This Thursday, Syracuse men’s basketball hosts Niagara in SU’s second game of the season. For several Purple Eagles players, this will be their first time in the Carrier Dome, but the man in charge of NU is quite familiar with the setting.
Niagara head coach Greg Paulus is a man of many talents. Long before he was the recipient of the 2019-20 Joe B. Hall Award, given to the NCAA’s top first-year coach, the Ohio native was tearing it up in the 315.
Paulus spent many of his formative years in nearby Manilus, NY and starred as a multi-sport athlete at Christian Brothers Academy (CBA). The future coach was best, however, at basketball. In 2005, the CBA star was named the Gatorade Male Athlete of the year in the state of New York.
Paulus parlayed that high school success into a four-year career with the Duke men’s basketball team. The guard earned All-ACC freshman honors in 2005-06 and was named to the All-ACC team in 07-08. After four years of success with the Blue Devils, Paulus wanted to continue playing division one sports, and get closer to his roots in the process.
"[Syracuse] is home,” Paulus said in a press conference on Tuesday. “... I've always been proud, no matter where I've played, coached, been, to say that Syracuse is home."
The former Duke basketball player used his grad transfer to come back to SU, although not on the basketball team. Instead, Paulus played football in 2009 and earned the starting job in his lone season.
At the time, the fifth year hoped to bring life to an Orange that had not finished above .500 since 2001.
“I’m excited about trying to re-energize the Syracuse program,” Paulus told FoxSports.com in 2009. “It’s a pretty neat thing.”
That did not exactly come to fruition as SU finished 4-8 under Paulus’ tutelage. It was not a complete failure, though. Despite not playing football since attending CBA, the Manilus product performed adequately recording 14 total touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Paulus returned to basketball after that season, as an assistant coach. First at Navy (’10-11), then Ohio State (’11-17), next Louisville (’17-18), and finally George Washington (’18-19).
When he arrived at Niagara before last season, the former Duke star expected to be an assistant on Patrick Beilein’s staff as well. Beilein, the son of longtime Michigan head coach John Beilein, stepped aside two weeks before the 2019-20 season due to “personal reasons,” promoting Paulus at the last second.
The multi-sport athlete is used to changing roles quickly, however, and adapted well as a first-year head coach. Niagara’s 9-11 conference record was its third-best of the last decade. The Purple Eagles finished sixth in the MAAC after being picked to finish 10th in the conference’s preseason media poll.
MAAC Preseason Poll, per release. pic.twitter.com/GQCZmdINa2
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) October 22, 2019
Paulus expects improvement from himself, and the team, after a year of experience and a proper offseason as head coach.
“You go from making suggestions and thinking you would make certain decisions... And then going through that view, you're able to learn what works, what doesn't work,” Paulus said Tuesday. “... It takes time to do that.”
Whether Niagara is able to step up to the plate against a Power 5 school in Syracuse this Thursday, is yet to be seen. One thing is likely, though. Greg Paulus will not be shaken; instead, he will be right at home in the Dome.
Syracuse and Niagara battle at 8:00 p.m. Thursday night. Tune into 88.3 FM, WAER.org, or the WAER app at 7:30 for Countdown to Tip Off.