Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Worst of the '00s for men's hoops...and the best & worst in everything else

24, a show in which the least trustworthy people are those right around you, had a character named George Mason. Coincidence? I think not.

1.) Selection Sunday, 2006: Really,  nothing else compares. Hofstra helped save the CAA from extinction five years earlier, and its reward was a screw job perpetuated almost entirely from the inside. This was a level of espionage and internal treachery that even Jack Bauer has not dealt with. There’s a reason 24 had a character named George Mason. Seriously. I am not making this up.

2.) Kenny Adeleke dismissed, 2004: Maybe we don’t care about getting screwed in 2006 if Adeleke puts the Dutchmen on his shoulders and carries them to the NCAA Tournament in 2005. Adeleke was on pace to become the first player in school history to compile 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds when he was mysteriously kicked off the team for a “violation of university and team rules.” The 2004-05 Dutchmen advanced to the CAA semifinals, where they blew a 10-point second half lead against Old Dominion, and lost to St. Joseph’s in the first round of the NIT. Who knows what might have been with the best big man of the Tom Pecora Era manning the middle that season?

3.) Rick Apodaca and Wendell Gibson suspended 14 games, 2002-03. The Flying Dutchmen weren’t going to win the CAA in their second year in the conference, but they sure would have done better than 8-21 if Apodaca and Gibson were in the lineup all year. Instead, the duo was suspended half the season for failing a drug test for marijuana. It seemed an awfully harsh punishment at the time, but then-new president Stuart Rabinowitz was quick to remind us he spared Apodaca and Gibson from a far worse sentence. Good thing they weren’t football players.

4.) Loss to George Mason in the CAA quarterfinals, 2007: Oh Greg Johnson, what the hell were you thinking, going for a layup as time expired with the Dutchmen down three? Of course, it wasn’t Johnson’s fault the Dutchmen were playing from behind the entire game, or that this game provided an apt summation of a promising season gone strangely sour. The Dutchmen entered the CAA tournament 22-5 in their last 27 games, yet nothing ever felt right that year. Hangover from The Great Screw Job? Lack of an inside presence following the graduation of Adrian Uter and Aurimas Kieza? Who knows, but it felt perversely appropriate that the final indignity was administered by Mason.

5.) The Class of 2005 never pans out: Every recruiting class has its share of misses, but Pecora’s first class at Hofstra was star-crossed from the start. Only two of the five players completed their eligibility at Hofstra, and Gibson’s tenure was marked by the suspension and injuries while Woody Souffrant went from a starter as a freshman and a sophomore to a little-used role player as an upperclassman. Tyler Glass never played for the Dutchmen, the highly touted Chris McRae left after one season and Adeleke, of course, left after three seasons. Pecora has certainly had more hits than misses since then, but imagine how much better that ’05 team could have been with a legitimate senior presence.


1.) Hofstra joins the Atlantic-10 in football, 2001. Solidified the future of the program and ensured it could compete at the highest level of I-AA. Or so we thought at the time.

2.) Softball falls one win shy of the College World Series, 2004: Cemented Bill Edwards’ legacy at Hofstra as well as that of the Flying Dutchwomen as the top program in the northeast.

3.) Men’s lacrosse climbs to no. 2 in the rankings, 2006: Quieted those wondering why Hofstra, located smack dab in the heart of lacrosse country, couldn’t become a national power in the sport…well, for a while, anyway.

4.) Women’s basketball reaches the Elite Eight of the NIT, 2007: The men’s program came a long way to become a consistent mid-major power, but it didn’t have to travel nearly the distance of the women’s team, which recorded just four winning seasons in its first 24 years at the Division I level before reaching the NIT quarterfinals in Krista Kilburn-Steveskey’s first year at the helm.

5.) Wrestling beats no. 1 Minnesota, 2006: A program on the edge of extinction a decade earlier completed its ascent into the national elite.


1.) Football is killed, Dec. 3, 2009: An assassination, plain and simple, by a president who wanted the program gone from Day One. I don’t think he expected the reaction he’s received, though, and this just in: Those who want the program back aren’t going away anytime soon. Here’s hoping the best moment of the ‘10s is the return of football.

2.) Men’s lacrosse blows five-goal fourth quarter lead against UMass in quarterfinals, 2006: Wes Craven has authored less demonic nightmares than this: Hofstra, which had won 17 in a row since a season-opening loss to UMass, held a 10-5 lead with just over eight minutes to go, had the local crowd on its side at Stony Brook and was headed for its first Final Four, but the Minutemen stormed back with four goals in less than four minutes before scoring the equalizer with less than a minute left in regulation. One of the worst collapses in school history was completed when UMass delivered the inevitable final blow with a goal less than two minutes into overtime.

3.) The athletic program moves into the CAA, 2001: It hasn’t been an awful eight years in the CAA, results-wise, but Hofstra has never been welcome in the southern-based conference and the school’s long-term conference affiliation is more uncertain now than at any time since the East Coast Conference was falling apart in the early ‘90s. It’s too late to go back to the America East now, as we’ll discuss sometime quite soon, but maybe Hofstra never would have left the America East if we knew then what we know now—that James Shuart would be replaced by someone who wanted nothing to do with football.

4.) Women’s soccer squanders one-goal lead in final minute of regulation and loses to Penn State in second round of NCAA Tournament, 2007: Hard to be unhappy with the deepest trip into the NCAA Tournament in program history, but the Flying Dutchwomen were less than 20 seconds away from advancing to the Sweet Sixteen when top-ranked Penn State tied it to force overtime, where the Lady Nittany Lions scored the game-winner with less than two minutes gone. The loss was the first time in 147 games, dating back to 1995, that the Dutchwomen had lost after leading with less than 20 minutes to play.

5.) Softball’s streak of 11 straight conference tournament championships ends, 2009: Again, difficult to quibble with record-setting success, but we’d become so accustomed to Hofstra winning its conference title and reaching the NCAA Tournament that it was a shock when Georgia State knocked the Dutchwomen out of the CAA Tournament and ended the longest streak of conference championships in Division I softball history. The freshmen on the ’09 team were in kindergarten the last time the Dutchwomen hadn’t won their conference tournament.

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Top 10 Hofstra hoops moments of the ‘00s (Or: In which the Best of the Decade lists officially jumps the shark)

I bet you Casey Kasem never read a Long Distance Dedication quite like the one I'd have for Tom O'Connor!

Nothing has ever made me feel as old as thumbing through the best of the ‘00s edition of Billboard the other night at the bookstore. I fancy myself a sponge of pop culture, and I grew up listening religiously to the American Top 40 and getting kicked out of the only drug store in the area that carried Billboard (yeah, well, what’s Brooks Drugs now? Rite Aid! Take that, karma!). Name an album or single from the ‘80s, or even the ‘90s, and I’m pretty sure I can tell you its peak position on the charts.

(Along those lines, the following acts better hurry it the hell up and record a Top 40 single between now and midnight in order to become artists with hits in four different decades: Styx, The Eagles, Heart, Cheap Trick, Journey, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Billy Joel.)

So imagine how I felt Monday, reading about artists I didn’t recognize and songs I’d never heard and formats in which I’d never purchased an album or a song. Now I know what it’s like to be Abe Simpson: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”

It was all very depressing so I decided to feel semi-relevant again by revisiting the only thing that hasn’t passed me by: Hofstra hoops. That’s right, with the final minutes of the decade evaporating, I’ve decided to jump on the best of the ‘00s bandwagon!

Below you’ll find the top 10 moments of the decade in Hofstra basketball. Later tonight I’ll have something on the worst moments of the decade in basketball as well as the best and worst of the decade in the rest of Hofstra sports. One more post and I’ll get to 200 for the year, which is a pretty cool, round number considering I took off almost all of April, May, June and July.

