Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Senior Night Profile: David Imes

Few Flying Dutchmen players of this or any other era have put together a more varied and interesting career than David Imes. He went from little-used benchwarmer as a freshman—when he missed 13 games due to injury and averaged 6.3 minutes per game—to an every-game starter in his final three seasons, a stretch in which he has played 89 out of a possible 94 games and averaged almost 29 minutes per contest.

Imes played power forward and center in his first three seasons before spending much of this season as a ball-handler and shooting guard for a Dutchmen squad that lost all of its guard depth following the arrests of the knuckleheads. Imes is one of only three Hofstra players since 1989-90 to have a 15-rebound game as well as a five 3-pointer game on his resume. (Imes twice had 17 rebounds as a sophomore and drained five 3-pointers against Northeastern on Jan. 16).

He played on one of the most memorable Flying Dutchmen teams of all-time, the 2010-11 edition that Charles Jenkins carried to 21 often-dramatic wins. And he has endured a rough final couple seasons in which the Dutchmen have won a total of 17 games while battling injuries and the fallout from November’s burglaries.

“A guy that I hold very dear to my heart on a lot of levels,” Mo Cassara said. “I can remember sitting in the pizza shop talking to him right after I got here. Here’s a guy who hadn’t played much at all and was trying to kind of find his way in college basketball and find his way here. We got married together through unusual circumstances and he’s played every game that he’s been healthy [for] and played a lot of minutes.”

“He’s a gentleman and a guy who’s going to be successful in life. Certainly very proud of him and what he endured and went through during an up and down and challenging couple years.”

Imes’ Hofstra career has been just as interesting and varied off the court. The father of two daughters (ages four and one), Imes has juggled college, basketball and fatherhood during his time in Hempstead. While he lives on campus, he often heads to Brooklyn or Manhattan for early-morning or late-night visits with his family.

“Challenging [and] rewarding,” Imes said of parenthood. “There’s days that I just want to be home with my family and I can’t  because we have a 6 a.m. practice. Then there are some days where I’m just glad to be able to do this and to say I got this far as a father.

“I’m happy I got through it and happy I’m able to show that it’s possible, so that people that are my age out there making excuses [about parenthood]—I just want to show them that it can be done,” said Imes, who credited his Mom, Sandra, for helping him out with babysitting and other duties when he couldn’t be home.

A linguistics major, Imes plans to put his degree to use by playing overseas. He has already been drafted by a team in Spain that is coached by Flor Melendez, who is the coach of the Puerto Rican National Team. Imes, whose mother’s family is from Puerto Rico, hopes to parlay the experience with Melendez into a tryout for the National Team

Imes, who played little power forward or center in high school, welcomed the chance to diversify himself again prior to this season, especially with the knowledge that 6-foot-7 players who can run the floor and drain outside shots can make a good living overseas.

“I knew that if I wanted to [keep] playing this game in the future that I needed to be able to play another position, multiple positions,” Imes said.

Imes’ hopes for a storybook ending at Hofstra likely went out the window in November, and he admitted Tuesday that he was badly shaken by the turn of events that turned his senior season into another rebuilding effort.

“It hurt, because we expected so much from our last year,” Imes said. “Our roster and the people we had coming in, the transfers we hoped [would] be cleared to play, Jamal hopefully getting healthy. Just had so many big expectations. Everything started taking a rollercoaster ride downhill. It was hard to deal with.”

Like fellow senior Stevie Mejia, Imes has done his best to help steer the rollercoaster back up by dramatically improving his numbers in February. Imes has averaged 8.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in eight games this month, up from his season averages of 7.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and his career averages of 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Against Old Dominion on Sunday, Imes scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to lift the Dutchmen to a come-from-behind victory.

“I just see it as my last few games—gotta go out as hard as I can,” Imes said.

Nostalgia began creeping in for Imes on Tuesday as he looked ahead to tonight’s final start at Hofstra Arena—the final chance to play at home alongside longtime friend and fellow four-year senior Matt Grogan and one of his last chances to feel the pride (again, pardon the pun) at being the lone scholarship recruit from Tom Pecora’s last recruiting class at Hofstra to play all four years for the Flying Dutchmen.

“We talk about freshman year, we talk about sophomore year with our last year with Charles,” Imes said of his conversations with Grogan. “We look at pictures and go ‘Look, oh my God, how time flies.’ We look upstairs in the office and see the changes, the whole staff and how much we’ve been through together. Just happy we stuck it out.”

