Sunday, December 2, 2012

Be True to Your School (Recap of SMU vs. Hofstra)

When it came to college, I didn't have much of a choice over twenty eight years ago.  Though I was in the top ten percent of my class, I couldn't live out of state with my family situation.   My parents were divorced and I lived with mom, my older sister, albeit briefly, and my little sister.  We were struggling to get by on 81 Cherry Avenue in Bethpage.  Thus Valparaiso, a school that sent me a lot of information because I was Lutheran (I guess you could say they "recruited" me), was out of the question, despite the knowledge that they played Notre Dame in basketball every year (that was their claim to fame at the time, long before the Drews).

My mom wanted me to be the first person in my family to go to school full time and graduate (my older sister and brother went part time and both graduated).  I wanted to go to a good school and Stony Brook was too far of a commute, especially for someone who didn't have a car till his junior year of college.  So Hofstra offered me a half scholarship.  Other scholarships, TAP (NY State's Tuition Assistance Program) and federal loans helped me get by those four years.  That and my mom driving me to and from Hofstra for the first two years.

Back then, I barely followed the men's basketball program.  I concentrated on keeping my half scholarship and worked part time.  But the Flying Dutchmen, as they were known then, were about to get a life long alum and friend.

It was at Hofstra that I met my dear friend Tony Terentieff, aka Tieff to the readers of this blog.  Through Tieff, I got to know my dear friends Tony Bozzella and Mal Galletta, though neither went to Hofstra (both went to Glen Cove High School).  I met other dear friends, directly and indirectly through Hofstra.

Then after I graduated in 1988, an IT position came open in the Axinn Library at Hofstra.  Though I had many opportunities to work in New York City, the thought of being close to home was appealing.  I accepted the position, gained a lot of knowledge and more lifelong friends.

Four years later, I accepted a position at Hofstra Law School.   My first day there, I met my future wife.  Over my nineteen years there, I became friends with a lot of faculty, administration, staff  and students (now alums) there and at other places on campus.  It was a wonderful twenty eight years that ended when I accepted my new position at the University of South Carolina in August.

Over the last thirteen years, I became a fan of the basketball program at Hofstra.   I became a season ticket holder, went to many CAA Tournaments and Hofstra road games.  My fondness for college basketball grew and in December 2005, I started this blog on college baskebtall.

Yes, this is the seven year anniversary of my blog.  What started as a dare by two friends, as an offering to my love of college basketball, has become a deep seated passion for me, as well now for my seven year old son, Matthew. I have seen so many countless games as a result of this blog, so many memories.

All of this would not be possible without Hofstra.  My wife, my sons, my dear friends and colleagues and even this new job/life in South Carolina would never have happened without that Dutch commuter school in Hempstead, New York.

Yesterday, I had a choice.   I could have gone to Charlotte and covered the East Carolina - Charlotte game, which featured the only two undefeated schools left in North Carolina (won by Charlotte) or I could stay in my rented house here in Columbia and watch the SMU-Hofstra game online.

Considering the circumstances of Friday, people would have understood had I chosen the ECU-Charlotte game. I, along with many others including Jerry Beach, aka Defiantly Dutch, were frustrated, disgusted and exasperated  by what four members of the men's basketball team did over the past few months.   It would have been easy to say "I need a break from the Hofstra basketball team.  Those four student athletes ruined the team".   No one would have blamed me.

Except me.  In a relationship, a life long relationship, like say marriage, you take the good with the bad.  You know "in sickness and in health.  Till death do you part".  There are bumpy roads and to quote Sylvester Stallone from the most recent Rocky movie "The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows."

Yes, what those four kids did were wrong and I took them to task for it yesterday.  But since I couldn't be there in person, to give the remaining kids on the team that did no wrong an ovation and support and for the coaching staff,who as Mo Cassara stated in press conference were "heartbroken", I had to show support in some way.

Thus I made my choice.  I stayed home and watched the game online.

