Monday, October 28, 2013

Where We've Been, Where We're Going

On March 4, 2012, I was sitting on press row during the second CAA Tournament Semifinal in Richmond Coliseum. Sitting next to me was my good friend Jerry Beach, aka Defiantly Dutch, who made the trip down with me in a trip that would have made John Candy and Steve Martin proud. Nearby was our friend Tom Block, covering the game for George Mason and directly in front of us was CAA Beat writer Rob Canady and longtime CAA and UNC Wilmington beat writer and friend Brian Mull. Our friend, @VaBeachRep, Joe Suhoski, had been at the tournament on press row the day before.  Somewhere in the stands was our friend Mike Brodsky, who had done the radio broadcast for the Northeastern game the night before, along with Matt Cerilli and Alan Wilson, two George Mason friends I had got to know via their love-hate relationship with Beach.

I think all of us were amazed at the start of the VCU - George Mason game, which was the fifty sixth Division I basketball game I had covered live that season.  The Rams had jumped out to a 32-4 lead.  The sold out, mostly partisan Rams crowd was likely setting record decibel levels of sound in the creaky, leaky, often cold arena.  The Patriots would roar back though, cutting a once twenty eight point lead down to six with three minutes left in the game.  However VCU would hold on for a 74-64 win.

I truly had enjoyed soaking in the raucousness of the crowd that day.  Drexel had won the earlier semifinal against Old Dominion, the alma mater of Joe Suhoski, who covers CAA football and is also a friend of Beach and mine.  A season after three CAA teams making the NCAA Tournament and another CAA Semifinal Tournament team, Hofstra, had one of their players taken in the NBA Draft (Charles Jenkins), it looked like there would be again multiple #CAAHoops teams in the NCAA Tournament.  Things couldn't have been brighter for the CAA.

Little did I know that things would never be the same in the CAA again.

I drove my "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" partner in crime back to New York after the VCU-Mason post game press conference (Picture is from Hofstra-Delaware game in 2011. Notice how Hofstra is spelled on the ticket), once again having not been able to stay for the CAA Championship game. It's become sort of a twisted tradition.  When I attend the CAA Tournament, I never can stay for the championship game, basically due to work.  When my alma mater Hofstra made it in 2006, my dear friend Tony Terentieff had to be back for work and he drove my friend Mal and me down for the tournament.

In this case, I wanted to stay again, but this time, I had to go to Colorado.  I was a finalist for a position at the University of Colorado.  There was a fifty-fifty chance that I would get the position and that things for me would never be the same.

Drexel, who had lost to VCU in the finals of the CAA Tournament, was snubbed out of an at large bid for the NCAA Tournament.  Instead, Iona, a team I heavily covered during 2012 for both my site and the Mid Majority, made the tournament.  The Gaels went down in the first round of the tournament in spectacular fashion, blowing a twenty point lead vs. BYU.

Where this involves me is that Drexel was now playing in the NIT and was playing home games in Philly.  Thus a road trip to the land of cheesesteaks!  The Dragons had made it to the NIT Quarterfinals and were hosting the Minutemen of UMass.

It was a disappointing night all around.  Drexel blew a fourteen point second half lead and lost to UMass. During the game I had found out via email that night that I didn't get the position at the University of Colorado.  I took it in stride, figuring perhaps that staying in New York, working for Hofstra and covering college basketball was my place in life.

Suddenly the dominoes started falling.   First, the Atlantic-10 offered VCU a spot in their conference.  The Rams, understanding that the A-10 gave them a better media presence, more competition and a better chance for future at large bids, left all their two years of NCAA Tournament CAA money and joined the A-10.   Old Dominion and Georgia State announced they were jumping to Conference USA and the Sun Belt, basically for football conference dollars.   A year later, George Mason decided to reunite with VCU in the A-10.

The three teams that had been the face of #CAAHoops - VCU, ODU and George Mason were gone in the span of a little more than a year. What was once a Virginia based conference, has become more of a North-South mix with only two Virginia teams left (James Madison and William and Mary).

The CAA will never be the same.

Then, just when I thought I was going to be a lifelong New Yorker, an opportunity arose at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  This time, fate shined on me.  I was offered the position and in August of last year, I moved everything I could into a 2001 two door Honda Accord and made the trip down to Columbia, South Carolina.  Six months later, our house in New York finally sold and my family made the trip down with me.  The job has been absolutely great and my family is very happy in its new house.

My coverage of the 2012-13 college basketball season had started off pretty well.  I knew that I could not repeat the feat of covering fifty nine Division I men's games, at least fifteen Division I women's games and a couple of Division III games.  But there was plenty of college basketball around me in South Carolina and North Carolina.  I had season tickets to USC.  Wofford, Davidson, Charlotte, Winthrop, Presbyterian and USC Upstate were all relatively nearby me, plus I used my Christmas Break trip to New York wisely and covered a lot of games while I was up there.

Then February in South Carolina hit.   Let me explain.

