Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wright State 63, Hofstra 57 (Or: It’s always the same, it’s just a shame, that’s all)



If you’re a dork, like me, you could win a bar bet by asking a Flying Dutchmen fan to identify the game against Wright State in which the Raiders led wire-to-wire.

Of course, there’s only a handful of other Hofstra fans, and none of them are nearly as dorky as me, so knowing the Dutchmen trailed from start to finish in last Saturday’s 63-57 loss to Wright State—and not in the 82-56 thrashing they endured in a Bracket Buster in February 2011—isn’t likely to benefit you at all. Sorry.

Still, this one was a little better than the first meeting between the teams, whatever that is worth, and when we sit down in March and look back at this, uhh, interesting season, we’ll certainly count this one as yet another “L” that probably would have been a “W” had four knuckleheads not gotten arrested. Perhaps by then I’ll be less bitter and no longer passive-aggressively referencing the fraudulent foursome without actually naming them. Doubtful. Anyway.

1.) The Dutchmen’s narrow margin for error was on display yet again against Wright State, which took advantage of early sloppiness by Hofstra to race out to a 12-2 lead barely three minutes into the game. The Dutchmen committed five turnovers and missed their first four field goals before Stephen Nwaukoni’s layup with 15:13 left in the first half. The Raiders extended the lead to 14 with 7:33 remaining, and while the Dutchmen mounted an 11-1 run immediately thereafter and got within a possession three times in the second half, they never got the equalizer. The Dutchmen have fallen behind by a double-digit margin in the first half in six of their eight losses.

“Turnovers—we just get down quick because we turn the ball over two or three times to start the game,” Mo Cassara said. “We’ve done that repeatedly here and it’s just putting us behind in a tough spot, so we’ve got to really look at that and try to find a way to get around that. Obviously it’s been a big, big issue for us.”

2.) Another big issue for the Dutchmen: Their poor shooting. The Dutchmen shot just 36 percent (18-of-50), but the reality was worse: Jordan Allen and Stephen Nwaukoni combined to shoot 9-of-13 from the field, which meant the rest of their teammates were a ghastly 9-of-37. In three home games since the arrests, the Dutchmen are shooting just 31.4 percent (49-of-156).

Not surprisingly, the Dutchmen struggled badly from beyond the arc: They shot 5-of-22 from 3-point land, including a combined 1-of-10 by Matt Grogan and Stevie Mejia, and are shooting 26.9 percent on 3-pointers (14-of-52) in the last three home games.

“You look at the stat sheet: 1-for-7, 1-for-8, 3-for-12, we had a lot of great opportunities,” Cassara said. “Two or three of those 3-pointers go in, it’s a different game. Matty hits one, Stevie hits one, different game. And that’s our margin: [It’s] just very slim.”

3.) Just as they did to Charles Jenkins in February 2011, Wright State did a tremendous job of shutting down the Dutchmen’s best offensive threat. A week after he scorched Long Island University for 29 points, Taran Buie was 3-of-12 from the field and had just 11 points. Veterans Mejia (1-of-8, six points), David Imes (2-of-6, six points, five turnovers) and Moussa Kone (2-of-4, four points) could not pick up the slack, so Cassara surely spent time this week figuring out a way to get others involved when Buie is cold and/or contained.

“Offensive execution—that’s what I think we need to work on a lot,” Mejia said. “We need to do better at it. Knowing each other, knowing where guys like the ball, [where] guys like to shoot.”

4.) There were some developments in that area, particularly with Mejia and Allen. Four of Mejia’s career-high eight assists were to Allen, who set career highs himself with 13 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. He’s set a career-high in minutes played in each of his last four games.

“I was just moving around on the court just finding different ways to be effective,” Allen said. “I credit [Mejia] for getting me the ball and finding me and making plays.”

Mejia also committed just two turnovers, the ninth time in 11 games he’s turned the ball over three times or less.

5.) Nwaukoni had another strong game on both ends of the floor as he recorded the third double-double of his career with 12 points and 11 rebounds. He has at least seven rebounds in each of the last six games in which he has played, a pretty impressive streak considering he’s coming off the bench and is averaging just shy of 24 minutes per game in this stretch.