Larry Brown's SMU team came in to yesterday's game at 7-1 on the season.  The nomadic Brown, who Cassara noted "Has forgotten more basketball than I know", basically plays seven players,several of whom came from other schools.  Leading scorer Nick Russell was a transfer from Kansas State and was a key member off the bench for the Wildcats' 2010-11 Elite Eight team.  Shawn Williams transferred from Texas.  London Giles came by way of Nevada.

Unlike Matt Doherty, who was fired after an 8-20 season, Brown has got this team to mesh and playing tough defense.  It was evident early on, as the Mustangs jumped out to a 10-0 lead.  They packed their defense inside, limiting Hofstra to just six first half points in the paint and forcing the Pride to shoot from beyond the arc, much more than Hofstra had on the season.

The result was the Pride missed their first seven three point attempts.  When David Imes finally hit Hofstra's first three pointer, Hofstra was down 26-10.   Despite shooting 2 of 11 from beyond the arc, amazingly the Pride were only down twelve, 31-19 at the half.   This was due in large part to Steve Mejia, who scored the Pride's final five points of the half and had eight at the half.

There was hope that Hofstra could make a game of it after ending the first half with a 12-5 run.  And after Jordan Allen started the second half with a dunk to cut the lead to ten, 31-21, it seemed that the fans in the Mack Center might be treated to another exciting finish as they had in wins over South Dakota State and Marshall.

But SMU quickly dashed that with an 14-4 run over four minutes.  Jalen Jones scored seven of those points including a three point play to put the Mustangs up 45-25.  From there, the rout was on.  Another Jones three point play put SMU up 55-28.  Bryan Bernardi, who comes off the bench for the Mustangs and was heavily recruited by Hofstra, got into the act with a three pointer to put SMU up twenty eight.  The lead got as much as thirty before the Mustangs eventually won 73-47.

SMU scorched Hofstra in the second half, shooting fifty nine percent and scoring twenty points in the paint. They outscored Hofstra 32-14 in the paint for the game. Jones scored all of fourteen points in the second half.  Russell had ten second half points and finished with twenty points

The Mustangs keyed on Taran Buie all night and he was held to ten points on 3 of 13 shooting.  Mejia led the way with eleven points, but only three came in the second half.  There were bright spots for Hofstra as  senior walk-on Matt Grogan had a career high seven points. Stephen Nwaukoni was back after missing a couple of games with four points and eight rebounds. Finally, Darren Payen, who originally was going to be redshirted for the season, came off the bench and scored two points and had five rebounds in twenty two minutes.

After the game, as you would have figured, Cassara faced a lot of questions from the media about the four players being arrested.  He couldn't talk about the case itself, but he talked about how the coaches do evaluate their recruits, get to know their parents and their families.  Cassara talked about how "heartbroken" he was over the situation.  He also noted "Our guys are resilient. My staff is resilient. And most importantly, I'm resilient. And we're gonna just keep working as hard as we can."

Finally he noted how much he loves Hofstra.  Hofstra hired him in 2010 after Tim Welsh resigned after a DWI incident.  As Jerry Beach has noted and I have seen as well, Cassara has been an ambassador to Hofstra and has been at many events/functions/charities promoting the school in person and in social media  In his first season, he took a team depleted by transfers and had not finished in the top four of the CAA in Charles Jenkins' first three seasons and that team finished third in the CAA and won twenty one games.  Of course that was the season of #3BidsForCAA and the Final Four run of VCU.

He may not have graduated from Hofstra, but Cassara has been true to "his school", the one that gave him a chance to be a head coach on the Division I level for the first time. I know that there are many of us who either graduated from the school or work for the school and are disgusted, embarrassed and frustrated by what those four players did.  It's understandable to feel that way.  But we need to be true to our school right now just like we are in good times.  The basketball program, with the good kids that are still there now and had nothing to do with those burglaries, needs our support.

This week my mom's house was officially sold, almost exactly three years after her death.  I was there last Saturday morning picking up a final few things.  Before I left, I looked around the house one last time.  All the memories growing up there.  I wondered about whether my mom is watching me from above and what she thinks of me.

I know that she is glad I went to Hofstra and got my degree.  That much I am certain.

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