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Senior Night Profile: Matt Grogan

Matt Grogan made a bit of history this season, when he became the first four-year walk-on at Hofstra since Tom Marich played on Jay Wright’s first four Flying Dutchmen teams from 1994-98.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

“Pecora was a big reason why I came here,” Grogan said. “He saw me play at [Archbishop] Molloy [in Queens], had a good game there. He got in touch with me, I came down here for a visit. He said ‘Come down here for a year and we’ll try to get you a scholarship for the remaining three years.”

Grogan paused and grinned.

“We know how that story went.”

Pecora, of course, left for Fordham following Grogan’s freshman season, which set in motion a wild chain of events that allowed Grogan to see far more playing time than any Hofstra walk-on in at least the last 20 years. Grogan has played 505 minutes over 77 games, including 430 minutes in 50 games the last two seasons. For comparison’s sake, Marich played 152 minutes in four seasons.

Grogan has scored five or more points six times this season and nine times in the last two years. He enters tonight’s home finale—where he is likely to earn his first career start and become the first walk-on to start since Ryan Johnson in 2008—with 95 career points, easily the most for a walk-on in the last 20 years. (Anthony Noble scored 85 points in his lone season as a walk-on in 2002-03 before transferring to Stony Brook).

Of course, Grogan didn’t get all this playing time by design. He played just three minutes in the first seven games of this season before the arrests of the knuckleheads forced him into the rotation.

And of course anyone would prefer a scholarship over paying his own way to school and commuting from Queens everyday, as Grogan has done the last three years.

But Grogan, in the uniquely forthright and hilarious manner that has endeared him to three coaches and what amounts to two generations worth of teammates, made it clear Tuesday that he wouldn’t trade his Hofstra experience for anything.

“I’m here all day anyway, I just basically sleep at my house,” Grogan said. “I got used to it. Just feel like it was normal. What else would I rather be doing? Working? Nothing to complain about.”

And what about those nights when the Dutchmen get back late from a road trip and he’s too tired to drive home?

“A lot of times I just stay at a teammate’s room or sleep in the locker room,” Grogan said. “Have you seen the locker room? It’s better than my bedroom in the house.”

Grogan is as quick to speak eloquently of his time with the Flying Dutchmen as he is to crack a one-liner. He said he considered transferring to a Division II school after Pecora left, but didn’t want to leave behind the friends he’d made as a freshman—including fellow senior David Imes, whom he’s known since the two played youth ball as pre-teens.

Plus, as he puts it: “Not too many people can say they played at a Division I school, whether they’re a walk-on or not.”

He is self-aware over his role and often-sparse playing time (“At the end of the day, they’re going to play the scholarship players first, they’ve invested a lot of money in these guys”), but also appreciative of the camaraderie he’s developed with his coaches and teammates, all of whom have made him feel like a scholarship player.

“From the moment I stepped in here, when Pecora recruited me, I was in practice everyday,” Grogan said. “I wasn’t standing on the sideline. I don’t know how it is at other schools, I’m sure some of those walk-ons don’t even get to travel.”

Grogan said he enjoys “…walking around campus with a T-shirt on you that says Hofstra basketball. The camaraderie, just being part of the team—I definitely take a lot of pride in being part of the basketball team here, walking around with my head up around campus.”

Grogan is most appreciative of the doors that may open to him because of his four years with the Flying Dutchmen. A management major and regular member of the honor roll, Grogan doesn’t know what kind of job he’ll pursue after graduation, but knows that the biggest part of his resume has nothing to do with his class work.

“The best thing on my resume now is the Hofstra basketball team,” Grogan said. “Everybody loves sports.”

He leaves behind no shortage of references at Hofstra.

“He’s had to wear so many hats, from practice player to going into a game and asking him to make shots to being a defensive guy and a scout guy,” Cassara said. “Just worn so many hats. I couldn’t think of a guy that I’d rather be around and be more proud of than Matt Grogan. He exemplifies everything that college basketball is all about. He comes to work everyday, he gets his education, he embraces the community and is just a terrific young man.”

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Senior Night Profile: Stevie Mejia

Stevie Mejia and Mo Cassara are philosophical about the twists of fate that have cost Mejia opportunities to enjoy sustained success during his two seasons with the Flying Dutchmen. But as Mejia prepares to play his final home game for Hofstra tonight, Cassara can’t help but wish that his first recruit had a smoother ride in Hempstead.

“Frustrating for a guy that I’ve known a long time,” Cassara said Tuesday. “Certainly, he wasn’t able to have the career, as far as wins and losses, that he would have liked to have had, or I would have liked for him to have.”

