A volunteer no more

Cornell Head Coach Steve Donahue offered Paul Fortier a chance to coach at Cornell in the fall of 2003. For the former University of Washington star, coaching was something he had a passion for and had spent the previous year under UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar in the same capacity.

"Steve Donahue gave me an opportunity and I ran with it," Fortier told Dawgman.com Tuesday. Donahue moved Fortier up to a full-time assistant this past season and with Washington assistant Ken Bone taking the vacant head coaching position at Portland State a few weeks back, Fortier made a call back to Seattle to see if Romar was willing to grant him the same chance Donahue had two years earlier.

"I knew how well those guys did, but I didn't think it would happen that fast," Fortier said of Bone's appointment. "I contacted him (Romar) and he got back with me and I found out I was on a short list." This past weekend, Fortier found out that he had the job in Seattle if he wanted it.

He wanted it.

"I was surprised and happy and told them that I wanted to be there as well," Fortier said from his office in Ithaca, New York. "I feel great. I'm really excited and can't wait to get started."

Fortier played for the Huskies from 1983-86 at a time when Washington went to the NCAA post-season tournament three times and won two Pac-10 championships. He played alongside two of the most dominant guys to ever don the purple and gold - Christian Welp and Detlef Schrempf.

"Those were some great years," Fortier said. And even though Paul was the odd man out in that amazing frontcourt, he still holds the distinction of being number-13 all-time in scoring with 1326 points.

"I'm a blue-collar, hard-working guy," he said when asked about his coaching style. "Going from college to Europe I know guys didn't think I would make it. I started at a low level and worked my tail off. I made it to the highest level. I'm going to do the same as a coach."

Fortier spent 16 years as a professional basketball player in Europe, finishing his career playing against the likes of future NBA player Pau Gasol while also being a member of the French Cup-winning Cholet squad in 1998 and 1999. As time went on, Fortier noticed something unusual.

"As I kept playing I almost became the same age as the coaches," he said with a chuckle. So Fortier started helping out, acting as a liason between the coaches and some of the other American players. He would also help with some of the game-planning, as well as in the recruitment of other American players.

"That's when I knew that I wanted to coach after I was done playing," he said.

And that's why he contacted Romar after his playing days were done. "Even when I was in Europe I followed them (Washington)," he said. But now he'll be coming in with the idea of filling Bone's shoes - a coach known for his prowess as an x's and o's coach, as well as a solid game-time strategist.

"Those are big shoes to fill. I'm not going to try and fill Coach Bone's shoes," Fortier said. "I'm going to come in there and do all I can." He does feel, however, that his two years in Ithaca have really helped him raise the level of his awareness to the x's and o's of the game.

"I've seen the Princeton offense and a lot of other offenses that work well, so I think I've learned a lot," he said, also noting that the Ivy League game is a lot more technical because they don't have the same caliber of athlete the high major programs do.

He also feels like he can come in and immediately help the young big guys coming in, guys like Artem Wallace, Joe Wolfinger and Jon Brockman. "I think I can help those guys right off the bat, as well as the guys already in the program," he said.

From a recruiting standpoint, Cornell recruits nationally, so Fortier has a notion. In fact, O'Dea's Conor Mullen will be matriculating to Ithaca this coming fall. But for now, all Paul is worried about is getting his wife of fifteen years, Elizabeth, and their two daughters, to Seattle. The Fortiers should be hitting the Emerald City in less than a couple of weeks.

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