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Paul and Chris Cormier: Returning to the Family Nest

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By Doug Austin
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Alex Mitola's three-pointer with 6:47 remaining in this year's opener gave Dartmouth its largest lead in a commanding win over Maine back in November.

You can be pretty sure that while the freshman sharpshooter will make a lot more triples before he's through, he won't soon forget first one he ever made on his home floor.

Chris Cormier can relate.

He can still remember his first 3-pointer at Leede Arena as well. Not because it gave Dartmouth a big lead, however, but because it was the first he ever made. Anywhere.

Cormier, you see, was a first-grader at the time and his father, Paul, was the Big Green's head coach.

"I was a ballboy along with my older brothers and the two older Faucher brothers, whose father was my father's good friend and assistant," Cormier said. "At halftime we'd go out and shoot baskets. I'll always remember making my first 3-pointer. We used to have really good crowds back then and the place was really cheering for me."

Two decades after his Dartmouth basketball heroes James Blackwell '91, Jim Barton '89 and Derek Bunting '89 graduated, long after forward Brendan O'Sullivan '91 used to lift him to the rim so he could dunk, Chris Cormier is back as a volunteer assistant coach for his father, now in the third year of his second stint with the Big Green.

A two-time captain who scored 1,100 points while setting school records for steals and, yes, three-pointers at Roger Williams University, Cormier returned to Hanover this fall after spending two years as a graduate assistant at Vermont's Castleton State College.

The younger Cormier ended up wearing a pair of sneakers on the practice floor at the Division III school after a flirtation with wingtips and the business world following graduation from RWU with a degree in political science and history.

Ironically, while growing up in a basketball family played a big part in his decision to pursue a career as a coach, it was that same familiarity with life in the game that pushed him away from it for his first few years out of college.

"I saw how difficult it was with the way my father bounced around in the NBA," Cormier said. "He loved coaching so much that he was willing to put up with the instability and give up the regular lifestyle that most people have. I saw that, so I was a little reluctant to get into it at first."

But after several years helping to work out franchise agreements at the New England RE/MAX headquarters his feet started to itch for those sneakers again. The full realization hit him after the family gathered to watch younger brother James, then a guard at LeMoyne College, play at Assumption.

"My parents could kind of sense that I really wasn't too happy with my career path," he said. "Not necessarily what I was doing, but the path it seemed like my career was going down.

 "We went out to eat and I will never forget the conversation we had. They basically said, 'What do you think would make you happy?' The only thing that I could think of was coaching, or some aspect of basketball."

A firm believer that happiness and success come from following your passion, the elder Cormier gave his third of four sons his blessing to join the coaching ranks and then essentially kicked him out of the nest.

"My thought was I am not going to make the road easier for him," Paul Cormier said. "I will offer him guidance but it will be up to him to find a way to get involved with a Division III program or get into a graduate assistant program. To his credit, he went to Castleton State and I had nothing to do with that."

While working on his master's degree at Castleton Cormier helped the Spartans go 15-12 his first year, then advance to the NCAA Division III tournament last winter with a sterling 15-3 league mark.

Most importantly, he was intricately involved in the entire basketball operation under coach Paul Culpo.

"Chris was his number one assistant so he was involved in every aspect," Paul Cormier said. "Everything from meetings to recruiting to on the floor practices. And in Division III they can do live scouting, so he was in the thick of it all. That was probably more valuable than anything he could have done."

In the Dartmouth College directory the younger Cormier's "department" isn't listed as 'men's intercollegiate' as it is for the other coaches. Instead it says ' '53 Commons.' "

For the uninitiated, the '53 Commons is the college dining and and that's where Cormier spends the first half of his day.

"He is really making some sacrifices," the father said. "He works from 7 to 11:30 or so checking IDs for the dining service and then comes over here to work as a volunteer. He does make a little bit of money based on our camps, but Dartmouth isn't paying him. He's still earning his stripes."

Given that he's engaged to be married in August, the younger Cormier's timing for taking a job without pay and moving back in with his parents to help make ends meet could probably be better. But with the blessing of fiancée Kristin, he felt it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"I'm learning so much," he said. "If I'm ever fortunate enough to be a head coach I'll take things with me I learned at Castleton and at Roger Williams as a player, but primarily what I've learned from my father. Every single time we have a practice or game I three-hole punch the practice plan and put it in a notebook to keep. I've heard from people he doesn't even know about how much respect they have for him and his basketball knowledge."

To be sure, there can be awkwardness and even jealousy when a son goes to work for his father, but that hasn't been a problem for the Cormiers.

"If he tells me to do something, I just go out and do it," the son said. "If I see something that needs to be done I try to do it before he has to ask me. When I make a mistake he will get on me like any boss would get on his assistant and I have to make sure the next time around I try to eliminate that mistake. It's still a learning process for me but I know how lucky I am to have this opportunity."

Paul Cormier knew that both his players and his other assistants would be watching closely when he brought his son onboard.

"He's handling everything very, very well," the head coach said. "Like my other assistants, I think he's doing a terrific job. He's a kid who wants to voice his opinion but he's done a good job of judging what is appropriate in this environment. As I have told him, there are going to be a lot of instances where your ears have to be open and your mouth has to be shut."

It hasn't been the easiest winter in Hanover with just two wins in the first 12 games.

"I'm obviously anxious to win to turn the corner, first for my players, second for my young staff and third, I could use a few W's myself," Paul Cormier said. "We're going to turn this around and my young assistants are going to be part of something at ground level that is very special and they're going to have it early. It is difficult sometimes, but it's a great way to start your career."

Better, even, than hitting that first three-pointer as a 7-year-old with a standing-room-only crowd roaring its approval.