously with Pittsburgh and Marquette) and Calvin Cage (previously an assistant with UB and Canisius). Cage, a former UB guard, played 121 games for the Bulls from 2002-2006 and ranks 14th in program history with 1,314 points.
“Calvin is a UB great, a mentor to our guys and a great recruiter,” Halcovage said. “It’s something I want to implement to our guys, that we’re playing for those who came before us at UB.”
Halcovage and his coaching staff have also started recruiting. Eight players entered the transfer portal following Whitesell’s departure, and key contributors such as forward LaQuill Hardnett (Arkansas State), center Issac Jack (Dayton) and top-scorer Curtis Jones (Iowa State) have already found new homes.
But Halcovage was able to retain redshirt freshman forward Zaakir Williamson, who also entered the portal after Whitesell was fired.
UB has already added two recruits: Ryan Sabol, a 6’3 guard from Gonzaga High School and Bryson Wilson, a 6’6 forward from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes High School. Wilson is the 2023 class’ No. 7-ranked player in the state of Virginia, according to ESPN.
“In the world of basketball, you’re recruiting 365 days a year,” Halcovage said. “We obviously want to bring talent in, but we also have talent here that we want to keep. It’s going to be a daily thing, to try and find guys we feel fit what we’re trying to do here [UB].”
Halcovage says he wants to recruit versatile players that can play on both ends of the court. This became a staple of Wright’s Villanova teams that produced NBA talent such as Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, all of whom played during Halcovage’s coaching tenure with the Wildcats.
“We’re going to bring guys in that can do multiple things on the floor and be able to play offensively and defensively,” Halcovage said. “We want them to have a skill set that we can develop right away.”
After a disappointing (15-17) season, Halcovage is optimistic, hoping to revive the UB basketball program.
“Everybody in Buffalo is going to be really excited for where we’re at, and it starts everyday by putting in the work, Halcovage said. “We want to be able to compete for MAC championships, to be able to go on to the NCAA tournament. But also, to be a team that’s one of the top mid-major programs in the country.”
Hayden Azzinaro is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com