Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do the Dutchmen need to have "Mo" fun this year?

Can Mo Cassara bust a move as well as Jay Wright? Hopefully we'll find out Oct. 15!

You’ve probably already read this, but that big ol’ meanie Mike Litos proved once again how much he hates Hofstra by picking the Flying Dutchmen fifth in his pre-pre-preseason preview. FIFTH!!! I was going to tell him he sucks, but then he said anyone who uses the word sucks falls below his Stupidity Mendoza Line and I realized anyone that uses the phrase Mendoza Line in a basketball story can’t be all bad. So you’re back in my good graces, Litos—for now.

In all seriousness, he makes a real interesting point about how it matters this season that the Dutchmen have fun under new coach Mo Cassara. Mike and I have debated this, and it’s something I’ll continue to ponder and discuss here over the next couple months, but I don’t think the Dutchmen were a joyless (my word, not Mike’s) bunch under Tom Pecora.

I think Pecora just tended to recruit stoic guys. He got max effort kids who were overlooked, kids who just put their heads down and went to work. I don’t think we’ll see Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera or Antoine Agudio jumping on stage for Live at the Improv, but I never got the idea they weren’t having fun.

Don’t overestimate, either, the language barrier for the European players Pecora recruited and how that may or may not manifest itself in terms of on-court comportment. Miklos Szabo poignantly described last year how difficult it was to fit in as a foreign-born player who happened to be much older than many of his teammates.

Lately, I’d say Charles Jenkins is a grinder like his superstar predecessors, but a little more personable on the court. And there was plenty of personality on last year’s team displayed by Our Man Corny in addition to the dearly departed Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams.

Still, I can see how someone would look at the Flying Dutchmen under Pecora and wonder if they were having fun winning those rock fights. The style of play was gritty and never all that aesthetically pleasing. I’m sure teams that are running and gunning look like they’re having more fun than the Pecora-era Dutchmen.

Plus, there was certainly more of a generation gap between Pecora and his players, and who knows how that translated on to the interaction between the two sides? While Pecora impressed me with his knowledge of current movies, I don’t picture him listening to rap and R&B with Jenkins, Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, a la Cassara.

And remember that the new coach coming in—and being the good cop to the old coach’s bad cop—is as timeless as the sound of squeaking sneakers on the hardwood. There’s no doubt that Pecora was a hard-ass who demanded a lot, and that his softer, more compassionate side might have been tougher to see from October through March.

Remember this, too: Cassara is the same age Pecora was when Pecora arrived at Hofstra. A 36-year-old has a lot more in common with an 18- or 21-year-old than a 52-year-old. (Says the 36-year-old who goes to Night Ranger shows) And Pecora and Jay Wright came in and seemed at least as hip and happening—in comparison to the deliciously demanding, gruff and old-school Butch van Breda Kolff—as Cassara does to Pecora today.

I’ll never forget the first Midnight Madness (speaking of Night Ranger!) at Hofstra, when a student dared Wright—who was standing on stage at Hofstra USA—to join his group on the dance floor. Wright, who was just 32 at the time, jumped down and shamed the kid by showing off moves that could have gotten him a tryout as a backup dancer with (scanning Wikipedia here to see which popular concert draws in 1994 are still recognizable today) Janet Jackson.

I’m not sure if Cassara can Bust A Move—though I am sure he knows the words to it!—but just like 16 years ago, circumstances dictate he display a more easy-going approach than his predecessor. Doubly so, in fact, because of the unprecedented way in which Cassara landed the job. As I noted in July, the returning Dutchmen needed a friend as much as they needed a coach. Cassara had to save this season as well as lay the foundation for future ones, and the way to do that was to bond with the veterans.

If Cassara sticks around long enough, my guess is he, too, will eventually be replaced by the good cop. And it’d be a pretty darn good sign for the Hofstra men’s basketball program if history repeats itself and a bunch of us end up sitting here in 2026 and discussing whether or not the Flying Dutchmen are going to have more fun under the new coach than they did under the recently departed Cassara.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bits and Bytes: Of hoops skeds and Huggins starring

No mention of where this guy went to college. Don't worry. It's coming.

