Saturday, February 26, 2011

Five pregame thoughts: Delaware

1.) A regular season full of unique and unexpected challenges ends with the most unlikely one yet. The Senior Day festivities are sure to be the most stirring and emotional in memory as Hofstra honors Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher and retires Jenkins’ jersey, but just a few minutes after those goose bump- and tear-inducing moments, the Flying Dutchmen have to, you know, PLAY a game that is vitally important, both cosmetically and otherwise. Expect the Dutchmen to get off to a roaring start, but keeping them focused for the full 40 minutes against a pesky Delaware team that trailed the entire way in Newark two weeks ago but still only lost by three will be the task of the day for Mo Cassara.

2.) No matter what happens today, of course, the Dutchmen are assured a bye in next weekend’s CAA Tournament (holy hell, how did that get here already?). But it’d be great for the psyche of the program—not to mention Cassara’s Coach of the Year candidacy—if the Dutchmen could knock off Delaware, tie the program’s best-ever record in the CAA (14-4) and assure themselves no worse than the no. 3 seed, which would also match the best in program history. A Dutchmen win and an Old Dominion loss to William & Mary would allow Hofstra to finish second. A win today would also be the 20th of the season for the Dutchmen and would mark the fifth time in seven years the program has reached the magic number. In addition, a win in front of a sellout crowd would be the perfect way to sustain the momentum Cassara has created with Hofstra fans this year (it would also help him sleep better: Cassara took the loss to Drexel in front of a sellout crowd Jan. 29 quite hard). Either way, who could have imagined we’d be typing this paragraph last May?

3.) Will we see Dwan McMillan today? The one-time starting point guard, who hasn’t played since before Christmas due to a fractured eye socket, was back in practice this week and sporting a new mask. The Dutchmen desperately need all the depth they can find and the addition of McMillan, a strong defender, would be a huge one heading into the CAA Tournament, where the Dutchmen are likely going to face multiple up-tempo teams.

4.) It will be a very good sign for the Dutchmen’s CAA Tournament hopes if David Imes continues to play as if he’s got his second wind. Imes had 12 rebounds and six points against Delaware two weeks ago to begin a four-game stretch in which he is averaging 11.5 rebounds and 9.0 points per game. He has pulled down 10 or more rebounds three times in his last four games after recording 10 or more rebounds just four times in his first 25 games. An active Imes would be a huge asset for a Dutchmen squad that is likely to face James Madison or Drexel in the quarterfinals and, if they advance, Old Dominion in the semifinals.

5.) The Dutchmen’s last four home games have been decided by a grand total of 13 points. Is it too much to ask for Jenkins to put up 30 or so points (probably not) and for the Dutchmen to be winning by enough in the final minute so that Jenkins can be pulled and receive one last boisterous standing ovation? OK that sounds unlikely, but hey, Jenkins will be playing today in a uniform that has already been retired. Anything is possible.

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

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.”

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

From afar, Pecora proud of seniors

The coach who brought Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher to Hofstra will be a couple dozen miles west of Hofstra Arena this afternoon, when the trio of seniors are honored and Jenkins’ jersey is retired in Senior Day festivities prior to the Flying Dutchmen’s game against Delaware.

But even as Tom Pecora strolls the Fordham sideline at the Meadowlands Arena (hey, I can call it what I want!), he’ll still be thinking about Jenkins, Washington and Kelleher and hoping their final home game is one to remember.

“Those guys are a special bunch of kids, I’m thrilled for them—I rooted for them throughout the season,” Pecora said Friday afternoon. “They’re quality kids. They’ve always taken care of things academically. They were good leaders and in good times or bad, they were always there for us. They’ve been great.”

Pecora will always be linked with Jenkins, who became the latest symbol of Pecora’s ability to uncover under-recruited gems, but Pecora went through plenty as well with Washington and Kelleher, each of whom endured a season (or more) on the bench thanks to the unpredictable shenanigans of the NCAA.

Washington was declared ineligible by the NCAA just before his true freshman season in 2006-07, though he was allowed to redshirt and play four years, while Pecora passionately defended Kelleher and criticized the NCAA when Kelleher ended up missing all of last year (and the first eight games of this year) because his parents didn’t properly fill out a permission slip in fifth grade, or something like that.

“You think about the nonsense that Greg Washington goes through his first year—he never wavered in his love for Hofstra, he was always there, he never backed down and always wanted to be a part of what we were doing,” Pecora said. “And he won a lot of ballgames for us in very quiet, subtle ways. He blocked a lot of shots, he’s the all-time shot blocker.

“Kelleher I think the bad thing is just the residue of having to sit and not play for a year-and-a-half caught up to him and I think that’s why, to this point, he hasn’t had the kind of great seasons we thought he could have. But that’s life and I have no doubt that he’s going to go on and have a great pro career in Australia or in Europe.”

With Fordham taking on Rhode Island at the exact same time Hofstra is facing Delaware today, Pecora’s staff won’t be represented for Jenkins’ jersey retirement like it was Jan. 29, when Fordham’s game against St. Bonaventure ended in time for David Duke and Mike Kelly to get to the Arena and see Jenkins break Antoine Agudio’s career scoring record. Kelly said that afternoon he might never again coach a player who had Jenkins’ combination of ability, work ethic, humility and personality, and Pecora agreed Friday Jenkins was a rare talent.

“I think we’ve had similar personalities, but not in an elite player, you know what I mean?” Pecora said. “I think it’s a special blend, to be that personable and that approachable and that genuinely concerned about other people and still be an elite athlete, because everyone’s kissing your tail all the time. I think one of the reasons for that is Charles wasn’t a kid who had been getting his butt kissed since he was in ninth grade. He came up under the radar—when he was at Springfield Gardens, a lot of people still didn’t believe in his game. I think by [attention] coming later to him a little bit later, it allowed him to develop more as a person and not just be Charles Jenkins the basketball player.”

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jenkins not the only one savoring the last days of his Hofstra career

When Charles Jenkins reflects on his transcendent and record-setting career at Hofstra, he will of course recall becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, the buzzer-beaters against William & Mary, all the comeback wins he helped engineer, the honor of becoming the first active athlete in Hofstra history to have his number retired and how he almost single-handedly turned a potentially disastrous senior season into a magical one in which he became a viral sensation as #CharlesJenkinsFacts took over the Internet.

But a player who is defined as much by his uncommon grace and maturity as his uncommon basketball talent will also smile at the transformation of a quiet kid in a tuxedo to the ebullient one with a closet full of suits, the satisfaction that came with sharing a remarkable career with anyone who wanted to be even a small part of it and the memory of warming his hands with hot dogs at a softball game.

Wait a minute: Hot dogs as mittens?

“The softball team, they had a game and they asked me and Greg if we wanted to work,” Jenkins said after practice and a series of phone interviews Monday afternoon.

“Cold,” Greg Washington said, dragging the word out for emphasis.

“It was the coldest day ever,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “We first got out there, we both only had on one shirt. The wind started to pick up. It was so cold that I asked ‘Can I run to my room?’ And I just remember running to my room, going into my drawer and just picking up so many goodies for me and Greg.

“And I remember us drinking hot chocolate and eating hot dogs. It was crazy. [There] was one point where we didn’t even eat the hot dogs. Our hands were so cold that we took the hotdog and the bun and we just held it to get through it.”

That Jenkins—already the most recognizable athlete on campus by the time he and Washington volunteered at the softball game at the end of their sophomore seasons—would enjoy freezing, quite literally, his buns off on a wintry spring day came as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time at all around him.

“I’ve said it whenever I’ve had the opportunity: I think he’s gotten more out of the college experience of any student-athlete I’ve ever seen,” Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes said. “From his playing career to his going to special events on campus to participating in student-athlete orientations to going to black-tie events to going to other sporting events for other teams—he has gotten everything you could get out of a college experience and he’s provided a great example not just for the other members of the basketball team but for all the student-athletes in other sports.”

The most remarkable thing about the most remarkable athletic career in Hofstra history is how close it came to never happening at all. Playing Division I basketball didn’t seem possible when Jenkins excelled for Springfield Gardens High School in the anonymity of the PSAL during his sophomore and junior season. Jenkins’ Dad, also named Charles, called former Flying Dutchman assistant David Duke to tell him about his son, but Duke didn’t initially follow up on the lead. Duke began recruiting Jenkins as a senior, though, and closed the deal for Hofstra shortly after Jenkins scored 34 points in a win over Catholic league power St. Raymond.

“Before we left I remember telling Charles, I said ‘Charles, if you go out and have a good game today, you’ll write your ticket to any college you want to go to,’” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “And sure enough, he scored 34 points that day. We went home that night, I said ‘Let’s go back out and watch the games.’ Walked through the door, college recruiters are everywhere. It was an amazing situation.”

It was quite a different situation three years earlier, when Jenkins, still reeling from the shooting death of his brother Kareem in 2000, was expelled from Holy Cross as a ninth-grader.

“He didn’t want to do anything,” said Jenkins’ mother, Patricia. “He just shut down. He didn’t care about his grades. He didn’t care about playing basketball. He didn’t care about any of that.”

“It was academics, it was behavior, it was detention—I was late to school, I didn’t follow the rules,” Jenkins said. “It was just a bad year. A very bad year for me.”

