Monday, November 19, 2012

Nice To Be Here (Recap of UDC vs Hofstra)

Pack all the good wins safe on the shelf
Stuck in an orbit around yourself
Hand over hand and keeping the score
It's just not music anymore 
Shane Nicholson - "Nice to Be Here"

As my marines, aka the few, the proud, the readers of my site know, my life is in a state of flux.  My new home base is Columbia, South Carolina, where I work for the University of South Carolina.  It's down in Columbia, listening to 92.1, "The Palm" that I first heard Shane Nicholson's "Nice to Be Here".  I have adopted that song title as my theme for my life now in Columbia.

Meanwhile, the rest of my immediate family is still up in North Bellmore, New York till the house closes.  It makes for interesting travel plans and as well as basketball trips. Such was the case for this past weekend.

Several weeks ago, after I came back up to Long Island in late October to see my family, I had only been planning to just come home for Thanksgiving.   Then as you know, Hurricane Sandy hit and I had come up in advance for that and stayed that entire week.  But I had also decided to come up this past weekend as well, because it's my younger son Jonathan's fifth birthday this past Saturday.  Turning five is an important milestone for a five year old boy and I wanted to be with him for that milestone.

So, strangely how things work out, instead of either being at the Charleston Classic or at VCU-Winthrop this past Saturday, it ended up being a perfect opportunity to come back to what was my long time home in Hempstead, New York. Hofstra and the Mack Center were hosting DC, Marshall and South Dakota State in the 2K Classic Subregional.  

The Pride were not hospitable to the Jackrabbits on Friday night as Shaquille Stokes buried a three pointer with three seconds left to give Hofstra their first win, 66-63.  It was even more impressive as a friend noted all the scouts that were at the game watching South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, who had led his team to a NCAA berth last season.

Thus I was looking forward in anticipation to the all the new Pride players/transfer such as Jimmy Hall, Taran Buie, Stokes and the development of returning players such as David Imes, Moussa Kone and Steve Mejia. I wanted to see how they all meshed together and how they would respond after an emotional win the night before over the Jackrabbits.

Before the game, we took Jonathan to Laser Bounce in Levittown, where we met up with my sister in law and her son, Michael, along with my in-laws.  There was an open play time in the bounce area from 1:00 - 2:00 PM and it was packed, as we immediately found out from the parking lot, where my sister in law told me a near fist fight broke out over a parking space.  I know that Jonathan and my older son, aka my color analyst, Matthew had a lot of fun.  But as a parent, I personally think that hour of screaming kids throwing themselves onto inflatables was a form of torture to me. When one of the staff people said we had ten minutes left, I said aloud "Thank God!"  And I meant it.

After Laser Bounce, we went back to my in-laws, where Jonathan opened his presents from his grandparents and his Aunt (he had already opened up our presents earlier in the morning).  My younger son was very happy with his gifts, as most five year olds.  Then we set down and had pizza, which is the preferred of choice for most five year olds.  After pizza, Matthew and I left for the Hofstra game.

After I had left for South Carolina in August, I renewed only two of what was four Hofstra season tickets which are in Section 111, Row D, Seats 9-10.  My friends Tieff and Mal sit in those seats now. So I had to purchase two tickets for the game. Fortunately for Matthew and I, the row behind my season tickets, 111 Row E was completely open.

We had actually got to the Mack Center for the start of the second half between Marshall and South Dakota State. As we walked into the arena and made our way down the Lions Den Student Section, I could see Tieff was sitting in his seat already taking in the action.  Before I went to my seats, I ran into my old friend Mary Fair, who works for Hofstra Law School, but also works the basketball games on the weekends.  She gave me a hug and asked how I was and how is South Carolina.  Mary is one of the more engaging people I know and it was great to see her.

I said hi to Tieff and since no one else was in the row, he was kind enough to move over and let Matthew and I sit in our old familiar seats.  Mal and his girlfriend Emily would join us shortly thereafter.  There were no worries about sitting in anyone else's seats.  The entire row was basically free as was the row in front of us.  Non conference games at Hofstra in November have historically not been well attended.  This was no exception.

In front of an attendance of maybe one hundred people, the Thundering Herd and the Jackrabbits put on an exciting last twenty minutes of basketball.  Marshall's size gave them a dominant advantage on the boards.  But South Dakota State, led by guard Nate Wolters, one of the best players in the country, moved the ball around on offense so well.  It was your classic contrast of styles.

The teams went back and forth with several lead changes and ties.  Finally D.D. Scarver buried a three to put the Thundering Herd up five, 77-72 with twenty seconds left.  It looked like Marshall was going to win the game.  But Brayden Carlson responded with a three of his own to cut the lead down to two, 77-75.

The Jackrabbits quickly fouled the Herd's Chris Martin.  Martin missed the front end of an one and one and South Dakota State got the rebound.   Wolters got the ball and Marshall focused on Wolters, perhaps too much.  As Wolters drove the lane, the Herd left Jackrabbits' guard Chad White open at the top of the key.  Wolters fed White, who calmly buried another three pointer to put the Jackrabbits up one.   A desperation half court shot at the buzzer by the Herd's DeAndre Kane went off the back rim and South Dakota State escaped with a 78-77 win.

Between games, I met up with more old friends, like Mike Neely, Director of Ticket Sales at Hofstra and Executive Associate AD Danny McCabe.  Finally I met up with my good friends Greg Sorensen, Defiantly Dutch, Jerry Beach, his much better half Michelle and their absolutely precious baby daughter Molly.   It was good to see all of them, but especially Molly, who it was my first time meeting.   Molly managed the impossible.  She slept through the entire game, which allowed Jerry to tweet at normal pace.