Turns out the men’s basketball schedule was further along than I realized the other day. Thanks to Twitter pal Andy Towne and Loyal Reader Jojogunne for sending along the information that Hofstra will host Holy Cross (date TBA) and visit Manhattan (Dec. 18).

The CAA schedule also has its first confirmation: UNC Wilmington released the CAA portion of its schedule (not the entire thing, as I erroneously wrote on Twitter) Thursday afternoon and the Flying Dutchmen will host the Seahawks Jan. 19 and visit scenic Wilmington Feb. 23. Both are Wednesday games.

Below is the schedule as we know it thus far:

Nov. 13: Farmingdale

Nov. 18-21: Puerto Rico Classic (three games)

Nov. 26: Wagner

Dec. 4: CAA opener, site and opponent TBA

Dec. 8: at Binghamton

Dec. 11: Florida Atlantic

Dec. 18: at Manhattan

Dec. 29: at Iona

TBA: Holy Cross

TBA: at Rider

Jan. 19: UNCW

Feb. 23: at UNCW

TBA: Bracket Buster

The non-conference schedule might be complete. Exams take place the week of Dec. 13, so there won’t be any games between Florida Atlantic and Manhattan. I’d guess the games against Holy Cross and Rider will take place the week of and the week after Christmas. Squeezing a game in Dec. 27 would be a good way to begin preparing the Dutchmen for the whirlwind first five days of the real CAA schedule. It's possible another game could be scheduled for Christmas week, but I think what you see is what you’re going to get.

I’d also wager the Farmingdale game will count, because that gets Brad Kelleher one game closer to the floor. Unless someone farts in Kentucky and the NCAA decides to punish the Wildcats by ordering Kelleher to sit out another season. Oh wait, Morehead State just went on probation, we’re probably safe.

Anyway, a couple other bits and bytes for the weekend:

—The first football-free fall at Hofstra since World War II—chew on that for a moment—officially begins today, when the volleyball team becomes the first squad to open its season by hosting the Hofstra Invitational at the PFC. The Flying Dutchwomen will play Canisius at noon and Texas State at 7 p.m.

The women’s soccer team also opens play today by visiting nationally ranked Boston College. Field hockey begins tomorrow, when the Dutchwomen play Boston University at the University of Albany Invitational, while men’s soccer debuts with a home game against Stony Brook Wednesday.

—We won’t forget football here, we can promise you that. The Daily News had a nice article Wednesday about former Flying Dutchmen offensive lineman Kevin Brown, who transferred to Eastern Kentucky and is preparing for his junior season there.

—And it’s beginning to look as if Kareem Huggins, the former Flying Dutchmen running back, is going to do his best to make sure nobody else forgets Hofstra football, either. Huggins is having a monster pre-season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (coached by Hofstra alum Raheem Morris and still, of course, The Official NFL Team of Defiantly Dutch) and has gone from a fringe special teamer to, perhaps, sharing the Bucs’ starting job with Cadillac Williams. Huggins has 99 yards on 16 carries—that’s a mind-boggling YPC of 6.2—and is impressing people inside and outside the Buccaneers’ organization.

Indeed, as I read this St. Petersburg Times column about Huggins, it struck me how remarkably similar his ascension is to the one Wayne Chrebet enjoyed with the Jets 15 years ago this month. Chrebet was trying to make a Jets team that had, almost literally, no wide receivers, while Huggins brings big-play capability to the Buccaneers, who didn’t have a rush of more than 35 yards last season.

Unfortunately, while Chrebet was painted as having come out of nowhere, Huggins kind of does now. But what an appropriate bookend that would be, if Huggins becomes a household name the year after Hofstra football was wiped from the map and 15 years after Chrebet helped put the Dutchmen on it.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Happy 2nd Anniversary, Defiantly Dutch!

Cheesy fashions? Check. Cheesy haircuts, including the best mullet of all-time? Check. Cheesy cameos? Check. Cheesy music delivered without a hint of self-satisfied irony? Check. What better way to celebrate a blog birthday?

Defiantly Dutch celebrated its second anniversary Wednesday, and the only reason I’m posting this now instead of 36 or 40 hours ago is every time I tried to make light of all that’s gone wrong at Hofstra under my watch, it came off as pessimistic and negative.