Nwaukoni has been doubly valuable given the recent struggles of Imes and Kone, who are averaging just 26.5 and 18.3 minutes per game, respectively, since the arrests. With Daquan Brown scheduled to become eligible Saturday against Tulane, the Dutchmen might actually have some depth to work with down low.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wright State, 12/15)
3: Jordan Allen
2: Stephen Nwaukoni
1: Stevie Mejia

SEASON STANDINGS***
16: Taran Buie
10: Stevie Mejia
8: Stephen Nwaukoni
4: Moussa Kone
3: Jordan Allen
2: Matt Grogan
2: David Imes

***21 points vacated

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

Long Island 88, Hofstra 84 (Or: Hazy Shade Of Winter)



1.) This is the second of many losses this year that we can blame on the absence of the four knuckleheads, and in particular the two who were starting. Do you think the Flying Dutchmen blow a 16-point lead in the final 12:01 if they’ve got a couple of those guys in the lineup? The arrests dropped the number of pure point guards on the roster from three to one, which meant the Dutchmen couldn’t hang on when Stevie Mejia fouled out with 2:35 left. Instead of the guy who used to wear no. 4 or the guy who used to wear no. 44 backing up Mejia down the stretch, that task fell to walk-on Adam Savion, who wasn’t even on the team in October. Once again: Thanks guys.

2.) This could have been a defining win for the Dutchmen, who were this close to becoming the first team to knock off the two-time defending Northeast Conference champions at home in more than two years. And now we’ve got to wonder if it will be a defining loss for a team that did all it could to win and still lost. The Dutchmen finally shot well (57.4 percent, the first time they’ve hit half their field goal attempts this year and their highest field goal percentage since the win over Long Island in the season opener last year), scored 52 second half points, had that big ol’ lead with 12 minutes to go AND STILL LOST. That’s a tough thing to overcome for a depleted team that is already staggered.

3.) That said, as much as the Dutchmen did to win, there were still obvious there is still plenty of room for improvement amid the evidence they’ll have to do everything right to win this year. The Dutchmen had another miserable afternoon at the free throw line, where they were just 19-of-33. And that included a 7-of-7 performance from the line by Stevie Mejia, so the rest of the team was an eye-popping 12-of-26. Teams with no margin for error can’t be missing that many free throws. Hofstra committed 19 turnovers, including at least three by every starter except Jordan Allen. Long Island played a full-court press during its dramatic comeback, but the Dutchmen were careless with the ball as well in the first half with eight turnovers.

4.) Can’t say this enough: Taran Buie is a big-time player. He scored 29 points, including 19 in a Jenkins-esque second half in which he was 7-of-8 from the field (he was actually much better from the floor than from the free throw line, where he was 3-of-7) and scored the Dutchmen’s last six points. He’s the main reason why you should believe this year will be better than last year, even given all the personnel losses the Dutchmen have absorbed. There will be some games this year in which he single-handedly carries the Dutchmen to victory. (I hope)

5.) Walk-on Savion (five points, four rebounds), freshman Darren Payen (a career-high seven points and three rebounds) and Stephen Nwaukoni (12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds) are all developing into solid role players. Of course, that’s the problem: Neither Savion nor Payen should be playing this year, and the Dutchmen would have been a lot better off if Nwaukoni was one of two or three guys providing six or seven rebounds a game instead of the only one. As always and once again: Thanks guys.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Long Island U. 12/8)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stevie Mejia
1: Stephen Nwaukoni

SEASON STANDINGS***
16: Taran Buie
9: Stevie Mejia
6: Stephen Nwaukoni
4: Moussa Kone
2: Matt Grogan
2: David Imes

***21 points vacated

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Five semi-useful things to know: Wright State


1.) Wright State is 6-3 and has alternated losses and wins since opening the season 3-0. Whoohoo! They’re due for a loss! The Raiders have two players averaging in double figures (Cole Darling with 11.8 ppg and Miles Dixon with 10.0 ppg) but have nobody averaging even four rebounds a game, which makes for a good matchup with a Dutchmen squad that has struggled on the boards since the loss of The Guy Who Used To Wear Number 1.

2.) This is the second all-time meeting between Hofstra and Wright State, after that brutal Bracket Buster in February 2011. The Raiders, who play in the Horizon League, have no common opponents with the Flying Dutchmen this year.

