Another basketball season has come and gone, and my last as a bachelor. For those of you have been inquiring, my bride, Mary Ellen, and I had a wonderful, relatively small ceremony earlier this month and an unforgettable honeymoon in Maui – an oasis in midst of this brutal Northeast winter that just won’t graduate to spring. In the hopes that the climate will change soon, I share with you these final thoughts from the D2 season gone by:
First off, a hearty congratulations to Patrick Beilein, Jimmy Langhurst, Keegan Hyland and the Le Moyne Dolphins for their unprecedented run through the East Region. Prior to March, the Dolphins had compiled mostly winning seasons over their first 70 years of existence, but had only won four of 20 NCAA Tournament games, and none since 1988 – a consolation game (remember those?) vs. Kutztown (PA). Their last opening-round win came vs. now-D1 Youngstown State (OH) in 1963 – the year before my broadcast partner, Don Familo, and I were born! Last month, Le Moyne won its first three tourney games to reach its first Elite-8 before bowing out to West Texas A&M in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Unchartered waters and a heckuva ride for my alma mater! And to rank fifth in all of Division 2 in scoring defense, while playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country, was a testament to the balanced Phins’ toughness and selflessness.
Speaking of South Dakota – a state I have visited three times now (including the last two Marches for basketball) – the residents are among the warmest people I have ever encountered. So it pains me to say that Sioux Falls is about as boring a city as I’ve ever visited. The Sanford Pentagon, however, where the men’s AND women’s Elite-8s were held, is an absolutely PERFECT venue for such an event. From the modest seating capacity (3,250) to the museum-level exhibits (any noteworthy pro or amateur who has ever played or coached in the state is commemorated), this unique, five-sided arena is among my favorite buildings in which to watch and/or broadcast a basketball game.
And what a pleasure it was to experience the women’s Elite-8 for the very first time! The NCAA should host both championships at the same venue every year! This was the first time the D2 men’s and women’s national championship games were decided on the very same floor since 1984 at the MassMutual Center (then known as the Springfield Civic Center) in Springfield. And the Central Missouri Jennies won it BOTH TIMES (along with the men’s Mules team in 1984). As Mel Allen famously stated so often: “how about that?”
Reflecting on the season just passed, one of the chief stories that comes to mind is the announced retirement of revered Southern New Hampshire coach Stan Spirou, who decided to give up the reins to the program he elevated to greatness over the past 33 years so as to spend more time with his family. For just about as long as I’ve been following Division 2 college basketball, Spirou has been the head coach at SNHU (originally New Hampshire College) and I am not among the minority in saying that it just won’t be the same seeing the Penmen play in the future without his distinctive presence on the sideline. Sometimes boisterous, sometimes pensive but always emotionally invested, the native of Greece was beloved by his players because he in turn loved all of them… even though at times he would glare at them as if he wanted to rip their throats out. Plenty has been written about his teams’ accomplishments and his individual awards, so I will bypass all those deserved accolades and share with you a memory that has endured with me and Don since our first year in the old New England Collegiate Conference. And this was the first indication that we were in the presence of a coach with a high degree of ethics. It was during the final moments of regulation in a late-season game with playoff implications. One of the Penmen’s star players, in the heat of the moment during a minor altercation with a Le Moyne player, spit in his man’s face. Embarrassed and enraged, Spirou removed this player from the game and left him on the bench the rest of the afternoon. Le Moyne prevailed in overtime, ending a very long home-court winning streak. I am pleased to report that the very next time the two teams met – about a week later in the playoffs - that benched player and his Le Moyne counterpart buried the hatchet and went on to become good friends. That told me everything I ever needed to know about Spirou. And throughout the years, the Greece native has always been extremely friendly to us, chatting before and after games, regardless of the outcome, even inviting us to the Penmen Club after games in Manchester. Those postgame soirees featured good food and Spirou holding court with genuine hospitality and humorous speeches (he once chastised the mayor because his street hadn’t been plowed after a storm). If I ever need someone to emcee an event, Stan is the man I will call upon. I am proud to call him a friend and wish him and his family nothing but happiness in this new chapter of life.