Don’t get me wrong: I can do pessimistic and negative with the best of ‘em! But these were two sentiments I didn’t want to evoke in what I intended to be a celebratory and appreciative piece.

I’ve gotta admit, though: So much has gone haywire over the last 730 days—and the last 266 days in particular—that I wonder if, at some point two years ago yesterday, I made the fates angry and unleashed a horrendous hex on Hofstra sports by looking into a mirror and uttering a particularly bad word five times. You know, like “Beetlejuice.” Or “Candyman.” Or “Larranaga.”

Except through it all, this has been an incredibly gratifying experience—one that has been anything BUT negative, despite some of the sour happenings that have taken place.

Starting and maintaining Defiantly Dutch is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done (admittedly, the list of smart things I’ve done is pretty short). As I’ve noted before, it reignited a passion that was nearly extinguished by the conditions at my previous gig.

Building a site, developing and earning an audience from scratch and cultivating it via word of mouth is incredibly satisfying. This part of the blogosphere—where we are not part of a “network” that is “operated” by a Giant Media Behemoth—is a meritocracy, where credibility and respect is not immediately bestowed but instead must be earned. I do not take that responsibility lightly.

There is a refreshing kinship and purity to this, as well. Whether you root for Hofstra, another CAA school or the CAA and mid-major basketball in general, we share the same passion and the same refusal to believe that Our Game, to borrow a term from Kyle Whelliston, is somehow lesser because it is played in smaller arenas and on regional TV and in front of a press corps numbering in the single digits. We know it’s greater, and are equal parts disappointed and thrilled that Everyone Else doesn’t get it.

It has been awesome to become a part of that community and all its tentacles. It’s been great meeting—sometimes in person, sometimes in virtual fashion—Hofstra fans who are even more passionate and even more long-suffering than me.

I’d never even heard of Twitter 730 days ago. Now I’ve got more than 170 followers, none of whom are related to me and only a few of whom are spammers!

I never imagined I’d with over so many platforms with so many virtual friends from around the CAA (yup, even Fairfax!) and the country (who knew I’d know what IUPUI stands for and would shake my wagging stick at the school’s biggest fan?) I never imagined I would have a bunch of Mason fans calling me all sorts of terrible names—no, you know what, I kind of figured that would eventually happen.

It has been particularly wonderful to become friends with Mike Litos and to be part of the CAA Stonecutters, a super-secret group that has all the answers for the conference’s myriad issues but no time to implement them because we’re busy keeping the Martians under wraps. I can’t say this enough: It’s rare, in this cutthroat business, to meet someone whose work you admire and find out that he was worth admiring the whole time. That’s Litos. Even if he does hate Hofstra!

Anyway, thank you—all of you—for making this so fun and rewarding.

As for what awaits in year three: If the first year here was about finding my way and my voice, the second year was about fine-tuning the mix between unabashed homerdom and relatively straight reportage. Now that I feel like I’ve got a clue and an actual vision—oh boy, if you think Lionel and Co. are having fun in the video above, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In which we welcome back Woody, and wonder if he ever really wanted to leave

At and around Hofstra, everybody knew the Jets' names.

Even by the “standards” set by those who run professional sports teams, Woody Johnson is not an easy guy with whom to side. If he’s not clumsily putting his fingerprints all over the Jets—four years after he wanted to mimic Bill Belichick, he’s turned the Jets into the biggest bunch of publicity, err, magnets this side of the cast of Jersey Shore; does anyone REALLY think “Hard Knocks” will end with Darrelle Revis still unsigned?—then he’s proving how out of touch he is with the common man as the Jets prepare to move into Meadowlands Stadium next month.

Johnson finally reduced the prices of the Jets’ remaining personal seat licenses in June, a mere month after he said he absolutely would not do so. To be so completely tone deaf to the realities of life in 2010 is the kind of hubris displayed only by those who were born on third base but think they raced 270 feet to get there.

