August 5—Basketball player Malakinas Connery never really found his footing in the sport he loved.
There have certainly been moments.
He started all 25 games as a freshman at Clarkson University, starting at point guard.
Then, minimal playing time, it went downhill from there, averaging just over five points over four years.
“My coach and I weren’t on the same page,” said Connery, who was recently named the new women’s basketball coach at North Essex Community College. My role and what we were trying to do as a team.”
While he played four years, with limited minutes the past few years, during that tough time, which included a torn ACL, Connery realized he had a calling.
“My love for the game never wavered,” said Kennery, who turns 26 in September. It was like I was growing up playing in the Lawrence Boys Club. It was part of my soul.
In those rough days at Clarkson, even when he wasn’t playing much, he would put together practice sessions, even for the guys who were playing ahead of him.
“My passion for the game, playing and practicing with energy was my thing,” Connery said. “I liked to push my teammates to get better. I wasn’t really worried about where I was as a player. I enjoyed helping other guys get better. I almost realized I was probably a coach at heart.”
Several years later, Coach Connery almost put a stamp on his time at Clarkson, devoting his professional life to teaching basketball to those who want to get better.
That’s what he recalled at the famed Academic Basketball Awareness Camp at Merrimack College, created and hosted by Brett Hamel, who died nearly four years ago.
“When it came to basketball and people, Brett was the most genuine person I’d ever met,” Connery recalled. His energy for the game was real. His energy to help children was genuine. It always stays with me. I wanted to be like Burt Hammel.”
Connery left Lawrence after middle school and attended Clinton High School in New York as part of The Better Start program created by Hamilton College.
It was the first time he could remember having structure, 24/7, in his life.
“As a kid I was all over the place, I had no focus at all,” Connery says. “That program saved me. Basketball was good, too. I learned a lot about the game. When you grow up on the playground, you just play and react. But in high school I got a real lesson about “I got to play, as a point guard, run an offense, see the floor.”
He returned to Lawrence after college and connected with former Lawrence coach Paul Neal, who had helped Connery growing up, and current coach Jesus “Moose” Moore. He did some solo work with local kids while also getting his real estate license.
One of his lessons turned into an opportunity to work at the Pingry High School basketball camp under boys coach Steve Gibbs.
Gibbs was impressed by Connery’s enthusiasm and energy.
“Mala is a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” Gibbs said. Most basketball players say “I don’t go all over the world to coach” while Mala says “Why not go to Mount Hope in Kuwait, Dubai and Qatar.” That is why he has grown.
This led to a job offer for Gibbs’ side business, Mount Hope, which has clinics and camps in the Middle East.
He did an eight-month basketball coaching stint in Kuwait before returning home.
“It was an amazing experience,” Connery said. “Not being alone around the culture, away from home, but around people who want to learn the game like we do.”
Connery returned home and connected with North Essex College men’s basketball coach Darren Stratton through a former teammate at Lawrence Hill, Jaylen Alicia, and eventually joined the staff as an assistant.
He was with the team in the fall, which was another opportunity to start a basketball academy for Mount Hope … in Qatar.
“I was there for five months and I really connected with the Serbian coach and learned about the culture of the country and how they look at the game,” Connery said. “I learned something new every day there. I was the boss and I loved every minute of it.”
Gibbs said Canary has made a difference in both countries.
“He has introduced the game to hundreds of children in the Middle East in a positive way,” says Gibbs. “Basketball interest is spreading in the Middle East because of Mala’s coaching. Honestly, he is responsible for many kids in the Middle East choosing basketball as their first sport. His influence on the game in that region is very powerful. I can tell you how many people thanked me for placing the mala abroad.”
When he returned home early last summer, there was another basketball offer, but that was it, an opportunity to stay home.
NECC was looking to upgrade several of its sports, and women’s basketball was among them. The school’s athletic director, Dan Blair, and Coach Stratton met with Connery in hopes that he would land the job.
Blair said: Malakias is a special player and a very good coach. “It was a good fit. We needed someone with a lot of energy to run this program. He’s also close with Coach Stratton, who he can rely on for support.”
Connery has already begun the recruiting process with phone calls and in-school meetings, trying to do for women what Stratton did for men.
And what NECC baseball coach Jeff Mejia has done for baseball players.
“The goal here is education first,” Connery said. “But we have a lot of talented girls basketball players in the area and we can help them improve on the court and in the classroom and hopefully get to a four-year school. I love working with young people and helping them. Great job for me.”
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