Saturday, February 26, 2011

Emotional Senior Day awaits

Four days since this went global and I still haven't fielded any movie or TV pilot offers. Everyone must be busy getting ready for the Oscars. Yeah that's the ticket.

Senior Day is always one of the more emotional days on the college basketball calendar. But it might not be a bad idea for Hofstra to hand out boxes of tissues this afternoon along with the free number 22 T-shirts.

This marks the first time since 2007 (the senior year for Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera) that Hofstra is honoring a pair of players as decorated as all-time leading scorer Charles Jenkins and all-time leading shot blocker Greg Washington, who could, if the Flying Dutchmen advance deep enough into a postseason tournament, finish their careers having played the most and second-most games in program history. Brad Kelleher, the third honoree, will be playing in only his 22nd game Saturday, which, of course, lends an extra layer of poignancy to his story.

Oh, and Jenkins is getting his number 22 retired, too, in the ceremonies beginning at 1:30 p.m., which makes him the first active athlete in school history to earn that honor. You might have heard something about it.

Neither Jenkins nor the Hofstra athletic staff wanted to exclude Washington and Kelleher, though, so the school took the unprecedented step of placing on the Arena floor decals with the numbers of all three players.

“We wanted to be respectful of the other players while doing the number and the banner [for Jenkins],” athletic director Jack Hayes said. “The other thing in that was how excited Charles was to have all three of their numbers on the court. We wanted to make sure that we were respectful and honored the other two as well and why should we not include them?”

Putting a trio of numbers on the court was simple compared to the task of planning the retirement of Jenkins’ jersey. Hayes and Mo Cassara had each thought about it independently of one another and were pleased to learn they were on the same page when the topic was finally raised about a month ago.

“As the year goes on and I realize not only how important Charles was to the basketball program but how important he was to the university community as a whole, I just started to think about it and said ‘Hey, at some point, his jersey is going to be retired, why not do it while he’s still here?’” Cassara said. “I think there’s so many people in the community that would embrace that. I was thinking about it and so was Jack.”

Hayes was still not sure the logistics would work out in time for Jenkins’ jersey to be retired this season and didn’t want to create a distraction by mentioning it to him. But he also knew he had to have the banner just in case, so he ordered it shortly after his discussion with Cassara, knowing that in the worst-case scenario it would get used at some point in the future.

Once Hayes and Cassara agreed the number would be retired this year, it was easy to identify Senior Day as the day to raise Jenkins’ banner and to decide to inform Jenkins of the honor on Monday. The challenge then became keeping it a secret and Hayes and Cassara were among a select few who had to keep the juiciest of information quiet for weeks.

“Tough secret to keep—you don’t get that many opportunities to do stuff like this, [you] want to make sure you do them right,” Hayes said.

Add into the equation a sellout crowd and it’s going to be a day unlike any ever seen before at Hofstra. “[It’s] the end of this first chapter in this transition for us and I think those guys—Charles and Greg and Brad—have really led us through that,” Cassara said. “For Jack and the president and all of the athletic administration, all those people that love Charles and love Greg and Brad so much and have put so much time and effort into making sure that this program continued to move forward in a positive fashion, it’s a great day for everybody.”

“I think Brad is a special one because of what he’s been through, but to see Charles and Greg—we’ve been with them for five years and they have been super, super people,” Hayes said. “These are the type of days you look forward to, in terms of planning them, but in some ways you don’t want them to take place. And that is definitely how I’ll feel on Saturday.”

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