Anyway, contrary to those first two graphs, I come here today—the day the Jets return to their one-time home at Hofstra for the annual open practice—not to bury Johnson but to…umm, not hug him, but maybe give him a fist bump as I apologize for solely blaming him for the Jets’ exit following training camp in 2008.

Don’t get me wrong: Leaving Hofstra behind to build a $75 million training facility for the Jets—and then realizing it wasn’t suitable for training camp and brokering a deal to hold camp at SUNY-Cortland—is still a hilarious head-scratcher, the type of mistake only the insanely rich can make. But I am beginning to wonder if Johnson and the Jets didn’t have a choice but to leave Hofstra.

This is all just conjecture, of course, and will remain that way, since the odds of anybody exiting the ivory tower to discuss that “two-year study” long enough to disprove any coincidences were just that—and that the study really did take two years and involved anything more than personal vendettas—are slimmer than my odds of landing a public relations job at George Mason.

But remember this: When the Jets announced their plans to move the team’s facilities to New Jersey, they were still not sure where to hold camp every summer. It was entirely possible the Jets could be based in Jersey yet still prepare for the season at Hofstra.

And while I didn’t want to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt last year, isn’t it reasonable to wonder—now that our once-quiet fears about the future of Hofstra football have turned into reality—that the powers that be at Hofstra made it clear the Jets weren’t welcome because their presence every summer would soon be a reminder that football is no longer played here in the fall?

How much negative publicity would that bring to Hofstra on an annual basis? Might nudging the Jets off campus so that their land could be used to build the medical school be the first step in systematically removing all football from Hofstra? And wouldn’t ridding the campus of the Jets go a long way towards ensuring the school is known as a bastion of academic excellence instead of for football success?

(Note: While I often snort at Hofstra’s attempts to fashion itself the Ivy League of Long Island, I must note that U.S. News and World Report just ranked Hofstra 139th on its list of best American colleges while George Mason is no. 143. YEAH!! SUCK IT MASON!!!! I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming)

Whatever the real reason is for the Jets’ departure, it’s too bad, because both sides could have had it both ways. Hofstra could have continued bolstering its reputation as a university and built a medical school while also continuing to enjoy the free publicity generated by its partnership with the Jets. And the Jets could have maintained their ties to New York and their tradition at Hofstra, which was the closest thing the nomadic franchise had to a real home base.

As this New York Times article from September 2001—note the dateline, it was the last normal Sunday ever—makes clear, the Jets were a source of—wait for it!—pride for Hofstra and Long Island alike. From realtors to deli owners and everywhere in between, the Jets provided a nice boost to the local economy. And as this Times article from earlier this year indicates, I wasn’t the only student who felt I’d hit the big time upon realizing I was sharing a campus with a professional football team.

That’s no longer the case, except for one night a year, and it’s a shame. We’ll probably never know for sure who is truly to blame for the Jets’ departure. But all I know is it took Johnson a little less than a year after the Jets’ exit to realize he wanted to go back to school—and Hofstra a little more than a year after the Jets' exit to execute football.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bits and Bytes: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Hofstra Hat--think Bally Basketball except less cultured and with a ravenous appetite for cheesy '80s music--couldn't wait for November to go to San Juan!

You know you’ve got a fever and the only cure is more CAA when you hit San Juan as part of a cruise and think not about seeing the sights or sampling the local food but of taking a picture of a sweat- and dirt-stained, can’t-be-washed-because-everytime-it-gets-wet-it-stinks-for-a-day-and-plus-it’s-my-good-luck-hat-even-though-we-haven’t-won-a-damn-thing-since-I-bought-it Hofstra hat in front of a San Juan sign so that I could signify the Flying Dutchmen’s readiness to knock off North Carolina in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic Nov. 18 (which is 79 days from now, but who’s counting?).

(Note to self: Next time, just write “It was a dark and stormy night” and get to the point)

Anyway, the original plan was to get to the Coliseo de Puerto Rico—look at me with the Spanish, who could ever guess I failed it twice in high school?—and take a picture of the hat at the actual site of the Tip-Off games. But we arrived in San Juan at the same time as torrential downpours (see below) and I couldn’t shake the image of my wife and I getting lost or getting stuck in traffic and arriving back at the dock just as the ship sets sail for the Virgin Islands. So a hat in front of a welcome sign it is.

