Saturday, October 17, 2009

Only YOU can turn Suppertime Shootaround into Midnight Madness

This year's freshmen were three years old when I got Golden Boy. I'm so very old, and so very depressed.

Tom Pecora’s 16th year at Hofstra and his ninth as head coach got off to a quiet start Friday night in a building that didn’t exist in October 1994, when his first season with the program began with infinitely more fanfare and noise than actual basketball a few hundred feet down the road at Hofstra USA.

Pecora and head coach Jay Wright decided to bring Midnight Madness to Hofstra in hopes of drumming up student interest in a team that generated no on-campus buzz the year before, when it went 9-20 while playing in a lame-duck conference that had no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. But in planning the event, Pecora and Wright realized the Flying Dutchmen didn’t have the players necessary to pull off the typical Midnight Madness event.

“We said ‘Can we have a dunking contest?’ and we said ‘We don’t think so, I don’t think we have anyone who can dunk,’” Pecora said. “Then we looked at what the 3-point shooting percentage was. We said ‘Well, we can’t have a 3-point shooting contest.’ Why don’t we come up with the concept of having something in Hofstra USA and making it more of a celebration, almost like a New Years Eve celebration but celebrating a new basketball year? And then it just basically evolved into how good was the DJ we were going to get for the party?”

Turns out it was a pretty good party in which none of the Dutchmen were embarrassed. Hofstra USA was filled to capacity Thursday, Oct. 13—two days before the official start of practice—and Wright emceed from the stage festivities which included a free throw shooting competition between the Greeks (no, the winner did not win a scholarship to play for the Dutchmen) as well as a blind free throw shooting contest in which anyone who sank a bucket would have won free tuition. Obviously, this was not a $42,000 prize back then, but I presume the powers-that-be still exhaled when nobody scored. Wright also did his best Dick Clark imitation at 11:59, when he counted down the seconds until midnight.

I was there for The Chronicle, and in addition to straining to hear Wright, Pecora and Rob Odgen speak over the ear-splitting noise, I remember a player on the dance floor motioning for Wright to come down and boogie. Wright jumped off the stage and unfurled a few moves that could have made him a backup dancer in Janet Jackson’s band. He was one cool dude.

I also remember snagging the above-pictured T-shirt, which evolved the lucky T-shirt that I wore to the America East championship games in 2000 and 2001 and has become my Golden Boy—every wash could be its last, so I only pull it out for Very Special Occasions in the postseason.

And last night, though I didn’t actually wear it. I have standards, you know.

“You should frame that,” Pecora said upon seeing the ratty relic.

(Parenthetical tangent: I also remember almost getting my ass kicked for not doing the responsible thing and heading back to the office to write the story that night…or anytime Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday either. Instead, I left it until the frantic pre-dawn deadline hours of Thursday morning, which would have been bad enough even if I could have found my notebook. I tore up the newspaper office in a desperate search for it, yelling and kicking stuff and making such a racket that some dude from the computer lab down the hall—yes, kids, this was so long ago that laptops had yet to be invented—came in to ask me to quiet down. I told him to mind his own business and he threatened to punch me out. Possibly Loyal Readers Dan and Jeff told him I was just a blithering idiot and steered him away. Somebody found my notebook and I meekly apologized to everyone, including Potential Ass-Kicking Guy, before penning my award-winning prose. The end.)

Anywho, back here in 2009, Pecora has no shortage of candidates to participate in a dunk contest or 3-point shootout, but the continued apathy of the student body makes it difficult to hold a typical Midnight Madness. The Midnight Madness party became an annual tradition under Wright, one that Pecora maintained for a few years before moving it to the afternoon and dubbing it “Midday Mania.”

But the last “Midday Mania” was held in 2007 and Pecora feels the program—which has reached the NIT four times and the NCAA twice and recorded seven 20-win seasons in the previous 11 campaigns—has moved beyond the point where it should have to throw a party to get people interested in it.

“I think this is better suited for us—I think that you have to know who you are, you know what I mean?” Pecora said. “I think this is the best way to go about [their] business—just get them out and running. It’s an important practice. We’ll go tonight, then we’ll go twice [today] and keep them going.”

The opening practice was attended only by the diehards: About two dozen people were in the stands, and that includes the members of the women’s team that stuck around following their season-opening practice. So if you’re a student at Hofstra and you want to tell stories of your Midnight Madness T-shirt come 2025, well—warning! terrible pun ahead!—the ball is in your court.

“We used to do a party, but then it almost became a non-basketball event—it started to feel like it was more just a party thrown by the basketball team, and that’s not what we’re all about,” Pecora said. “We’re not in a situation yet with our students where we get enough every game [to hold a Midnight Madness]. If we could get 2,000 students here, we’d be doing something right now, you know what I mean? But we’re not at that point yet.

“We’ll get 1,000 students for a home game, and that’s great, but to get the students over here for an event like this, that’s not happening yet. When we’re ready to do that, then we’d love to oblige. But right now this is best for the program.”

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