Anyway, hope you enjoy, and hope your New Year’s Eve is a safe one and your 2010 a happy one. Thanks as always for visiting here and making this project so fulfilling for me. Tune in tomorrow as we kick off a new decade by getting right into the flow with the reboot of CAA season.

1.) Hofstra wins the 2000 America East title: Nothing like the first time, even though the second straight title was even more satisfying. A storybook season is capped when the Dutchmen come back from an eight-point second half deficit to beat Delaware at the brand-new Hofstra Arena. My favorite image, perhaps of the decade: The typically non-expressive Speedy Claxton—who cemented his status as the best player in program history by lifting the Dutchmen to the NCAA Tournament in his senior season—pumping his fists and smiling as he walks down the court to take some insurance free throws in the final seconds.

2.) Hofstra wins the 2001 America East title: The Dutchmen were the pre-season favorites, and the pressure upon them and the size of the target on their collective back increased with each successive victory—18 in a row to end the season, including a second straight A-East championship game win over Delaware. But a team loaded with veteran talent (four seniors in the starting lineup, including 1,000-point scorers Hernandez, Norman Richardson and Roberto Gittens) and determined to prove itself following the graduation of Claxton was more than up to the task. The Dutchmen’s four regular season losses were by five points or less. “We could have won 25 in a row,” Jason Hernandez said earlier this month. “If we lost [the A-East title game], we would have felt like we failed.”

3.) Hofstra beats St. Joseph’s, 77-75, Mar. 20, 2006, in the second round of the NIT: Actually my favorite game of the decade, but you can’t put an NIT win over victories that catapulted the Dutchmen into the NCAA Tournament. The Dutchmen trailed for much of the second half in the unfriendly bandbox of Alumni Fieldhouse, came back to take a three-point lead in the waning seconds and then had to go to overtime when Abdulai Jalloh drained three free throws with five seconds left. The Dutchmen raced out to a five-point lead in the overtime, but St. Joe’s responded with an 8-0 run to take a 75-72 lead before Loren Stokes and Aurimas Kieza (who had fouled Jalloh at the end of regulation) scored the final five points. St. Joe’s missed a 3-pointer as time expired, and I’m not sure there are words in the English language to describe the euphoria and relief we all felt as that ball bounced harmlessly away. This was a game Hofstra just never wins, but it did. And it proved just how erroneous and misguided the NCAA Selection Committee was in overlooking Hofstra for an at-large bid. One NIT win was a fluke, two meant the Dutchmen belonged in the field of 65. Take that, Tom O’Connor.

4.) Hofstra beats George Mason twice in an 11-day span, 2006. Hey! Speaking of America’s worst athletic director! The Dutchmen dominated no. 25 George Mason at home Feb. 23, but the more impressive victory was recorded in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament Mar. 5, when the Dutchmen went into Mason’s backyard and came back from a six-point halftime deficit to trounce the Patriots 58-49, and advance to the championship game. Of course, Mason got the last laugh when thug Tony Skinn punched Loren Stokes in the nuts in the final minute, thereby weakening Hofstra for the title contest against UNC Wilmington. But hey, Jim Larranaga, that Great Leader of Men, suspended Skinn for a game, the same penalty he’d later hand down to two kids for stealing pillows from a hotel room. That’ll teach him!

5.) Pecora stays at Hofstra, April 2006: I figured Pecora was gone for sure after Hofstra surged on to the national stage following The Great Screw Job and the trip to the NIT Final Eight. Seton Hall came calling, but Pecora quickly reached agreement with Hofstra on a long-term contract extension. I don’t think people realize how good they’ve got it here with Pecora, who, as someone who was here from day one of the Jay Wright Era, takes—wait for it!!—great pride in the emergence of Hofstra and has a far greater personal stake in the program’s fortunes than anyone who could ever succeed him.

6.) Hofstra beats James Madison in three overtimes, Feb. 18, 2009: For personal reasons—my wife’s grandmother had died that morning and we weren’t sure we were going to the game until just before opening tip—this was probably the best, most riveting regular season game I’ve ever seen at the Arena, even if it surely drove Pecora crazy.

7.) Loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Mar. 15, 2001: The 13-point final margin of defeat doesn’t indicate just how deep a scare the Flying Dutchmen threw into the Bruins. The Dutchmen led by four at the half, by six with less than 13 minutes left and still led at the eight-minute media timeout in the second half, at which point I screwed with the karma and took a picture of the scoreboard. Nice job, Me! My future wife and I were already wondering how to stay an extra two days in Greensboro with no money at all to our names, but there would be no second-round game against Utah State, just a long-ass bus ride back to Hofstra.

8.) The entire America East tournament, 2001: As noted in no. 2, Hofstra was the target all year, and the several thousand fans at Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center adopted Hofstra’s first two tournament opponents—Vermont and Maine—as their own, since a upset loss by Hofstra would allow Delaware to host the title game. Rooting for the most despised team in the joint was quite a feeling for those of us who remembered when most fans correlated Hofstra with an easy win. Things felt awfully dicey as Maine raced out to a sizable lead in the first half of the semifinal. But order was restored in the second half, the Dutchmen won and six days later hundreds of Delaware fans went home from Hempstead unhappy. This is me pointing at you, a la Nelson Muntz.

9.) Hofstra beats Maine 67-64 to clinch first place in the America East, Feb. 20, 2000: A near-sellout crowd of 4,729 shows up to the Arena and Claxton doesn’t disappoint on Senior Day as he scores 32 points, including five in a game-ending 9-0 run, as the Dutchmen stormed back to seal the top seed in the upcoming America East tournament. For the first time ever, Hofstra felt like the big time.

10.) Kieza drains a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Hofstra past Old Dominion, 65-63, Feb. 2, 2006: The first sign that 2005-06 was going to be something special? Kieza drained his shot from the top of the key in traffic to set off a wild celebration, or at least as wild a celebration as a crowd of 2,907 at Hofstra can muster.

Coming later tonight: The worst moments of the decade, as well as the best and the worst of the decade for the rest of Hofstra sports.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hofstra 67, Florida Atlantic 63 (Or: Vacation’s all the Dutch ever wanted…)

Tom Pecora hadn't even met Bob McKillop yet when the Go-Gos penned their song about the 2009-10 Flying Dutchmen!

As seniors in their final season of eligibility, Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines will not be a part of the next Flying Dutchmen core. And as a junior who fluctuates between impressive and invisible, there are no guarantees Nathaniel Lester will be a starter by this time next season.

Still, on a team in which there are as many newcomers as returnees, Tom Pecora believes at least two of the three inconsistent veterans must emerge as regular contributors in order for the Flying Dutchmen to reach their potential and contend for the CAA title. What transpired Tuesday wasn’t exactly the blueprint Pecora would have drawn up on the plane ride to Florida, but it was enough to lift the Dutchmen in their non-conference finale.

Lester scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, drained five straight free throws in three trips to the line following the final media timeout and recorded a pivotal steal with 37 seconds left and Hofstra up one as the Dutchmen held on to edge Florida Atlantic, 67-63, in warm and beautiful Boca Raton (it’s 19 degrees on Long Island as I type this…just saying).

Lester, who keyed the late rally by the Dutchmen in their 61-52 loss to Davidson last Monday, had another quiet first half Tuesday (three points, three rebounds and one steal in 12 minutes) but scored 12 points after Jenkins picked up his fourth foul with 12:35 left. His first three baskets of the second half all came with the Dutchmen nursing a one-point lead.

“I thought Lester stepped up big,” Pecora said by phone afterward. “He’s a junior and he made some big plays for us with a few minutes left.”

Lester’s performance was just one encouraging element of a victory as well-rounded as it was much-needed. The Dutchmen snapped a two-game losing streak despite receiving almost nothing in the second half from Charles Jenkins, who scored all but two of his 17 points in the first half, spent eight minutes on the bench after recording his fourth foul with 12:35 left to play and was on the court for less than three minutes before he fouled out with 2:20 to go.

