Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Things I Miss This Time of Season

"Halleujah. Noel.  Be it Heaven or Hell.
The Christmas we get, we deserve." 
"I Believe in Father Christmas" By Greg Lake
For the longest time, I truly believed in those words in "I Believe in Father Christmas" (kind of also helped that I am a huge ELP fan).   There were a couple of years in the early Nineties where I spent Christmas alone, due to what I now wrongly believed was what I deserved for mistakes of the heart.

Now married for seventeen wonderful years with two adorable boys, this time of season is special in many ways for me, from a family standpoint as well as a college basketball standpoint. For forty five years, I spent Christmas as a New York resident.  For as long as I can remember, I had the time between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day off from work, when I worked for Hofstra.  I still do, now working for the University of South Carolina.   It's one of the perks working for an academic institution.

And around the holiday season is a great time to see college basketball games in New York.  There's the annual Holiday Festival at MSG, the new tradition, the Barclays Center Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and a good number of local New York teams that are home during the holiday season break.

But this time of year also reminds me of what I miss about the rest of the college basketball season now that I am a resident of Columbia, South Carolina.

First, I miss the close proximity of local New York Division I colleges.  Stony Brook, St John's, Fordham, Iona, Wagner, Manhattan, LIU and of course Hofstra were schools whose games I went to with quite regularity.  They were all within an hour's drive.  Then you had Madison Square Garden, which was an hour train ride into the city. Writing for Mid Majority in 2011-12 as part of the 800 Games Project, from a commuting standpoint, it was relatively easy and quick to get to a college basketball game (well except parking at Manhattan College).  It helped greatly in my coverage of fifty nine Division I men's basketball games that season.

Now, outside of the University South of Carolina, which is the same distance and time for me as it was traveling to Hofstra games, there are only two other schools that are an hour away; Winthrop and Presbyterian and due to scheduling, I haven't seen a game yet at either school.   The other schools I have been to locally; Wofford, Coastal Carolina, Davidson, Charlotte and College of Charleston are at least ninety minutes away from me.  So, unlike a quick evening jaunt to Iona or Stony Brook, those schools I have to catch on a weekend.

But it's more than just the proximity of local teams I miss.  It's the camaraderie that is lacking.  Thankfully, I have my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew to now go to games with here in South Carolina.  That helps a good deal.  But it doesn't make up for not seeing my friends on a regular basis.

First, Hofstra home games were something out of "Cheers".  After twenty four years of being an administrator on campus, I knew a good number of people at Hofstra who I would see on a regular basis there; my former boss and longtime friend Howard Graves, my good friend at the University Computer Center, Marty Gross, my colleagues and friends from the Plant department, Paul Romano and Kenny Tyler, and many others.  I even got to know former Hofstra coach Mo Cassara, one of the true good guys in the coaching profession, who was always kind enough to see if I needed a ticket for a road game.  Glad he is doing well as analyst for ESPN.

University of Delaware Concessions Barbeque. YUM!
Then there was my good friend Defiantly Dutch, Jerry Beach, who I got to know from Hofstra basketball.  I make fun of his age on Twitter and Facebook.  But truth be told, I am older than him by a long shot and this will be the last time I make fun of his age, though I still think I am younger than him mentally.  Beach is also a terrific writer, far better than me.  He has a wonderful wife, Michelle, who I have become friends with (all great women are named "Michelle", ask my wife) and they have the cutest daughter on the planet, Molly.  Finally, he is also a hilarious travel companion, the John Candy to my Steve Martin.

Through Beach, I have got to know several other Hofstra folks like Lee Warner and the lovely Missy Van Brocklin, who I hope will make baked goods again for us when I am there on December 30.  There's Bob, a season ticket holder who I used to sit across from (and my friends still do, since I still have Hofstra season tickets) and we would trade travel stories and betting lines for other games during the Hofstra game.  And of course, there is nothing like rival blogger trash talk with Beach during a Hofstra game.

Also, due to my friendship with Jerry and my coverage for the Mid Majority and local NY hoops, I have become friends with many NYC college basketball beat writers like the omnipresent Jaden Daly of Daly Dose of Hoops, Ray Curren, the one man force that is the Mid Majority this season,  the stat machine Jon Templon, founder of Big Apple Buckets and the dynamic Iona Women's basketball broadcast duo of Nick Guerriero and John Stanko (Nick is now at Dartmouth).

