Patrick Sellers is making strides in his transformation into a Midwestern guy.
He has developed an affinity for Creighton and Omaha in the 2 1/2 months he's spent as a Bluejays assistant coach. He loves the school. He loves the people. He loves the food.
“I've had to do some extra workouts,” Sellers said, “or else I'm going to get fat.”
Still, it's difficult to totally take the East Coast out of a guy who has spent most of his basketball life there. When Sellers headed east last week on a recruiting trip, he stopped in Philadelphia on the way to Washington, D.C.
Had to get him the Dunkin' Donuts he's been craving, had to get him a copy of the New York Post, had to get him some Jamaican food for dinner.
“The one thing I haven't had since I've been in Omaha,” he said, “has been some good Jamaican food.”
Other than that, Sellers has few complaints about the latest move in his coaching career. His new boss has none.
“The way Patrick has fit in here, you'd never guess he's only been here a couple of months,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He's been great working with our guys. He's been great working with our staff. He's going to be great for us in recruiting.”
The latter is a primary reason McDermott brought Sellers to Omaha. With Creighton joining the new Big East, McDermott figured it was important to add someone to his staff who knew the lay of the land.
Sellers was an assistant coach on Connecticut's 2009 Final Four team and helped recruit players who led the Huskies to the 2011 national title. He played and coached basketball at Central Connecticut State and also coached at Massachusetts and, most recently, Hofstra.
The South Carolina native has developed a reputation as a straight shooter in a business with its share of shady operators.
Jason Smith, the coach at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, has had several players recruited by Sellers. Brewster is one of the nation's top prep schools, and Smith has seen and heard just about every type of recruiting pitch imaginable.
One of Sellers' strengths as a recruiter, Smith said, is his ability to listen.
“With a lot of coaches, you can't get a word in edgewise,” Smith said. “They're like used-car salesmen. A lot of times, they're too busy trying to sell a student-athlete to actually listen to what he's saying.
“That's not Patrick's approach. He takes the time to listen to what a student-athlete is saying that he wants from a college experience. He does a great job of building relationships, not only with the player but with parents. And he's very upfront and honest. In this business, that's a breath of fresh air.”
Smith's assessment is shared by Hofstra Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway, who was A.D. at Connecticut when Sellers coached there.
“Patrick spends a lot of time in the recruiting process trying to learn about the prospect's family, about what is important to him,” Hathaway said. “He finds out what is important to them, what excites them.
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“He has a calming influence that makes people feel comfortable and open up.”
Sellers served six seasons on Jim Calhoun's staff. Sellers was director of basketball operations from 2004 to 2007 before being promoted to associate coach from 2007 to 2010.
Sellers was instrumental in recruiting players such as Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander and Roscoe Smith, who helped the Huskies win the 2011 national title. Sellers wasn't around then: He was forced to resign in the spring of 2010 when his name was linked to an NCAA investigation of Connecticut's recruiting of Nate Miles, a top 100 prospect.
Sellers admits he was stunned and embarrassed when he was accused of providing false and misleading information to investigators. He spent almost a year trying to clear his name, and in February 2011, the NCAA cleared him of any wrongdoing.
At the time, Sellers was coaching with the Shanxi Dragons in the Chinese professional league. He still remembers the day his attorney called him at 5 a.m. China time to give him the good news.
“It felt like a giant weight had been lifted,” Sellers said. “We had a shootaround later that morning, and I'm dunking and having a good time. Guys are saying, 'Coach, what's up?' I said, 'I'm feeling good, fellas.' ”
While some might consider the year spent in China as the equivalent of being in exile, he believes it helped make him a better coach.
“It was a tough time, seeing your name all over ESPN and having people question your character,” Sellers said. “China really helped me get through all of that, because mentally I was able to get deep into basketball.
“I did a lot of scouting, and I think I'm a lot better because of that. I had a lot of time to work on individual player development, and I'm a lot better coach because of that. As it turned out, China was absolutely fantastic for me.”
McDermott said he was impressed with the way Sellers handled a difficult situation. Among the glowing reports the CU coach received about Sellers was one from Hathaway, the athletic director at Connecticut when the school went through the NCAA investigation.
“He was exonerated a year later, but everyone said he handled things in the right way,” McDermott said.
“He treated people in the right way at a tough time in his life.”
Although Hathaway said it's his policy not to discuss what happened at Connecticut, he gushes over the job Sellers did at the school.
“In every situation I've been with Patrick, he's been the consummate professional,” Hathaway said. “He's one of those guys that you just know is going to do the right thing.
“He definitely knows when to put his nose to the grindstone. At the same time, he's a great guy to be around away from the job. He interacts well with people. He's fun to be around.”
Hathaway considered Sellers for the head coaching job at Hofstra last spring after Mo Cassara was fired in March. Sellers became the program's interim head coach until Joe Mihalich was hired in mid-April.
Sellers started job hunting, and he found a new home with a Creighton program transitioning to the new Big East, the basketball-centric conference that includes seven schools from the old Big East along with Xavier and Butler.
Hathaway sees Sellers fitting in perfectly at Creighton.
“He's coached against and scouted everyone that will be in the new Big East,” the Hofstra A.D. said. “Plus, he's going to be very strong for them when it comes to recruiting the East Coast.”
Sellers already has provided McDermott and his staff some logistical support in making travel plans for the coming year.
“He knows where to stay and the places to avoid,” McDermott said. “That's helped greatly from an administrative standpoint. As we get closer to actually playing games against Big East teams, his knowledge of those programs is going to be invaluable.”
So will Sellers' contacts and networking skills in recruiting. When the Bluejays were part of the Missouri Valley, McDermott said, it didn't make sense to recruit the East Coast. Now it does.
“Just like in any business, it's going to take time for us to build relationships with players and coaches from that area,” McDermott said. “But Patrick provides us with a real advantage in that regard. I have no doubts he'll be good for us in recruiting.”
At Connecticut, Sellers worked with the Huskies' frontcourt players, including future National Basketball Association players Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. Sellers likely will coach Creighton's big men, although McDermott is still sorting out individual coaching responsibilities.
Regardless, Sellers is excited about working with the talent already on Creighton's roster while trying to add to it in the future.
“There are a lot of special players out there,” Sellers said. “You have to dig and find them, and then you have to get them out to see Creighton. Once they get here, I think this place will blow them away.”
That was Sellers' reaction after he made his first visit to Omaha in April. It's been reinforced countless times since as he worked with players this summer and when he's been on the road recruiting.
He ran into former Creighton coach Dana Altman last week at the tournament in Washington, D.C.
“He just raved about Omaha, the people, the school,” Sellers said. “That's the same reaction I've been getting from people from the Midwest. Now, it's a matter of educating the guys back east on what we have to offer.
“I think Creighton is going to be the No. 1 school in the Big East. We have the fan support, we have the facilities. I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity.”
It could be just about perfect if he can just find a place in Omaha to get a decent Jamaican dish.