Former Torrey Pines star snags America East Player of the Year honors
As a Torrey Pines High School senior in 2018, Finn Sullivan was a do-it-all point guard who led the Falcons to a 28-4 record, the Avocado West League championship and the CIF Open Division semi-finals. He averaged 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game en route to earning league Player of the Year honors.
Today, five years later in his second season at University of Vermont, his second collegiate stop, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Sullivan has created a similar legacy. On March 3, the Solana Beach resident was named 2022-23 America East Player of the Year, after leading the Catamounts to a 20-10 record and their seventh straight regular season conference title.
Despite his and the team’s solid season, personal awards were not prominent on Sullivan’s radar. “It was a little bit of a surprise, we have a lot of good players,” said Sullivan. “I mean, I’m definitely proud and excited but winning the conference regular season championship was more important for us.
“We have a pretty balanced lineup and this is a team where everybody contributes. Since we finished first, they probably felt they had to pick someone from our team and it happened to be me.”
Sullivan got the news just before it was released when 12th year Head Coach John Becker announced the league’s award selections prior to the team’s practice session. It was a popular decision.
“Everybody was super excited and started pushing me around, grabbing me—classic team stuff,” laughed Sullivan. “My parents were the first ones I told outside the team and they were probably more excited than I was to hear the news.”
According to Sullivan, the coolest part of receiving the accolade was the reaction of his San Diego connections when the word got out.
“Just hearing from so many of my coaches and teammates from Torrey Pines, Falcons Elite and other teams I’ve played on was definitely something special,” he said. “I’m grateful for the fact that they took the time to reach out and congratulate me.”
Sullivan, whose older brother Marek also played at Torrey Pines, was particularly gratified to get acknowledgment from longtime Torrey Pines Head Coach John Olive.
“Coach Olive hit me up on text and that meant a lot. Having the Olive Camp to go to when I was younger had a real positive effect on my game. Seeing back then how all of his players respected him made me want to be part of the program and do the same.
“He taught me a lot of skill-type things but overall it was always more about being a high IQ basketball player and understanding the game. He played a huge role in getting schools to look at me when I was being recruited. He’s so well-trusted in the community, had my back and got me most of my offers.”
Sullivan initially signed with University of San Diego. He played spot minutes as the only freshman on the team in 2018-19 and the Toreros made the NIT Tournament. Then, both of the next two seasons were at least partially marred by the Covid pandemic. A 16-point effort against No. 1 Gonzaga in 2021 was probably his signature moment but with two years remaining (thanks to an extra year added for those affected by Covid), he decided it was time for a change.
Roughly 3,000 miles away from Solana Beach, Vermont may not have seemed like the most logical destination of choice for a native Southern Californian, but it made perfect sense to Sullivan.
“I’d gotten a lot of good experience playing in a tough conference like the WCC but I wanted to go to a place with a better chance of making the NCAA Tournament,” he said matter-of-factly. “Originally, I’d been recruited by Brown and I always thought about possibly coming to the East Coast to play hoops.”
So, Sullivan entered the transfer portal which at the height of Covid represented something of a two-way gamble, what with no campus visits, no workouts and no opportunity to really get a feel for what such a change might entail. In the face of multiple unknowns, Sullivan decided to take the jump, relying on his own self-confidence and assessment of Vermont’s situation in the college basketball realm.
“It was definitely a bit of a risk on my part,” he admitted. “They had a lot of talented, competitive dudes on the team that had already been in the program.
“But I thought they were the best team in their conference and believed I could help. As far as the NCAA opportunities, they had a better set up—there was no Gonzaga or St. Mary’s in the conference standing in their way.”
Sullivan set foot in the state of Vermont for the first time in the summer of 2021 and over the course of the next year and a half has slowly, but surely settled into the new environment. As one would expect, the weather required a significant adjustment.
“It’s really muggy in the summer and being used to the pretty much year-round perfect weather in San Diego, that took some getting used to,” said Sullivan. “And you don’t realize how snowy and cold it gets until winter arrives and you’re actually in it.” He found some good also came with the harsher climate.
“You still have to go to class when it’s cold, so it’s made me a little tougher in that respect,” added Sullivan, a psychology major with a minor in communications. “In a basketball sense, when it’s snowing outside, it gets you in the gym a little bit more, so that was a plus.”
Another favorable outcome was confirmation of Sullivan’s “Vermont and the NCAA Tournament” appraisal. The Catamounts earned a berth in the Big Dance last spring where they were perceived as a trendy first round upset possibility and gave a good account of themselves before being knocked out, 75-71, by Arkansas, a No. 4 seed.
Last Saturday, March 11, courtesy of a 72-59 victory over UMass Lowell in the America East Tournament, Sullivan & Co. punched its 2023 March Madness ticket and a day later found out they had been handed a 15th seed, meaning they would be matched up with No. 2 seed Marquette of the Big East. The first round NCAA East Regional clash between the two is set for Friday (March 17) in Columbus (Ohio). Aside from facing a tough opponent, Sullivan sees this year as a whole different scenario.
“We had a really good team last year, the most experienced in the entire field, and being in it all the way against a Top 10 team was memorable,” said Sullivan.
“This year is definitely a little different for me—knowing everybody a little better and playing a bigger role has made it pretty special,” said Sullivan. “With the team, there’s a different vibe, maybe more stress free. I think we can be more of a sneaky good team. We have a lot of guys back and we want to do better.”
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