Jenkins said his turning point was two-fold. He saw the rest of his family finding a way to move on while still mourning and remembering Kareem and had a closed door talk with a teacher at Holy Cross who told him how she realized life had to go on after her brother died.

“I remember her just telling me ‘My brother passed away too, I didn’t want to do anything,’ just like I didn’t,” Jenkins said. “She had to learn that life goes on. She woke up and people were still waking up and going to work. The TVs were still on. Everyone had to go about their life. That was something that I had to do. I had to learn, taking what happened to my brother and learning from it.”

Once he returned to the classroom and the gym, he began displaying the personality that would draw people to him on and off the court. Jenkins—now wearing no. 22 in honor of Kareem’s age when he died—was by far the best player on the Springfield Gardens squad, especially as a junior and senior, but his father encouraged him to get everybody else involved. Jenkins averaged 14.5 points and 5.8 assists as a sophomore and an eye-popping 21.1 points and 7.2 assists as a senior.

“He played with guys who weren’t that good, that weren’t up to his talent level, and I always told him in order to make them better, you have to play with them,” the elder Jenkins said. “So he always went out to make guys around him better. He always passed the ball. He always shared the ball. That’s where it started.”

Every Friday night, meanwhile, the Jenkins shared their house with their son’s teammates. Patricia would cook fish and pasta, take comfort in being able to keep an eye on her son and his friends (“I didn’t have to worry about what they were doing, because I’m upstairs and they’re downstairs so I always knew where he was and what they were doing”) and marvel at how his peers gravitated towards Charles—how, as Tom Pecora put it during his final night as Hofstra coach March 24, he managed to fill up any room in which he entered.

“I always say to Charles ‘You just can’t be friends, you just have to get them and they cling,’” Patricia said with a smile.

“I was always the kid [who said] ‘Why don’t you guys come to my house?’” Jenkins said. “I just enjoy company. I enjoy nothing more than good company, I enjoy laughing and spending a lot of time with people. If you would go to my neighborhood, I was always the kid that invited everyone. They knew that they would just come over to Charles’ house and hang out with me.”

Upon arriving at Hofstra, though, Jenkins was—briefly at least—anything but the sociable center of attention. Because of Jenkins’ youth (he began classes in the summer of 2006 still six months shy of his 18th birthday), Pecora and his staff chose to redshirt him.

But he still had to get his picture taken for the media guide—typically not a big deal, but a bit of an awkward situation for Jenkins, whose only suit was the tuxedo he wore to his high school senior prom.

“So long ago, man,” Jenkins said. “I remember that day like it was yesterday. Funny story. That’s the suit I wore to my high school prom. One of the things they told you [was] ‘You’ve got to wear a suit.’ I only have a tux, I don’t have a suit, so I’m just going to wear the tux that I have from high school. I didn’t own any suits.

“It just shows how much I’ve grown. I have several suits in my closet. Shows how much I’ve grown, as a person and a player.”

The clothes aren’t the only thing unrecognizable nearly five years later. The Jenkins who was shy and reserved as the youngest player in the program—and who stood, stone-faced, gripping a basketball in front of the gazebo at the entrance to Hofstra Arena in his initial media guide photo—is long gone. The outgoing Jenkins surely would have emerged with time, but the scowl might still occasionally be in place if not for Nathaniel Lester’s advice.

“Let me tell you what’s crazy about this,” Jenkins said. “Nat always talked to me and Greg about smiling, [saying] we don’t smile enough. If you look at this picture [from the 2006-07 media guide], both of us aren’t smiling. Now, if you look at our media pictures, we’re both smiling. It definitely shows how much we’ve grown.”

Jenkins was named the Dutchmen’s captain as a sophomore and over the next two years established himself as the anchor of the program, finding a way to bond both with teammates older than him (Cornelius Vines, Miklos Szabo and Brad Kelleher are all three years older than Jenkins) and easing the transition for all the newcomers, whether they were hotly hyped like Chaz Williams or Mike Moore or role players such as Paul Bilbo and Matt Grogan.

Jenkins improved his already impressive game as well. He endured an epic shooting slump his sophomore year but was a more efficient player as a junior, when he shot 44.3 percent from the field, was the overwhelming choice as CAA player of the year and led the Dutchmen to 10 wins in their final 13 games following a 2-7 start in CAA play.

The one thing that eluded Jenkins in his first three seasons was a trip deep into the CAA Tournament, but last year’s fast finish seemed to set the Dutchmen up for a big 2010-11. Except, of course, the grand plan began falling apart when Pecora went to Fordham and Halil Kanacevic, one of two Dutchmen on the CAA’s All-Rookie team, announced his plans to transfer shortly thereafter.

Tim Welsh was arrested for drunken driving and “resigned” after less than a month on the job, at which point Williams, the other Hofstra player on the All-Rookie team, said he was leaving as well. While Jenkins admitted to being shaken by the seismic chain of events, and even occasionally wondering if he should finish his career at Hofstra, he set the tone for new coach Mo Cassara by refusing to harbor bitterness over last spring’s events.

“Having Charles has just been an incredible experience—an incredible experience,” Cassara said. “He’s helped me through this transition better than anybody probably ever could and he never panicked. He just kept working with me and working with our staff and believing in what we were doing and trusting [everyone]. That just speaks a lot about his personality and who he is.

“Charles never let anybody second-guess anything. He just helped move this thing forward.”

Asked Monday if he ever felt abandoned by those who left the program after last year, Jenkins responded with a quizzical glance that would be hard to fake. “Most definitely not,” he said. “Coach Pecora always told us that everyday he’s teaching us life lessons. I just [look at] it that he’s preparing us for what’s going to happen in the real world. We’re not always going to be under the same coach. We’re going to have to be able to learn and adjust to different situations and I think it was just another opportunity for him to teach us a lesson.

“It was tough, just because of what I was used to, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything personal. It was business. These people, they have families to support, they had to go to whatever it was to provide for their families. So I don’t treat them any differently. It was harsh accepting it, but that’s life.”

Thanks to the presence of Jenkins—who was one of only two players, along with Washington, to have even started a game at Hofstra before this season—the Dutchmen were picked to finish fifth in the CAA. But Jenkins’ ability to bring his game to a level few if any players at Hofstra have ever matched has lifted the Dutchmen higher than anyone expected. With a win against Delaware Saturday, the Dutchmen will finish no worse than third, tying the program’s best CAA finish ever, and a Hofstra win plus an Old Dominion loss will allow the Dutchmen to finish second.

Jenkins is sixth in the country in scoring with 23.3 points per game but is more efficient (he’s shooting 53.2 percent and averaging just 14.5 shots per game) than anyone in the top 15 nationwide. He also leads the CAA in assists (4.8 per game) and has either scored or received the assist on 46.6 percent of the Dutchmen’s points—just shy of Speedy Claxton’s totals in 1999-2000 (46.7 percent).

He has been particularly ruthless in the second half and overtime, periods in which he is averaging 14 points and shooting almost 60 percent from the floor. Jenkins has been the difference for a team that is 19-10 but has outscored its opposition by just 15 points, is 8-3 in games decided by six points or less and has won seven games in which it trailed by double digits.

Along the way, a player who enjoys seeing other find happiness on the court has managed to pull together an entire campus and community. Jenkins’ ability in the clutch turned him into an Internet folk hero of sorts with the “Charles Jenkins Facts,” a Facebook page which now has 241 members.

Jenkins expanded his social media empire in the unforgettable game against William & Mary 10 days ago, when he became an immediate YouTube superstar by draining the game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds left in regulation before he hit a running 35-footer to win it at the overtime buzzer.

“I felt it was going to happen sooner or later,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said with a laugh.

“The best part of that moment for me was before he hit the first three to bring it to overtime—you watched the people who, to me, pretty much gave up to the point where you see them start leaving,” Patricia Jenkins said. “But when he hit that basket, they all lined up right here [motions behind their seats] to [say] ‘Wow, we have a chance’ and to see if they can find their seats back.”

Afterward, Jenkins came over to his family in Section 100, where his sister said their Dad had been moved to tears by Jenkins’ feats. The senior Jenkins insisted he hadn’t cried, but there certainly seemed to be two sets of glistening cheeks as father and son shared a warm embrace.

“They said my Dad was a little shaken up—he’s one guy that you never really see show emotion,” Jenkins said. “My grandma passed away, he played solitaire for the entire day. He didn’t really show much emotion, he kind of hid it. For me to hear that my Dad was a little shaken up about it definitely means a lot to me.”

Jenkins was moved as well by the reaction of his teammates (“they were storming the court, it felt like we won the championship or something”) and the 2,378 people at Hofstra Arena. “Just to see people slapping hands and hugging and cheering and screaming—it was a great feeling just knowing that these people are here to support us,” Jenkins said.

Such sentiments are an extension of his philosophy on the court, where Jenkins is happiest when everyone is involved and feeling invested in the Dutchmen’s success.

“I think there’s no better feeling than enjoying something with someone else,” Jenkins said. “I’ve done a lot of great things in my career, but it’s always nice to share a moment with my teammates. One of the things that me and Nat used to say to each other when we were freshmen was ‘if you have it, I have it.’ It’s just a feeling that you have to be happy with someone.

