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PROVIDENCE â€” There were T.J. Sorrentine and Mike Martin, two longtime buddies sitting Thursday night in a restaurant on Thayer Street. Earlier that day, it was revealed that Martin would be returning to his alma mater as the menâ€™s basketball head coach at Brown University.
Sitting across from the table from Martin was Sorrentine, the Pawtucket native who also was in heavy rotation for the Brown job, his coaching credentials including the past four seasons as an assistant coach at the school, not to mention the almost two months he spent as the Bearsâ€™ interim head coach in wake of Jesse Agelâ€™s dismissal this past March.
Entrusted to run the program in the midst of a search to find a permanent head coach, Sorrentine probably kept thinking to himself the following â€“ the longer new Brown athletic director Jack Hayes took in finding Agelâ€™s successor, it would only bode well for his chances to slide into the big chair.
In the end of what was a six-week search process, alumni ties won out with Martin (Brown Class of 2004) getting the position, a turn in events that left Sorrentine in a quandary regarding whether he would be willing to accept an assistantâ€™s post under the new regime.
Thursdayâ€™s dinner was arranged to ensure that Martin viewed Sorrentine as an important piece of the puzzle moving forward. Such a sentiment was abundantly clear Friday afternoon inside a second-floor room at the Pizzitola Center, where both Hayes and Martin took the time to praise Sorrentine for his professionalism and announce that the St. Raphael Academy alumnus would remain at Brown in the same capacity as the last season, when Agel promoted him to as associate head coach.
â€śIt was the most important recruiting job Iâ€™ve done so far and itâ€™ll be great to have T.J. on the staff,â€ť Martin expressed shortly after his introductory press conference. â€śI think we both expected the same result from the dinner we had. It was a great conversation.â€ť
Said Sorrentine, â€śI think it would have been much tougher if it was anybody else, but Mikeâ€™s my best friend in the profession. For him to come talk to me, that showed a tremendous amount of belief that he has in me.â€ť
There are plenty of reasons why the Martin/Sorrentine partnership has a chance to pan out and lift Brown into competitive status among the Ivy League ranks. Basketball has always been a common denominator between the pair, dating back to their time together as teammates on the Rhode Island Breakers of AAU lore.
When they were in high school, Sorrentine and St. Raphael squared off against Martin and Cathedral (Mass.) High School. The on-court rivalry extended to the college ranks, where in Nov. 2001, Martinâ€™s Bears easily handled Sorrentine and the Vermont Catamounts, 82-58.
In 2008, Sorrentine and Martin added a new twist, that of sitting at opposite ends of the court as assistants working in the conference, where two guaranteed matchups between Brown and Penn â€“ Martinâ€™s place of employment the past six seasons â€“ were always a given.
â€śTake everything else away and look at the relationship,â€ť Sorrentine alluded to. â€śWeâ€™re dear friends and have been that way for a long time.â€ť
One would think that the aforementioned friendship would be put to the utmost test, given Martin and Sorrentine were chasing the same goal. As Sorrentine noted, it was easy to keep the lines of communication open during what had to be such unnerving and uncertain times.
â€śWe always talked throughout this process, mentioning that if one of us got the job, we would probably hire the other guy,â€ť said Sorrentine, sporting a white dress shirt, tie, and khaki pants.
â€śT.J. and I knew we were both candidates for this position, and I can tell you, our conversations never changed,â€ť Martin said.
Speaking about the experience he gained the past over the last few months as the primary voice for Brown basketball and the hope that such a stint bodes well in the future when head coaching opportunities become available, Sorrentine remarked, â€śYou canâ€™t beat it. To run a program and keep the players excited, that was huge, and now Mike is going to build on it. Thereâ€™s a lot of excitement around this program.â€ť
Stated Hayes, who on Friday officially took over the A.D. reins at Brown, â€śThe continuity of staff is always important. In this case, itâ€™s very interesting because you have someone (Sorrentine) whoâ€™s done a tremendous job in a short period of time. From my perspective, he was the guy I was going back and forth with regarding what was happening academically and where we were scheduling wise.
â€śEven during some of the committee meetings that went on, that enabled me to see some of the individual workouts T.J. conducted. He had everyoneâ€™s attention,â€ť Hayes went on.
Initially, Martin figures to lean on Sorrentine in order to acquire a better feel of the returning Brown players. Naturally, those same players expressed satisfaction that a familiar face plans to stick around.
â€śWe started to talk about the makeup of the team (Thursday night),â€ť said Martin. â€śCertainly, I have an idea about a lot of these guys, but T.J. has been with them every day.â€ť