3.) It’ll be interesting to see how the Dutchmen look after a full week of practice—their first full week of practice, sans games, since the four knuckleheads were arrested. I’d expect roles to be better defined and perhaps some of the rust to be shaken off by players such as Darren Payen, Jordan Allen, Matt Grogan and even Taran Buie, all of whom were thrust into playing far bigger roles than envisioned prior to the arrests.

4.) Perhaps a week in the gym helped the Dutchmen shake the terrible shooting slump they’ve been in since the arrests, as well. The Dutchmen are shooting 38 percent from the field in their last three games, which includes a blistering 57.4 percent effort in last Saturday’s loss to Long Island University, and an almost incomprehensible 51.3 percent from the free throw line. Their poor performances at the free throw line likely cost the Dutchmen wins against Wagner and LIU.

5.) It will also be interesting to see if the Dutchmen exhibit any hangover from last week’s loss in which they blew a 16-point lead with less than 12 minutes to play. The Dutchmen need a win in the worst way and coming so close to beating an NCAA Tournament-caliber team—one that hasn’t lost at home in two years—could have a lingering effect. Mo Cassara, who already had his hands full trying to keep a decimated team upbeat, surely dug deeper into his bag of motivational tricks this week.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wagner 52, Hofstra 44 (Or: They took a wrong turn and they just kept going)



The final sequence of the Flying Dutchmen’s 52-44 loss to Wagner summed up the entire evening and a season that’s gone south in a hurry.

The ball got loose near midcourt as the clock wound down and a scrum ensued before Taran Buie emerged with it and raced towards the basket. But he wasn’t able to get a shot off before the buzzer, and as the teams lined up for the postgame handshake, Buie took a handful of shots, as if he could somehow make up the eight-point deficit all by himself.

“We’re struggling to score right now, [the] last two games,” Mo Cassara said afterward. “Clearly we’ve got to get better at executing offensively and getting guys shots where they can be successful.”

1.) The Dutchmen had another miserable shooting night in all facets of the game. They were 16-of-48 from the field, but the quartet of Buie, Matt Grogan, Stephen Nwaukoni and Darren Payen were 12-of-27 while Stevie Mejia, David Imes, Moussa Kone and Jordan Allen were a combined 4-of-21 with one field goal apiece. The Dutchmen were also a brutal 8-of-19 from the free throw line, the second straight game in which Hofstra shot 50 percent or worse from the free throw line and the worst free throw shooting performance by the Dutchmen since Dec. 9, 2009, when Hofstra was 6-of-16 against Manhattan.

“Some days it goes in the hoop and some days it doesn’t,” Cassara said. “If you really go back over the last couple games, we’ve gotten a lot of good shots. I think back to SMU, boy, we had a lot of point-blank shots. We ran some good offense, just didn’t go in the hole. We’ve got to concentrate on that, we’ve got to work on it.”

2.) If you’re into such a thing, pray Buie stays healthy and on the court, because he’s a keeper. He led all scorers with 16 points and just about single-handedly kept the Dutchmen in the game in the second half, when he scored 14 of Hofstra’s 20 points. He scored all those points in a span of 9:18 in which just one other Dutchmen scored (Matt Grogan on a free throw). He certainly seems to have the “it” gene that Charles Jenkins had—as well as the ability to play far better after halftime than before it—and that the Dutchmen lacked last season.

“Like coach said, the ball just wasn’t going in the hole for a bunch of our guys today,” Buie said. “I was lucky enough to get it going in the second half. I didn’t have a great first half. I just credit my teammates and my coaches for getting me open spots so I could make shots.”

3.) The Dutchmen continued to miss the guy who used to wear no. 1, and I don’t mean Nathaniel Lester. In two games since the new/no longer no. 1 was among the four players arrested, the Dutchmen’s starting front court of Jordan Allen, David Imes and Moussa Kone have gone just 7-for-31 from the field. Stephen Nwaukoni had another solid game off the bench against Wagner (six points and a game-high 11 rebounds) and is a solid 5-of-10 from the field in the two games since the arrests, but he’s just 0-for-3 from the free throw line in that span.

“We’ve got to continue to throw the ball into them and those guys are going to have to produce, make some plays,” Cassara said.

4.) For the second straight game, Grogan took advantage of his suddenly increased playing time by draining two 3-pointers and scoring seven points. Grogan’s first 3-pointer with 6:04 left in the first half gave the Dutchmen a 15-14 lead—their first lead since the buzzer sounded against Marshall, which feels like 100 years ago—and his second trey extended the lead to five points for the first time.