“If you’re happy alone, something’s wrong with you. You have an opportunity to make others around you more comfortable and make things better, I’m all for it.”

Jenkins will walk out with his parents and sister in front of more than 5,000 happy—if teary-eyed—people tomorrow afternoon, displaying that familiar room-filling smile as a kaleidoscope of memories flash through his mind and his number 22 takes its place in the rafters alongside Speedy Claxton’s.

In one way, it feels as if the time is right for Jenkins to move on, because, as his Dad says, he has wrung his scholarship completely dry. “I’m looking forward to Senior Day,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “I don’t want it to end, but I’m looking forward to that day. It’s nice when you finish and you accomplish something and you get to get praise for it.”

Jenkins said he wants to be remembered as “…the kid that took advantage of every opportunity he had. I didn’t hold back. I’m definitely not going to leave here with any type of regret. I know that I lived my college career to the fullest.”

Still, though, even after the longest (Jenkins will break the school record for games played tomorrow) and most decorated career in Flying Dutchmen history, Jenkins and his entire Hofstra family are hoping to savor those last few crystals in the hourglass. Jenkins’ NBA stock has risen dramatically this year, and he could solidify his first-round pick status with impressive performances at the pre-Draft workouts, but he’s not focusing on the pros quite yet.

“As long as I’m wearing a Hofstra jersey, that’s all I’m worried about,” Jenkins said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to make some more noise this year. So when the time comes, when the time is right then I’ll go about doing that the right way as far as preparing. But for now, it’s just all about Hofstra.”

As for his parents, they wonder just where the last five years went.

“Too fast,” Patricia Jenkins said. “Too fast.”

“It just flew by, it really has,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “I actually wish he had one more year.”

Who doesn’t?

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

Hofstra 71, UNC Wilmington 64 (Or: On Senior Night, a sophomore shall lead the way)

Before David Imes took over, Charles Jenkins and Chad Tomko did their best Bird vs. Jordan imitation (sans, thankfully, Jordan's hideous sweater, my goodness, the early '90s were a fashion train wreck says the guy who wore acid-washed jeans and a mullet, where am I going with this?)

I’ve been bogged down with end-of-the-month mortgage—err, rent—paying work and trying to finish up the last of the Senior Day profiles in time for Senior Day, all at the same time, so the UNC Wilmington recap is a bit later than I would prefer and once again of the bullet point variety. Hmm. I smell a trend here. Anyway, enjoy!

1.) The most important result of the Flying Dutchmen’s 71-64 win over UNC Wilmington actually happened a few hundred miles to the northwest, where VCU fell to Drexel 64-60. The Rams’ loss gave the Dutchmen sole possession of third place (actually, for a night, the Dutchmen were alone in second place until Old Dominion beat James Madison to regain second on the tiebreaker) and ensured that the Dutchmen will lock up the three seed by beating Delaware. That’s a huge accomplishment, both in the micro and macro sense: Finishing third allows the Dutchmen to avoid George Mason until the championship game and would mark the best finish for the program since 2006-07—a remarkable feat given all the turmoil the Dutchmen endured last spring and the leanness of the roster.

“I just think it’s a real credit to our staff—Steve and Wayne and Allen and Kyle [Steinway] and our Gas and managers and everybody,” Mo Cassara said from Wilmington afterward. “Just an incredible job, day in and day out throughout the season. It’s a real credit to them, a real credit to our team that we’ve been able to bounce back from some disappointing losses and some tough road trips and ultimately find a way to win. To be 7-2 [on the road] in the CAA is really an incredible achievement.”

2.) While Charles Jenkins embarked on a classic duel with Chad Tomko in the first half and finished with his usual huge game (22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with five assists, four turnovers, three rebounds and one steal), the difference between victory and defeat was David Imes, who made me look like I know what I’m talking about by producing his sixth double-double (which is the exact same amount Halil Kanacevic had last season—just saying). Imes, who made no secret on Twitter of how disappointed he was with the lopsided loss to Wright State Saturday, tied a career high with 17 rebounds and added 12 points and was particularly dominant in the second half, when he had 12 rebounds (including four offensive) and nine points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. As has become his custom, he hit one of the biggest shots of the second half with a jumper that ended a 12-4 run by UNC Wilmington, broke a 59-59 tie and gave the Dutchmen the lead for good with 3:05 to play.

“I challenged him at halftime a little bit,” Cassara said. “I think the thing I’m most proud of with David Imes is not that he got 17 rebounds and made some big baskets. It’s that he missed some shots and had a couple bad plays, but he didn’t get down. He bounced back. I think early in the season, he would have gotten down and [he would have] had to sub him out. Now he’s found a way to fight through that. That’s a real sign of his development. I’m really proud of his development, that’s the thing that [has] really helped us in some games.”

3.) Another sophomore, Yves Jules, played a quietly pivotal role in the victory by helping to shut down Tomko after the latter’s huge first half (14 points on 5-of-8 shooting). Tomko had just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in the second half, during which Jules played 10 minutes. Jules also hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to break a 56-56 tie with 4:09 to play. His effort was particularly impressive considering he left in the first half with a seemingly serious foot injury.

“Yves gave us some great energy off the bench, some great size on top of Tomko and really gave us some good effort on defense,” Cassara said.

4.) Jules’ contributions were particularly pivotal because Mike Moore (20 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-5 from 3-point land, and an 8-of-10 outing from the free throw line) had another quiet game from long distance (though his 3-pointer as the shot clock dwindled with 1:53 to play extended the Dutchmen’s lead to five) while Brad Kelleher was just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and slumping freshman Shemiye McLendon drew his first DNP-CD of the season. Cassara played sophomore walk-on Matt Grogan, who missed a 3-pointer in four first half minutes, over McLendon.

“I’m a little bit of a big picture guy and I think that sometimes I go with my gut and my feeling on what’s going to help this team win and make this team better,” Cassara said. “It was just a feeling I had, Matt’s really been working hard in practice and it’s just a decision I made within the team.”

5.) Imes’ big second half symbolized a more spirited effort by the Dutchmen, who were getting outhustled to most of the “50/50” loose balls in the first half by a Seahawks team feeding off the momentum of Senior Night. But the Dutchmen, who held only a pair of brief one-point leads in the first half before entering intermission tied for the first time this season, never trailed in the second half despite falling into a tie three times.

“Part of it is a credit to UNC Wilmington, I think they just played really hard, they had great energy and they were quick to the ball [in the first half],” Cassara said. “Ultimately we found a way to keep the game close at halftime and make some big plays down the stretch at the end of the first half to keep it close. They came out with good energy in the second half, got a little bit of a lead and found a way to finish it off.”

The win once again showed the resiliency of the Dutchmen, who are now 5-2 in the game immediately following a double-digit defeat. “Coming off a really tough BracketBuster game, a tough trip out to Ohio, come home, really have to get after it for a couple days in practice and then get on an airplane again to come all the way down to Carolina—I was worried if we didn’t win tonight it would have been a couple tough losses in a row coming home,” Cassara said. “Ultimately we found a way to have a great energy tonight. Overall not our best performance but really a great effort and I’m really proud of our team.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. UNC Wilmington, 2/23)
3: David Imes
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Mike Moore

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 74
Mike Moore 37
Greg Washington 25
David Imes 19
Brad Kelleher 7
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Washington, Hofstra finds stability

Greg Washington arrived at Hofstra in the fall of 2005-06 touted as the player who would replace Adrian Uter, the underrated big man who proved to be the glue of the best Flying Dutchmen team in history.

Washington, as lean as Uter was thick, didn’t quite become the next Uter. But he and Hofstra provided each other something almost as important: Stability.

For Washington, who played at three different high schools in three states in the three seasons prior to enrolling in college, Hofstra provided him proof that his native Long Island was his home. And the Dutchmen got a steady and reliable big man, something that is difficult to find at the mid-major level, who also provided valuable leadership on the court and in the locker room.

“I wasn’t really big on traveling, that was one of the reasons why I went to military school in Florida [as a high school senior in Melbourne in 2004-05] and prep school in Massachusetts [at Winchendon Prep in 2005-06],” said Washington, who played his first three seasons of high school ball at Central Islip. “Home is where the heart is, and I picked this school because it’s close to home. My family could come out, my friends could come out and watch me play. They don’t have to travel, spend loads of money just trying to get a hotel. My friends and family, they have given me so much love and support that I’m speechless at times.”

Washington found a family within the program as well and has been best friends with Charles Jenkins since the two roomed as redshirt freshman in 2006-07. The co-captains had a good laugh this week looking at their freshmen year media guide pictures, when neither one could crack a smile and Washington looked as thin then as he does now.

“He weighed like 87 pounds,” Mo Cassara said with a laugh.

Like Jenkins, Washington became a leader within the campus athletic community, joining the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and becoming a regular presence at other sporting events at Hofstra. “Last year and this year, we started to really come out and enjoy the other sports,” Washington said. “In the spring I’m going to be at a lot of lacrosse games, because I worked facilities three times last year and all three times was for their games. And it was probably one of the most exciting sports I’ve ever seen.

“I’m clapping for these guys, I’ll be on Twitter updating the scores. I’m very in tune with our sports and the student body. They come to our games and show support, so we [should] respect that and do the same thing.”