With Jenkins on the bench, the Dutchmen first went on a 12-0 run to turn a 43-41 deficit into a 53-43 lead and then held off a series of Florida Atlantic rallies. The Owls closed within one point three times, all with Jenkins out of the game, but never tied the game or took the lead.

“I thought it was a great team win,” Pecora said. “Everyone did a little bit, and that’s important when you go on the road. Charles got in foul trouble and we had to find a way to win the basketball game…it’s important to win a game like this so you know you can win it without Charles if the situation arises.”

Greg Washington, the other inconsistent veteran and a non-factor most of this month, continued to struggle from the field (five points on 2-of-9 shooting) but pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds while adding four blocks, one shy of his season high. Washington had just one rebound in 28 minutes against Davidson last Monday.

And Pecora, who spoke of the Dutchmen being a team in transition after the loss to Davidson, continued to increase the role of his freshmen: At one point late in the game, Pecora had Lester and four freshmen—Williams, Halil Kanacevic, Yves Jules and David Imes—on the court.

Williams was far better in the second half (seven points, four assists, one turnover and three steals) than in the first half (five points, two assists, five turnovers and two steals). Imes didn’t play at all in the first half but was on the court for nine minutes in the second half (more playing time than he recorded in all but one of his first six games) and scored the Dutchmen’s final basket, a put-back with 4:14 left. Jules played 18 minutes, the fourth time he has played at least 10 minutes in a game but the first time he’s done it in a close contest (the Dutchmen beat Farmingdale, Elon and New Hampshire by an average of 27 points)

“It’s funny, because you have to coach differently—you have your things you’d like to do, but you know the young group is not ready to do them,” Pecora said. “It makes things challenging for you. I thought they made the shots they needed to make, they defended and rebounded.”

The challenge for Pecora as CAA play finally approaches this weekend is to figure out how to get Lester, Szabo and Vines to contribute regularly. Lester’s effort Tuesday snapped a streak of five straight games in which he scored nine or fewer points.

Szabo continued his Darren Townes impersonation Tuesday by opening the game red-hot and spending most of the second half on the bench. Szabo scored the Dutchmen’s first four points and five of their first seven points but went scoreless the rest of the way as he missed his final seven field goal attempts. He started the second half but sat for the final 16:17.

Vines, meanwhile, scored just one point—the third time in the last seven games he hasn’t scored from the field—and sat for the final 11:51.

“The key to our season [is] these three guys,” Pecora said. “We’re going to get a good amount from the freshmen, but you can’t expect them to help you win games. Mikey Szabo, Nathaniel Lester and Cornelius Vines—two of these three guys, if they’re playing well, we’re not going to lose most nights.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Florida Atlantic 12/29)
3: Nathaniel Lester
2: Chaz Williams
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 19
Nathaniel Lester 15
Chaz Williams 14
Halil Kanacevic 10
Greg Washington 8
Cornelius Vines 7
Miklos Szabo 5

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Florida is warmer than New York right now

Yeah I bet it is.

Sorry for the delayed return from Christmas. We found it difficult to emerge from the holiday sloth. That, and I’m still bummed that I wasn’t one of the boosters selected to fly to the game against Florida Atlantic tonight. I’ll just assume my invite got lost in the mail, and once again send my address to the athletic department. I’m not saying it’s cold here, but I didn’t drive to the store today, I rode there behind a bunch of sleigh dogs.

Anyway, tonight marks the end of the non-conference schedule. Everything Counts four days from now, but a Dutchmen team that is once again reeling as the New Year approaches needs a victory tonight as badly as it will need one Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see how the Dutchmen respond to eight days of Angry Tom Pecora. Like the Iona game just before Christmas last year, I could see Pecora being willing to lose this one if it means teaching some painful lessons. And I can’t imagine anything being more painful than losing to Mike Jarvis.

Either way, follow us on Twitter as we try to keep track of the game via Florida Atlantic’s web feed. Hopefully it’s better than Towson circa 2008. And tune in here tomorrow for a recap, as well as a couple other fun year- and decade-end things.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Brotherhood of basketball not the only bond between McKillop and Hofstra

Bob McKillop's ties with Hofstra and the Flying Dutchmen basketball staff are this big, which is why he wasn't exactly jumping for joy when Davidson beat the Dutchmen in the Holiday Festival last week.

The 956th game of Bob McKillop’s coaching career was unlike any other, one which McKillop approached in the most detached of terms—preferring not to look at the jerseys worn by the opposing players or at the coach standing a few dozen feet to his right, because to do so would have made everything too weird, too difficult, too emotional.

Too funny, too, because had McKillop locked eyes with Tom Pecora, he would have seen not the well-dressed, well-coiffed, smooth-looking head coach of his alma mater but the freshman coach at Long Island Lutheran who wore off-the-rack clothes, sported glasses and a decidedly unhip haircut and had the narrow waistband and rapid metabolism of someone in his mid-20s.

“[He’s] put on some weight,” McKillop, a 1972 graduate of Hofstra and a three-year member of the Flying Dutchmen basketball team, said with a smile after Davidson beat Hofstra, 61-52, in the consolation game of the Holiday Festival last Monday. “He never wore that stuff in his hair that he’s been wearing for the last 10 or 11 years. His clothes have gotten better.”

So, too, has the paycheck. “My salary was $300 for the season,” Pecora said at his office Dec. 19.

Then he grinned. “I think they still owe me $250.”

The reunion between Pecora, McKillop and Hofstra director of basketball operations John Corso—a former player and assistant under McKillop who introduced him to Pecora—was far easier and more enjoyable before and after the game than during it. The easy chemistry generated by intertwined friendships that have lasted decades was obvious, even in several separate interviews with the men.

“I was kidding around with someone before the game,” Pecora said at his post-game press conference last Monday. “Bob and I played together a lot after college in leagues and stuff like that, and I said ‘He looks like an altar boy, but he’s probably the dirtiest player I ever played with!’”

Such fondness for one another is what made the two hours Monday night so uncomfortable, and why, despite the uncanny twists of fate that have conspired to place Hofstra and Davidson on alternately intersecting and parallel paths, the Holiday Festival game marked the first game between the schools since the 1988-89 season—and, if McKillop and Pecora have any say in the matter, the last for quite some time.

“This is why we don’t schedule Davidson, we don’t schedule Villanova, we don’t schedule Columbia—the places where I’m very close with the coaches,” Pecora said. “Because if you win, it’s bittersweet.”

“I try not to look at Tom during the course of the game, I try not to look at Hofstra, because both are dear to me,” McKillop said. “I look at home and guest. I saw us as the guest and I like the number on the guest side.”

“You don’t try to schedule your friends,” Corso said. “I think that’s pretty much what this falls into every year.”

Nobody found the Holiday Festival consolation any more awkward than Corso, who has deep ties with both men and both schools. Upon his graduation from Hofstra, McKillop was named the head boys basketball coach at Holy Trinity in Hicksville, where Corso became the first 1,000-point scorer in school history in 1978.

Corso went to Davidson and played there two years before transferring to Adelphi, where he became fast friends with his new teammate Pecora. After Corso earned his master’s degree from Adelphi, he re-joined McKillop at Long Island Lutheran, where McKillop also ran a popular summer basketball camp. When McKillop needed an instructor in 1984, Corso recommended Pecora, who had just graduated from Adelphi and was hoping to enter coaching.

“And then, because of the quality of work that he did, we asked him if he would take the freshman job at Long Island Lutheran,” Corso said. “And we’ve gone from there obviously…it just naturally progressed. We all seemed to really be on the same page.”

