Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Gift That Keeps on Giving

Four years ago today, I got one of the best birthday presents of my life.  Behind "The Wolf", as Jerry Beach affectionately calls him, Charles Jenkins hit not one but TWO buzzer beaters to defeat William and Mary in overtime.   It was during that magical 2010-11 Hofstra season which provided Hofstra fans with so many memories, especially of the best player ever to don a Pride/Flying Dutchmen uniform.

That Hofstra team really never gets its true due.  They won fourteen regular season games in the CAA that season, tied for most ever for the Hofstra program in Colonial Athletic Conference play.  The Pride finished third in conference in regular season, a conference where three other teams; VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion made the NCAA Tournament.  We all know what VCU did, but Mason won a second round game against Villanova and Old Dominion had Butler on the ropes before losing on a buzzer beater.

The Pride accomplished that 14-4 conference record and 21 win season arguably with lesser talent than the season before, as CAA All Rookie team members Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic tranferred after the 2009-10 season.  It was due in large part to Jenkins, a better team effort and better coaching by first year coach Mo Cassara.  I will say to my last dying day that what Cassara did that season was one of the best coaching jobs I had ever seen.

But what happened that day February 15, 2011 didn't end with that season.   On that night four years ago, I got the gift that keeps on giving.  That was the first Hofstra basketball game I brought my then five year old son Matthew to  that night.   For the longest time, my older son Matthew didn't want to go with me to Hofstra games.   I finally convinced him to go as a favor to his dad for his birthday that night.

Matthew got hooked on basketball that night.  He thought basketball was the most exciting sport next to his beloved baseball

Matthew would start going with me to basketball games.  A lot of basketball games.  In fact, the next season that I covered fifty nine Division I games for my site and the Mid Majority, Matthew went to thirty three of them with me.  He was my ever present sidekick along with his little brother at Iona Women's basketball games.  The kid rooted for Hofstra, Iona (loves Scott Machado) and VCU.

But it was not just watching basketball, Matthew played basketball.  He would go home and dribble a ball until he went to bed.  He would play in the back yard.  He loved going on the Hofstra court after the game.

When we moved to South Carolina, Matthew became very involved in his first love, baseball. He has played baseball ten months of the season for the past two years.  It's left him little other time for other hobbies and passions like basketball.

 Matthew has become a very, very good baseball player, who has made his Little League All Star team twice.  He also won a Minors Championship for his team I co-head coached last Spring by scoring the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning of a truly fantastic championship game that we won 4-3. He started that bottom of the sixth inning with a hard double down the third base line.   As a dad, there is no prouder moment than having your son cross the plate to win a championship and then having him jump into your arms.

But that night of February 15, 2011 is equally a proud moment.   And four years later, Matthew finally got to play basketball in a league.  He plays for the Upward Bound basketball program at Shandon Baptist Church here in Columbia, South Carolina.   Matthew actually plays with one of his travel ball teammates, Wil on his basketball team.  They were also teammates on the District 3 Champion Coach Pitch All Star team last Spring.  

In his first season of playing basketball, Matthew was not as experienced as some of his teammates.  But he caught up very quickly due to his athleticism, which he certainly didn't get from his Dad.  Matt is one of the better defenders on his team, likes to set picks and he loves to pass.  So much so, his coach has Matthew bring the ball up the court now.

So I have a nine year old point guard.  How cool is that?

But until yesterday, Matthew had not scored in a game all season.  Matthew had numerous opportunities, but his shots wouldn't go in.  A few unkind rims and a few rushed opportunities.

But yesterday was different.  Almost four years ago to the day where he got introduced to his love of basketball.  Matthew stole a pass and went coast to coast.  He laid the ball up and kissed it off the glass for his first basket.  Someone jumped up from his seat, pumped his fist and yelled "YEAH!" for everyone to hear.  You can guess who...

Matthew wasn't done however.  He would hit three more baskets, one on a pretty feed from his teammate Mark that found Matthew all alone in the paint for the easy deuce off the glass.   Matt finished his day with another coast to coast layup.  He had eight points, a few assists and one very proud mom and dad.  The video is Matthew getting a pass from a teammate and hitting a jumper for two of his eight points.   His team won going away and his friend Will added twelve points.  A good day for the Columbia Thunder baseball teammates.

Matthew works at basketball every day.  We bought him a basketball hoop for Christmas and it stands off to the side in the driveway.  When Matthew  was younger, we would play H-O-R-S-E with a smaller hoop in the backyard of our house in North Bellmore.   Because I wanted him to learn the right way and earn his victories, or because I guess I am too competitive, I would beat Matthew in that game just about all the time.

Not anymore.  Matthew beats me regularly.    After the game yesterday, we drove home.  As his younger brother Jonny and his mom went inside, Matthew grabbed a basketball and hit a layup on his home court hoop.    H-O-R-S-E game on.

Matthew and I traded baskets for the next twenty minutes.  I was having a good shooting day. But with three exceptions, Matt equaled me whenever I hit a shot.   And three times, Matt nailed shots then I missed.   We were tied at H-O-R.   But after playing thirty six minutes of basketball (Upward Bound Basketball plays eighteen minute halves, only stopping for fouls and substitution breaks after six minutes) and then another twenty minutes with this game of H-O-R-S-E, Matthew was spent.   Plus we had baseball practice at 1:00 PM.   So we went inside and called it even.

Four years ago today I got a birthday gift that has kept on giving, my older son's love of basketball.  It's a gift that I hope keeps on giving for a long, long time.

Charles Jenkins, Mo Cassara - Thanks.

PS - It was a birthday Tweet from Jaden Daly which included a reference to the Feb 15, 2011 game that inspired me to write this post.   Thanks so much, Jaden, for the inspiration.  Yesterday made it come full circle for me.

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