Getting the same type of credit for his game that Jenkins receives for his has been a little tougher for Washington, whose contributions as a team leader aren’t as easily measured or seen as those of Jenkins, whose grimaces, grins and sweats his way to box score-busting numbers.

Washington also realizes a lot of people see his 6-foot-10 frame and wonder why he isn’t a nightly threat for a double-double and why he is more comfortable shooting midrange jumpers instead of playing with his back to the basket. But Washington is content to know he is no higher than the third option behind Jenkins and Mike Moore and prefers to maximize his strengths on defense, where his height allows him to block shots (he is Hofstra’s all-time leader with 268 and will hold the top three single-season totals in school history with two more blocks this season) as well as change shots from anywhere from below the basket to outside the 3-point line.

“Everybody wants to be that guy, I think that in high school I was that, but the situation coming here, you kind of have to be a role player,” Washington said. “Charles is one of the best players in the country and you have to realize there’s certain things you can do to help your team—block shots, [score] the occasional six or eight points here and the rest will take care of itself.”

Washington, who is averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, has also given the Dutchmen the type of steadiness the program has rarely if ever received from a post player. With his start Saturday against Delaware, Washington will become only the second big man in Hofstra history to start at least 30 games in consecutive seasons (Greg Springfield started 30 in 1999-2000 and 31 in 2000-01). Washington started 30 games last season. And if the Dutchmen play another three games (a near-certainty) and he starts all three (which he will barring injury), Washington will set a school record for most starts by a big man over a two-year span.

The stability Washington provides extends well beyond the court. Cassara has raved all season about Washington’s leadership, continually crediting him for teaming up with Jenkins to keep the Dutchmen focused and upbeat during the numerous hiccups they have endured over the last 12 months.

“Greg is a guy that holds everything together—he’s the ultimate teammate,” Cassara said. “He doesn’t need the ball, he doesn’t need the spotlight, he doesn’t need anything and he just takes coaching. He’s a great example for all the young guys and he does so many things that doesn’t show up in the boxscore. He changes shots, he bails guys out on defense, he runs possessions, he’s always willing to pass the ball.

“Greg Washington is the guy doing all the dirty work and he’s just an incredible teammate.”

Added athletic director Jack Hayes: “Greg Washington ahs been at Hofstra five years and he has a smile on his face every single day. I love it. I love the opportunity, when the opportunity exists, to just come down from the office to the court and talk to those guys for five, 10 minutes. Greg is always in a good mood and I think those are the things Mo talks about all the time that don’t show up necessarily in stat sheets. But our ability to bounce back from Puerto Rico, bounce back from Iona, bounce back from the three-game losing streak [in January] has a lot to do with so many younger guys on the team following the leads of both Charles and Greg.”

Washington said he reminds underclassmen how fast their careers will go by and that struggles early in a career (Washington fouled out in just seven minutes in his debut against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007) can be overcome. He speaks from experience: He fouled out in just seven minutes in his debut against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007, but if the Dutchmen play another five games, Washington will finish his career behind only Jenkins on the program’s all-time games played list.

Underappreciated? Maybe by those outside Hofstra Arena, but not those within it.

“I just want my team to win,” Washington said. “They can under-appreciate me all they want but my team’s winning and that’s what I’m OK with. We’re tied for second in the conference, which hasn’t happened since my redshirt year, so I’m proud of my teammates and I’m just glad that I’m a part of it…we’re winning games and we’re having fun and we’re enjoying it.”

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

Kelleher's brief & circuitous journey leaves him with no regrets

Like Brad Kelleher, Greg Washington was also subjected to the unpredictable whims of the NCAA Clearinghouse and forced to miss what should have been his first season at Hofstra when a seemingly routine paperwork issue turned into a year-long quagmire. But when asked what kind of advice he gave to Kelleher as Kelleher remained on the sidelines, Washington didn’t hesitate to say he thought he wasn’t the one who should provide counsel.

“I think everybody needs to take advice from Brad,” Washington said. “The kid lost a year-and-a-half and he held his head high. He came in, he did his job and he deserves a starting spot.

“I think everybody needs to learn from this guy. He’s one of a kind. To lose a year-and-a-half and still play like he’s been here four years, that’s something special.”

Someday, people will look back at the Kelleher Era and wonder if it really happened or if it’s the product of someone’s wild imagination. Did this native of Australia really transfer to Hofstra after two years at a Texas junior college, sit for his first year-and-a-third because of the NCAA’s nonsensical rulings over his amateurism, finally make his debut well after his 24th birthday, move into the starting lineup almost immediately thereafter and then, just when he was established, complete his eligibility and finish his career having missed more games than he played?

“It’s been a journey, I’ll tell you,” Kelleher said with a smile this week.

Like Washington, who was pegged as a natural replacement for Adrian Uter way back in the fall of 2006, Kelleher’s colorful back story made him a folk hero even before he stepped on the court. Neither Kelleher nor Hofstra were surprised upon learning Kelleher would have to miss some time at the start of his career because he played with professionals—but was not paid to do so—in Australia.

But whereas Miklos Szabo only missed the first two games of his junior season in 2008-09 over a similar infraction, Kelleher’s punishment dragged on…and on…and on. What Kelleher and Hofstra expected to be no more than an eight-game suspension (Kelleher played four games with professionals and the NCAA usually penalizes a player two games for each game he plays with pros) turned into a season plus eight games as the NCAA declined multiple appeals from Hofstra and the CAA and turned down Hofstra’s request to have last season stand as the punishment.

Kelleher’s punishment was, to put it charitably, inconsistent when compared to those handed down to foreign-born players at larger programs who played with professionals in their native countries. But the NCAA kept piling on this year when it didn’t allow an exhibition game against Molloy to count as one of the eight games Kelleher had to miss—even though it allowed Kentucky to count an exhibition game as one of the two games John Wall had to miss at the start of his freshman year.

Wall played AAU ball for an agent, from whom he accepted $800 “in expense money.” The contract Kelleher signed was a one-page document that was nothing more than a permission slip. He wasn’t paid a cent, not even meal money.

“I was like ‘all right, I’m going to miss eight games,’” Kelleher said. “I can accept that. But I never thought it would get blown out to this proportion I only signed a registration form. But it’s the NCAA, they have their rules and you have to respect it. We tried the appeals process and didn’t get anywhere. At the end of the day, that’s what happened. That’s life.”

Kelleher said he spent a lot of time last year venting to his parents over the phone and to his girlfriend, Hofstra volleyball player Nikki Kinnier, but that he was determined to stay focused on his studies and remain positive about the chance to improve in practice every day with the Flying Dutchmen. Tom Pecora’s last night as the Dutchmen’s head coach was at the year-end banquet last March 24, and the most emotional moment of an emotional evening was when assistant David Duke couldn’t stop his voice from breaking as he presented Kelleher the Butch van Breda Kolff Award for team play.

“That award, it’s a prestigious award and I was very gracious and very honored to get it,” Kelleher said. “Coach Duke, he was the only one that came to Australia to recruit me and we had a great relationship. For him to give me that and nearly see him break down, it nearly made me break down at the same time.”

Unfortunately for Kelleher, Pecora’s departure, followed shortly thereafter by Tim Welsh’s unexpected exit, almost overwhelmed him in a way the NCAA’s shenanigans could not. After all he’d been through, the task of trying to win over a new coach and try to beat out a new starting point guard, all in his lone season of play, left him wondering what else could go wrong.

“It was a tough time, especially after the season finished the way it did in the CBI, not going where we wanted to go and then Tom leaving and then everything that happened here,” Kelleher said. “I was just like ‘This is just too much to handle.’ I think I just wanted to go home at that stage and get out of here. But you can’t do that in life.”

Mo Cassara brought in transfer Dwan McMillan, who began the season as the starting point guard and played reasonably well in his first 11 games (6.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals per game). Kelleher finally made his debut against Florida Atlantic Dec. 11 but was scoreless from the field in just seven minutes off the bench.

Yet there was one more twist of fate to come for Kelleher, one that finally gave him a chance to be more than a fringe player. McMillan came down with the flu before the Iona game, when Kelleher was 0-for-8 from the field in the Dutchmen’s 87-62 loss, and suffered a fractured eye socket in practice thereafter.

Kelleher has been entrenched as the point guard ever since, and while he’s had his share of hiccups as he’s adjusted to Division I play, he has also been a vital cog in the shockingly successful Dutchmen season. His coast-to-coast drive for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half of the win over George Mason is the shot of the year, non-Charles Jenkins division, and he jump-started the rallies over James Madison and William & Mary with a 3-pointer and a driving layup along the baseline, respectively.

The Dutchmen are 8-0 when Kelleher hits at least two 3-pointers and 10-1 when he has at least three assists. Overall, Kelleher has put up numbers remarkably close to those produced by McMillan before he was hurt: In 18 starts, Kelleher is averaging 6.7 points, 3.2 assists and just 1.5 turnovers in 28.8 minutes per game.

“He just found a way to hang in there and then ultimately found a way to fit in,” Cassara said. “I think that’s a real credit to him. He had to sit out eight games this year when we were rolling along and had to come in and play due to injuries and had to play a big role. I’m just real proud of his effort and team attitude.”