Pecora spent three seasons on McKillop’s staff before he accepted an assistant coach position at Nassau Community College in 1987. Two seasons later, he was named the head coach at SUNY-Farmingdale. Even as he climbed the ladder, Pecora returned to Long Island Lutheran every summer to work with McKillop at the camp, which is where Pecora met hungry Bucknell graduate Jay Wright.

McKillop led Long Island Lutheran to a 182-51 record in 11 seasons and earned interviews for the open head coaching positions at Marist and Hofstra before being offered the top job at Davidson in 1989. Corso accompanied him to his alma mater for one season. A few years later, McKillop interviewed Pecora for a vacancy on his staff.

“One of the toughest decisions of my life,” Pecora said. “At the same time, Coach [Rollie] Massimino had called me and I chose to go with Coach Mass [to UNLV]. And Bob understood. Rollie had just won a national championship and Jay was there with me, so that was part of the connection.”

In 1994, Butch van Breda Kolff—who got the job over McKillop in 1988—retired and was replaced by Wright, who brought Pecora back east as his top assistant to help rebuild a program that had spent two of the previous three seasons in the East Coast Conference, which had no automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and one year as an independent.

Seven years and two America East championships later, Wright moved on to Villanova and Pecora was immediately named his successor. One of Pecora’s first moves was to create the job of director of men’s basketball operations and hire Corso—who had been in private business since his season with McKillop at Davidson—to fill it.

Every single day they step foot on to the Hofstra campus, Pecora and Corso rely on the lessons they learned under McKillop. “Bob McKillop was very disciplined, his time management was impeccable, his organizational skills—he was always very, very prepared and he was the perfect guy to work with as your first job right out of college,” Pecora said.

“I probably got more out of it when I was a player for coach McKillop,” Corso said “He’s very well-organized. Everything is dot your Is and cross your Ts. The position that I have here—you have to be very, very methodical.”

As he spoke, Corso pointed outside, where snow from the blizzard of ’09 was just beginning to fall. “I remember playing for him and there wasn’t any situation that would occur during the course of the game that we weren’t prepared for,” Corso said. “To carry that in my position now—you’ve got to prepare for crazy weather, you’ve got to prepare for hotels not having the right keys.”

Pecora has now been head coach at Hofstra longer than Wright and is 10 wins shy of surpassing McKillop’s coach, Paul Lynner, as the second-winningest coach in school history—just one more link between two men who are proud curators of the history of Hofstra basketball even though McKillop hasn’t been associated with the program since 1972 and Pecora has only been at the school for 16 seasons.

“I remember Paul Lynner, just a terrific, terrific human being,” McKillop said. “I remember two of my teammates who actually played lacrosse for Howdy Myers—Richie Burke and Jimmy Pugh. Jimmy Pugh actually played football too. It was a different time.

“I remember opening up the PFC. Ken Weprin interviewed me, he does the announcing [at Hofstra Arena as well as for the Holiday Festival games]. Ken interviewed me the day we played Rider in the opening game [in 1970, a game Hofstra lost 79-73].

“We played St. Joe’s and we had to fight our way out of the Fieldhouse one night with coach Linner leading the charge. We’d just lost to Kenny Banter. Then we played Temple with Johnny Baum and Eddie Mast and we beat Temple [74-72 in overtime during the 1970-71 season] in McGonigle Hall—we broke a 50-game winning streak there, I remember that game real fondly. Then we played LaSalle at the Garden here and we beat them [58-56 in 1971-72]. So I’ve got great memories.”

In discussing the timeline in which Hofstra and McKillop flirted with one another, Pecora, unprompted, noted that it was Joe Harrington who coached one year at Hofstra in between Roger Gaeckler and Dick Berg, a bit of trivia that might escape even the most obsessive of Flying Dutchmen historians.

Under Pecora, Hofstra moved into the CAA, where it lost 20 games in each of Pecora’s first two seasons before emerging as an annual contender. The program became the symbol of NCAA incompetence in 2006, when the Flying Dutchmen were not invited to the NCAA Tournament despite a top-30 RPI and two wins over George Mason, which received an at-large bid and became the first mid-major school to reach the Final Four in almost 30 years.

Davidson went 4-24 as an independent in McKillop’s first season but eventually joined the Southern Conference, where it has won five titles and emerged as a national power in 2008, when the Wildcats provided a glimpse at what might have been for Hofstra by reaching the Elite Eight and coming within inches of knocking off eventual national champion Kansas and erasing George Mason’s status as America’s cuddly Cinderella (Editor’s Note: DAMNIT!!!!).

Pecora, 51, appears to be following in the footsteps of the 59-year-old McKillop by resisting the urge to jump to a BCS school and instead remaining content with creating a legacy of his own at and becoming identifiable with a mid-major program.

“It took him time to build that program—Rome wasn’t built overnight,” Pecora said. “Really, when people think of Davidson, it’s Bob McKillop. Five years ago, people might tell you it’s Lefty Driesell. Not anymore.”

The links between Pecora and McKillop and between their respective programs continue to grow longer and stronger. Pecora has sent an assistant on to the head coaching ranks (Tom Parrotta at Canisius) and earlier this year opposed another McKillop disciple in Matt Matheny, who played under McKillop and spent 16 years as his assistant before becoming the head coach at Elon in March.

The deeper the ties grow, the fonder everyone grows of each other—and the more likely it is Hofstra and Davidson will go at least another 20 years before scheduling another game.

“I never think in terms of coaching trees, I just don’t,” McKillop said. “I think of brothers. I’ve got lots of brothers in this profession, and they’re the ones I stay in touch with. There are a lot of colleagues. But I’ve got brothers and that’s what I find very fortunate.”

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

In which, for the second straight year, I wish Jay Wright (and my wife) a Happy Birthday and all of Dutch Nation a Merry Christmas

Whoohoo! Another excuse to post the photo of the '94 pocket sked!

Some of us celebrate our birthdays by going to a favorite restaurant, where we quench our hunger for nostalgia as much as we do for nourishment. Jay Wright celebrates by pounding Delaware.

Eighth-ranked Villanova cruised to a 97-63 win over the Blue Hens last night, one day before Wright turned 48 (yes, he does look younger than me despite his 12-year head start, I don’t want to talk about it) and a mere eight years and change since Wright recorded his final victory on the Hofstra sidelines by directing the Flying Dutchmen to their second straight America East title game win over Delaware. I’m just going to presume that the Villanova fans observed Wright’s birthday by storming the court and surrounding him as he climbed a ladder and cut down the nets.

Happy birthday Jay, and thanks for saving Hofstra basketball!

And while I’m here, I should conclude Operation Keep My Ass Married by wishing the world’s best Hofstra fan a very happy birthday. You know you married up when your wife believes she shares Wright’s birthday, and not vice versa.

And judging by the freaking psychopaths I encountered this week at Costco and other big box stores, Christmas, apparently, is tomorrow as well. So on behalf of the entire Defiantly Dutch family, I extend to all of Dutch Nation our wishes for a very happy and safe holiday season and offer my sincere thanks to you for visiting the site this year and making this project so fulfilling for me. Hopefully 2010 is the year we finally get to chronicle (get it? Chronicle? I’ll be here all week! Well, not really) a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Flying Dutchmen basketball team…as well as provide regular reminders of the injustice that was perpetuated on Dec. 3.

I had hoped to post a story about the relationship between Bob McKillop and Tom Pecora before the holiday, but OKMAM occupied far more time than I anticipated, so stop back Monday morning for that story. In the meantime, may you spend your long weekend like I plan to spend mine: Pigging out and adding a few more pounds to the weight loss goal for 2010!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Davidson 61, Hofstra 52 (Or: The New York state of mind is not a very good one)

Even Long Island's own Billy Joel is ready to take aim at the Flying Dutchmen after back-to-back losses in the Holiday Festival.

