BIDDEFORD – Ed Silva knows mill towns.
From his childhood in Lowell, Mass., to college stops in Manchester, N.H., and Willimantic, Conn., to his past 11 years as men’s basketball coach at Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., New England’s textile history has never been far away.
“I’m drawn to mill cities,” Silva says.
Silva is the first-year men’s basketball coach at the University of New England.
It’s his job to draw basketball-playing student-athletes to Biddeford, another city proud of its blue-collar heritage.
“Being successful is far more about recruitment than it is about Xs and Os in college basketball,” Silva said. “If you’re a good recruiter you can be successful.”
The Nor’easters have had four winning seasons since the start of the 1990-91 season.
Two of those were under the direction of five-year head coach Jason Mulligan. In his second season Mulligan took the Nor’easters to a Commonwealth Coast Conference title and the school’s first NCAA bid in 2008-09.
His roster was stocked with players from Texas. The next three seasons the win totals dwindled to 11, 4 and 6.
At Elms College, Silva won seven conference titles and went to the NCAA Division III tournament six times. He didn’t have to leave.
Instead he felt it was time for him and his young family to strike out for a new challenge. He and his wife, Cecily, have three children: Julius (named for Dr. J) is 8, twins Gabriella and Natalia are 2.
“I like to have themes for each season and the theme this year is ‘Being comfortable being uncomfortable,’ ” Silva said. “For the players it means going just a little over that line each day, so you push out of your comfort zone.”
Silva said he felt it was time for a professional challenge. He took seven trips to the UNE campus, one of them incognito on a Sunday, to get a feel for the college and its students.
He said he heard “the naysayers,” who felt UNE would never be able to recruit effectively due to its limited number of majors and lack of history.
Like a developer who looks at a dilapidated mill and sees opportunity, Silva is focused on UNE’s strong selling points.
First among them is the new Harold Alfond Forum, which features a bright, clean 1,200-seat basketball court, an ice-hockey rink and houses the athletic department offices.
“I came up here the first time and saw smiles and friendly people,” Silva said.
“The next time I saw smiles, friendly people and more and more growth.”
Silva says the new facility and the projected plan for continued campus growth over the next five years are strong selling points.
The academic climate can also work in his favor.
“It’s a good sell for the right people. I just have to find the right guys,” Silva said.
“My challenge is come and build a program with sustained success,” Silva said.
Initially, wins and losses will not be the best way to judge Silva and the Nor’easters.
UNE is coming off a 6-19 season, marked by weak rebounding and excessive and subpar 3-point shooting. UNE shot nearly 31 3-pointers a game at a 29.2 percent success rate.
Because he was hired in April, with the recruiting season practically over, Silva’s first team will be predominantly the same players who have won 10 games the past two years.
“We have a group of guys who are passionate about playing basketball and that’s a good place to start,” Silva said.
“It’s my experience that players want to be developed. It’s our job to change the culture and grow their skills.”
At Elms College, Silva’s teams pressed full court for 40 minutes.
“We won’t get there at that level this year. No,” Silva said. “But we will extend pressure. This year we will be a hard-nosed, blue-collar team that looks to compete every possession on defense and on offense.”
Staff Writer Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: [email protected]