Kelleher has also endeared himself to teammates (Washington’s family hosted Kelleher at Thanksgiving and Christmas the last two years) and fans alike with a Dustin Pedroia-like moxie, punctuating 3-pointers by placing a gun back in an imaginary holster and eliciting Australian-themed chants from the Lions Den.

“I love it—I love it, I love it,” Kelleher said of the student reaction. “I had one of my best friends from Australia come over in December. I wish he could have been able to hear it because they’ve never seen an atmosphere like that back home. It’s been great.”

And it’s going to end, just as Kelleher is getting warmed up. Barring a home game in the NIT, CIT or CBI, Saturday will be the 10th and final home game for Kelleher. The number of games left overall is almost surely in the single digits as well. But Kelleher, who turns 25 in May, is at peace with his brief and tumultuous Division I career, grateful for the experiences of this season and ready to move on.

“It’s been a life lesson, trying to deal with adversity,” Kelleher said. “But at the same time, I’ve always wanted to play Division I basketball. Obviously had to wait longer than expected, but at the same time, it’s been a great experience with every one of these guys. We’re 18-10 at the moment [as of Monday] and we’re going to do good things this year.”

He would, though, do one thing differently, if given the opportunity. “I wouldn’t have played any professional games in Australia,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t have played anything.”

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: UNC Wilmington

1.) Being tied at the half is about as good as having the lead for the famously slow-starting Flying Dutchmen, but it feels as if they’re behind—which they actually were for most of the first half, the Dutchmen only enjoyed a pair of brief one-point leads. Chad Tomko is having a monster Senior Night (14 points) and the Dutchmen have not had an answer for Keith Rendleman (nine points, five rebounds). The Dutchmen will have to slow down both players to get out of Trask with the win.

2.) The Charles Jenkins-Tomko duel is fun to watch—as fun as a Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan McDonald’s commercial—even on a web feed that is redefining my fear of heights. Seriously is there nowhere else to shoot the game but from the top row of Trask? Tomko is getting the better of Jenkins thus far with 14 points (including a four-point play to start the game), seven rebounds and two assists, but Jenkins has 14 points himself to go along with three rebounds, two steals and an assist as well as two turnovers. Jenkins outscored UNC Wilmington 7=1 by himself to give the Dutchmen one of those short-lived leads late in the half.

3.) It looks as if the Dutchmen will have to try and shut down Tomko without Yves Jules, who appeared to hurt his foot almost as soon as he entered the game late in the first half. An extended absence by Jules, the Dutchmen’s best defender, would be a tough blow to absorb heading into the CAA Tournament, so here’s hoping it’s not serious. The pressure in the second half, meanwhile, will be on Brad Kelleher.

4.) The Dutchmen learned the perils of relying entirely on Jenkins Saturday in Ohio, but Jenkins is 6-of-8 from the field while the rest of the team combined is 5-for-20. Kelleher is 0-for-4 from 3-point land and Mike Moore has missed his only attempt from beyond the arc. The Dutchmen are 2-of-25 from 3-point land in their last 60 minutes. Someone—maybe even walk-on Matt Grogan, who saw four minutes of time and missed a 3-pointer while Shemiye McLendon never got off the bench—absolutely must get hot from outside for the Dutchmen to have a shot.

5.) David Imes and Greg Washington have combined for nine rebounds, but the Dutchmen are getting beat on the boards (UNCW enjoys a 20-15 advantage and has pulled down seven offensive rebounds to just three offensive boards for the Dutchmen) and outhustled to the “50/50” balls Mo Cassara always talks about. Imes and Washington have to set the tone in that regard in the second half and also need to find their forms offensively: The two are just 2-of-9 combined from the field. If they could add some offense, it’ll take the pressure off the Dutchmen’s lagging outside game.

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

Five pregame thoughts: UNC Wilmington

Pregame thought no. 6: Exploit Dave Krieg's tendency to fumble! Oh wait. Wrong Seahawks, wrong sport.

1.) UNC Wilmington is always a tough place to play midweek during the school year, but the task gets doubly difficult tonight as the Flying Dutchmen take on the Seahawks during their Senior Night. The Seahawks’ three seniors—sound familiar?—have been through a ton the last year, including multiple coaching changes—sound familiar?—and have helped UNCW enjoy a surprisingly competitive season—sound familiar?—so they will be particularly ready to go and ready to exit Trask Coliseum with a win.

2.) Expect a great duel between our Charles Jenkins and their Charles Jenkins, i.e. Brett Tomko. The two players, who had little choice but to stick with their schools and their new coaches, have taken their already impressive games to unforeseen levels as seniors and have been responsible for lifting Hofstra and UNCW far higher than anybody expected this year. Check out this excellent feature on the relationship between Jenkins and Tomko, who have enjoyed some good battles and become friendly over the course of their eight-year careers (OK it just seems as if both guys have been in the CAA for eight years) by our good friend Brian Mull.

3.) Unless Buzz Peterson doesn’t have cable, expect UNC Wilmington to borrow liberally from the Wright State game plan of quintuple-teaming Jenkins (OK that’s impossible). Expect, too, for the Dutchmen to have a better answer for the Seahawks’ emphasis on Jenkins than they did for Wright State Saturday. The Dutchmen won’t be caught surprised tonight and Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore will be far more involved than they were against Wright State.

4.) David Imes seemed to take the loss to Wright State worse than anyone, so my guess is the burgeoning leader will have a big game against the Seahawks. The Dutchmen will need Imes to do what he did in the first meeting of the season between the teams (14 points and 10 rebounds in a career-high 39 minutes) to negate the impact of fellow sophomore Keith Rendelman, who is averaging almost a double-double (10.6 points, 7.9 rebounds).

5.) The Dutchmen have specialized in the bottom-line win this season—who cares about style points, just win—and that’s got to be the focus again in the final week of the regular season. Two wins and a loss by either VCU or ODU allows the Dutchmen to escape fourth place and a possible semifinal game with George Mason. But, of course, one loss pretty much locks up fourth for the Dutchmen, who will lose tiebreakers to any of the top three teams. Neither of the final two games will be easy for the Dutchmen, who won’t get back to Long Island until tomorrow morning and will be playing after the emotional Senior Day festivities for Jenkins, Kelleher and Greg Washington, and you can be sure Mo Cassara has stressed the importance of grinding out wins and enjoying the opportunity to rest from Sunday through Friday next week.

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jenkins' jersey news quite the surprise for his parents

Charles Jenkins’ parents, Charles and Patricia, had just begun speaking to a reporter (OK, spoiler alert—the local media referenced in the next-to-last paragraph here was me) at Hofstra Arena Monday morning when their son came bounding up the stairs.

“Wait, hold on a sec,” Jenkins said. “I’ve got some big news to tell you all.”

Jenkins paused as he leaned in towards his parents and his face lit up with an ear-to-ear smile. “Saturday, they’re retiring my jersey.”

“Oh my God,” Patricia Jenkins said, and began to cry.

The player who has done it all at Hofstra added yet another unprecedented accomplishment to his overflowing resume Monday when the school announced it would retire Jenkins’ no. 22 before the Senior Day game against Delaware. Jenkins will be the 25th athlete in Hofstra history to have his number retired, but the first to see his number raised to the rafters while he is still active. He is one of just a handful of Division I players to ever have their number retired while still in college, joining the likes of Tim Duncan at Wake Forest and Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner at Duke.

Jenkins learned the good news in the exact same spot he sat last spring when he twice learned he’d have to play for a new coach as a senior. “Mo, Charles and I met in [his] office and we had him sit in the exact same spot [he sat for] the coaching changes,” said athletic director Jack Hayes, who followed Jenkins up the stairs in section 100 at the Arena. “[He said] ‘We’re going to change this 180 degrees from the first conversations you had when you were on this couch.’ We told him, he was all smiles.”

“Thank you,” Patricia said, her eyes still brimming with tears. “Thank you, thank you.”

“The only bad part is it means it really is his last game in the building,” Hayes said.

A grinning Mo Cassara made his way to the Jenkins family. “I don’t mean to keep interrupting, I just knew you’d be happy about that,” Cassara said. “It’s the most deserved thing.”

“I didn’t expect to come here and cry,” Patricia said.

“I didn’t mean to,” Cassara said, still smiling. “The banner’s been ordered and we’ve been holding off on telling him for a while. It’s going right next to Speedy and it’s not coming down.”

“Lord have mercy,” Patricia said.

Charles Jenkins Sr., meanwhile, just smiled as widely as his son, too happy and shocked to say much of anything. “As a player here, you get a family,” he finally said. “So that’s them.”

“That’s a blessing,” Patricia said. “First I got my degree. Now [Hofstra’s] going to retire his jersey. That just made my day.”

Then the reality began setting in, in a different way, for the elder Jenkins, who are planning to host about 50 family and friends Saturday.

“I don’t think we made enough T-shirts,” Patricia said.

As for the honoree, he was blindsided by the news—the third time he’s been shocked in Hayes’ office, and by far the best as well. Jenkins said he initially wanted to try and keep the jersey retirement a surprise from his parents until Saturday but was convinced to let them know by Hayes and Cassara.