Bob McKillop wasn’t very comfortable coaching against Hofstra and one of his protégés, Tom Pecora, during the consolation game of the Holiday Festival Monday night. So after Davidson beat the Flying Dutchmen, 61-52, in front of tumbleweeds, McKillop was only too happy to immediately revert back to the familiar role of dispensing advice to the fans of the school from which he graduated and the head coach to whom he gave his first job.

“Nothing’s as good as it seems, nothing’s as bad as it seems,” McKillop said. “Somewhere in between is reality. I heard Lou Holtz say that once, and boy it’s ever so true. As I walked the streets of New York last night at 2 o’clock after that loss, now I’ll be walking the streets of New York at 2 o’clock in a different frame of mind.”

For the second straight year, the Christmas frame of mind is not good around the Flying Dutchmen, who, once again, enter the holiday with a two-game losing streak that has negated much or all of the goodwill and positive momentum created during the first four weeks of the non-conference schedule.

The natives are restless with Pecora, who was almost rendered speechless Monday after the Dutchmen played in strangely dispassionate fashion until a too-little, too-late burst of energy in the final seven minutes. The Dutchmen tied the score six times but never led (the first time this season they’ve failed to lead in a game), were outrebounded 47-34 and took just five free throws, their fewest attempts since Feb. 2, 2006 against Old Dominion.

As disgusted as he was Monday, Pecora was neither surprised by the outcome nor likely to head out for a post-midnight stroll to try and figure out what went wrong, “I had individual meetings with all the guys today, and coming out of the meetings afterward, I met with my staff [and] I said ‘We’re going to have a rough time tonight’ because from the neck up, we’re not in a good place,” Pecora said. “We’ve got guys who have lost a little bit of confidence. We’ve got guys who are not playing with the energy that they need to play with, night in and night out.”

Pecora sounded more proactive than ever Monday, willing and ready to revamp his approach and overhaul the rotation after a game in which the two best players on the court for the Dutchmen were, by far, freshmen Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams.

Kanacevic had 10 points and led the Dutchmen with nine rebounds and a career-high four blocks while Williams, who made his first start, set career highs and led the Dutchmen with 14 points in 38 minutes.

“We’re in a transition right now as a team,” Pecora said. “I thought our young guys, Chaz and Halil Kanacevic, played with great energy. I was disappointed in our veterans. I didn’t think they played with much of a sense of urgency. I don’t make excuses, but maybe they were emotionally or physically drained from last night [the 72-60 loss to St. John’s], such a big game.

“I don’t buy that. You’ve only got so many in you and you’ve got to play every game like they’re going to put the balls away at midnight and you’re never going to play the game again.”

The basketballs won’t disappear anytime soon for the Dutchmen: Pecora said he originally planned to give the team Tuesday off but that it would practice every day until Christmas.

“And depending how I feel, maybe Christmas night,” Pecora said. “And then we’re just gonna keep practicing until we get better. And if we go down and we win a game in Florida the right way and we start playing the right way, maybe we’ll get a day off. We’re on break so I don’t have to take any days off. And I love practice.”

So does the person whom the Dutchmen have to worry about following in McKillop’s footsteps and wandering the streets searching for answers. Charles Jenkins had a second straight subpar game Monday, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, and seems to be falling into a trying-to-do-everything funk for the second straight year—even if Pecora played semantics in saying this season is different than last.

“I think last year he was tired because he was coming in every night and shooting and I had to take the key away and tell him ‘You can’t come in the gym anymore at night,’” Pecora said. “I think he was leg weary last year. I think this is more of him just feeling responsibility, the trickle-down. We’re not getting a lot from the seniors. He knows that.”

But he knew that last year, too, when he was the youngest player on the roster but also someone whose talent demanded he become the leader of a team with six role-playing seniors and three juniors who were all new to the program. As December morphed into January, Jenkins seemed overwhelmed by the duality of his tasks and endured a nine-game stretch in which he shot just 27 percent from the field (35-for-129) as the Dutchmen went 3-6.

Serving as a leader now, as a junior and the most experienced player on the team, is a far more natural experience for Jenkins, but the challenges are just as plentiful. He is literally the middle man in this transition, the only holdover who is assured of being part of the next Dutchmen core, yet he must also boost the likes of seniors Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines, both of whom seem on the verge of slipping out of the rotation, as well as fellow juniors Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, each of whom has yet to play to expectations this year.

Lester’s block with 7:15 left jump-started a 15-9 run that pulled the Dutchmen within five with just over a minute to play, but he scored a season-low two points Monday, the fifth straight game he has fallen short of double figures, and pulled down four rebounds, only the fifth time this year he’s had fewer than five boards. He also played just 18 minutes, the second time in the last three games he’d played fewer than 20 minutes. He played at least 26 minutes in each of the Dutchmen’s first 10 games.

The 6-foot-10 Washington, meanwhile, remained a non-factor underneath with just four points and two rebounds. It was the third time this year Washington has recorded two or fewer rebounds in a game.

Very recent history suggests Jenkins (who earned first-team All-CAA honors last year despite his midseason swoon) and the Dutchmen (who won 21 games last year with a team that was not nearly as talented as this one) will emerge from their slumps in plenty of time to salvage the season. But very recent history—as well as Monday night—also suggests the path there will be a painful one.

“Think about it, man,” Pecora said. “You’re 18, you’re 20, whatever it is, you’re playing at Madison Square Garden. If you can’t go out and play your ass off, then something’s really, really wrong. So it’s my job to figure out what that is and to come up with a game plan.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Davidson 12/21)
3: Halil Kanacevic
2: Chaz Williams
1: Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins 19
Chaz Williams 12
Nathaniel Lester 12
Halil Kanacevic 10
Greg Washington 7
Cornelius Vines 7
Miklos Szabo 5

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SJU recap forthcoming...

Just a quick note to let the Loyal Readers know I'll have the SJU recap up later today...Litos has MPH work that often takes precedence. Today, I've got KMAM (Keep My Ass Married) work to take care of. We're hosting Christmas Eve and my house now looks like it is occupied by a blogger who writes from his recliner. So give me a few hours to stay out of divorce court and stop back later!

Monday, December 21, 2009

St. John’s 72, Hofstra 60 (Or: Now I know what it’s like to be a Red Sox fan)

The loss to St. John's means us Hofstra fans know what it's like to be long-suffering Red Sox fans like Sully and Denise. "You say Hofstra, I say Flying Dutchmahhhhhhn!"

Little-known fact: 99.7 percent of Americans think sportswriters are fans of the teams they cover. Which is really funny, since 99.7 percent of American sports fans are convinced that their favorite teams are covered by reporters who hate the team they cover. Confusing, I know. I think Alanis Morrissette wrote a song about it.

For the last six years—the first four of which I spent covering the Red Sox—I’ve had to listen to people tell me I root for the Red Sox. Such declarations usually come from Yankees fans, who, like zealots of a particular political persuasion, aren’t the most reasoned people in the world and are convinced that if you’re not with them, you’re against them. Which means they have a lot in common with the people who play for and run the Yankees’ archrivals, but I digress.

But now, after St. John’s 72-60 win over the Flying Dutchmen Sunday afternoon, I can finally tell Yankee fans I know what it had to be like for Red Sox fans this year, when normalcy was returned to a rivalry in which the historically tormented had become the tormentors.

Four straight wins over St. John’s and five wins in the previous seven meetings didn’t quite match the seismic impact of the Sox’ comeback from a three games to none deficit in the 2004 ALCS, but there was no doubt the once-bullied Dutchmen—who went 0-19 against St. John’s in the 1900s—had become the superior team, just like the Sox reigned supreme over the Yankees from 2004 through 2008.