But what I miss most about not being at the Hofstra games is not seeing my dear friends Tony Terentieff and Mal Galletta.  We sat together for years in Section 111, Row D and before that in Section 102.  The banter between the three of us was often truly hysterical.    And from our vantage point in Section 111, we could pick things up being across from the player benches.  You knew when Tom Pecora, former Hofstra Head Coach, was going to put someone in his doghouse or when Bruiser Flint would go off on his players or referees when Drexel visited Hempstead.

One of my all time favorite Hofstra memories is from the 2004-05 season, when I was still sitting in Section 102 ( We moved to Section 111 after the 2005-06 season).   There was an older gentleman who sat by us who use to occasionally fly off the handle, often at the expense of Pecora.  Adrian Uter was in his first season with Hofstra, after two years of JUCO and came off the bench for the Pride, er Flying Dutchmen (sorry, Jer).   In one game, during one particular stretch, Uter was blocking every shot in sight and tearing down rebounds with authority.  Inexplicably, Pecora took him out of the game.   This older gentleman blurts out  loud "PECORA, WHY ARE YOU TAKING UTER OUT?  HE'S AN ANIMAL!"  Our whole section burst out laughing to the point of tears.

Eight years later, it still sticks out in my mind.  That's what you get in a mid major game, fans making comments like that you will always remember.  Mind you, Frank Martin makes up for some of that in Gamecocks' games, because you can often hear him as clear as a bell.  But it's still not the same.

Then there is my good friend Tony Bozzella.  Over the years, Tieff, Mal and I have gone to so many Iona Women's home games sitting with Tony's wife Maria, his very funny daughter Samantha, and the brains behind Bo's fantasy baseball team, his son Joseph.  So many times, we sat in Bo's office after the game talking with Bo and the awesome Lauren DeFalco, going over the game highlights.  We even traveled to Marist to see them play in a gym right out of Hoosiers.  So many memories.

But it's not just the Hofstra or Iona home games I miss with Tieff and Mal.  It's the countless road trips to Delaware (complete with Delaware Concessions Barbeque!), Towson, Drexel, Iona, the train rides into MSG, the long annual trips down to Richmond to the CAA Tournament, including one year going to Atlantic City before the CAA Tournament ("DO YOU THINK I PLAY CRAP HANDS!" - only Mal and Tieff will understand that one) and heck even our trip to Raleigh to see the now famous Stephen Curry Show at the NCAA Regional in 2008.

When Mal and Tieff came down for a sports weekend this November to see our good friend Bo's Seton Hall Women's team play South Carolina, as well as take in a College of Charleston game and the Florida-USC football game, it was like the three amigos were back in business, albeit for one weekend.  Those are things that I miss most about being down here in South Carolina.

Perhaps someday, I will have that camaraderie here at South Carolina.  The road trips to Davidson, Wofford and Charleston are fun, but it's not the same. Plus now that I am a Little League Baseball coach, so the college basketball season seems shorter to me now.

The good thing is that I will be back in New York for the Holiday season and some college basketball.  I hope to be at Stony Brook on December 22.  On December 28, I will be at the Seton Hall- St John's women's basketball game, then at the Barclays Center for the nightcap of the tripleheader as Boston  College takes on VCU.   Then December 30 it's back to Hofstra for a Pride home game.

But this holiday season though has some sadness.  My sister in law's husband, a great guy, lost his mom last week due to cancer.  Only a few months prior, he lost his dad to cancer as well.   It will be good to see my sister in law and him and hopefully my family will bring them some much needed cheer to their Christmas.

Also on Tuesday night around midnight, I woke up to the sound of fire trucks.  My neighbor's house across the street was on fire.  My neighbor, Richard, an older gentleman who's on disability, happened to be in the hospital for heart surgery, for a stroke he suffered only a few weeks back.  His daughter thankfully was not hurt.   But their house seems to be either a total loss or at least needs major work.  They won't be able to spend Christmas at home this year.

Over the past several years, the above "I Believe in Father Christmas" lyrics have not rung as true for me.  I have learned that people often do not get the Christmas they deserve. These two above examples remind me of that.

In my case, I am just happy that I will be back in New York for the holidays with my family, to bring warmth and consolation to loved ones, to spend time with friends I haven't seen in a while and see some college basketball with good friends that I miss.  It will be good to be back in a "New York State of Mind", albeit for a brief time.

To everyone, as Greg Lake was so correct in singing - "I wish you a joyful Christmas.  I wish you a brave New Year.  All anguish, pain and sadness leave your heart and let your road be clear".

And if you can, catch a live college basketball game.  No better sport to watch live.

Happy Holidays from The College Hardwood!

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