Baseball season starts in February.  Not just college baseball season, as most informed, college sports fans know, but also Little League Baseball season.  Yes, baseball season for little kids starts at that time.  And we're not talking late February, we're talking February 2.  Yup.   In fact, my family was still not with me at that time.  I was an assistant coach for my older son's coach pitch team in February and there were two practices that I helped run where he was not at since the house in New York didn't close until February.

So when college basketball season was at its height the first weekend of March with the CAA Tournament, we were having opening day for our league that Saturday.  And I wasn't involved with just one team, I was also the head coach for my younger son's tee ball team.  Very quickly, I was spending at least four, five and even six days a week at Trenholm Park in Forest Acres, home to the Trenholm Little League.

And I was loving every minute of that.  As much as I love college basketball, baseball is my other love.  And I wouldn't have moved to South Carolina if my older son, Matthew, didn't sign off on it.  And one of the reasons he was willing to move down here was that, in his own words, he "could play baseball ten months of the year."

When Matthew was two and a half years old and already was fond of watching baseball live, he asked me if I could pitch to him.  So at two and a half, I started pitching to him.  And I found out very quickly, he could hit a ball.  Hit a ball real well.  So well that my family would come over to see him hit.  Then quickly, he wanted to play catch and learn how to field.  By the time Matthew was five, I could have a regular catch with him and I don't mean soft toss either.  I was fortunate to be able to coach him and his friends for two years in North Bellmore before I moved down to South Carolina.  It was a dream come true.

When I was a kid, I loved baseball just as much as Matthew.  However, my parents were separated and later divorced by the time I was thirteen.  My brother had been in the Air Force from the time I was eight until I was twelve.  The key time frame for when a kid who loves baseball plays Little League.  Yet there was no one around to help me cultivate my love of baseball.  My parents never signed me up for baseball, never asked me to play baseball.

My brother got out of the Air Force in 1978.   It was then, through his high school friends and him, that I started learning about baseball through their various slow pitch softball teams.  I sort of became the team mascot/scorekeeper/bat boy.  I practiced with the team, learned baseball, learned how to score etc.

I started getting a lot better at baseball/softball and started playing stickball, a favorite sport among northeast kids.  I ended up playing against several members of the high school baseball team and I more than held my own. My friends in high school (some of us, like me who ran track, two of us played high school baseball) and I played other members of the baseball team in slow pitch softball in high school and I remember us at least winning one game.

After high school, I ended up playing organized slow pitch softball for twenty years.  I was pretty decent and I was fortunate to play on some really good teams.  Still, I never played little league baseball or high school baseball.   If I really have one regret in life, it's that I never played organized baseball when I was young.

Even before I met my wife of seventeen years, Michelle, I told myself that if I ever had kids and they wanted to play baseball, I would do everything in my power and I mean, EVERYTHING, to help with that.  So when Matthew came to me that day asking me to pitch to him, it was like true illumination to me.

And five and half plus years later, here I am, the co-head coach of his fall Minors baseball team.  Matt hits second for us, is one of our three pitchers and can play anywhere in the field.  He loves the game and works at it everyday.  I am proud to say he was a Coach Pitch League All Star in the Spring and started at third base in our district tournament (and I was proud to be one of the assistant coaches).

My younger son, Jonathan, is on my tee ball team.  He's not like Matthew and would rather play Angry Birds than baseball.  Jonathan doesn't practice baseball when he's not playing an actual game, but he's pretty good when he plays.  Maybe the baseball light bulb will turn on for him someday, but that's okay if it doesn't for him.  Still love him as much as Matthew.

So Matthew got his ten months of baseball.  His dad coaches both his sons in baseball.  And neither of us could be any happier.

So what does that mean for The College Hardwood?

Fear not my college basketball loving friends.  The blog is alive and well, as you can see by this post.  This is the start of our basketball season on the blog.  I will still be covering a lot of games between mid-November and February. Once again, I have University of South Carolina season tickets.  Our live first game coverage will be November 9 when South Carolina hosts season opener sacrificial lamb Longwood.

But it's not just USC basketball I will be covering. My trip to New York around Christmas time will allow me to cover some good New York local basketball (see you soon, Hofstra and Stony Brook friends).  You can count on short road trips to Davidson, Charlotte, Wofford and Winthrop.   Plus, I have already got NCAA second and third round tickets for the regional at Raleigh.  If you remember the last regional in Raleigh in 2008, we were witness to the Stephen Curry show against Gonzaga and Georgetown.

However, once February comes, there won't be as much live basketball coverage from me as their used to be here. Certainly not fifty nine games of Division I coverage like the 2011-12 season.  But as I did once say nearly three years ago, that my commitments come before this basketball blog.  However, I do have a plan up my sleeve to increase the coverage here but I am not yet at liberty to say. :-)

Rest assured, college basketball is still a great love of mine and as for long as I can keep the site up, The College Hardwood is still a place college basketball fans can call home.

Regards Always,

Gary Moore
Author, Founder of The College Hardwood