Monday, March 7, 2016

Back to Where It All Begins

Ten years and two days ago, my dear friend Tony Terentieff, known on this blog as Tieff, was driving another dear friend Mal Galletta, now head coach of the St John's University golf team, and I home from Richmond, Virginia.   We had just seen Hofstra rally from a halftime deficit to convincingly defeat George Mason in the 2006 CAA Semifinals.   The Pride had won their previous game in the quarterfinals against VCU basically on the Rams home court of the Richmond Coliseum.

Charles Jenkins FT - Feb 15, 2011
We were riding home, convinced that we had seen Hofstra, the alma mater of Tieff and I, at least get in the NCAA tournament as an at large.  They had a terrific RPI, a 14-4 conference record and swept the Patriots, another team in contention for an at large bid and once nationally ranked in the polls.   We couldn't stay for the CAA Tournament championship due to Tieff having an important meeting that Monday.

For those of you who follow college basketball religiously like I do, you know what happened.   Despite a heroic comeback by Hofstra after being down 23 points to come within 3 points late,  UNC Wilmington held on for the 78-67 victory and the CAA championship.   Hofstra was forced to wait to watch their fate on Selection Sunday.  And we all know what happened...

George Mason got an at large bid and ended up going to the Final Four.   Hofstra got snubbed and went to the NIT, winning two games there before losing to fellow CAA conference rival ODU in the NIT Quarterfinals.

That 2005-06 season was also the College Hardwood blog's first season of covering college basketball.  The site had a different name back then and it's evolved over the years.  Amazing that it is ten plus years later.  It was a terrific first season, albeit it had a bittersweet ending as far as being a Hofstra fan.

Matt with Hofstra Pride Club T-Shirt
The next season, 2006-07 was supposed to be OUR season.  The Pride were favored to win the CAA with Lethal Weapon 3, the superstar guard trio of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera leading the way to the championship.  

It never materialized as Tom Pecora never recruited a frontcourt to replace Adrian Uter and Aurimas Kieza, two key players on that 2005-06 team.   The season basically ended again on the Richmond Coliseum court, being unceremoniously knocked off by, who else, George Mason, in the CAA Quarterfinals 64-61, basically three weeks after knocking off the Patriots on their home court.

We were there again for that tournament and sat near the Hofstra basket for that quarterfinal game.  We watched Hofstra roar back from a fifteen point halftime deficit to cut the lead to three and had a chance to tie, only to see Greg Johnson vaper lock and try to drive in for a layup.  Somehow George Mason vaperlocked too and two Patriots' players went after Johnson.  We waited for the kickout to an open Hofstra player on the wing.  It never happened as Johnson actually TRIED hitting a layup and missed.

BracketBuster Game vs. Wright State - Feb 2011
Unlike the year before, where we had an ecstatic ride home, we drove home stunned, knowing there was again only the NIT bid.  For two Hofstra graduates, two long time Dutchmen basketball season ticket holders, it was the ultimate punch in the gut.  For me, 2007 actually hurt more than 2006.  Unlike 2006, where Hofstra seemingly had a chance to make the Tournament, but never truly was the favorite during the season, in 2007 Hofstra was the team favored to win the CAA.   2007 was supposed to be OUR time.

It turns out it would be another ten years before it was truly a chance to be our time again.

The man, the myth, the ultimate Hofstra fan, Defiantly Dutch,  poignantly wrote early this morning this paragraph on his terrific blog post "Tonight is What It Means To Be Young".
If we’re being honest, the only time in life it’s probably acceptable to invest any sort of self-identity in a college sports team is those four or five or six years we’re actually in college. Those are the years where the players are our peers, in which we attend class with them, eat lunch next to them in the cafeteria and throw back beers with them at the bars near campus.
And Dutch nailed that for the most part.   Unless you're someone who ended up working at his alma mater right after graduation for nearly a quarter of a century.  Someone like me.

Hofstra Winning at Drexel - January 2011
When I graduated with a computer science degree back in May 1988, I didn't plan that I would end up working at Hofstra for such a long time.   It just worked out that way.  An opening for a systems manager position at Axinn Library, where I had been a student assistant, led to my first full time job.  Nearly five years later, a director of IT position at the now Maurice A. Deane School of Law would continue my long standing relationship with Hempstead, New York.   I would later become an Assistant Dean there, proof positive that anyone can become an Assistant Dean.

For twenty eight straight years, four as an undergraduate student, twenty four as an administrator, Hofstra was my home.  I met my wife of nearly twenty years, Michelle, my first day at the School of Law.  Just about all my friends are directly or indirectly through Hofstra.

Along the way, I became a passionate supporter of Hofstra Men's basketball.  I was there in 2001 when the Dutchmen cut the nets for their second straight automatic NCAA Tournament bid in the America East, their last season in the conference.   And for the past 15 years, I have been a Hofstra season ticket holder, even after I moved down to South Carolina (more on that in a second).

Defiantly Dutch w "Hostra" Ticket
I've seen my share of lows and highs with the Dutchmen/Pride.   I've had so much fun on so many different road trips, trips for Delaware barbecue (Delaware played "Hostra" that day), a Bracketbuster trip to Wright State,  You always celebrated a win with a DQ blizzard!

