Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's All About Hofstra

Hofstra University is celebrating it's 75th anniversary this weekend.  Since Hofstra is the home base of the College Hardwood, why not have an article entirely made up of Hofstra basketball as our first post of the fall?!

It was a rough few off season months with the hiring/then firing of Tim Welsh due to his DWI arrest. Then the transfers of Hofstra's two best freshmen (more on that in a second).  And unfortunately, the news does not get any better for Hofstra basketball fans.  The NCAA has ruled that Hofstra guard Brad Kelleher is now ineligible for the first eight games of this season, after he was ruled ineligible for the entire 2009-10 season.   Mike Litos has written an absolutely terrific article about the Kelleher incident.

Litos goes into detail why Kelleher was declared ineligible for both last season (signing a professional "agreement" or "contract" based on the NCAA's definition of a contract) and the first eight games of this season (having played four games in the Australian professional league, thus 2 games ineligible for each game played). 

Now what's amazing is what the NCAA considered as the "contract" that Kelleher signed.  The Australian NBL considers it "an application", it even states it on the form as an application.  Litos goes further stating the general manager of the NBL, Chuck Harmison, testified to the NCAA that it is strictly a registration form and the actual contract a player would sign is a forty page form.

If that's not a bad enough indictment of how moronic the NCAA is, consider this.  Litos states that Hofstra requested that two of Kelleher's eight suspended games should include their two exhibition games vs. Dowling and Farmingdale.  The NCAA disallowed this, even thought they allowed Kentucky's John Wall's suspension to include an exhibition game vs. Campbellsville.  If you remember, Wall took money from an agent. Kelleher never took any money from the NBL.  And if you read Litos' article in detail, it discusses the inconsistent penalties that other school's players got for similar infractions.

There are reasons why I have stated so many times on this site that the NCAA stands for the "No Clue At All", and you have just seen two more of them.  First, the NCAA doesn't even know the difference between an application and a contract.  Second and more importantly, the NCAA is incredibly inconsistent in its penalties.  The NCAA's punishment of Wall allowed for exhibition games to be included, while Kelleher's did not.   Something has to be done with the NCAA review process, because right now it's not fair.  Period.

So now new coach Mo Cassara will have one less player for the first eight games and it may be two.   Senior guard Nathaniel Lester seriously hurt his thigh over the summer and it's questionable whether Lester will be able to play this season, let alone start the season.  That might mean only five returning players for Hofstra - CAA Player of the Year senior Charles Jenkins, sophomore guard Yves Jules, sophomore walk-on Matt Grogan, sophomore forward David Imes and senior forward Greg Washington.

Hofstra brings in seven new players - Kelleher (after his eight game suspension), junior transfer guard/forward Mike Moore (formerly of Fordham), JUCO transfer guard Dwan McMillan, redshirt freshman forward Paul Bilbo and three freshman - guard Shemiye McLendon, forward Roland Brown and forward Stephen Nwaukoni.

The reason that there are seven new players instead of five is that two of Hofstra's All CAA Freshmen, guard Chaz Williams and forward Halil Kanacevic transferred after former coach Tom Pecora left for Fordham.  Williams transferred to UMass and Kanacevic transferred to St Joseph's.   Credit has to be given to Pecora, because often players transfer to lesser programs.  In Williams and Kanacevic's cases, both transferred up a level to the Atlantic 10.  Since both have to sit out a year, it remains to be seen if these transfers were the right things to do.

As for Pecora, Dana O' Neill wrote an interesting article about Pecora's move to Fordham.  O'Neill talks about how Pecora gave up a "cruise-control" job for Fordham.  The article goes over familiar territory - Pecora desperately wanted Hofstra to leave the CAA for the Atlantic-10.  But for the forseeable future, that was not going to happen.  So the lure of coaching an A10 team (plus a $600,000 a year salary for the next five years) brought Pecora to Fordham.

What is interesting about this article is that Pecora said the following about Hofstra

"I could have stayed there and won 20 games, but I don’t think I’m built to sit around. So what the heck? Let’s roll the dice a little bit and have some fun with this thing."
Sit around at Hofstra?  Now, I give Pecora a lot of credit for bringing in very good players like Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Charles Jenkins.  But if you asked Hofstra fans if Hofstra was "sailing along" as O'Neill puts it, well you would get serious disagreement from them and certainly me.  Yes, Pecora's teams won 20 games four times and reached the NIT three seasons in a row (and yes, one of those NIT's, 2006, should have been a NCAA Berth).

But in the nine years Pecora was coach of Hofstra, the Pride only made the CAA Tourmanent semifinals three times (including Pecora's first season) and made the CAA Finals once (2006).  The Pride had not made it past the CAA quarterfinals since 2006.   His last Hofstra team won 19 games last season and should be credited for finishing 10-8 in conference  after starting 2-7 in CAA play.  However, only TWO of those nineteen wins came against teams above .500 and his conference record vs. the top six teams in the CAA was a horrid 2-8.  The year before, Hofstra's record against teams above .500 in the CAA was only slightly better at 4-8.

So if you ask Hofstra fans, the team was on anything but "cruise control" since the 2006-07 season.   And Pecora's handling of a lead late in the game, otherwise called by me as "Pulling a Hofstra" is well known among Hofstra fans.  The term "cruise control" certainly would not apply in those late game situations.

Well the Rams' fans can now get to sweat and squirm at those late game situations (should I call it now "Pulling a Fordham"?).   As for Hofstra, Mo Cassara now runs the ship.  From what I have heard from several people, he is a very nice down to earth guy.  What I also like is he is getting Hofstra out in the community.  Hofstra will hold a basketball clinic at the Town of Hempstead Family Festival by the Sea this weekend, September 25 and 26 in Point Lookout.  Finally there will be a Season Holder Ticket Reception on September 30 at the David Mack Hall.  Yours truly has RSVP'd and I will fill you in on some details after the reception.

And Cassara doesn't waste any time trying to improve Hofstra.  Already for the 2011-12 season, Cassara has brought in transfer point guard Steve Mejia from Rhode Island (who had a nearly 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio).  Cassara has received a verbal commitment also from 6 foot 6 forward Jordan Allen of Bay Shore who chose the Pride over George Mason.

He will have a tough test for himself this season.  Seven new players, Lester potentially out for a significant period of time and the first game of the season is North Carolina at the Puerto Rico Shootout (with the second game either vs. the winner or loser of Minnesota - Western Kentucky).  After that it's a relatively easy non conference schedule with the most difficult game being a road game at Iona, my preseason pick to win the MAAC this season.  The first conference game is a home game against Towson.

As for the rest of conference, two home and home games with old America East foes Drexel, Delaware and Northeastern (along with the second road game vs. Towson).  Plus two home and home games each with Mason, UNCW and the Mary (yes Tieff's name for William and Mary is back).  The rest of the games in conference are home games with ODU and James Madison and road games vs. Georgia State and VCU (that game at Spiegel Center never turns out well for the Pride).

So on this 75th Birthday weekend for Hofstra, there is a lot of uncertainty with the basketball program. Well at least we can finally put to rest "Pulling a Hofstra" (at least I hope). And yes, the Pride would have been a prohibitive favorite for the CAA had Williams and Kanacevic stayed.  But who says they can't win without them?   There is still the great Charles Jenkins,  a talented transfer in Mike Moore (when you put up nearly 30 on Xavier, that's pretty good), a lot of freshman to develop, and a coach hungry to prove himself.  Is it too much to ask for a NCAA Tournament berth as a belated 75th birthday present?

That's why they play the games on the College Hardwood.  Happy 75th Hofstra!