Three days after setting a new career high with 23 minutes played against SMU, Grogan played 18 minutes—one shy of his old career high set last year against Wagner. He played a total of just three minutes in the first seven games of the season.

“He’s given us a great boost, obviously, offensively, and when he make a couple shots, it really opens the game up [as] it did in the first half,” Cassara said. “He’s always ready to play. He’s going to give us everything he has.”

5.) This was a sadly familiar defeat for the Dutchmen, who squandered a five-point halftime lead (as they did twice last year) and were outscored 33-20 in the second half (Wagner outscored the Dutchmen 32-20 in the second half last December in Staten Island).

The Dutchmen got within two or three points six times in the final 12:14 but never tied the score or took the lead. In the final 2:30, Wagner’s Kenneth Ortiz drained a pair of daggers—both of which extended the lead to two possessions—as the shot clock expired.

“Unfortunately had a lot of opportunities that got away from us,” Cassara said. “[Wagner] hit some tough shots. Got to give them a lot of credit down the stretch, I thought our kids battled, and we’ll get back to work and keep battling.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wagner 12/4)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stephen Nwaukoni
1: Matt Grogan

SEASON STANDINGS***
13: Taran Buie
7: Stevie Mejia
5: Stephen Nwaukoni
4: Moussa Kone
2: Matt Grogan
2: David Imes

***21 points vacated

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

SMU 73, Hofstra 47 (Or: Just Like Starting Over)



I made the mistake of waiting more than a couple days to write a game recap for George Washington. Let’s never do that again (after this spate of recaps) and never discuss why there won’t be a GW recap and just go over SMU, shall we?

1.) The Flying Dutchmen looked like a team that lost four key players less than 36 hours before the tip. SMU, which probably would have easily handled a full Dutchmen team, raced out to a 10-0 lead and led by at least six the rest of the way. The Dutchmen’s effort rarely waned, and an 11-2 run spanning the two halves narrowed the gap to 10 in the first half-minute into the second half,  but the Mustangs immediately mounted a 24-7 run and later scored 12 in a row after the Dutchmen pulled within 18 with 5:48 to play.

2.) The Dutchmen trailed wire-to-wire for the third straight game and played like an exhausted, undermanned and frustrated team in missing a bunch of point-blank shots and shooting 25.9 percent, the lowest shooting percentage in a game since the Dutchmen shot 25 percent in a 77-46 loss to Old Dominion on Mar. 1, 2003. Taran Buie was 3-of-13, Stevie Mejia was 3-of-9 and the trio of David Imes. Moussa Kone and Darren Payen were a combined 3-of-21 with one field goal apiece. The Dutchmen’s shooting struggles extended to the free throw line, where they were just 12-of-24. Frustrations also appeared to boil over when the Dutchmen were whistled for two intentional fouls, including one on walk-on Matt Grogan, who responded by kicking one of the panels along press row in between the two benches. The referees seemed to take sympathy on the Dutchmen in not immediately giving Grogan a technical.

3.) The men’s basketball program will be paying the price for the knuckleheaded actions of the four departed players for years to come. One immediate effect: The much-sooner-than-anticipated debut of Payen, who was supposed to redshirt this season but has been pressed into action because the Dutchmen have no other bodies. He was predictably shaky in his first game action in at least eight months, but with five rebounds and two blocks, Payen showed the talent that had Mo Cassara confident he could be a member of the CAA’s All-Rookie team next year.

4.) Payen wasn’t the only player to make his debut for the Dutchmen. Freshman walk-on Adam Savion entered late in the second half and hit three free throws. Grogan set a career-high with seven points, which means the Dutchmen had two walk-ons score in the same game for the first time since I started paying attention in 1993-94. Yay?

5.) Grogan, the only Dutchmen with multiple 3-pointers, was one of the few bright spots, as was junior Stephen Nwaukoni, who returned after a two-game absence for personal reasons and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Nwaukoni is still an inconsistent player on offense, but he’s grown increasingly reliable on the boards with at least five rebounds in 21 of his last 27 games. Buie scored 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds while Mejia had 11 points, three assists and three steals.

