Friday, November 13, 2009

The Season Really Starts Today

I will write my last part of the CAA preview on Sunday. Just not enough time to do it now. And yes, I watched some of the James Madison - Ohio State game on the Big Ten Network last night. Off shooting night for the Dukes and Ohio State is very good. Just wish the Dukes had Devon Moore. May not have made a difference, but you always wonder.

Ok now to the article at hand.

As I write this, it's 2:00 AM in the morning. I woke up fifteen minutes ago and decided it was time to stay up. I have to be at my friend's house at 4:45 so that we can drive to LaGuardia and catch a 6:30 flight to Kansas City. All this to go to Lawrence, Kansas for basically a long overnight.

Explain to me why I am doing this????

No, you don't need to explain to me. Just like I went to Charleston last November. Or the year before to Worcester, Mass. Or the trips over the years to Syracuse (twice), Providence, Binghamton, Fairfield and countless other places. The seemingly annual trips to Delaware, Towson, Philadelphia and of course, Richmond. All the years of going to Madison Square Garden for whatever tournament or games were played there.

It's a love of college basketball, specifically a team with a Dutch Heritage. Forget the Pride. Never liked that name. It's been often about the Flying Dutchmen.

My love affair with college basketball really started around when I was 10-11 years old. Back in the late seventies, I started watching college basketball on TV. I remember Roosevelt Bowie and Louis Orr on Syracuse and the Duke team of Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks (when Duke was cool). I remember watching Louisville and Dr Dunkenstein, Darrell Griffith. All those cool teams. Then it morphed into the 80's with the St John's Teams of Carnessecca, Georgetown, Phi Slamma Jamma etc.

One of my favorite games was being in the Garden in the late 80's watching Syracuse against St John's. It was a close game at the end and I was sitting up in the nose bleeds with my ex girlfriend Mary Reilly (oh Tieff remembers her). I had binoculars and I watched Mark Jackson being guarded by Sherm Douglas. I could see Jackson look away from Douglas for a split second and then Douglas stole the ball and the Orangemen (as they were called at that time) won a close game.

In the l1976 and 1977, Hofstra had a very good team with Richie Laurel and David Taylor. They were champs of the East Coast Conference (ECC) two years in a row when Temple and St Joseph's were in that conference. They made the NCAA tournament two years in a row. Lost the first year to UConn in overtime and the next year, lost a relatively close game to Notre Dame, when the Irish had Kelly Tripucka and Tracy Jackson. Laurel actually got drafted by Portland.

The ECC over time would rot away and in fact Hofstra won the last ECC basketball tournament. But by that time it had lost its automatic bid and Hofstra eventually joined the America East Conference (at the time it was the North Atlantic Conference). In a interesting piece of irony, most of the remaining East Coast Conference teams would eventually become the Summit League (which is a Midwest league if you know your mid major basketball). Now the East Coast Conference is a Division II conference.

I always loved college basketball but I really fell back in love when under Jay Wright, Speedy Claxton and Norman Richardson, Hofstra went to two consecutive NCAA tournaments in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. The first year they hosted the America East final, I was in a hotel in Washington D.C. for a conference. I remember being down at the bar asking them to turn on ESPN. And to see the broadcast show "Delaware Fighting Blue Hens vs. Hofstra Flying Dutchmen" was one of the coolest things I ever saw (admit it, those are two great mascot names).

Then I was there for the America East championship in 2001 when Hofstra hosted Delaware again. The Mack Arena had just opened up that season. The place was ROCKING! And I said to myself, I need to start coming in here all the time. Thus I got my season tickets. And then the road trips started to occur. I found two cohorts in crime, Tony Terentieff and Mal Galletta who shared my love of college basketball and we share our season tickets together, go to MSG for many college basketball games and many road trips (mostly with Tieff).

And in December 2005, I decided to start writing about my love of College Basketball. It's been a very long time love affair. Longer than my relationship with my wife. My mistress, college basketball. I've been with her in barely half filled gyms in Patchogue to watch a Division III team like St Joseph's come of age under a Jim Larranaga disciple, John Mateyko. Or my trips to Iona to see my good friend Tony Bozzella's Iona women's team. Or in the early days at the Mack Arena when often in the early 2000's it was maybe one third full. And of course all those road trips, trysts to be with my mistress. I'd be with her no matter what. There is nothing like her, especially when the place is full to see her, whether in Hempstead, the DAC in Philly, Richmond or Raleigh.

And that's what takes me to this moment. After I finish writing this, I will take my shower, make sure I have all my belongings, then drive out to Woodbury to pick up my old friend, my partner in crime for just about all these trips, Tony Terentieff. Then go to LaGuardia and meet up with my friend Grant Hayden, a KU alum and whose idea this was to do this trip.

I get to go to a mecca of the mistress I love, Allen Fieldhouse. Home of Mr. Naismith and the #1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks. A jam packed, raucous place in which Tom Pecora recently called it "Duke on Steroids" (meaning Cameron). I'll be showing my allegiance by wearing by CAA sweatshirt, because it's not just about Hofstra. It's for every mid major dreaming to beat a #1 ranked team on their homecourt. I even have my headline picked out for my next column when I get there.

And I'll be soaking up the first real day of the college basketball season, where there will be 125 other games played this day. All for my mistress, college basketball. She doesn't judge who you are, what day you may have had or even who you root for. She's grateful that you came and that you cheered and that you enjoyed her. Because that's what college basketball is to me. Sheer enjoyment of a beautiful sport still played by amateurs. That's why I am taking this trip. That's why I write this column.

C'mon, admit it. You love her too. That's why I have always said you need to see her live.

Enjoy the start of the best season in sports, the best sport in athletics!

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