This flood is nothing compared to what will happen when UNC fans pile on to the streets of San Juan and weep following the Flying Dutchmen's win on Nov. 18!

The truly sickening thing is San Juan wasn’t even the only time my wife and I discussed CAA hoops (as well as CAA Hoops) while we were in the middle of the Atlantic. More on the burst of “inspiration” I had on the boat later this week. In the meantime, let’s return from summer vacation with these bits and bytes:

—The world’s worst-kept secret was confirmed Aug. 4 with the announcement that the Dutchmen will beat—err, play—North Carolina. As a reformed Tar Heels fan—somewhere in my Dad’s house I still have enough UNC T-shirts, hats and shorts to clothe an army—this is particularly exciting stuff. I was such a diehard Heels fan that my roommate asked me early in our Hofstra tenure who I’d root for if Hofstra ever played UNC. I of course answered Hofstra, but never imagined I’d ever get the chance to actually root for my alma mater against the Tar Heels. Yet here we are, my second “worlds colliding” moment in as many years. Can’t wait. Roy, you tried ducking us by leaving Kansas, but you can’t avoid us anymore!

—The non-conference schedule is beginning to take shape and it certainly looks like a travel-friendly one for fans. In addition to the three games in Puerto Rico Nov. 18-21, here are other games that have been confirmed, per opponent's websites:

Nov. 13: Farmingdale

Nov. 26: Wagner

Dec. 8: at Binghamton

Dec. 11: Florida Atlantic

Dec. 29: at Iona

The Farmingdale site lists the game against Hofstra as an exhibition, which seems odd after the Dutchmen’s games against Farmingdale and Old Westbury the last two years counted in the standings.

There is also a Bracket Buster return game at Rider still to be scheduled as well as a road Bracket Buster contest in February. That’s 10 non-conference games. The Dutchmen played 13 last year, so my guess is Hofstra will either participate in another local tournament or schedule two more games with nearby foes.

—Whether or not Nathaniel Lester plays during the non-conference schedule—or at all—remains to be seen. No, he’s not transferring or signing a contract to play professionally in the Falkland Islands, but the thigh injury he suffered while working out in July has put his availability for 2010-11 into question. Our main man Mo Cassara said during his video chat at GoHofstra.com last week that Lester is headed for another MRI in the next two weeks which will determine how much time he’ll miss.

Lester is the returning player I was most curious to see in the post-Tom Pecora era and the Dutchmen could certainly use his versatility and experience. On the other hand, as I noted in May, of the five non-seniors inherited by Cassara, two didn’t play last year and the other three combined to average 6.5 minutes, 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds per game. So no matter how well this year’s freshmen do, I could see the 2011-12 team really benefiting if Lester were to redshirt this year. My guess is we’ll know Lester’s fate before the season starts.

—A little late here, but I got a nice surprise in the mail in mid-July when I opened an envelope from Hofstra to find my article about Cassara and seniors Lester, Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington included among a packet of off-season clips about the Dutchmen. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see the day when a Defiantly Dutch story was included in an official Hofstra mailing, but it was very cool and I appreciate the gesture by the athletic department. I also appreciate all those who retweeted the article and forwarded it to others via email July 1, which was one of the biggest traffic days in DD history.

—Also thanks to our friends at the CAA Zone, who underwent a snazzy redesign this summer and provided a link to Defiantly Dutch under the headline “CAA-Related Sites You Should Visit.” Much appreciated. Check out the new site, which features a blog devoted to breaking CAA news.

—Lastly, apologies for the longer-than-anticipated sabbatical, but I took advantage of the summer to enjoy gainful employment for a change and recharge the blogging batteries. This just in: A lot of stuff happened last year, so it was good to catch our breath. But school starts a week from tomorrow and the fall sports season officially begins Friday, when the volleyball team hosts the Hofstra Invitational, so we’re back and ready to begin another year of fun and hi-jinks here at Defiantly Dutch. I’ve got a lot planned—for men’s hoops as well as the other sports, including one that’s no longer played at Hofstra—so won’t you please stay tuned and stick around?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.