And there were so many crazy games.  There was the 2010 blizzard game against Drexel where there were more 3.0 scholar athletes in attendance than the rest of the fans. And finally, one of the best birthday presents I ever got, an overtime win on my birthday, courtesy of The Wolf, Charles Jenkins.  That game was the beginning of my older son Matthew's love of basketball.

There were so many #CAAHoops Tournament road trips to Richmond, nine in total.  In fact, there was one  #CAAHoops road trip which I did with that crazy Defiantly Dutch fellow, the only one that I ever covered from press row (experience of a lifetime).  

Hofstra vs. ODU - 2011 CAA Semifinals
But you can't be a Hofstra fan without your share of heartache.  And there was so much heartache in the CAA tournaments.  As mentioned, 2006 and 2007 come to mind.  There's also 2010 with Hofstra blowing a late lead and losing to Northeastern in the quarterfinals.  Oh yeah, the last second loss in 2009 to ODU in the CAA Quarterfinals, the only CAA tournament I didn't go to in the span of ten years, due to my younger son's surgery.   And 2011 was tough too, because it was the last tournament with The Wolf.

March 2012 was the last time that I was in attendance for a CAAHoops Tournament.   During the summer of 2012, I accepted my current position as Assistant Dean for Academic Technology for the University of South Carolina School of Law.   I moved down to Columbia, South Carolina in August 2012.

Matthew pitching Sunday in USSSA Travel Ball Tourney
Since then, my life has changed radically, albeit for the better.  Since he was two years old, Matthew has loved baseball and thank goodness for him, he has a lot more talent than his equally baseball loving father ever had.   I've been fortunate to coach him and his younger brother Jonathan these past few years.
Baseball just happens to start in February in South Carolina and the fall season runs through November.  I've become very involved in our local little league down here, Trenholm Little League and currently, I am the league president.  In the span of barely three years, I have countless memories of the games and experiences of my two sons.

Gustys layup  as Hofstra defeats Sacred Heart
With all the responsibilities of being a league board member and a coach for ten months of the year, other than my full time work responsibilities, I don't have time for other things.  Thus my college basketball writing has been little to non-existent.   I find time when I can to cover basketball, like when I was in NY for the holidays for the "Jordan Allen Invitational", where the Pride didn't look anything like the eventual 2015-16 CAA Regular Season Champions.

So when the CAA Tournament started this weekend with Hofstra as the #1 seed, unlike years prior, where I would have a prime seat at Richmond Coliseum for three days straight, I was in a ballpark in West Columbia, South Carolina with Matthew and ten of his equally talented and wonderful teammates.

Thus I never got to see any of Hofstra's quarterfinal win on Saturday as I was in a dugout keeping score in our second win of the day, a 10-2 victory.  But I was literally wearing Hofstra on my sleeve, as underneath my Columbia Thunder travel ball coach's shirt, I was wearing my long sleeve Hofstra basketball shirt.

The combination had brought us such good luck that I wore the same combination, albeit after a washing, yesterday.   Matthew started at pitcher in our third game of the tournament.  Playing one of the better AA teams in the state, Matthew only gave up two runs on two hits in three innings, struck out three with one walk.  We would eventually win the game 6-5.

Since we had a long break before our championship game, we were able to go home and watch a good part of the William and Mary/Hofstra CAA Semifinal game on NBCSN.   It was like being in the stands, screaming happily at times, other times yelling angrily when the Pride failed to cover an open Tribe shooter.

But we had to leave for the ballpark with the Pride trailing by two.  On the twenty minute drive there, I had the phone mounted on the dashboard with the ESPN play by play gamecast on my screen.   I gave Matthew updates as we got close to the field.  Then Koon gave the Pride a 69-67 lead.  As I parked the CRV, the final came across.  Hofstra won 70-67.  Matthew and I high fived and then went to our game.

Hofstra wasn't the only team that won yesterday.  We won our championship game 8-3.  It was our second tournament title of the Fall 2015-Spring 2016 10U AA season.  It's a wonderful group of players, all of them from our Trenholm Little League and the core of them have played together since their District 3 winning Coach Pitch Baseball All Star team back in Spring 2014.

I have never been to a #CAAHoops championship game.  All those years I went to the CAA Tournament, I never stuck around till Monday.   So when Defiantly Dutch asked me today if I was coming up to Baltimore, I told him that I couldn't.  Too much going on here.   But I will be my home in Forest Acres at 7:00 PM, wearing my Hofstra basketball long sleeve shirt underneath my Columbia Thunder coach shirt.   I have learned if it ain't broke, don't change a thing.

Next year, the CAA Tournament comes to my neck of the woods, Charleston, which is 90 minutes way from me.  Guaranteed I will be there for that tournament and likely the championship.  But that's then, this is now.  .

We're "Back to Where It All Begins". Back to when the College Hardwood first started.  Back to Pride vs. Seahawks for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Figures the only two times Hofstra has been in the finals, UNCW has stood in the way.

May this time be a different, happier ending for the Pride. The Pride owe the Seahawks one.  As Moonlight Graham so eloquently said in Field of Dreams "Win one for me, boys".


No comments:

Post a Comment