Going into the 2012-13 season, there were only modest expectations for the Rhode Island College men’s basketball team.
“We were looked at as like, this was going to be the down year for Rhode Island College. We weren’t that talented,” recalled Mike Palumbo, who was a junior on that squad.
Head coach Bob Walsh knew that on paper, his team probably wasn’t a championship contender.
“When it was all said and done, we had our best year here,” Palumbo recalled of the Rhode Island College team that posted a 26-4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship.
Palumbo, a guard who wrapped up his career last winter, said Walsh instilled in the Anchormen a relentless work ethic and a defensive mentality that enabled them to succeed in spite of their shortcomings.
“It was just how hard we played and the toughness,” Palumbo said. “We knew we weren’t that talented, but he had us playing harder than any team we played.”
Walsh, who directed Rhode Island College to six Little East Conference titles and eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, was introduced Friday as the new head coach at the University of Maine.
Kinsey Durgin of Bethel, who played for Walsh from 2005-07, said the coach has a knack for motivating his players and developing relationships with them.
“He knows what he wants to get out of you, and he knows how to get it,” Durgin said. “A lot of coaches don’t bond well with their players, they don’t communicate well with their players, and that’s something that he can do.”
Palumbo is convinced Walsh will be stressing one thing from the moment UMaine players step onto the court for their first practice next season.
“You can pretty much count on them having a good defense now with a good system,” Palumbo said. “[UMaine] picked the right guy.”
Palumbo said Walsh wants his teams to limit opponents’ field-goal percentage with aggressive defense. He expects that to be a constant.
“Playing for Walsh, he’ll get you to play hard,” Palumbo added. “He’s a good motivator.”
In order to be able to harass opponents defensively, Durgin said Walsh also is a stickler for conditioning and puts team members through intense practices that make the games seem easy.
“He’s intense. He knows what he wants during practice,” Durgin said. “He’s got things almost down to the second on his practice sheet.”
He said Walsh also expounds a philosophy under which the only statistics players concern themselves with is wins and losses.
“It’s not about personal achievements, but the team winning and having success,” Palumbo said.
He explained that Walsh is a stickler about academics and is not afraid to sanction a student-athlete who is not meeting expectations in the classroom.
He said Walsh also went out of his way to help players deal with any situation that might arise, whether on or off the court.
“He leaves his door open for the players all the time,” Palumbo said.
He said Rhode Island College players were disappointed, but not surprised, to hear that Walsh had accepted a Division I coaching position.
“It’s pretty much bittersweet,” Palumbo said. “Everyone wanted him to stay. He’s had a formula for success.
“I was lucky to have him for four years, but we all kind of knew it was coming eventually,” he added.
Palumbo, who will graduate on May 17 with a degree in communications, said his fondest memory of playing for Walsh goes back to the 2012-13 season and a home game against then-No. 1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Before the game, Walsh gave us a big speech, told us they were the toughest team we’ve ever had there [in Rhode Island College’s gym],” he explained. “We went out there and ended up beating MIT by [24 points].”