Thursday, December 29, 2011

Learn all about Iona fandom with Gaels fan Guy Falotico!

Our good Iona friend Guy Falotico--better known as @IonaGuyF--was kind enough to help Hofstra fans prepare for tonight's big metro tilt by answering a few mostly intelligent questions from yours truly today. Thanks to Guy for his time and see you all tonight!

How did you become "IonaGuyF" and how close did you come to becoming, say, "MaristGuyF" or, heaven forbid, "SienaGuyF?"

I actually started off my postgrad years as a computer science major. Iona's CS program was very strong at the time and they gave me some academic scholarship cash to go there, so it was the easy choice.

What was hoops and the hoops atmosphere at Iona like during your undergrad years?

I graduated from Iona in 1991. Arrived there in the fall of 1987. So, basically I got there after the Valvano and Kennedy years, just in time to see the program return to mediocrity and obscurity. The atmosphere was still pretty good, but in those years LaSalle was ridiculously good. Those are still the best MAAC teams I've ever seen.

What were the best and worst moments of your college years fandom?

Best moment I can recall while in college was Sean Green's 43-point performance in the MAAC semifinals in Albany against Siena. The Gaels had to endure a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. I'd never heard an arena get so loud and thought we were finished, but Green wasn't to be denied on that day. Of course, Iona had nothing left the next day in losing to St. Peter's in the finals. The worst moment while I was at Iona was a home game against Lafayette, one of the worst teams in the country that particular year. Iona led by 20 at the half. A friend of mine, who had such a knack for calling stuff like this we called him “Clutch”, stated, “Iona will trail at some point in this game.” We all thought he was nuts. Iona went on to lose by 10. So, yes, we were outscored by 30 points in one half on our home floor by one of the worst teams in the country. Ouch.

I recall you writing on Twitter how you almost became a sportswriter but wisely came to your senses. Is that true, and if so, what do you do now? Also, do you have a time machine I could borrow so I could mimic your actions?

As a soph at Iona, I had the opportunity to cover high school sports at what is now the Journal News. Ended up staying there 5 years, about 25 hours a week. Best job I ever had. The problem was that they rarely hired from within, no matter how good you were. A major beat opened up, and they’d pull someone from another paper. Being that young, I didn’t understand that—of course I get it now. But at the time, I didn’t want to stick it out, or move somewhere else for an opportunity. Very na├»ve of me. So I switched industries. Somehow found medical editing, and I’ve been doing it for 16 years now. I work on a team of editors who all have PhDs, and I hold my own. I’ve gone from breaking down high school basketball games to developing case studies of patients with moderately active rheumatoid arthritis. Nowhere near as much fun, but it pays considerably more. That said—if I can return to the age of 23, I would have left the area to cover sports. But then I wouldn’t have my wife and kids. Hard to think of them not being around.

How did you end up becoming a moderator at IonaHoops.com as well as the curator of Iona sports news on Twitter?

Should give you a very quick MAAC message board history. Back in 1997 or so, a few MAAC fans found each other in an AOL chat room. I was one of them. Another who was in there, Hofstra fans know well—Jack Styczynski. Not long after that time with AOL, Jack started the first true MAAC board, which grew pretty popular—popular enough for a young company named Rivals.com to approach several of us to start up individual team sites. So, for the 1999 season, IonaHoops.com was born. I enjoyed running the site—going to all the press conferences and stuff. Was a way to keep my hand in the industry, too, in case I wanted to make a run at getting back into sports (by this time I was married). Two seasons later Rivals wanted to start charging us to have a site on their network, so we all left. Most MAAC teams have maintained team boards on various message board networks over the years. IonaHoops.com has also remained “just a message board”, first on Voy, then on Arborwood, and now on ProBoards.

I’ve been asked often over the years why I don’t just run my own sort of Rivals site for Iona, or nowadays, a blog such as yours. I now have 2 kids, and they keep me busy. I coach Little League and Pop Warner in my town (Stratford, CT), and I’m part of the PTA at their school. I was also elected to serve on Iona’s alumni board of directors, so I do more with the college than just attend sporting events now. I just don’t have the time to put into a blog.

As for Twitter, I love it. I read somewhere that Facebook is for people you used to be friends with, and Twitter is for people you want to be friends with. Perfect description. I love bringing Iona fans info and I love following all the basketball writers, from the ESPN and CBS guys to the guys who bust their butts on barely-read blogs. You don’t realize how much info is out there on your team until you do a Twitter search for them.

How many games do you go to in the average season?

I get to every home game most years, and a handful of the local road games. I also try to get to the cool preseason tournaments Iona’s been involved with. Two years ago, I took the whole family down to Orlando for the Old Spice, and we had a blast. This year I went to San Juan by myself and had a great time. Next year Iona is in St. Thomas, and I’m going to try to get the whole family there. In 2014, Iona’s at Old Spice again, so we will all make that trip.