6.) The one cool thing about an otherwise awful couple days was getting to ask SMU coach Larry Brown—whose return to his native New York was rendered a sidebar by the Hofstra debacle—about his connections to Hofstra, most of which were pretty obscure (hey, coming up with obscure connections to Hofstra is what I do here).

The obvious link between Brown and Hofstra was sitting courtside. Dutchmen icon Speedy Claxton was the 76ers’ first-round draft pick in 2000, when Brown was the 76ers’ head coach.

“One of my favorite guys,” Brown said at his press conference. “And in spite of that serious knee injury he had a heckuva career. I wish he had some eligibility left. I wouldn’t be so nervous before games.”

(Me too)

While living in Philadelphia, Brown became close friends with Jay Wright, who (duh) of course coached Claxton at Hofstra before he headed to Villanova. Brown credited Wright with keeping him sane—at the very least—during the almost 16 months he was out of work after getting fired by the Charlotte Bobcats and before he took the SMU job.

“He was a tremendous advocate of mine and helped me get where I am,” Brown said. “I over-praise him, but I think he saved my life in a lot of ways, just allowing me to be part of basketball after I got fired from Charlotte.”

Later, we asked Brown about what we thought was his first game as coach at UCLA—the Bruins’ 90-71 win over the Flying Dutchmen (who ACTUALLY were called the Flying Dutchmen back then!) on Dec. 1, 1979 (exactly 33 years to the day before his second game against Hofstra).

Turns out that was the second game of his UCLA tenure: The Bruins beat Idaho State the night before. The game against the Bruins was the season opener for Hofstra in Joe Harrington’s only year at the helm.

Brown remembered “…there was a kid from Long Beach” on Hofstra—David Taylor, who held the school record for most blocked shots in a career until Greg Washington broke it in 2010.

Brown also said he “couldn’t believe I was the coach of UCLA,” which went on to reach the national title game. It was the first (and so far only) time in program history the Flying Dutchmen faced a team that reached the national title game (THANK YOU 2006 FLORIDA).

Brown began his nomadic coaching career with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars from 1972-74. In his second season at the helm, he coached against former (and future) Hofstra coach Butch van Breda Kolff, who was with the Memphis Tams. The press conference following the SMU game was held in the Physical Fitness Center, where van Breda Kolff roamed the sidelines during his second stint with the Dutchmen, after which he was replaced by Wright.

See? All connected.

“I was a big Butch and Petey Carill fan,” Brown said, referring to the long-time Princeton coach who played under van Breda Kolff at Lafayette. “They were special guys.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. SMU 12/1)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stevie Mejia
1: Matt Grogan

SEASON STANDINGS***
10: Taran Buie
7: Stevie Mejia
4: Moussa Kone
3: Stephen Nwaukoni
2: David Imes
1: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

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

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 clich├ęd 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.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

“How could we have such bad luck? Really, how is this possible?”



We were driving down Hempstead Turnpike last night, me at the wheel and my wife in the back seat with our daughter, who was none too happy after two hours in the Babies ‘R Us photo studio. (Things they never tell you during childbirth class: Newborns HATE being propped up for posed photos) We were trying to figure out what to pick up for dinner as we crawled along in the usual Friday night bumper-to-bumper traffic, but for a few traffic lights all we did was ask each other the question over and over again with neither one of us actually making a suggestion.

“I think we just have a Hofstra pallor,” my wife said.

At this point, I think it’s our default setting.

The Flying Dutch faithful endured its latest worst, most embarrassing day ever yesterday, when news broke that four players—Shaq Stokes, Jimmy Hall, Kentrell Washington and Dallas Anglin—had been arrested Thursday for executing a spate of burglaries on the Hofstra campus. According to news reports, the quartet stole more than $20,000 in Apple products. As of late last night, Stokes (five counts of burglary), Hall (four counts) and Washington (two counts) remain jailed while Anglin (one count each of burglary and tampering with evidence) is out on bail.

It was pretty awful to wake up to that news, but the day just got worse as it dragged on. In the mid-afternoon, Nassau County police said Mo Cassara had been burglarized by the four accused players, though Hofstra later issued a statement that Cassara reported items missing in the spring, long before the arrestees arrived on campus.

Around dinner time, we officially cemented our 15 seconds of short attention span fame by landing on Deadspin, which picked up on the New York Post’s salacious report and added its usual unique brand of snarky sports commentary. Hooray us.