“I wanted them to find out Saturday, I didn’t want to just break the news to them,” Jenkins said a couple hours later, after he finished a series of phone interviews. “But Jack Hayes and coach Mo, they felt it would be great for me to tell them. And me breaking the news to my Mom and seeing her cry and being very happy for what happened, it was a great feeling to see.”

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

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wright State 82, Hofstra 56 (Or: Must have been at Wright State, but at the wrong time)

This edged out New Kids on the Block.

There are some games where the bullet point recap isn’t about being busy or recovering from an epic bout of food poisoning or stomach flu. Sometimes, a Flying Dutchmen game is just such a dud that the bullet point recap just has to suffice. Such was the case Saturday, when the Dutchmen’s perfect BracketBusters record was shattered in resounding fashion as Wright State cruised to an 82-56 victory in Dayton. Got two big games on the horizon and Senior Day festivities to look forward to this week, as well as the Dutchmen’s amazing run to the CAA title two weeks from now, so let’s recap this one and move on and never speak of it again, shall we?

1.) If you pray to a higher being, and think he or she is concerned with trivial things such as sporting events, thank him or her that UNC Wilmington and Brad Brownell had a messy divorce following the 2005-06 season. Because if UNCW and Brownell were able to play nice, then Vaughn Duggins would have terrorized the Dutchmen for four years instead of one afternoon. Duggins, who was recruited to UNCW by Brownell but followed him to Wright State, had quite possibly the greatest game I’ve ever seen by a Dutchmen opponent in scoring a career-high 31 points (on 10-of-18 shooting and a 10-of-10 performance from the free throw line), collecting four rebounds, two assists and two steals while also leading Wright State’s absolutely suffocating defensive performance on Charles Jenkins. This was a clinic, on both ends of the floor, and Wright State fans should feel as melancholy about Duggins' imminent departure as Hofstra fans do about the waning days of Jenkins’ career.

2.) It’s never fun to lose by 26, especially in late February, but the sliver of good news Saturday is that the Dutchmen got a stark reminder, in a game that didn’t impact their CAA standing, of how dangerous it is to rely entirely on Jenkins, who was triple- and QUADRUPLE-TEAMED by Wright State. Jenkins scored 18 points on 3-of-8 shooting, which marked only the sixth time since his freshman season he hit three field goals or less in a single game and the third time he was held to fewer than 10 shots. Such a focused defensive effort by the Raiders would, theoretically, open things up for the rest of the Dutchmen, but Jenkins’ teammates hit just 11 field goals and combined for a grand total of one assist (and that was on the Dutchmen’s last field goal of the game with 2:17 to play) while the Dutchmen finished 1-of-17 from 3-point land (including 1-of-7 by Brad Kelleher). The Dutchmen strung together consecutive baskets just twice and endured three field goal droughts of at least five minutes apiece. If not for the whistle-happy refs and a 27-of-38 performance at the free throw line, the Dutchmen might have set shot clock era records for offensive ineptitude. As it was, the 14 total field goals and four assists were the fewest for the Dutchmen since they drained 13 field goals and had five assists against Holy Cross Nov. 10, 2007—Jenkins’ debut. The task for Mo Cassara and staff this week is to find ways to get everyone else involved even when Jenkins is suffocated, or else the trip to Richmond will be a short one.

3.) Mike Moore finished with 14 points, but his 24th double-digit effort in 28 starts was a misleading one. He failed to hit a 3-pointer for just third time this season, and the first time in a game in which he had more than two attempts beyond the arc. Most of his points came from the free throw line, where Moore was 8-of-11, and he was invisible in the first half after a basket less than 90 seconds in gave the Dutchmen their biggest lead at 4-0. In the second half, Moore seemed almost out of control in firing up questionable shots and crashing into defenders in hopes of drawing foul calls on those shots. Moore’s consistency and unflappability is the second-biggest reason the Dutchmen have exceeded all expectations this season, and the gap between Jenkins and Moore on the Dutchmen MVP ballot (if such a thing existed) wouldn’t be as large as you might think. But Saturday has to be a hiccup, a tough game that spiraled out of control as the deficit grew, for the Dutchmen to harbor legitimate CAA title hopes.

4.) Greg Washington and David Imes put solid statistical lines: Each was 3-of-5 from the field and the duo combined for 15 rebounds (eight for Washington). But undersized Wright State established itself down low early with Washington in foul trouble (he picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes) and pulled down nine offensive rebounds in the first half compared to just two offensive boards for the Dutchmen. Washington and Imes need confidence-boosting outings against UNC Wilmington and Delaware this weekend in preparation for the tournament, where the Dutchmen’s most likely opponents all present matchup problems in the paint.

5.) For better or worse, the Dutchmen have been here before. This is their sixth loss of 15 points or more, but they are 3-2 after their previous routs and have fashioned all three of their four-game winning streaks immediately after a lopsided loss (Nebraska, Iona and George Mason). Another four-game winning streak puts the Dutchmen into the CAA championship game two weeks from tonight. As prone to the rout as it is, resiliency isn’t a problem for this team, which is good, because it’s probably too late in the season for the type of boot camp practices Cassara held after the Iona defeat. Cassara’s new mantra is “why not us?” and expect the Dutchmen to hear a lot of that this week and next as they try to regroup for one more surprising run.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wright State, 2/19)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Mike Moore

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 72
Mike Moore 36
Greg Washington 25
David Imes 16
Brad Kelleher 7
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Wright State

1.) The Flying Dutchmen are right where they want to be, down 33-26. No, that’s actually not true at all. As good as the Dutchmen have been playing from behind, this is not a good seven-point deficit. They’re getting all the calls but squandering opportunities at the free throw line, missing one free throw in each of their last four trips and shooting 11-of-16 from the charity stripe overall, while enduring a nearly seven-minute drought from the field.

2.) Wright State is putting on an absolute clinic on how to defend Charles Jenkins, putting at least two and as many as four players on him every time he touches the ball. Jenkins doesn’t seem fazed and has been aggressive in driving the lane and creating contact, and his dish to Brad Kelleher led to the Kelleher 3-pointer that ended the Dutchmen’s dry spell. Mo Cassara will be looking for ways to get Jenkins open in the second half, but the Dutchmen won’t win if…

3.) …Mike Moore remains almost invisible. Moore had a nice driving layup in the game’s first minute and nothing since. He’s 1-for-4 from the field and has to be a factor for the Dutchmen to have a shot—especially since the Dutchmen are just 1-of-9 from 3-point land.

4.) Wright State entered the game averaging just 27 rebounds per game, but the Raiders have hit the boards with a vengeance with Greg Washington in early foul trouble as they’ve pulled down 10 offensive rebounds (and 20 overall) and scored 10 second-chance points. Stephen Nwaukoni had just one rebound in seven minutes so it’s imperative that David Imes (three rebounds in 19 minutes) get involved and display the form he showed his last two games.

5.) Expect both teams to heat up from outside. The two squads were an almost incomprehensible 2-for-22 combined from beyond the 3-point line, including 1-of-13 for Wright State. Given those struggles, if the Dutchmen can tighten up their interior defense they should be able to chip away at the Wright State lead and turn this into another last-second nail-biter.

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

Five (or so) pregame thoughts: Wright State

Not the Wright for whom Wright State is named after, but the card I got in every single pack of 1986 Topps. (I bet @NUHF knows what I'm talking about) Twenty-five years later it finally comes in handy!

1.) So what IS a Wright State, anyway? It was founded in Dayton, OH in 1964 and, according to the school’s website, was originally known as the Dayton branch of the Miami and Ohio State Universities (hmm sounds like IUPUI). One year later, the Ohio legislature began the process of turning the school into the state’s eighth four-year university. Dozens of names were considered, per this very entertaining and informative link, and the original choice—Wright Brothers University—was dropped in favor of Southwestern State University before Wright State University was finally approved by the House and Senate in Ohio. The name change took effect for the 1967-68 academic year. According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, there are just shy of 20,000 students enrolled at Wright State this academic year. And now you know.

Also: Ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, the school nickname is Raiders, even though Wright State is named after the brothers who invented the airplane, while crosstown rival Dayton is nicknamed the Flyers. Of course, Dayton was founded in 1850, so that whole 11-decade head start kind of gave Dayton the jump on grabbing “Flyers.”

2.) The Raiders are the anti-Dutchmen in that they enter on a three-game losing streak in which they have fallen by a combined 12 points (their last two losses were by two points apiece) while the Dutchmen have won four in a row by a combined 17, including their last two by three points apiece. But Wright State’s overall body of work in close games is very Hofstra-esque. The Raiders are 17-12 overall and 8-5 in games decided by six points or less. The Dutchmen are 18-9 and 8-3 in games decided by six points or less. So, as usual, expect another nail-biter.

3.) This is a matchup of similarly styled teams. The two squads shoot almost the exact same from 3-point land (36.9 percent for Wright State, 36.8 percent for the Dutchmen), are proficient at the free throw line (76.2 percent for Hofstra, 74 percent for Wright State) and have trouble on the boards, where the Raiders are outrebounded by an average of 3.8 per game (the Dutchmen’s deficit is 4.7). The Dutchmen should have an advantage in that department today, though: Three players (David Imes, Mike Moore and Greg Washington) are averaging at least five rebounds per game as opposed to none for Wright State, which averages just 27 total rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. The Raiders’ tallest starter is 6-foot-8 Cooper Land, which should give Imes (two straight double-digit rebounding games) and Washington a chance to put up solid numbers on both ends of the floor.