Sticking with Manchester schools, St. Anselm Coach Keith Dickson – himself a terrific coach (we are blessed to have so many in our region!) – may be the very best I’ve ever witnessed as far as deconstructing the action in postgame press conferences. I’m not sure how many of you are aware of this, but before I begin writing my reports, I read EVERY game story from EVERY school and listen to EVERY coach and player interviews that are made available on the various websites. And there are no interviews I look more forward to than Dicksons’. You can always rely on an exceptionally honest take with insightful analysis. I learn as much, if not more, about his team through those pressers than I ever do watching his players on the court. And next year’s Hawks, on paper at least, appear to be a beast of a basketball team, fronted by rising senior guards Tim Guers and Cody Ball.
What is it about Bloomfield and the #7 seed in the NCAA regional? They won their only title as the 7 at Bentley in 2011, then made it all the way to the championship game this March as the last at-large selection. Talk about a lucky number!
Obviously, I don’t see all of their games, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a Bridgeport Purple Knights contest during which head coach Mike Ruane and his assistants didn't wear purple!
Fortified with uncommon depth and relentless pressure, Bridgeport finished tops in the nation in forced turnovers this season – nearly 22 a game. Goldey-Beacom finished third, by the way!
Enjoyed watching the first-ever East Coast Conference Tournament in Rochester (though the weather was indeed frightful!), and Roberts Wesleyan proved to be a more than suitable host with a terrific media spread (local barbecue was featured fare the night I was there – mmm!). It’s always one of my favorite places in the region to watch a game, especially when the public address announcer cleverly ties in Amtrak and Greyhound to on-court traveling violations.
What I DON’T like from PA announcers, as well as broadcasters, is the incessant butchering of names. Their #1 job is to check with a representative of the opposing team and make sure to go over each player’s pronunciation. Spell each unusual name phonetically, practice off the mic if necessary, but don’t just GUESS how to say a name printed on the roster. Even what appears to be a simple name can jump up and bite you. Case in point: Le Moyne women’s player Madison Purcell. In almost EVERY road gym, she was announced under the common pronunciation of pur-CELL, when in fact, she pronounces it “PURSE-ull.” Nothing kills credibility more than not knowing the players. And I speak from experience, having botched a name or two over my 26 years on the air.
Love when Dominican’s PA guy, John Lennon, proclaims “DC3” after the Chargers knock down a 3-pointer.
Must’ve been tough for Mercy’s first-year head coach Mike Maczko to coach with no home gym. And even harder to recruit with such a handicap.
Not a fan of intentional shot-clock violations. Just sayin’.
To all of you SIDs who have the resources and post game-action photos, God bless you! Truly adds to the game recaps.
As for the game stories, I’m especially fond of Merrimack’s “Rapid Recap.” I’m also a big fan of statistical oddities and oddball tidbits, wherever I may find them.
I know there weren’t many positive outcomes in the region’s northernmost corner the past few months, but Josh Kessler does an outstanding job with his St. Michael’s game stories, especially when he pulls in historical elements. A real pleasure to read!
I heard an opposing coach tell his team the following regarding University of the Sciences’ phenomenal work on the glass: “That team rebounds like their lives depend on it!” The Devils ranked ninth in the nation with an +8.7 rebounding margin – tops in the region.
A similar remark by another coach, albeit in a detrimental tone: “we turn it over like it’s our JOB!”
Also heard by one clearly under-dressed coach: “I’m not wearing Armani to THIS place.”
Despite esteemed coach Brian Beaury convalescing from hip surgery over the winter, Saint Rose didn’t miss a beat with assistant Mike Perno at the helm. His work with the Golden Knights surely landed him some votes for NE10 Coach of the Year, which would have been a noteworthy accomplishment in its own right. And Beaury deserves a standing ovation for the hours he put in on the NCAA’s regional and national committees over the past couple of years. No one watches more games across all the regions and is more informed than the former Golden Knights point guard.
Major kudos to Molloy grad Jaylen Morris – son of former Bridgeport stud and longtime Molloy assistant Pat Morris – for making it to the NBA and playing six games with the Atlanta Hawks this winter!
Gonna be strange to watch St. Thomas Aquinas next season without #21 on the floor. Justin Reyes – stunningly underrecruited out of high school – blossomed into one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever watched at this level. And to think, he did a good chunk of his damage while being double- and triple-teamed by bigger forwards the majority of his career.