Cassara viewed Mejia, who transferred to Hofstra from Rhode Island in the spring of 2010, as the prototypical point guard who could provide stability at the position as a junior and senior.

Mejia has certainly met expectations as a leader. He provided a Jason Hernandez-like impact during his redshirt season, when he provided feisty daily practice competition for Charles Jenkins and Brad Kelleher.

But whereas Hernandez got to play two years with one-time practice foe Speedy Claxton following his redshirt season, Mejia never got to play a second with Jenkins or Kelleher, both of whom graduated in 2011.

Mejia still had a pair of offensive weapons to work with last season in Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester, but just as he was beginning to establish himself as the Dutchmen’s third option—he averaged 8.7 points per game on 53 percent shooting in his first seven games—he suffered a hamstring injury in the final game of the three-game Gazelle Group tournament (grrrr) in Rhode Island. Mejia missed six of the next eight games and lost his starting job to Dwan McMillan, who went on to lead the CAA in assists.

A strong finish to last season (Mejia averaged 11.3 ppg and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 15:5 in the Dutchmen’s final four regular season games) generated plenty of optimism for this season, when the Dutchmen expected to get the services of transfers such as Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Taran Buie as well as Cassara’s first wave of freshmen recruits.

Finally surrounded by something resembling a full team, Mejia provided a glimpse at what he could do as a floor general and sneaky scoring option when he won the MVP of the Gazelle Group (grrrr) subregional at Hofstra the weekend before Thanksgiving. In three games—all Dutchmen wins—Mejia scored 47 points on 17-of-30 shooting from the field. He hit all 11 free throw attempts, pulled down 18 rebounds and had eight assists and three steals.

Of course, as it turned out, that was as good as it was going to get for the Dutchmen, who were ravaged less than two weeks later when four players were arrested on burglary charges. In addition, Coombs-McDaniel never suited up because of multiple knee surgeries.

“Stevie’s been through a real challenging time, he’s never had a full complement of guys to play with,” Cassara said. “His ability to run a  team and run the show and get guys shots and then playoff those guys makes him super efficient. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to play a full year or a full healthy year.”

“At times, it’s frustrating,” Mejia said. “After it happened, that [arrest] situation, I can’t control any of that. I just try to do the things that I can control.

“[When] it’s frustrating on the court, I’ve got to play through that. I’m going out there and controlling what I can control. I can put myself and teammates in good position to score, I can do that.”

Mejia has been able to set the tone for the depleted Dutchmen since the arrests. Mejia’s constant effort has defined the persistence of a team that is 4-17 since the arrests but has lost seven games by seven points or less.

He is averaging a team-high 33.8 minutes per game and has played more than 100 minutes more than anyone else on the team. Unofficially, he leads the Dutchmen in floor burns, and he continued diving all over the court even during the second half of last Wednesday’s 79-50 loss to George Mason.

Buie initially became the Dutchmen’s new top scoring option by averaging 15.3 ppg in the first 13 post-arrest games, but a mammoth shooting slump—Buie is shooting just 22.4 percent in the last nine games—has forced Mejia to shoulder more of the offensive burden.

It hasn’t always been pretty—Mejia is just 4-of-24 from the field in his last two games and also shot 3-of-11 against UNCW on Jan. 26 and 3-of-14 against William & Mary on Feb. 2—but his numbers this month are all well above his career norms. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game since February 1. Overall at Hofstra, he’s averaging 8.8 points, 3.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.

He had perhaps his finest game on Feb. 13, when Mejia led the Dutchmen in points, rebounds, assists and steals against Georgia State—a quadruple crown of sorts that even Jenkins never accomplished. And in the CAA opener against Georgia State Jan. 7. Mejia drained the last-second basket to end an eight-game losing streak and lift the Dutchmen past Georgia State in the CAA opener on Jan. 7.

While Mejia’s two years at Hofstra have not gone as he would have liked, he will still look back fondly at his time with the Dutchmen and identify Hofstra as his true basketball alma mater.

“This is where I really played basketball,” Mejia said. “Playing at Rhode Island, I just felt like I was more of a robot just running the team. Here, I’m free to do what I want with being a point guard and having the freedom [of] being able to create more.”

Said Cassara: “I’m proud of him. He’s graduated, he’s fought through what have been some difficult situations. He’s had to be the leader and the face of this season and has had to battle and be really the player we rely on every night.”

