Bubon officially begins head coaching career

Men’s basketball hires 5th-ever head coach


Photo by Josh Croup | The Globe

Gabe Bubon (right) replaces Bob Rager as the head men’s basketball coach this year after 13 years as the assistant coach and one season as the interim head coach. Wayne Copeland (left) will return as his assistant.

Written By Josh Croup, Co-Sports Editor

Life has no guarantees. Gabe Bubon knew that entering this summer.

He spent last year as the interim head men’s basketball coach after working as the assistant coach for 12 years to Bob Rager, who took a leave of absence last season following a 27-year coaching career.

Rager’s retirement was imminent and expected, but never official. There was still a chance he would return after taking a season off to recover from knee surgery. There was also a chance that Point Park might hire someone from the outside to replace Rager once he retired.

Bubon took a normal approach to his summer and prepared for the upcoming men’s basketball season. He continued recruiting a new class of students even without a guarantee that he would be the head basketball coach the next season.

Then he received word that Rager officially retired and that he was the choice to officially take over the program.

“To be honest with you, when they told me, I actually teared up,” Bubon said. “It was a rough summer for me just not knowing. It was very stressful.”

Bubon is now officially the fifth head coach in Point Park men’s basketball history. He is also just the third head coach since 1969.

“We have the highest expectations for men’s basketball here at Point Park University,” said Director of Athletics Dan Swalga in a press release. “We feel that Gabe Bubon is up to the challenge as we transition to him as head coach.”

Last year was a scramble during a transition year for Bubon, who was also still the head coach of the men’s and women’s golf teams. Now he can focus solely on one sport and has time to prepare to launch his own era of Point Park men’s basketball.

“I feel a lot more comfortable this year,” Bubon said. “Last year, I was just doing it. I like to be prepared, and when you’re not prepared, you’re kind of just winging it. It’s tough. I have time to prepare this year.”

Point Park finished 8-20 last season with a 5-12 River States Conference (RSC), highlighted by 1-15 record away from its home court. Point Park did not reach the postseason in what was the fifth 20-loss season in the program’s 50-year history.

The team started to get in a rhythm at the end of 2016, but was hindered in the second half of the season by academic suspensions and injuries.

“It was one thing after another,” Bubon said. “We just had no consistency. I look at it this way, I don’t think anything really went right last year.”

Now Bubon has the chance to recruit the type of player that he thinks will fit his system. He hopes the incoming class loaded with junior college transfers will contribute immediately to make Point Park competitive right off the bat.

He also will start recruiting local high school players this season, something Rager typically avoided.

“I really like this group coming in,” Bubon said. “I’m really big on the character of these kids coming in. That translates to other things in life. They want to be here and they want to keep working and getting better.”

Returning to the Pioneers this season for his second year is All-River States Conference (RSC) Second-Team guard Gavin Rajahpillay.

He called year one a “trial year” for himself and Coach Bubon, and is excited to have him as the head coach once again.

“He’s a player’s coach,” Rajahpillay said. “If you can play and you can perform, you’ll play. That makes our jobs easier.”

While Bubon was balancing three coaching gigs, he was also running the men’s basketball team by himself for the first stretch of the season without an assistant coach.

Then, Wayne Copeland jumped on board after Thanksgiving as a vocal assistant for Bubon, who brought energy and a swagger to the bench that was missing at times in prior years. Bubon said Copeland is expected to return this season. He also wants to add to the coaching staff with possibly more assistants.

“You always think you can do something on your own like it’s no big deal,” Bubon said. “It’s just not the reality of it. Everybody has a coaching staff for a reason. I’ve kind of just been trying to find people that fit my personality.”

Rager’s teams were known for playing little defense and for his run-and-gun style of offense. Bubon continued last year with a fast offense that showed occasional signs that the team was transitioning a defensive mindset.

Bubon was part of Rager’s fast offense in 2000. He still holds the program’s single-game record for points and 3-pointers made. On Feb. 11, 2000, he scored 45 points, which included 11 treys. He tallied 505 points that season, averaging 6.0 rebounds-per-game.

He said he has no intentions of slowing down this year. He wants a fast offense with a defensive mentality.

“I think we’ll be able to score a lot of points, and we’re going to be in your face,” Bubon said. “We’re not going to sit back in zone too often. We want to set the tone and we want to guard.”

For Rajahpillay, the objective this year is simple.

“It’s my senior year. I just want to win games,” Rajahpillay said. “I hope everyone understands what happened last year. We have to realize this is not a part-time job. If we want to be successful and have a better record than 8-20, we have to put a lot more time in the gym.”

As a new school years starts, Bubon feels like he should be breaking out the golf clubs. Instead, he gets to focus on fulfilling the dream he has had since setting the scoring record as a player.

“At the end of the day, I really feel that this is my calling,” Bubon said.