Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We take care of our own

We’re all adults here—even me, most of the time!—so I’m not going to spend the next 950 or so words telling you how to react to the arrests of four former Flying Dutchmen basketball players. (Yeah, they’re just “suspended” at the moment, but I have a better chance of suiting up in the next three or four seasons for Hofstra, and I exhausted my eligibility in 1996 and get winded walking up the stairs. So they’re former Hofstra players, and I’ll do my best to never mention them by name ever again.)

The common thread in the myriad of responses to Friday’s bad news was raw emotion—the sadness, the anger, the whatever-it-was-we-felt-but-can’t-describe.

At the risk of sounding like the clichéd homeowner after a terrible crime occurs in his neighborhood: This is the type of thing that doesn’t happen around here. These tabloid-ready examples of athletes running amuck are supposed to happen at the BCS schools run by presidents who value winning over everything else. Or at the very least, George Mason. Not Hofstra, where the president shows up to athletic events about as often as his students.

But it happened, and for the foreseeable future and likely much longer, the burglaries will shape the narrative and serve as the reference point for everything that happens to the Hofstra men’s basketball program.

It’s embarrassing, and the fact last week’s arrests were only the worst evidence of misbehavior by the Flying Dutchmen, and not the only evidence, has people angry. Message board posters at the CAAZone were calling for Mo Cassara’s job, professing to boycott home games the remainder of the season, wondering why there wasn’t more transparency from the school and suggesting Hofstra should leave the CAA, if not Division I entirely. We can only imagine what those who aren’t on the CAAZone were thinking and saying in the privacy of their own homes.

Some of last week’s instant reactions aren’t the most rationale, but again, this is unchartered territory for all of us. Dropping to Division II or Division III is a non-starter (at least I pray it is). Changing conferences, even if it means taking a step down in Division I, is always a possibility, but one that existed long before Friday.

Those wanting transparency from Hofstra, meanwhile, are wanting the school to deviate from the behavior it has exhibited for decades. As a private school, Hofstra can Bill Belichick its way around who knew what when, and nobody has any recourse to get anybody to talk. That’s fine. In defense of Hofstra, every other private school in the country would do the same thing. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s life.

While I understand people demanding the dismissal of Cassara. I will not join that chorus of voices. And if you want to call me a Hofstra homer and a Cassara apologist, that’s fine.

But I’ve had long discussions in his office with Cassara about the importance of character in a program, and how he had to find guys like the ones he inherited—Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher—who helped make what should have been a tumultuous first year a wildly successful one.

I think he was as blindsided by Friday’s news as the rest of us, and find it very difficult to believe that he knowingly laid the foundation for his program by taking on four potential felons in his first real recruiting class.

I do wonder about the future of Cassara and his staff, because Stuart Rabinowitz hates bad publicity far more than he likes Cassara (and he likes Cassara a lot), and six suspensions in a semester and eight suspensions (Bryant Crowder was a two-time offender) in a 12-month span are a lot to overcome.

Cassara is smart enough to know he may be the one who takes the fall for the delinquent acts of his former players, and during his post-game press conference Saturday night, he sounded like a man making a pitch to keep his job. My guess is we won’t know if it was good enough for another three months, but that it sure can’t hurt Cassara if the Dutchmen win a bunch of games with their depleted roster, starting tonight against Wagner.

And speaking of tonight, I’ll be there, and I hope those who suggested a boycott on Friday and Saturday are there as well.

If you don’t want to pay to see the Dutchmen tonight, or to see any of the 10 subsequent home games, because you feel it necessary to make a statement on the direction of the program and/or you worry there’s more of this where Friday came from, I can’t blame you. Nor can I blame you if you are not in the mood to cheer because two of the nine remaining scholarship players, Taran Buie and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, have already been disciplined by Cassara this year.

But how is a boycott fair to David Imes, Stevie Mejia and Matt Grogan, a trio of good guys whose senior seasons just disintegrated? Underclassmen created this debacle. So why should we punish junior Stephen Nwaukoni, sophomores Moussa Kone and Jordan Allen and freshman Darren Payen for doing the right thing, instead of something that could land them in an East Meadow jail?

The nine scholarship players and handful of walk-ons now filling out the roster will pay the price for the actions of their former teammates during every road game the rest of this season. Why should home feel hostile, too? Why shouldn’t we close ranks around those still here, instead of closing them out?

It is unlikely this season gets the Hollywood ending we’d all like to see, but the long-shot attempt to speed up and rewrite the narrative begins tonight. Tonight begins the healing process. Tonight, we should take care of our own.

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

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