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Friday, February 1, 2013

James Madison 62, Hofstra 41 (Or: We all know the song)

There was a time not so long ago when last night would have been awesome. Like, say, two years ago, when any disappointment I felt at the Flying Dutchmen losing to James Madison, 62-41, in a game that seemed about twice as lopsided would have been erased by the overwhelming Schadenfreude (now I’m just making words up, as well as conferences!) of George Mason blowing a 22-point lead and losing to Drexel, 58-54. AT HOME. IN A GAME IN WHICH JUST 112 POINTS WERE SCORED.

That’s so bad, I wish there was a formula by which I could confirm it was the biggest blown lead in history, in terms of points overcome to total points scored (hey, I think I just came up with the formula). (Just so you know: There were 210 points scored when the Utah Jazz came back from a 34-point deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets, 107-103, in the biggest comeback in NBA history in 1996)

Two years ago, I would have mocked Ryan Pearson and wondered if he went home and wept into his stolen pillows. I would have laughed at the Patriots losing by the three dunks Mike Morrison missed. I would have come up with something to make fun of Andre Cornelius, because he was annoying even before he Tweeted VCU into the Final Four and got arrested twice. And of course I would have called Jim Larranaga all sorts of synonyms for Satan and mocked fellow GMU bloggers and superfans and brushed off their suggestions that I look at the standings.

But now? As I wrote 12 days ago, I’m all out of hate because The Great Satan is off beating the other Great Satan in the ACC. Plus, thanks to The Great Satan, Mason is really just one of us now, just another mid-major shooting star that streaked across the sky for a fleeting moment, only to disappear into the black of night, where it is indiscernible from the rest of the bodies surrounding it.

As Drexel and Mason lurched into the final media timeout last night (and oh boy, that was not a pretty game), I went to get something to eat instead of yelling bad things at the people wearing green on my TV and waking up the baby (which, admittedly, would have been tough to do two years ago, since she, you know, wasn’t here).

We have gotten to the point now where my usual post-game shenanigans with Ryan Sonner, my least favorite Mason frenemy, have leveled off to mail-it-in mode on both sides. Whenever our favorite teams lose, the other guy sends a text that reads simply “y’all win?” But this is how our exchange went last night:

Him 8:45 PM: Ugh Y’all win?

Me 9:04 PM: Y’all win?

Him 9:06 PM: We are both asking that entirely too often this year.

He roots for a team that is 5-4 in league play with 8-1 talent. I root for a team that is 2-6 in league play with 2-6 talent that constantly reminds us we probably had 6-2 talent prior to Nov. 30. What else is there to say?

As frustrating as it is to see the Dutchmen live the same script over and over and over again—the Dutchmen never led, but they trailed by one with 16:49 to play before being outscored 32-12 the rest of the way as they lost their 15th straight true road game and 17th game away from home overall—there won’t be any knocking of the players who are still out there, all of whom are stretched as the go-to guys they have to be on a team whose go-to guys should still be in jail.

Stevie Mejia was recruited here to be a facilitator, not a creator. He should have been the Jason Hernandez to someone else’s Speedy Claxton, the savvy floor general who sets everyone else up and drains the clutch shot at the end of the shot clock once or twice a week instead of forcing eight shots a night.

There’s a reason Taran Buie, who missed a year-and-a-half and didn’t start a game during his brief time at Penn State, opened the season as the Dutchmen’s sixth man. He has Charles Jenkins-esque talent, but he’s not yet Charles Jenkins. He should have been Hofstra’s Vinnie Johnson—instant offense off the bench—not the guy the Dutchmen need to be great every night.

With their versatility on both ends of the floor, David Imes (whose 10 points last night were the fewest for a team leader since Cornelius Vines had eight against Northeastern on Jan. 5, 2009) and Jordan Allen should have been great glue guys on a good team. They weren’t supposed to be the quasi-shooting guard and the guy tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best player every night, respectively.

Stephen Nwaukoni, Moussa Kone and Daquan Brown should be rotational guys out of whom six points (Kone’s output) or six rebounds (Nwaukoni’s output) should be a nice bonus, and not much less than what the Dutchmen need to win. Matt Grogan’s two 3-pointers should have been drained during a storybook Senior Day start and Adam Savion should be the best player at the Rec Center instead of seeing 10 minutes a game.

And Mo Cassara should be up nights trying to figure out ways to turn 11 into seven, eight or nine, instead of trying to turn six into nine. He should be utilizing his depth to mix and match his way to victory in a depressed CAA, and have options when players are underperforming, instead of hoping his potluck supper mix that included two walk-ons last night keeps the Dutchmen close for 40 minutes instead of a little more than 20.

