Last Wednesday, during the Hofstra basketball Tip-Off Reception at Morton’s, Mo Cassara gave his 1,420,201th speech (give or take a million) since taking over as Flying Dutchmen head coach May 5. As he does every time he gets up in front of a group, Cassara spoke about how happy he was to be at Hofstra, how much he enjoys the community and how much he’s looking forward to coaching the players on this year’s team.
But since he was already speaking to an audience of converts, he modified his usual sales pitch. Instead of trying to woo people to Hofstra Arena, he asked those in the room to invite 10 people to a game this season. Neither Cassara nor I were math majors, but a few dozen people in the room times 10 would provide a nice boost to the attendance at the Arena and hopefully result in a cavalcade of new fans.
So with that in mind—after all, if you’re reading this, I don’t need to convince you to go to Hofstra games, unless you came here searching for pictures from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which case please come to Hempstead, NY tomorrow!— I’m asking you to print this out and give it to 10 friends and tell them to go and see the Flying Dutchmen this winter. Multiple times, even.
All the usual boilerplate reasons apply. Even though the price of tickets ($10 reserved, $15 premium) rose too much too fast after the seismic 2005-06 season, a Hofstra basketball game is still one of the best bargains you’ll find in the area. Every game features a little something extra that provides more bang for your buck and makes the Arena an inviting destination for families, whether it be a giveaway or a post-game autograph signing.
There’s not a bad seat in the house. You’ll get to see players sweat and hear coaches curse, and hear players curse and see coaches sweat. Bring the earmuffs for the little ones!
The quality of basketball is outstanding and the Flying Dutchmen play in one of the best mid-major conferences in the country. In each of the last two years, a player selected in the first round of the subsequent NBA Draft has played at the Arena.
That will happen again this year, except that player will suit up for Hofstra 13 times. If I had a fortune, I would bet it that by this time next year, reigning CAA Player of the Year Charles Jenkins is in the NBA. Oh, wait, there won’t be an NBA next year. Well, whenever the NBA comes back, Jenkins will be in it, so this is your chance to say you knew and saw him when.
Most of all, though, you should go out and support Hofstra basketball because this team deserves it. Granted, as a mildly biased Hofstra graduate and blogger, I always think the Dutchmen deserve it. The men’s basketball program is and has always been run by people who do things the right way. Win or lose, the program will do the alums and Long Island—warning! pun ahead!—proud.
But this year’s team in particular, needs and is worthy of your support after an off-season in which the fates had a good time beating up the Flying Dutchmen. As last year ended, Jenkins was surrounded by experienced, big-time players who were primed to become Hofstra’s best team since the 2005-06 season and ready to help Jenkins, the best all-around player to set foot on campus in at least 30 years, cap off his career with the only thing missing from his resume: An NCAA Tournament appearance.
And then an unprecedented and seemingly never-ending tidal wave of melodrama washed ashore at Hofstra, eventually leaving just Jenkins and Greg Washington as the last members of the core standing and leaving the Dutchmen’s fortunes decidedly uncertain.
Those who remained along with Jenkins and Washington are unified by what they have been through and have stirring individual stories of their own. Nathaniel Lester, projected as a valuable sixth man before the deluge of departures and potentially a starter afterward, may not play at all after tearing his quad muscle during the summer.
Mike Moore transferred from Fordham to Hofstra, only to see Tom Pecora leave for Fordham before Moore could play a second for Hofstra. How’s that for irony?
Brad Kelleher is not the only member of the Dutchmen to get screwed by the NCAA Clearinghouse—Washington missed his freshman season after he was declared ineligible—but while Washington was allowed to redshirt and still play four years, Kelleher, a junior college transfer, was declared ineligible all of last season and for the first eight games of this season because he signed a contract with a professional team in his native Australia. We’ve spent many pixels here ranting about the unfairness of it all, but what it boils down to is this: Kelleher is guaranteed only 23 games in his Division I career.
David Imes, Yves Jules and Matt Grogan, meanwhile, remain from last year’s freshman class but entered this year with the unenviable task of having precious little game tape with which to impress a new coaching staff.
Speaking of the new coaching staff, it was not exempt from enduring an off-season filled with multiple uncertainties. The second wave of changes created by Tim Welsh’s arrest left Cassara and assistant coaches Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin in danger of a second job change in less than a month. Cassara and Griffin each lost their assistant coaching jobs when Boston College coach Al Skinner was surprisingly fired and St. Francis coach Brian Nash surprisingly resigned shortly after last season but landed quickly with Welsh. And DeMeo left his head coaching job at Division II Newberry to rejoin Welsh, with whom he’d coached at Iona and Providence.
Cassara was hired two days after Welsh’s resignation and DeMeo and Griffin remained aboard as assistants. The final addition to the staff was Wayne Morgan, who waited until he was in his early 50s to get his shot at the big time yet was fired by Iowa State after three winning seasons that included an NCAA Tournament victory and a trip to the NIT Final Four.
The staff is excited and focused on the future, and yet Cassara is just as appreciative of his personal past and the opportunity to establish roots on the Island. Among the guests Cassara invited to the Tip-Off Reception and thanked during his speech were his neighbors in Point Lookout, whom he thanked for making sure he was fed at least once every other day, as well as Jeff and Linda Halbrich, whom Cassara befriended when he was the head coach at Worcester Academy from 1999 through 2003 and who have come to his games at every subsequent stop since.
How can you not root for a guy like that? And how can you not root for a team like the one he coaches?
It is, if I may get just a wee bit deep-thinking, a team for the times in which we live. Circumstance has battered and bruised it and forced it to make adjustments it never envisioned, but it’s still standing, defiantly determined to make the best of its situation. Given all that has happened to them the last few months, the Flying Dutchmen are one of the few teams in the nation that can authentically take the “us against the world” stance.
And while this season is unlike anything anyone expected, anything is possible today—the Christmas Eve of the basketball season. Jenkins is a sure thing, and if Washington remains a shot-blocking force and Imes brings to the court the physicality and passion that have left two coaching staffs raving and Moore is a volume scorer and not just a volume shooter and junior college transfer Dwan McMillon continues to evoke the best of Chaz Williams, then who knows what will happen? Maybe a team picked fifth in the CAA finishes in the top four, gets that valuable first-round bye in the tournament and goes on a weekend-long run to prove Southern Bias is a pile of hooey.
In a 12-team league that usually only gets one NCAA bid, what will eventually happen will probably be something less than the best-case scenario, but that goes for most of the other 345 schools beginning play this week, too. Even if this season doesn’t end in the NCAA Tournament, the Dutchmen will learn that the journey is often more fulfilling than the destination.
Competitive and compelling, bruised and battered, defiant and determined—these are your Flying Dutchmen, and if you look close enough, you’ll probably see a little bit of yourself in them. This team deserves your support. Do the Dutchmen a favor, and invite 10 friends along for the ride.