BY Jim Fenton
EASTON, Mass. - They were part of the winningest class in the history of Stonehill College men's basketball with a 92-31 record.
Andre Tongo and Patrick Lee had plenty of positive times during their four-year stay, capping it off by helping the Skyhawks reach the semifinal round of the NCAA Div. 2 tournament last March.
When that magical run and their Stonehill careers came to an end with a 71-66 loss to 12th-ranked Western Washington, Tongo and Lee wanted to keep their association with basketball alive.
That goal has been achieved by both Tongo and Lee, who will still be involved with basketball – while separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
Tongo leaves Saturday night for Ireland where he will be playing in the country's SuperLeague in addition to pursuing a Master's degree in international management at the University of Galway.
Lee will continue his basketball career as an assistant coach for the Skyhawks. (PHOTO BY Tim Patrick)
He will be also coaching at-risk teen-agers with the Galway-based Titans as part of the "Sports Changes Life'' program.
Lee will not be leaving Stonehill as he has been hired as an assistant coach on the staff of Brockton native David McLaughlin.
"It's terrific,'' said McLaughlin. "They have the passion for basketball. When you have a long college career, it's sometimes hard to keep that passion when it's over.
"I don't think you can calculate the doors it can open for Andre going over there. He's someone who came to Stonehill without a scholarship and then becomes the MVP of the Northeast-10 tournament. He's not going to be making millions or play in the NBA, but the experience and the people he'll meet is going to be great.
"Patrick is one of the smartest players I've ever coached. His father has been a coach. It's definitely in the blood. You could tell he wanted to do it.''
Tongo's playing career will continue in Ireland. (PHOTO BY Bob Blanchard)
McLaughlin received a phone call asking if he had any candidates for Ireland's "Sports Changes Life'' program, and Tongo was immediately interested. He had been weighing the possibility of hiring an agent to pursue overseas playing opportunities.
After graduation, Tongo and the entire 2011-12 Stonehill team traveled throughout Ireland in late May and early June, winning five exhibition games, and he was enthused about going back there this semester.
He will have the chance not only to continue playing basketball but to go after a Master's degree and work in coaching.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to continue playing,'' said Tongo, who led Stonehill in scoring last season. "As the years go on, the deadline of me playing basketball is definitely coming up. I just want to ride it out as long as possible.
"I've been playing since third grade. It'd be kind of hard for me to stop. I'm going to keep going as long as I can, until someone says that you're not good enough to play anymore.''
"I've always had the dream. It didn't matter how much I got paid to play. The fact that I'm living my dream a little bit feels great. Hopefully, I'll be able to showcase my talent and put Stonehill on the map over there.''
Lee, who will be taking garduate courses, joins the coaching staff after being a captain with Tongo and Sean Lowry this past season.
"It's something I pretty much had as a top option for awhile,'' said Lee of coaching. "I worked at camps and enjoyed working with kids. I love basketball. I wanted to stick around that.
"I'm sure the first couple of weeks or the first month, I'll be making a transition. But I was a senior captain and now I'm an assistant coach, so I'll still be helping the guys out, just not playing.''