Now, though? Like the ever-so-tolerable Yankees fans who can strut around in new championship swag as well as brag about the franchise’s 27 titles, the St. John’s fan has a retort for anything the Hofstra fan can say. The Red Storm has a recent win and history on its side, leaving Dutchmen fans to bellow about how at least Hofstra’s never played in the CBI.

And like the 2009 baseball season in which the Sox won their first eight games against the Yankees, there were extended periods of time Sunday where it looked as if the Dutchmen would continue their recent dominance of the Red Storm—particularly in the opening minutes of the second half, when the Dutchmen went on an 8-0 run to take a 44-37 lead and inspire memories of their dominant second half performances against St. John’s this decade. Hofstra outscored the Red Storm 204-151 in the second half of its five victories.

St. John’s promptly scored seven in a row to tie the game, but the Dutchmen trailed just twice—both times by a single point—in the first 17 minutes of the second half. Alas, the Dutchmen didn’t score from the field in the final seven minutes, during which they were outscored 18-1 and Charles Jenkins (a game-high 24 points) lapsed into the gotta-do-everything mode that defined his nightmarish slump last December and January. The symbolic sequence for Jenkins took place in the final minute, when he drove the length of the court and had two successive shots blocked.

It was a discouraging loss, because it was a winnable game, yet it was also a defeat that could pay dividends when the games really start to count after the New Year. The Dutchmen’s ability to absorb the Red Storm’s early flurries—St. John’s jumped out to leads of 10-2, 19-11 and 24-15—instead of getting run out of the building, a la last year against UMass, Northeastern, Drexel, George Mason and Georgia State, is another sign this team is far better than a season ago and a good bet to finish in the top four of the CAA.

As evidenced by the slow start and finish and their impressive mid-game play, the Dutchmen were their patented bipolar selves. But the best Dutchmen lineup Sunday featured freshmen Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic. Tom Pecora’s trust in the rookies was apparent when he yanked seniors Cornelius Vines and Miklos Szabo and replaced them with Williams and Kanacevic less than two minutes into the game.

Williams had a second straight outstanding game (a career-high 14 points with seven assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes), though the Red Storm began its closing surge when he went to the bench with four fouls, and Kanacevic pulled down 11 rebounds. I wouldn’t expect the starting lineup to change any time soon, but we may look back on Sunday as the game in which Williams and Kanacevic took the baton from Vines and Szabo, who combined for just two points, one rebound and two assists in 28 minutes.

The continued maturation of Williams and Kanacevic and the lack of a clear-cut favorite in the CAA are just two reasons why the long-term goal has to feel more realistic to a Hofstra fan now than it did to a Red Sox fan after the Sox suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in August. Or so I would assume, anyway.

“They’ve got a great opportunity this year if they continue to play well, as we do,” Pecora told reporters afterward.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. St. John’s 12/20)
3: Chaz Williams
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 18
Nathaniel Lester 12
Chaz Williams 10
Greg Washington 7
Cornelius Vines 7
Halil Kanacevic 7
Miklos Szabo 5

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

First SJU win was just the start for HU

It took Jay Wright six years to end one epic drought at Hofstra. But even after the Flying Dutchmen reached the NCAA Tournament in 2000 for the first time since 1977, the other dry spell that defined the program seemed as deep as ever.

Local rival St. John’s continued to dominate Hofstra by cruising to double-digit victories in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Those wins extended the Red Storm’s lead in the all-time series to 19-0 and their average margin of victory to nearly 18 points per game.

Hofstra lost by less than 10 points just four times, and the nearest of the near-misses—a 58-56 loss in 1992 in which St. John’s won at the buzzer—ranked, with little sense of irony, as one of the finest moments in Flying Dutchmen history.

Relief for Hofstra finally arrived on Dec. 16, 2000. And all the Dutchmen had to do to end 60 years of misery against St. John’s was walk 100 yards across the street.

The Dutchmen, playing as the road team at Nassau Coliseum so that St. John’s could have a “home game” that allowed it to serve as the host school when the Coliseum hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament the following March, mounted a second half comeback to knock off the Red Storm, 86-80, in front of 8,771.

Norman Richardson scored 22 points to lead five players in double figures for the senior-laden Dutchmen, whose experience proved to be the difference against a young St. John’s squad that featured precocious freshman guard Omar Cook but just one senior in Reggie Jessie.

“I felt good about the game because I knew we had a very mature team,” said Tom Pecora, who was in his final season as Wright’s assistant. “Jason Hernandez was a transfer, so he was in his fifth year. Norman Richardson had gone to prep school, so he was in his fifth year. Greg Springfield was a transfer from Western Kentucky, he was in his fifth year. And Roberto [Gittens was a senior].

“I felt good about it. It fell right into that formula of experienced mid-major versus young BCS conference team.”

The formula seemed awfully familiar in the first half, when St. John’s maintained a small but steady lead on the Dutchmen and entered the locker room up 42-36. But the seniors, who were confident of their chances against St. John’s after losing by 12 a year earlier and determined to end the program’s losing streak against the Red Storm, gathered at halftime for a pep talk.

“We always had to play them on the road—we had to play them at Carnesecca and [in] real, real tough environments,” Hernandez said. “Coming in we [felt] we could do some good things, especially them coming through us at kind of a home game at Nassau Coliseum. We were a senior-laden team who had been to the tournament the year before and we just felt like it was a good time for us to get one.

“At halftime, the seniors and the captains really got after it and said ‘We’ve got to take this game.’ We didn’t want to leave Nassau Coliseum without that victory.”

The seniors did plenty to back up their words in the second half. The Dutchmen went on a 25-9 run to turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead about midway through the half before St. John’s crawled back to tie the game 68-68 with seven minutes left.

But a pair of free throws by Gittens gave the Dutchmen the lead for good and the Dutchmen responded with multiple big stops on defense and clutch shots on offense down the stretch. Hernandez scored all 13 of his points after intermission and hit a pivotal jumper with 1:32 left that extended the Dutchmen’s lead to six, while Richardson scored 14 points in the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers that gave him the program record (159).

“We just had to keep grinding it out and play our type of defense in the last six minutes of the game,” Hernandez said. “We prided ourselves, really, on wearing teams down and just grinding out wins. I think we did a good job of taking good shots at the end of the game—and what we did best that year was really defend.”

The victory turned out to be a season- and decade-defining one for both programs. The Dutchmen were struggling to establish some chemistry following the graduation of Speedy Claxton and had already suffered narrow losses to rivals Delaware and Iona.

But the win over St. John’s lit the fuse on a sensational run by the Dutchmen, who won 21 of their next 23 games. They ended the regular season on a 15-game winning streak and won three more America East tournament games to win the conference crown and the automatic NCAA berth for the second straight season.

Hofstra has not been back to the NCAA Tournament since (insert snarky comment about Tom O’Connor here), but the Dutchmen have nonetheless become the premier program in the metro area. St. John’s is just emerging from the wreckage of created by Mike Jarvis, who had a non-existent relationship with local AAU and high school coaches and who presided over a program that had to forfeit 47 wins due to NCAA violations earlier this decade.

Pecora, meanwhile, has regularly brought Big East-caliber players to Hofstra, which has won 20 games four times in the last five years and has beaten St. John’s five times in seven meetings this decade, including four straight heading into today’s game in the Holiday Festival.

“It’s great to set the tone and kind of pave the way and let guys know that Hofstra is a very viable basketball program and one that is always going to be tough to contend with, regardless of the year,” Hernandez said. “It’s great to see the guys now going to those games [and feeling] that they can win, where early on in the Hofstra years, we kind of went into [the St. John’s] game [thinking] ‘Man, hopefully we can keep it close.’ Now it’s a different mindset, where guys are coming out to win the game. To see that shift in attitude is really what’s the best thing about it.”