The day unleashed a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts that are difficult to organize into anything resembling coherence. But here goes.

First I was humbled. I’ve had a lot of fun mocking George Mason and its fans for the trouble that Patriots players have gotten into over the last few years. Nothing any of those guys did compares to the knuckleheadness of the acts the Hofstra quartet is accused of perpetuating. When you taunt fans of other schools who have no control over how the players on their favorite team behave, you’ve got no choice but to absorb the slings and arrows when the laundry you root for lets you down.

I was—am—furious with the four accused players and the shame they’ve brought to our university. Beneath my ever-present cynicism, and behind my penchant for disagreeing with the administration, lies an unconditional love for Hofstra. It has been the epicenter of my universe for 19 years and has given me so much. Without Hofstra, I would not have my wonderful wife, our beautiful daughter, the hundreds of friends and acquaintances I have made and the innumerable memories they’ve all helped create.

I take, pun intended, pride in the school, and to see it wounded like this destroys me. All caveats about letting the judicial system play out apply, but if the four players are found guilty of the charges levied against them, I hope they never step foot on campus again. We’ve all been foolish 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds doing things that make us cringe 18, 19 and 20 years later. But even accounting for the absent foresight of youth, there are some discretions that cannot be scrubbed away by time.

Speaking of scrubbed away, the names of the accused have already been deleted from the roster at GoHofstra.com, so my suspicion is we’ve seen the last of them, in any capacity, at Hofstra.

I am heartbroken for the people dealing with the fallout from the actions of the foolish foursome. Staffers at Hofstra were feeling the same emotions as the rest of us Friday, except with a rawer and more immediate intensity. I suspect they, and we, will feel the reverberations of yesterday’s news for months and years to come, in ways we cannot imagine yet.

I feel terrible for the players who did nothing wrong, yet will be the ones forced to answer for their ex-teammates and to field the insults from fans in CAA arenas up and down the east coast this winter as they try and pick up the pieces of a shattered season.

I hope this season turns out to be a Hollywood special, though the numbers suggest reality will be cruel. I hope that Hofstra fans can look past their fury with the accused and show up at the Arena today and Tuesday night and support David Imes, Stevie Mejia, Matt Grogan, Moussa Kone, Taran Buie and Jordan Allen (and Stephen Nwaukoni and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, if they’re playing).

I feel terribly for the coaching staff, which recruited these four players, offered them scholarships—and in Stokes’ case, spent months fighting on his behalf to get him a hardship waiver so that he could play this year—and basically entrusted them with coaching careers that quite frankly seem imperiled at the moment.

I feel particularly bad for Cassara, who has been a great ambassador for the university as he invests immeasurable time and energy into rebuilding this program. I’ve spoken to him first thing in the morning, after a sleepless night, and run into him in the middle of the day, when he’s yet to put a single piece of food into his mouth, and seen him at the end of an 18-hour work day as he heads home for another mostly sleepless night.

While Cassara has taken chances with players with baggage, he has always struck me as a man who values character, someone who would rather go 16-16 than try and win at all costs. He moved on quickly from Bryant Crowder last year and suspended Buie and Coombs-McDaniel for the first two regular season games of this season. I find it difficult to believe he ever envisioned something like this happening with his first real recruiting class, and imagine his nights will remain mostly sleepless for some time to come.

Mostly, I’m just numb, and wondering if these body blows to Hofstra athletics and its small but loyal fanbase will ever cease. I had, of all things, the Anthrax “Behind The Music” on as background noise Friday morning when one line from band founder Scott Ian jarred me from my stupor:

“How could we have such bad luck? Really, how is this possible?”

For my purposes, I am going to just assume he broke the fourth wall and was talking directly to me. How can we have such bad luck? Three days shy of the three-year anniversary of the demise of football and we’re still getting regularly buckled by bad luck and bad news, most of which is delivered after we’ve been lulled into thinking our fortunes have finally turned.

Two weeks ago this morning we were reveling in the joys of an upset of an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, experiences we would replicate within 48 hours. The Dutchmen were deep and talented and young. Better days were here, until they weren’t. Old story, new cast of characters. Rinse, wash, repeat.

“How could we have such bad luck? Really, how is this possible?”

Really, how could we think this time would be any different?

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