4.) It’ll be interesting to see how the Dutchmen fare with only their second morning start of the season. The first one was also on ESPNU but that’s about the only similarity between battling Nebraska to avoid last place in the Puerto Rico Classic following the disheartening loss to Western Kentucky and heading into Wright State bursting with momentum. The Dutchmen flew out to Dayton early Thursday, so they should be as well-rested as possible after the classic marathon win Tuesday over William & Mary in which the five starters played 203 out of a possible 225 minutes, Charles Jenkins, Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher all played more than 40 minutes and Imes and Washington played 38 apiece. Still, preparing for an 11 a.m. start is different than preparing for a 7 p.m. start (thanks Captain Obvious!) and I wouldn’t be shocked if both teams get off to a slow start as they shake off the cobwebs.

5.) Wright State is quite good at defending the 3-pointer (opponents are shooting just 32.9 percent from beyond the arc) so it’ll be an even better sign than usual if the Dutchmen can find someone other than Jenkins and Moore to hit a couple from outside. This would seem to be a prime setting for Shemiye McLendon (two games with multiple 3-pointers since Jan. 1) to break out. Remember: The Dutchmen are 11-0 when Kelleher and/or McLendon hits at least two 3-pointers.

5b.) The Dutchmen have been atypically inconsistent from the free throw line the last four games, during which they have shot 71 percent (64-of-90). They missed just 28 free throws in their preceding 10 games combined. Expect the Dutchmen to regain their form at the charity stripe this morning and early afternoon.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

These are the days we’ll remember

My passion for Hofstra basketball has always earned me my fair share of quizzical sideways glances (then again, I got a lot of those way back when I couldn’t pick out Hofstra on a map, so maybe it’s not about Hofstra basketball at all). Way back in the mid-90s, people wondered why the kid from Connecticut who wore a North Carolina hat, T-shirt and shorts to his senior prom (admit it, you’re not sure if I’m kidding) was ranting and raving about this Long Island school nobody had ever heard of playing in a conference nobody had ever heard of, but which I swear I wasn’t making up.

The conference eventually became vaguely familiar to my fellow Nutmeggers (“oh yeah the NAC, that’s where Hartford plays”) but the bewilderment remained the same. Why would I choose to root for a team that barely contended in this vaguely familiar conference when UConn was just up the road?

By the time I moved to Long Island for good in 1997, Hofstra was on the verge of becoming a power in what was by then the America East, but the bewilderment sadly remained, even amongst many of the alums with whom I stayed in touch. Why would I choose to root for a team that barely got any attention locally when St. John’s was just up the road and I could watch any power conference game I wanted any night of the week on TV?

Now, thanks to the invention of Twitter, I can, 140 characters at a time, make people from around the world cast me quizzical sideways glances—i.e. type WTF? about Hofstra basketball and whatever it is that leads me to screech about weird biases and devise weird hashtags and break out into fits of Tourette’s over something or somebody named The Wolf.

I can only imagine what those followers (or ex-followers, I always imagine one day I’ll get home from a Dutchmen game and find I’m down to 26 followers) would have thought if they were next to me Wednesday morning (other than “What the hell am I doing on the arm of this guy’s couch?”) and saw my eyes watering as I watched, for the millionth time or so, Charles Jenkins’ buzzer-beaters against William & Mary from the night before.

Even I was wondering what was going on with me. I don’t cry at TV shows or movies, especially those I’ve seen a bunch of times (the hospital reunion between Ponyboy and his brother Sodapop and Darryl in The Outsiders used to get me all the time as a kid, but I digress) So what the hell was I doing getting a touch weepy over something that was decidedly NOT sad?

But as I watched it, again and again and again, I realized I was almost moved to tears precisely by how HAPPY everyone was. Watch those clips. Look at what one team, one player and two shots did for 2,000-plus people—the pure, unexpected, exploding joy.

Look at those kids in the Lions Den. If they live another 80 years, they will never forget the sight of Jenkins draining that game-winner, turning around and jumping into the stands to celebrate with them.

Look at the reactions of the people seated around A.J. Voelpel, whose 70-second montage of Jenkins’ shots became an immediate viral sensation. Look at the hands on the heads, the slapping of shoulders, the hugging and listen to the screams of joyous disbelief. Look, especially, at Jenkins, enjoying the chance to share in the moment and symbolizing the communal experience this season has become.

Hofstra basketball has long been a familial experience, bringing together alums and fans of all ages whose shared passion for the Flying Dutchmen transcends generations and any other number of barriers that impatient and impolite New Yorkers put up in every other facet of our lives.

But how often is it an exercise in shared euphoria instead of one of shared misery? Like everyone who roots for a mid-major, we hope—with more than a bit of a hint of desperation—every October that the upcoming season will be a special one. We CONVINCE ourselves it will be special, because we have the best player in the league or because we have great depth or because we have a well-defined rotation or, well, just because, damnit.

There was a lot of underlying desperation going on this year, when even the most optimistic of people had to work really hard to find reasons this season was going to be special. We did have the best player in the league, but he was a senior and we had absolutely no idea about anything or anyone else.

And out of that uncertain mix has actually COME the magical season, one in which Hofstra is getting national attention, this time for all the right reasons. And the greatest thing about Tuesday—whether we’re old or young, rich or not so rich, at the Arena or watching online at home far away from Long Island—was the reaction, seeing people relishing the moment in person and online.

“We were huddled around the PC watching it…then screamed and danced around the living room.”

“I was out of my gourd at that point.”

“Part of me wishes I took a pic of those 2 3s with my camera. The rest of me has a mental pic 4 the rest of my life.”

“Happy for all my tweeps still at Hofstra that were able to see tonight’s game firsthand. Making me sick that I can’t be there for this year.”

“This is normally where I post a CAA-reppin’ status about the Hofstra win last night and Charles Jenkins being the man…but looking through my newsfeed I realize everyone who would care has posted already.”

Some people will wonder why we get so revved up about one win against a second-division team and declare there’s no crying in mid-February college basketball. All the win over William & Mary guarantees is a first-round bye in the CAA Tournament for the Flying Dutchmen. Their season could, technically, end as soon as two weeks from Saturday (though even in that case, a bid to the NIT, CIT, CBI or another alphabet soup tournament to be determined seems to be all but assured), which would mean the win Tuesday didn’t amount to an easily recognizable hill of beans.

At this level, though, it’s not about the big moment at the end, it’s about all the big ones in the beginning and middle that might lead to the big one at the end, but will be savored and enjoyed regardless of the destination because they are—both in the micro and macro sense—so finite.

We know there will never be another Charles Jenkins, but we don’t know if there will ever be another player who makes our eyes water. We know this is a world in which the BCS schools dominate the airwaves and generate the Internet traffic, and that even now, a mere 60 or so hours after the fact, the Shots Seen Around The World are old news to everyone but us. Who knows when this—the Flying Dutchmen all over the highlight shows and national blogs and websites—will happen again?

So we need to savor every moment and every quizzical sideways glance now. And we need to realize these have, incredibly, turned the days we will remember as well as the only reminder we will ever need that the question should never have been why would we choose to root for Hofstra, but how could we not?

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

Bits and Bytes: How the Dutchmen can get into the 2-3 zone for the CAA Tournament

Will the Dukes sweeping their last two games give the Dutchmen a less Hazzardous (booo!) path in the CAA Tournament?

We have to admit, as the Flying Dutchmen went from one win in a row to two wins in a row to three wins in a row following their three-game losing streak, the ability to listen to our main man Mo Cassara and take this all one game at a time got tougher and tougher. We couldn’t look ahead and worry about finishing higher than fourth in the CAA until a bye had been clinched. What good would it do to figure out what it would take to finish second or third if the Dutchmen ended up fifth?

Well, we don’t have to worry about that anymore, thanks to The &@*#&@* Wolf, whose instant viral classic buzzer-beater to beat William & Mary Tuesday clinched the Dutchmen one of the four byes in the CAA Tournament and assured they’ll be off two weeks from today. So NOW we can obsess over finishing higher than fourth, which would spare the Dutchmen a meeting with scorching hot George Mason before the championship game, and examine the schedules of Old Dominion and VCU and figure out how the Dutchmen could finish second or third.

Technically, the Dutchmen are in a three-way tie for second with Old Dominion and VCU behind Mason. Even more technically, the Dutchmen are actually in fourth place because they lost their lone games this season to Old Dominion and VCU while ODU is in second by virtue of splitting with VCU and splitting with Mason while VCU dropped its only meeting to Mason (thanks to those who noted ODU split with VCU, looks like I picked the wrong week to start sniffing glue). So the Dutchmen must finish with a better record in order to finish ahead of the Rams and/or Monarchs.

