Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Take on the "Empty City"

Once again, Kyle Whelliston has written a terrific article on the Mid Majority site entitled "Empty City". Kyle talks about the glory days of New York City basketball and the now basketball wasteland, for want of a better term, that New York City has become. But he also talks about CCNY and the point shaving scandal, and the resulting fall out. And how the NCAA took the NIT, once the premiere college basketball tournament held at MSG, and ran it competitively into the ground.

The gist of the article is about the downturn of NYC Metro college basketball. St John's, which use to sell out the Garden on a regular basis during the Carnesecca years, hasn't had a 20 game winning season since winning the NIT in 2003. And the last time they made the NCAA tournament was 2002. You can thank Mike Jarvis for the downturn of the Jonnies, who can't even sell out their own Carnesecca Arena any more, let alone fill the Garden. And though there is improvement this year, it seems the giant behemoth, the 16 team Big East, has passed them by and it's highly doubtful they will make the Dance this season.

Then you have teams like Fordham who decided to jump from the Patriot League to the Big East Lite, otherwise known as the Atlantic 10, or really the A14 since there are fourteen teams in the league. Ask Derek Wittenberg how that's gone so far for the Rams. Iona has struggled since Jeff Ruland was rightly shown the door (and even before that). Manhattan hasn't been the same since Bobby Gonzalez left for Seton Hall. Stony Brook hasn't been very good either.

Kyle points out that there hasn't been a NYC metro team that has made the NCAA tournament since Iona made it in 2006. Does Seton Hall in 2006 count? Perhaps. And yes, Hofstra should have made it as well in 2006, but we all know what happened there.

And Kyle is right, there is no true NYC team. He talks about Manhattan actually being in the Bronx, which is something I found out last season when I went there for the Pride vs. the Jaspers. And yes, though the Draddy Gym is a nice place to see a game, you can't park there. Also LIU is in Brooklyn. I know that from seeing my friend Tony Bozzella's Lady Blackbirds play when he was the head coach there for two years.

And it gets worse from there. Think about it, "The Mecca of College Basketball", the Garden, can't even host a NCAA regional. But yet, The Izod Center, home of potentially the worst NBA team ever in the Nets, in the middle of nowhere, in East Rutherford, New Jersey can have a NCAA regional?! East Rutherford over "The City That Never Sleeps?"

Why? Well, it's greed, pure and simple greed. The Izod Center seats 20,029 while the Garden seats 19,673. You say 400 seats don't seem like a difference? What's the cost of an NCAA regional ticket? Say on average 200 bucks? That's $80,000. Plus all the concessions/parking for those 400 people. Ka-Ching! Remember with the NCAA, the No Clue At All, it's all about the mighty dollar.

And all hope for a Final Four in the City died when the proposed domed West Side Stadium was killed by no less than the folks that run MSG, the lovely people at Cablevision. The same people who have also managed to run the Knicks in the ground too.

Though he was the most eloquent on this subject, Kyle is not the first to write about the downturn of the city game. I noted in my article about Cornell winning the Holiday Festival at MSG that there was a great article in the NY Times in December entitled "A Rough Time for the City Game" by Jack Styczynski. The article was about how not only have the metro teams have fallen on hard times, but that NYC is also not the center of basketball talent anymore either.

And it's ironic that about all this talk of the downturn of the City game, there were two reminders of how great it used to be in attendance at the Hofstra-VCU game last night.

The first person in attendance was former Hofstra star guard and NBA player, Speedy Claxton. Claxton was a member of the 1999-2000 America East champs. The Flying Dutchmen, as I call them went to two consecutive NCAA Tournament teams in 99-2000 and 2000-01 (and they went to the NIT in 1998-99). And Hofstra has not gone to the dance since that 2000-01 team. Yes, the Pride have been to three consecutive NITs since with the Stokes/Agudio/Rivera trio. But again as Kyle points out, the NIT became inconsequential after the NCAA expanded to 65 teams.

The other person in attendance was Dick McGuire. Dick is the older brother of legendary coach Al McGuire. But Dick is a legend in his own right. Seven time NBA all star, Hall of Famer, great assist man and most importantly in New York City lore, a star for St John's and the Knicks, who drafted him in the first round of the 1949 NBA draft. McGuire led the Knicks to three NBA finals and his number was retired by the Knicks. McGuire still works for the Knicks scouting games as a Senior Basketball Consultant.

Here's the ironic thing. McGuire was there most likely scouting a player from Virginia, Larry Sanders not the Queens kid on Hofstra, Charles Jenkins. And though Jenkins played somewhat well, Sanders played much better, though much to Claxton's chagrin, Hofstra's lack of defense played a hand in Sanders' scoring proficiency last night.

What was probably even worse for Claxton was watching a team that had started the season with such promise with a 7-3 record fall to it's sixth loss in eight games. This due in large part to the lack of a second scorer, predictability and lack of imagination on offense and for last night, poor effort on the defensive end. In conference play, where the opposing teams know you inside and out, that combination is a killer.

And Kyle may be right one more time. With the struggles of the New York area teams like St John's and especially Hofstra, there may not be a NYC area metro team in the NCAA Tournament for a quite a long time. This probably results in any of the good NYC high school basketball players looking outside of New York as noted in the Times article (how ironic is it that former Hofstra coach Jay Wright poaches NYC players to Philly).

For NYC metro basketball, there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel, outside of an oncoming A subway train.

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