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.

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