Roberts Wesleyan’s Jean Toussaint has the best pivot for a big man this side of Reyes.
Stonehill was the most lethal long-range shooting team in the region and third-best in all of D2, with no fewer than seven players shooting at least 41.8% from beyond the arc!
I saw more rebound back-taps this season than I had the previous three years combined.
Talking basketball and its deep statistical formulas with New Haven coach Ted Hotaling is like talking baseball with Sabermetician Billy Beane. That’s a wormhole worth climbing down.
The Chargers – as well as the Daemen Wildcats – caught tough breaks after losing in their respective league tournaments and just missed out on NCAA at-large bids. Had either one sneaked into the tourney, whose to say they wouldn’t have pulled a “Bloomfield” and made an inspired run?
How does Juvaris Hayes play at such a high level without ever cracking a smile on the floor? He’s gotta enjoy the game a lot more than he lets on, especially having led the nation in steals and finishing second in assists. Yawn!
Teams shouldn’t be charging for video broadcasts anymore.
Really like the Georgian Court Lions mascot “Roary.” The team also had the loudest and most animated bench I saw in the region all season.
Thanks to the Queens College DJ for introducing me to the song “If” by Davido. The afrobeat tune with reggae elements boasts over 63-million views on YouTube, even though I’ve never heard it once on the radio.
Overheard during a CACC game when a player walked off with an apparent injury:
Official: “I would check him out”
Home Team Athletic Trainer: “I know how to do my job”
It always throws me when I see games at Nyack and Goldey-Beacom and see the teams reversed on the scoreboards.
Even though they played much tougher than their record, one would be hard-pressed to find a more disappointing team this winter than the Adelphi Panthers. Each fall, a few of my colleagues and I make pre-season predictions, which I rarely reveal. But I readily confess to you today that I had Dave Duke’s boys in the NCAA tournament. Caldwell also performed mystifyingly below its talent level. Sometimes, the plan simply doesn’t come to fruition.
Rahsaan Williams of Felician was the best rebounder these eyes saw all season. And that’s certainly saying something in a region bolstered by names such as Reyes, Will Gregorits, Andrew Sischo and Chris Walters, among others.
Player interview pet-peeve – at ALL levels: beginning a sentence with “I mean.” Just SAY what you mean!
A rare midseason coaching change saw Concordia replace Brian Sondey with John Cavaliere. And while we wish the former assistant the best of luck heading into his first full season at the helm, I take this unsolicited opportunity to plead for some school – whether it be D2, D3 or JUCO – to hire Mr. Sondey, who is a dedicated, energetic and intelligent mentor who did more to legitimize the Clippers program than any other coach in the D2 era.
I’m still not used to calling the former Philadelphia University “Jefferson.” Same goes for the new logo and color scheme, which are all well and good, but they simply don’t register with me. Thankfully, the banners in the gym will remain maroon and white. And at least they are allowed to retain the Rams nickname.
Herb Magee – whose team has seemingly sustained more injuries the past three seasons than his previous 48 – somehow steered his troops to yet another 20-win season and NCAA Tournament berth. That’s 35 times in 51 years the Hall of Famer has accumulated 20+ victories and 30 times his Rams have gone dancing. Absolutely remarkable!
Just as remarkable is this tidbit: when Jefferson lost to old Mideast Collegiate Conference rival Le Moyne in the NCAA’s first round (their first meeting in Syracuse since 1998), it was the Dolphins’ 1,000th all-time victory (against 775 losses) in 70 years. Magee had won 74 more in his 51 years! In the stands that night was Michigan Head Coach John Beilein, who was on hand to watch his son coach. The man who would go on to lead the Wolverines to a Cinderella run to the national championship game renewed his friendship with Magee prior to the game. Afterward, when it was mentioned to Herb that the elder Beilein was the only coach in history to defeat Magee’s Rams three straight years at old Althouse Hall, the 76-year-old legend replied: “Yeah, and don’t think he doesn’t know that either.”
These are the stories that keep me coming back every year. Until we lace ‘em up again next season, have a wonderful spring and summer!