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MSG & The Holiday Festival ain’t what it used to be, no matter what the ticket prices say

The only place MSG remains the mecca is in black-and-white photographs.

If you’re like me (once again, I’m very sorry), then you’ve received phone calls and emails this week from the Hofstra ticket office reminding you that tickets are on sale now for the Holiday Festival (if the tournament sponsor wants a mention, it can pay me too!) today and Monday.

All of which confirms something I’ve long suspected: Tom Pecora is the only person excited about the Flying Dutchmen playing in the Holiday Festival.

“It’s always great to play in Madison Square Garden,” Pecora said after the Dutchmen beat New Hampshire last Saturday. “You’ve heard me say it before: I go in there, I still get goose bumps.”

If you’re of a certain age—like, say, between Beach and Pecora—you can understand why Pecora is nostalgic. He remembers the days when MSG was truly The Mecca of Basketball, when it housed an annual NBA title contender in the Knicks and a Big East powerhouse in St. John’s, and when our view of the basketball universe was shaped by the Game of the Week on TV.

To watch basketball on TV in the ‘80s was to think the sport was only played in a handful of arenas. And MSG was one of these places where magic happened, a destination which was rarely attainable for commoners and one that required great effort and sacrifice to reach. I remember going to my first NBA game—Knicks vs. Hawks in the winter of 1983-84—and what a major deal it was.

We drove from our home in northwest Connecticut to a bus station an hour or so to the south, boarded a bus to Grand Central Station, then boarded a subway to MSG. Then we sat somewhere in the nosebleeds and watched someone (I think it was the Hawks) win at the buzzer. Then we got on the subway to the bus station and drove home, getting back to the middle of nowhere around 4 am. It was a HUGE deal to a 10-year-old, who spent all of Monday’s Language Arts class talking about it.

But the decline of MSG’s basketball occupants and the realities of modern times—namely greed and overexposure—have conspired to turn MSG into just another building and a game there into just another date on the calendar.

For most of this decade, MSG has been where good basketball goes to die. The Knicks are in the midst of their ninth straight losing season, during which they have played a grand total of three playoff games—the fewest of any NBA team in that span other than the Charlotte Bobcats, who didn’t exist until 2005.

Under the “leadership” of Mike Jarvis, St. John’s not only became irrelevant nationally but locally as well, where Pecora and Hofstra began poaching the best high school players and pounding the Red Storm on the court (that’s right, I’m talking trash). NCAA violations under Jarvis’ watch led the St. John’s losing 47 wins between 2000 and 2004 and the Red Storm didn’t advance to the Big East Tournament four times in the five years between 2003-04 and 2007-08. Their appearance in the CBI last year marked the program’s first postseason trip since 2002-03.

But even if the Knicks and Red Storm—the latter of whom appear to be crawling their way back to respectability during an 8-1 start—remained vibrant through the ‘00s, the explosion of basketball on the small screen would have made their home less prestigious.

Today’s college basketball players cannot remember a time when they weren’t able to travel the country’s professional and collegiate arenas via remote control, seven nights a week from November through June. There’s so much variety from which to choose that, at some point, there’s no difference between MSG and Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center and whichever corporate-named arena happens to be hosting an NBA game on ESPN.

The Holiday Festival, meanwhile, was once the premier in-season college basketball tournament, but now it’s just one of several to be held at MSG—and by far the most secondary. At least four tournaments have already taken place at MSG, including the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT. Had the Flying Dutchmen beaten UConn in Storrs to advance to the NIT semifinals, they would have appeared on ESPN or ESPN2 the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.

This weekend’s Holiday Festival takes place right before Christmas, instead of immediately after it, and the Hofstra-St. John’s game will be played smack dab in the middle of the Jets game Sunday. The championship game will start shortly after the Giants’ Monday Night Football game and will be televised on—we are not making this up—CSPAN2. Filibuster this!

All of which leads us to the biggest problem facing the Holiday Festival: The shamelessly expensive tickets. As Long Islanders, we are used to Cablevision (which owns MSG) being painfully out of touch with the common man it tries to screw 24/7/365 (upon typing that, I expect my wireless and my cable to go out at any moment).

But this is a new low for Cablevision. The Holiday Festival is operated as an afterthought and airs its championship game on an eighth-tier channel and MSG is going to charge…$50 and $60 per doubleheader ticket?! The weekend before Christmas? With the economy in the crapper? To see two local teams who don’t fill up their own home gyms? Let’s not forget Hofstra drew triple digits to both its NIT home games, where tickets were $10 and $15 per doubleheader. Why would anyone pay four or five times and then dig deeper into the wallet to cover the cost of transportation and food? Even before the Blizzard of Doom?

It’s too bad, because this weekend could have been a nice opportunity to tap into the still-vast nostalgia engendered by MSG by making prices affordable and hoping the Baby Boomers (or, gasp, Generation Xers) could take their children to the game and maybe pass on the fondness for the ol’ building to those who might not otherwise realize or appreciate its history. I’m pretty sure Cablevision could still afford its electric bills if the tickets were $30 and $20.

“It’s an exciting time of the year to be in the city and it’s a really good tournament—probably as good a tournament as it’s ever been in terms of great balance and four good teams with ourselves, Davidson, Cornell and St. John’s,” Pecora said. “It’ll be a great challenge. It’ll be fun.”

It will be. Too bad the Garden assured, even before it had the excuse of poor weather, that nobody will be there to see it.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Chaz already providing quite an assist

Chaz Williams may accomplish something as a freshman that even Speedy Claxton didn't do in four years.

Halil Kanacevic is the reigning CAA Rookie of the Week, but as well as Kanacevic played in the wins over Manhattan and New Hampshire, the most impressive performance by a Flying Dutchmen newcomer last week was the one authored Saturday by Chaz Williams.

The freshman point guard did something no player has done at Hofstra in the 16 years Tom Pecora has been associated with the program by collecting 10 assists with no turnovers. Speedy Claxton came closest to pulling off the feat twice during the 1997-98 season, when he had nine assists and no turnovers against Drexel and 13 assists and one turnover against New Hampshire. Major props to men’s hoops SID Jeremy Kniffin for doing the impressive amount of legwork to discover those facts.

Williams’ performance Saturday marked only the seventh time a player has collected at least 10 assists in a game in Pecora’s nine seasons as head coach. And no one was more efficient in doing so than Williams, who, unlike his predecessors, came off the bench and played just 31 minutes, the fewest of any of the players to rack up double-digit assists. Here’s the list of the six previous 10-assist games under Pecora:

Charles Jenkins: 13 assists/4 turnovers in 48 minutes vs. James Madison, 2/18/09**
Carlos Rivera: 10 assists/3 turnover in 34 minutes vs. St. Francis, 12/22/05
Carlos Rivera: 10 assists/2 turnovers in 46 minutes vs. UNCW, 1/3/07**
Gibran Washington: 12 assists/2 turnovers in 36 minutes vs. St. John’s, 12/2/03
Woody Souffrant: 10 assists/3 turnovers in 40 minutes vs. Delaware. 1/26/02
Woody Souffrant: 10 assists/3 turnovers in 37 minutes vs. Drexel, 12/23/01
**double overtime

This may just be the start of unprecedented feats from Williams, who enters the Holiday Festival with an assist-to-turnover ratio of just shy of 3:1 (41 assists, 14 turnovers). Since Pecora took over as head coach, no player has even produced an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1. Carlos Rivera came closest in 2005-06, when he had 117 assists and 60 turnovers (1.95).

The last Hofstra player to have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1 was Jason Hernandez, who had 124 assists and 51 turnovers as a senior in 2000-01 (2.43). Speedy Claxton also had one season with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover as a sophomore in 1997-98, when he had 224 assists and 104 turnovers (2.15).

In addition, the CAA leader last season in assist-to-turnover ratio was Towson’s Brian Morris at 2.11.

