by Dan Gardella

What happened to Anthony Latina and Sacred Heart this offseason was nothing unfamiliar to them. Not many teams have been hit harder from the transfer portal than the Pioneers. 

This time however, Latina’s squad was better prepared for the transferring of powers from old to young. After losing all five starters due to a mix of graduations and transfers, Sacred Heart has brought in a slew of new faces with one main trait in mind: character. 

With an entirely different team taking the floor this season allowed Latina to pick how he wanted this year’s team to be remembered, both on and off the court. 

“I feel like I know we can really succeed here,” said Latina. “I asked myself what kind of players can really thrive here, not only on the court, but off the court and in the community that people can root for?” 

It’s safe to say this year’s team, which Latina has deemed the most likable team he’s ever had, has been faced with many challenges, which brings out their character. Two shutdowns due to COVID-19 along with heightened rules inside the program as a result of the virus have brought out the best in the Pioneers. 

“When you have a group like the one I have, you really want success for them,” said Latina. 

The mass exodus this summer followed Sacred Heart’s most successful season since transitioning to Division I competition back in 1999. For some mid-major coaches, it’s tough to adjust on the fly to put together a roster for the upcoming season. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t Latina’s first rodeo with the transfer market. 

In 2016, Northeast Conference Player of the Year Cane Broome departed Fairfield in hopes for more exposure at Cincinnati. The 2016-17 season showed a little drop-off in results for the Pioneers, but snuck into the conference tournament as the eighth seed. 

Much of the success in 2017 was a credit to all-league guard Quincy McKnight, who would say goodbye to Sacred Heart just a year after Broome, and headed to Seton Hall. 

The 17-18 season saw a postseason without the Pioneers for the first time in four seasons. Latina remembers those departures and drop-offs and now knows how to prepare to replace voids left by all-league players. 

“Hopefully, we are a little more experienced in dealing with things like that,” said Latina. “The last time we did that, when we lost Quincy McKnight, we weren’t as ready for it as we thought we were. I think we were more ready to absorb it this year.” 

Through seven games, Sacred Heart has absorbed the blow better than past years, splitting their first six conference games and proving that character and talent correlate in different ways. 

The makeup of this year’s squad has been a result of Latina and his coaching staff “doing their homework” along with recent success paving the way for the future. 

“Sometimes you make a sacrifice in character for talent, and you realize the character makes up for the talent difference,” said Latina. “Our success has allowed us to get involved with more good players, so we can be more selective. I also have learned what players thrive the most under me, both short and long term. As you have more success, you get more comfortable in your skin.” 

Sacred Heart is back in action on Thursday night when they take on Central Connecticut State at the Pitt Center Thursday night at 7.