Even MORE technically: There could be a four-way tie for first at 14-4 if Mason loses out, ODU and VCU split and Hofstra wins out. But that is not happening, because I will be blogging sweet nothings about Mason before the Patriots lose their last two games to Northeastern and at Georgia State. Mason will be the one seed and that’s that, so carry on here with the schedules for VCU and ODU:

VCU: at Drexel, James Madison
ODU: at James Madison, William & Mary

Clearly, if we want the path of least Mason resistance, we will all be Dukes next week. If Hofstra and James Madison win out, then the Dutchmen will be the no. 2 seed. If Hofstra wins out and the Dukes split, the Dutchmen will be the no. 3 seed. Of course, Drexel and William & Mary could win out or selectively split and also help the Dutchmen grab the no. 2 or no. 3 seed.

Of course, even if some combination of James Madison, Drexel and William & Mary cooperate, there are no guarantees the Dutchmen—whose last six wins have been by a combined 25 points and who have won five of those games by three points or less—will escape UNC Wilmington on the Seahawks’ Senior Night or eke past Delaware on Senior Day. And let’s try and cut off the bad karma at the pass here by declaring that I in no way think avoiding fourth place will result in an easy route to the championship game, or even the semifinals.

As the three seed, the Dutchmen’s three likeliest opponents—James Madison, Drexel and William & Mary—are all teams that present matchup problems and the perilous possibility of an early exit. Oh my, do I not want to see William & Mary again until next season.

And as the two seed, the Dutchmen would likely face a familiar foe in UNC Wilmington or Delaware (the two teams are currently tied for seventh at 7-9), each of whom gave the Dutchmen fits in their first meetings of the year.

But the one thing I think everyone can agree on in the CAA is nobody is playing any better than George Mason. Everybody should be hoping to avoid the Patriots as long as possible.

A couple other quick bits and bytes this fine February morning:

—This is the second time since the CAA expanded to 12 teams in 2005-06 that all four first-round byes were clinched with two games to play. It also happened in 2006-07, when VCU, Old Dominion, Hofstra and Drexel did it. CRAP! That year did not end well.

Two byes were clinched through 16 games twice (2009-10 and 2005-06). One bye was clinched in 2007-08 and no byes were clinched through this point in 2009-10, when the Flying Dutchmen were in a three-way tie for fourth and still technically in the midst of a six-way race for first.

—With an assist from Hofstra SID Stephen Gorchov, who was a manager on the 1993-94 Flying Dutchmen team that won overtime games in the ECC semifinals and championship, I was able to confirm Tuesday night was the first time in the Defiantly Dutch Era (which, of course, dates back to ’93-94) that the Dutchmen forced overtime with a last-second shot and won at the buzzer in overtime. Next up: Finding the time to dig even deeper into the archives! The older the games, the harder it is to find play-by-play and recaps, but the good news is there aren’t a whole lot of overtime wins to investigate: The Dutchmen had just seven overtime wins from 1980 through 1992-93. They’ve had 21 in the DD Era.

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hofstra 81, College of Bill Lawrence 78 (Or: Our Own Personal Jenkins)

Because multiple views of two of the greatest clutch shots we've ever seen are more important than a Scrubs photo. Yes. This is serious stuff.

The passing of time has a way of embellishing the truth. Home runs travel farther, more tackles are broken on the way to the goal line, the fish get bigger as each year goes by.

But sometimes, the truth is better than the legend, and no tall tale anyone can ever muster up will match what actually happened at Hofstra Arena last night, when a transcendent player carrying his team to a magical season saved his best—so far—for his next-to-last home game.

Charles Jenkins hit a flat-footed 3-pointer just before the regulation buzzer to send the game into overtime and then drained a 35-footer as time expired in overtime to lift the Flying Dutchmen to their latest description-defying comeback victory, an 81-78 thriller over the College of Bill Lawrence in front of 2,378 euphoric fans.

“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen,” Mo Cassara said. “To go to overtime—when we didn’t put ourselves in a position to win—to hit one to go to overtime and then hit another one in overtime is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Especially not in practice. “We have a drill at the end of practice when we have walkthroughs called ‘win the game’ and I’ve never made the shot at the buzzer,” Jenkins said with a laugh.

“We put the whole rack of balls in the half-court and then I throw the ball out and blow the whistle and give every guy a chance and we don’t leave until somebody hits their last-second shot,” Cassara said.

“Coach always gives me a hard time—he throws it down to the other end and gives me two seconds to make a shot,” Jenkins said.

He had plenty of time on both his shots Tuesday and as a result the Dutchmen will have plenty of time, relatively speaking, before their first CAA Tournament game. The win, coupled with George Mason’s rout of VCU (yay! We love you George Mason—no, not really) and Drexel’s loss to UNC Wilmington, not only catapulted the Dutchmen into a three-way tie for second with VCU and Old Dominion but also assured the Dutchmen a first-round bye.

Only the hardiest of souls (raises hand) thought a bye was possible after the tumult of last spring, but the Dutchmen will be resting and relaxing Friday as their quarterfinal opponent (please, Lord Jenkins, don’t be William & Mary) grinds out a first round win.

“I wouldn’t put anything past this group,” Cassara said. “I wouldn’t put anything past them.”

Who would after all the Dutchmen did to win their seventh game in which they came back from a double-digit deficit? The Dutchmen were outscored 36-11 over the span of almost an entire half—16:41, to be exact, between taking a 15-3 lead at the first media timeout of the game and falling behind 39-26 less than 90 seconds into the second half.

The Dutchmen squandered five-point leads with less than two minutes to play in regulation and less than three minutes to go in overtime. They shot an uncharacteristically poor 63 percent from the free throw line (17-of-27), their worst performance since Dec. 18 at Manhattan. William & Mary, meanwhile, was a sizzling 12-of-25 from 3-point land and 20-of-22 from the free throw line, including 14-of-14 in the second half and overtime.

Just seven players saw the court for the Dutchmen and the starting five of Jenkins, Mike Moore, Brad Kelleher, David Imes and Greg Washington played all but five minutes in the second half and overtime. Yet despite frittering away multiple leads, the quintet was almost perfect—the Dutchmen didn’t commit a single turnover in the second half and overtime—and put up boxscore-busting numbers.

Jenkins finished with 28 points (his final basket gave him 2,402 career points), four assists and two overtime blocks. Moore opened the game with three straight 3-pointers and had 25 points and eight rebounds. Kelleher put together his best game yet with nine points, seven assists, a career-high six rebounds and just one turnover in a career-high 42 minutes. Imes had his fifth double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Washington had five blocks, two steals, five rebounds and four blocks—huge contributions from the forwards since the Dutchmen didn’t play another big man.

“This is probably the one team I’ve been around in all my years of playing and coaching—our best talent is we never give up,” Cassara said. “This group just never thinks they’re going to lose the game.”

Everyone else’s faith was wavering when William & Mary went on a 9-1 run—off a 3-pointer and six free throws—to take a 69-66 lead with just over six seconds to play. But Jenkins performed his first miracle after he took the in-bounds pass from Greg Washington and stared down Kyle Gaillard, who briefly dropped his arms. Jenkins took advantage of the opening and hit the 3-pointer from well beyond the arc and William & Mary’s last-ditch shot fell short of the rim.

“Me and Mike’s motto is ‘hand down, man down,’” Jenkins said. “Once he put his hand down, I got a good look at the basket.”

It didn’t seem as if the Dutchmen would need another buzzer-beater to hang on in overtime when they opened the extra session with a 5-0 run. But once again the Tribe—the best and peskiest 3-13 team I have ever seen anywhere, and that is in no way damning with faint praise—crawled back and took a 76-75 lead on Quinn McDowell’s 3-pointer with 1:08 left.

Then Jenkins went into superhuman mode. He drove on three William & Mary defenders and somehow hit the leaning layup to give the Dutchmen a 77-76 lead before he blocked Brandon Britt’s layup on the other end. Kelleher grabbed the rebound and was fouled but hit just one free throw. Yves Jules fouled McDowell streaking for a wide-open layup and McDowell hit both free throws with 4.5 seconds to play.

Imes inbounded the ball to Jenkins, who raced up court, pulled up at 35 feet and fired over the outstretched arms of McDowell with less than a second left. “I have four seconds to get up the court, which is a lifetime,” Jenkins said. “I got a good look at the basket and I made it.”

With the buzzer still echoing, the ball hit nothing but net as the Arena went from silent to ear-splittingly loud in a split second. Jenkins turned, raced to the opposite foul line and flexed his arms as his teammates mobbed him and half-carried him, half-followed him into the Lions Den, where he made his now-trademark Dutch Dive before he was engulfed by students.

“I think I want to signature that,” Jenkins said with a wide grin. “If anyone else does it, that’s going to be something that they took from me.”

Not likely anyone will ever again do what Jenkins did last night, or match what he has done over his first 122 career games, or come close to doing what we imagine he’ll do over his final—how many games does he have left? Six? Seven? Twelve?

Someday, somebody will hear or read our recollections of this Jenkins guy and wonder if our memories aren’t of the big fish variety, if those two buzzer-beating 3-pointers weren’t actually a couple of 18-footers with half a minute left in a game that had absolutely no bearing on anything.

But we’ll know better. We’ll know the truth. We saw it.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. College of Bill Lawrence, 2/15)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Brad Kelleher

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 69
Mike Moore 35
Greg Washington 23
David Imes 16
Brad Kelleher 7
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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