That said, the presence of Souffrant on the list of Pecora-era players with 10 assists in a game serves as a cautionary tale. Souffrant was a freshman when he had his 10-assist games and had his first 10-assist performance in his first collegiate start, which further fueled the hype machine that had him pegged as the successor to Claxton and Hernandez.

But after a fast start, Souffrant faded: He started 50 games in his first two years—including all 28 in which he played as a sophomore—and averaged 4.5 assists per contest but made just four starts his last two years, during which he averaged 1.7 assists per game. So while restraint should be exercised with Williams, it’s not too early—a mere 10 games into his career—to wonder just how high a ceiling he possesses.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reaction to HU dropping football: Ex-QB Carlos Garay

(All members of the Hofstra community are invited to share their thoughts about the dropping of the football program by emailing Defiantly Dutch at

Me being around the program for the last 10 years, I wasn’t that surprised, because I kind of knew that’s what Rabinowitz wanted from the very beginning, when he took over for Shuart. I knew he was against the program from day one. But I was still shocked that it actually happened, Everybody—all the alumni—was trying to get the program to be better. The last [few] years [were] a little questionable, because the new coach wasn’t the coach that we all wanted from the ‘90s. The guys that played for Gigantino wanted him to be the head coach. So the guys from the ‘90s kind of rebelled a little bit against he program. And then, prior to that, with the new regime coming in, we knew changes were amongst us.

I think that was definitely part of the plan, because from what I understand, they didn’t even interview him. And he was by all means the leading candidate who should have taken over for Coach Gardi. He’s a proven winner, everybody loved him, guys played for him, would all kill for the guy. He was the perfect person to take the job. And when Rabinowitz and Jack Hayes totally nixed him, that was a major downfall for Hofstra.

I’ve met Dave Cohen. He did a very nice job from the beginning. I kind of doubted him as well as everybody else, but as I got to know him, he was a great guy unfortunately set up to fail. Obviously, he didn’t know what was going on either. He got blindsided. He was definitely set up to fail. If they wanted the program to succeed, they would have hired Greg Gigantino, because just from Gigantino joining as the head coach, you would have had everybody from the ‘90s supporting the program. It’s a no-brainer. And Gigantino would have been the guy, who, like coach Gardi, called people up and told his player to come support the program. They would do that. If they get a call from Dave Cohen, nobody’s going to listen, you know what I mean?

I wasn’t privy to the financial situations of what was being pushed into the program. But just knowing how they marketed the program…they didn’t push the program like it should have been pushed. When you leave it up to a coach—first of all, the new coach, Cohen, was trying to get the team going. He shouldn’t be worried about how the school’s marketing the program, you know what I mean? And the school didn’t market the program. The program marketed itself because of all the pros, from Wayne Chrebet on. The program marketed itself. And the program did well—well enough,  better than average, without any push from the school.

Basically [Rabinowitz] did a two-year investigation into the program. Why did he not involve the alumni? Why didn’t he tell the alumni at least, or at least the football program, that you’re on the chopping block? Because if that would have happened, people would have come out of the woodwork to make sure that we would make it successful, you know what I mean That’s what kills me the most. They did this all behind closed doors with a committee that had no ties to Hofstra football, [no] current ties with Hofstra football. He claims that there were two people that used to play football [on the Board], but they’re not currently involved with what goes on at Hofstra football.

What shocked me also is that he basically said it’s not financial, it’s strictly a business decision. And the business decision is based off of people who don’t have any interest in football. That’s like a blind side [to] and backstabbing of everybody that graduated that has anything to do with the football program. And not just football players—Kickline dancers, cheerleaders, pep squad. They say that Hofstra wasn’t a nationally recognized program. You kidding me? Wayne, when Wayne made the NFL, that really boosted Hofstra’s notoriety all over the country. I go places, I go all over the country and I say I’m from Hofstra. They say ‘Wayne Chrebet.’ That’s what they know about Hofstra. Yes, it’s a good school. It’s always been a good school. But what gives you notoriety is the sports, the publicity of the sports. I can’t understand how they don’t see that.

When they talk football, it’s “little ol’ Hofstra.” Yes, but they’re talking about Hofstra, you know what I mean [laughs] I mean, the last 10, 15 years, they talked about Hofstra on a national stage. Nobody would know Hofstra unless you saw football. Unless you were in [film] production, you wouldn’t know Francis Ford Coppola went to Hofstra. There’s big name people—you wouldn’t know they went to Hofstra unless you went to Hofstra. People don’t know that there’s a lot of big names—Governor Patterson got his law degree from Hofstra. Nobody knows that unless you’re in politics or know Governor Patterson or look at his resume. You wont know that. He doesn’t mention that he went to Hofstra. Every time they talk about a football player, they say ‘Marques Colston from Hofstra University.’ There you go. Right there, that’s publicity. Kids grow up, they say ‘Marques Colston, I want to go to here he went to school. Wayne Chrebet, I want to go where he went to school.’ It’s a good school too, you know what I mean? It’s crazy.

If he wants to talk about national notoriety, he’s getting it now. It’s bad publicity. They’ve got problems if they don’t have a football team. If you’re going to go to a good communications school, you know what? I’ll find a communications school that has football. He’s producing bad publicity for Hofstra.

You can go back when I played, when we were 8-1-1, we had probably one of the best teams that we ever had, we didn’t have tones of people there. But you know what? We had a good TV contract and everybody saw the games. They got rid of the TV contract. Why? Well, talk to the administration. They got rid of the contract because they didn’t want anybody to see Hofstra football. It’s all part of the plan to get rid of football. He executed it perfectly. But you know what? He pissed off a lot of people. Football has been around at Hofstra since the inception of the school. He’s not attributing anything that’s happened to Hofstra and how big Hofstra has gotten over the past 10 years—nothing as even been attributed to football. He’s blind. He’s blind about that.

I’m actually really happy that everybody is speaking up [and protesting the decision]. It’s a major part of school. You take it for granted, kids take it for granted. But you know what? Every major big-time school—all the Ivy League schools have football, they don’t make money from football, but you know what, its part of life. It’s part of the school atmosphere. And to get rid of that part of the school—you get rid of football, you’re getting rid of 100 football players. That would be 100 students. You’re getting rid of cheerleaders, getting rid of Kickline, getting rid of reporters—everything that is involved with football. Yeah, football costs the most, because it’s the most important. He says football costs the most. Of course it does, it involves the most people and it’s going to give you the most notoriety. Take the program to the highest level and you’re getting more people involved.

That’s kind of why I went to Hofstra University—my uncle went to Hofstra [and played football]. Hofstra was a great family, it was a great place to be because everybody knew each other. But as President Shuart left, Rabinowitz took over and he pushed, he broke the family up. Basically, to put it into simple terms, he systematically dismantled the family and everything that [Joe] Margiotta and President Shuart built up, he just crumbled down in a matter of a couple weeks. They built it up over 50 years, these guys went to school in the ‘50s, they grew up, they lived and breathed Hofstra football. Those guys are the heart of Hofstra. And my uncle went there and a lot of his friends. I know it’s more of a family. Hofstra was more of a family then.

My uncle went there, his son, his daughter—my niece—goes there. She doesn’t play sports, but she goes to school there. She never would have gone to Hofstra if we didn’t go there. There’s tons of other schools to go to, but she knew how the program worked. She knew when I say ‘the program,’ the program is all of Hofstra…the whole experience is more of a family.

My uncle met his wife there, she went to Hofstra. Many of their friends all went there. It was a big blow to us. It hit us really hard.

This was kind of a wakeup call to everybody, [to] the alumni and everybody that took it for granted that football will always be there. The old saying ‘You don’t realize how great you have it until it’s gone?’ You know what? If we get football back—when we get football back—it’s gonna be bigger and better than ever.