Hammel Inches Closer to 500 Wins
- Updated: January 29, 2014
If you took a look inside Hammel Court after Merrimack’s win over Adelphi on Saturday, you would have noticed a gym jammed packed with people. The game had been over for nearly 30 minutes, but the gym was filled with former Merrimack players set to take part in the annual alumni game.
Merrimack head coach Bert Hammel was in the middle of it, not just saying hello to people as he passed by, but stopping for conversations. Most former players weren’t just there for a pickup game, they were there to catch up with their former coach.
To Hammel, it isn’t just a gathering of former players, it’s more like a family reunion.
“He would tell us all the time that we are like his family,” said former guard Wilfredo Pagan. “Sometimes, when you’re a college coach, he was spending more time with us than he was with his own family and he always treated us like we were part of his family. Really, his entire family did. We were always welcome.”
Pagan is just one of the former players Hammel has helped over the years. With 493 career wins under his belt, he’s just seven wins shy of the incredible 500-win milestone with an entire family of former players ready to help celebrate the honor.
The Warriors have seven games left in the regular season, starting with this Saturday when they travel to New Haven. Hammel could still hit the milestone this season – playoff games are included in the overall win mark – or perhaps early next season.
Always one to deflect any praise over his illustrious career at Merrimack, such a milestone doesn’t just speak to his longevity; he’s in his 34th season as Merrimack’s head coach.
“He always says it’s about the players but we don’t win the games if he’s not on the bench,” Pagan said. “He’s the one making sure we were ready, putting the game plan together and doing all of the scouting with the other coaches. He doesn’t give himself enough credit I think sometimes. He’s the type of guy that really brought us together as a team.”
Pagan’s history with Hammel is extensive. He first met the coach while attending the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence.
“I think I first met him when I was in fifth grade,” Pagan said. “Right away, you could tell that he loved the game of basketball. He would teach us lessons and teach us about life but through basketball. I know through the Boys and Girls Club he has helped so many kids and so many families. Even outside of Merrimack, he has helped so many people in the community. He really is a special guy and a great coach. When you play for a guy like that and when you’re around him, it makes you want to do the same. He’s giving so much all the time.”
Before Merrimack, Pagan won a state championship with Central Catholic High School and was the recipient of the Lawrence Boys Club scholarship with the Warriors.
For Pagan, he wasn’t sure he would even end up at Merrimack. But when the chance came to play for Hammel and the Warriors, he couldn’t refuse.
“I wanted to go some place a little further from home at first,” he said. “Then Coach offered me a spot on the team here and I thought about it and Merrimack really was my home, Coach made it that way. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, so to get to play here and play for him was such a huge honor for me. Once you play for him, you’re part of his family. That’s how he treats you.”