Matt Hilleary was on top of the basketball world when he helped CUA win the NCAA Division III national championship in 2001. Now he’s trying to find success in a professional league overseas. He’s hoping history will repeat itself with his new team, Mustang Sally’s St. Paul’s, which represents the city of Killarney in Ireland’s SuperLeague.
In 2002–2003, as a senior, the 6-foot-8 center led CUA in scoring with 17.4 points per game, which earned him Fourth Team All America honors. But after graduating with a degree in civil engineering, Hilleary was ready for a break from the sport he had played since fifth grade. He took an engineering job with D.C.-area contractor John C. Grimberg Co., and later started a house-painting business with a friend. Then, in 2006, he heard the siren call of the game.
“I was watching a college basketball game and I just decided, ‘What am I doing here? I’m
better than half these guys,’ ” he recalls.
Hilleary got in touch with old coaches and teammates, looking for playing opportunities. Sean Tuohey, a former CUA player, had experience playing in Ireland and put him in touch with a coach there. Eventually Hilleary signed with Mustang Sally’s.
Irish basketball culture took some getting used to, however. “At Catholic, I was used to winning and really expecting to win every game. [In Ireland] some players were a little complacent about losing. That was frustrating,” he says.
Mustang Sally’s is named for its sponsor, a pub in Killarney, a southeastern city of 125,000 that is a popular tourist destination. In
Ireland some teams also adopt the names of saints, hence the “St. Paul’s” in the team name.
Hilleary’s team finished 8-10 last year and he averaged more than 20 points per game.
He earned what he calls “a pretty good living” and resided with two American teammates in a house paid for by the team. Games in this highest of Ireland’s professional basketball leagues run from September to March. Every team is allowed to have three foreign players and most sign Americans, but some players hail from places like Lithuania and Poland.
While Hilleary says the city of Killarney is a nice mix of old and modern, he did find one drawback: “They haven’t really caught on to the Internet over there,” he says. “It was hard to get online access.”
The lack of communication made separation from his family and friends difficult, especially in regard to his fiancée, Maureen Hegedus, B.A. 2003, a former CUA tennis player. The couple married on Aug. 10, 2007, then headed to Ireland for the new basketball season.
As for future plans, Hilleary would like to continue playing for five or more years and then go into coaching. — L.C.
Back to top