One of the nice things Hofstra basketball does is that several minutes before a game, season ticket holders can meet in the Pride Lounge with an assistant coach who gives a scouting report of the game.  Coach Pat Sellers gave the talk before the game discussing the Pride's opponent, UDC.  The District of Columbia is a Division II school but they have several Division I transfers.  They are also coached by Jeff Ruland, former NBA player and former coach of Iona.   They gave Marshall a lot of trouble in the first half of their game yesterday before losing.  Sellers clued in the audience that they could expect a lot of end to end action with the Firebirds.

After talking with a lot of familiar, friendly faces, we made our way back to our seats for the start of the game.  The Pride came out strong from the gate scoring the first eleven points of the game.  The freshman Hall quickly impressed me with his aggressive play and quickness.  I had seen a few games of Hall's when he was a senior at St. Anthony's High School on ESPN and he seems to have improved by leaps and bounds. Stokes made an equally good impression with his confident play.   Quickly I could see Hofstra has much more talent this season than last season.

UDC broke Hofstra's run and actually scored the next five points to cut the lead to six.  But the Pride responded as another of the newcomers for Hofstra, Buie made his presence felt by burying a three pointer to put Hofstra back up nine.  From there the Pride would stretch the lead out.  The lead was as many as twenty after another Buie three pointer put Hofstra up 39-19.

It was during this time that Hofstra ran a promotion.  If someone tweeted the hashtag #WeAreHofstra from their Twitter account with their current seat location, a winner would be chosen at random for a seat upgrade to a courtside seat.  I figured what the hell and did exactly that.  A few minutes later in what was a huge surprise for me, a couple of Hofstra Dance Team members came up to me and it was announced over the PA system that @gmoore21566 (my twitter account, which you should be following by the way) won the contest.  They escorted Matthew and I to our court-side seat.  Needless to say I got a lot of flack from my friends Mal and Defiantly Dutch.

I have to admit winning the contest was pretty funny.  My season ticket seats have been for the last several years only four rows from the court.  I always felt pretty fortunate to see Division I basketball games so close up on a regular basis without having to be on press row. But sitting court-side is a completely different experience and it kind of made Matthew feel uncomfortable.  As there were already several plays right in front of us in the first minute, Matthew turned to me and said "This is too close".

 Matthew was not the only one uncomfortable.  Apparently Hofstra was uncomfortable with a twenty point lead. The Pride became sloppy on both of ends of the court.  UDC started hitting some shots and the Hofstra lead at the half was only twelve, 43-31.

At the half, my first boss at Hofstra and long time friend Howard Graves came up to say hi and we talked for a while. He asked about the family and the move to South Carolina. I told him that everything was great in Columbia so far and that I couldn't wait for the family to be down there with me.  I asked him about Hofstra and other things.  It was good to see Howard.  I learned a lot of things from him from a managerial standpoint that I still use today on a daily basis.

The second half picked up right where the first half left off.  Hofstra struggled from the field and UDC continued to cut the lead and got it to down to seven points several times, the last being 60-53 with a little less than eight minutes left.  But the Pride lead by Stephen Nwaukoni, who had a strong second half on his birthday, would not let them get any closer.   Hofstra would eventually win 74-59. The Pride shot forty nine percent from the field on the game (fifty four percent in the first half) and dominated the glass, outrebounding the Firebirds 50-32.

After saying goodbye to Emily and Mal, Tieff, Matthew and I made our way to see Greg, Jerry, Michelle and a still sleeping Molly.  We talked about how impressive the newcomers Hall, Stokes and Buie played for the Pride. We saw improvement in Kone, Nwaukoni and Mejia.  The team basically gelled pretty well, though there were the expected scoring ruts and missed assignments a young team will have during a game.

There is a lot more talent and depth on this Hofstra team now than compared to last season's team.  There is also much more scoring balance now, as six players scored in double figures in the win over the Firebirds. The Pride accomplished this despite Jamal McCombs-Daniel out due to injury and Daquan Brown not being eligible until after finals.  The resiliency, talent and depth that Hofstra has showed up again on Sunday when the Pride outlasted Marshall in double overtime 103-100 to complete a three game sweep of the 2K Classic.

Eventually the UDC players came out from the locker room dressed along with Coach Ruland.  A fan yelled "Hi, Coach Ruland, good to see you!"   Ruland turned and waved with a look of grumpy disdain.  All that was missing was Ruland saying "Get off my lawn!"  Guess he didn't take the loss too well.

After letting Matthew run on the court for a few minutes, we said our goodbyes to Michelle and Greg.  Jerry had already gone down to the locker room.  Tieff and I said goodbye in the parking lot, but it would be a short goodbye with him.  He would be picking me up at my house as we would both fly back to Charlotte, which would then take us to Durham to see an old friend at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That's for my next article. As I started my familiar drive out of the parking lot, I wondered how many times I would be back at the Mack Center in the future. I realized quickly that it won't be often.

Matthew and I went back to my in-laws house where we had birthday cake for Jonathan.  I knew in the back of my mind that this was one of the last times we would be celebrating Jonathan's birthday at my wife's parents house. As I noted, hopefully in a few weeks, my immediate family would be down with me in Columbia.

The things I have taken for granted all these years; the countless number of games at Hofstra, seeing friends on a regular weekly basis for two hours in the winter months at the Mack Center and the time my boys have spent with their grandparents, all that has changed or will change being now seven hundred and fifty or so miles away from all that I have known.

But for one Saturday in November, it was all still the same.  The packed Long Island kids' place, my wife's parents house, the Mack Center and all the familiar faces and friends, even if it was perhaps the last time for a long time.  It was a familiar theme to me.

It was nice to be here.

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