As for the MAAC Tournament, I believe I’ve missed it once in the past 25 years. Regarding Iona’s NCAA trips, believe it or not I’ve only made it to one of them. Had some reasons for missing the others—my wedding, wife late in pregnancy, having no money due to getting laid off from a job, etc. But I have already told the wife that I’ll be there if Iona is in the NCAAs this year, and will be at every game as far as they go—hey, after what we’ve seen from GMU, Butler and VCU in recent years, you never know.

I like to complain about the hexed nature of Hofstra basketball, but you went through something few people have ever experienced--a two-win season in 2006-07. How awful was that, especially coming off an NCAA Tournament season the year before, and what were those two wins like?

Amazing that we went from having a halftime lead over an eventual Final Four team in the NCAAs to losing to a D-III school in an exhibition the following season. Even after that we didn’t realize how bad things were going to be. The losses just kept mounting. But I’ll tell you something—it’s “easier” being a fan when you know your team is poor, because the “pressure” is off. You root hard for the kids and see the younger ones develop. The media buildup was crazy! Suddenly we have major networks sending reporters to our games to cover the sad-sack Gaels trying to get that first W. And the fans showed up more and more, too. I was so happy to see the kids finally win. There were some great guys on that team. Thankfully the frosh got to taste some winning before they left.

Things have obviously gotten better since then, and Iona is the overwhelming pick to win the MAAC this year. How satisfying is it as a fan to be on the other end of such a metamorphosis, and what is it like rooting for the team everyone else is aiming at? Also, do you have proof Kevin Williard and Tim Cluess CANNOT walk on water?

Willard’s efforts were remarkable, and you knew he wasn’t going to be here for the long haul. Only gripe Iona fans had was that the team simply couldn’t score under him. Great defense, zero offense. Enter Cluess, the polar opposite. Great offense, no defense!

When MoMo Jones committed to Iona and we were all waiting on whether the NCAA would allow him to play this year, I was truly indifferent. This year’s Gaels were going to be good with or without him, and part of me was thinking toward the future—you can just give MoMo the keys for 2 years after Machado leaves. But now that he’s playing for us, I see that he does give us a dimension we didn’t have last year—that pure scorer who can fill the basket in a variety of ways. We had Glover inside, 3-point shooters outside and Machado running the show, but no one with that consistent in-between game, and no one who can get past you to the rim. MoMo has made us better in that regard, and because of his presence on this year’s roster Iona has a chance for a special season.

But you talk about the contrast from 2007, when I barely even looked at boxscores after games, to now, when I’m checking on our RPI daily, even multiple times a night. Our RPI is 12 right now—that’s just nuts. But to me it’s also nuts that we have no votes in either Top 25 poll. You can’t tell me we’re not one of the top 40 teams in the country. Ridiculous.

Hofstra fans are jealous of schools who went to one of the newer postseason tournaments and had a good experience there. How did the CIT help Iona last year?

I thought it was a great experience for the kids. Nobody cares about any postseason tourney not named NCAA—except for the teams in them. It gave the team a few more games together against good competition. The atmosphere at the CIT final was the best I’ve seen at an Iona home game in recent years—shame we lost to a good Santa Clara team.

Tell us the most fun thing about rooting for this year's team, as well as anything that keeps you up nights w/worry (if there is such a thing). What is this team's ceiling?

The most fun thing about this year’s team is the dream of what could be. I remember seeing a story prior to the start of the season where Iona was labeled “this year’s VCU”. What an amazing thing VCU did last year—not even the best team in your league and you go all the way to the Final Four. Can Iona do that? They would have to improve drastically on defense. In fact, they need to do that just to ensure they GET to the NCAAs. Last mock bracket I saw had us as a 10 seed. That’s not ideal for a deep run, because you’re looking at facing one of the top 8 teams in the country in the second round. But that would be a nice problem to have. If Iona gets to the NCAAs and loses in the first round, it would be disappointing. Win a game there and we’re in the talks of one of the best MAAC teams of all time. Reach the Sweet 16 and leave no doubt.

My one worry other than the defense is whether these guys have learned to WIN a championship. Iona was a huge favorite in last year’s MAAC finals vs St. Peter’s. John Dunne’s defensive gameplan was BRILLIANT that night, and we lost Kyle Smyth to injury in the first half. That’s the other reason the CIT run was good for the team—but, again, we lost in the finals. My fear is getting to the MAAC finals again, not quite having the resume for an at-large, and then wondering whether we have enough to beat Fairfield or Loyola or whoever with the money on the table. It’s here where I think MoMo makes the difference for us and gets us over the hump.

Do you think tonight's loss to Hofstra will fuel the Gaels the rest of the year?

Well, one thing’s for certain, your 284 RPI will not be helpful. An Iona loss would eliminate any room for error in terms of at-large—we’d have to win out, including BracketBuster, to the MAAC finals and lose to the second-best MAAC team to be on the right side of the at-large bubble. As Iona has been away from home for a month now, I expect good Iona representation at the game tonight, and for the Gaels to play well. But certainly if the Hofstra that beat Cleveland State shows up, Iona will be in for a dogfight. One thing you’ll see is that Iona’s defense is a great remedy for any offensive issues you guys have been having, It should be interesting because I know Hofstra is capable. Good luck to both teams—and no injuries for either side, please!

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