What else is there to say on the first of February, except to wonder what could have been for the Dutchmen and to wonder what the four players who wrecked a season—and maybe much more—think when they see the smoldering mess they left behind?

Do they watch the dumpster fire that is the CAA—and I say that as lovingly as possible, but by God, the league is so down, it has to look up to see China, not to mention the America East—and wonder would could have been for Hofstra come the first weekend of March if it had the CAA’s rookie of the year at power forward as well as a fearless shooting guard and two more solid backup guards?

This is the mother of all “why not us?” years and with four more players—guys who accounted for 28.3 points and 13.7 rebounds per game before they got busted—I guarantee the Dutchmen and their faithful would have been thinking exactly that right now, instead of just simply wondering "why us?"

Do they wonder what they could have become over the next two or three years and how they could have begun authoring the next golden era of Hofstra basketball, if only they knew the difference between right and wrong? Do they think about what happened instead, and how they squandered great opportunities on and off the court, and regret their roles in authoring one of the bleakest chapters in the history of the athletic department? Do they wish they could take back their foolish acts?

Or am I the fool, trying to wring logic and remorse out of knuckleheads half my age who are probably lining up their second chances (except for the guy who used to wear no. 4, who made the mistake of getting arrested and kicked off the team AFTER he transferred from somewhere else—good move) and rarely thinking about Hofstra or the mess they left behind?

Am I the fool for wondering what could have been about four dopes whom I wouldn’t even think twice if they didn’t wear my favorite laundry? These are the only things left to say to myself, when I’m out of words with at least 11 games to play and Mason collapses don’t even bring me joy anymore.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. James Madison, 1/31)
3: David Imes
2: Stevie Mejia
1: Moussa Kone

31: Taran Buie
28: Stevie Mejia
18: Stephen Nwaukoni
11: David Imes
7: Jordan Allen
5: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

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George Mason 57, Hofstra 46 (Or: I guess that’s why we’re wearing the blues)

Mo Cassara preached caution after the Flying Dutchmen led wire-to-wire in beating William & Mary Jan. 12 to earn their second win in three #CAAHoops games. With the memories of an 0-fer December still fresh, Cassara reminded his listeners that “…it’s not going to be easy, we’re going to have some more dips and some more ups and downs.”

It didn’t take the Dutchmen long to prove Cassara clairvoyant. The Dutchmen’s 57-46 loss to George Mason Jan. 19 doesn’t look that bad on the scoreboard, and an 11-point loss on the back end of a two-game road trip to a program that has owned the good guys since The Great Screw Job (Hofstra is now 2-9 against George Mason since twitch Tom O’Connor wasn’t in the room twitch but who’s counting?) would seem to be the type of competitive defeat that could provide the Dutchmen some fuel and some optimism as the February rematch with the Patriots and March’s CAA Tournament approach.

Except…hoo boy, this was some dip. A historic one, even, for all the wrong reasons, and a loss that proved just how tenuous the Dutchmen’s trip on momentum will be for the remainder of this season.

We could get creative with the adjectives to describe the Dutchmen’s shooting in Fairfax, or we could just state the facts: It was the program’s worst single-game performance in a generation. The Dutchmen were an ice cold 11-of-48 (22.9 percent) from the field, the fewest field goals in a game since the Dutchmen had 11 baskets against Boston University Feb. 15, 1995 and the lowest shooting percentage since Hofstra shot 21.5 percent against UNLV Dec. 30, 1992.

The Dutchmen didn’t set any negative records from outside, but not for a lack of trying: They were 1-of-13 on 3-pointers and missed their last nine attempts after Taran Buie’s 3-pointer with 14:45 left in the first half.

The top three scorers for the Dutchmen—Buie (14 points), Stevie Mejia (10 points) and Stephen Nwaukoni (eight points)—combined for 32 points on 9-of-31 shooting. Everyone else was (doing the math) 2-for-17. Three days after draining five 3-pointers against Northeastern, David Imes was 0-for-8 from the field. Oof.

And it could have been worse: The Dutchmen were just 4-of-25 from the floor in the first half, when they endured stretches of 7:30 and 7:15 without a field goal. They “improved” to 7-of-23 in the second half, but had just one field goal in the final 10 minutes, a span in which they went scoreless from the field for 8:11.

Such droughts made it even easier than usual to believe the Dutchmen were right there on the road against a superior foe. One basket apiece during those three extended droughts and it’s a five-point game. Sigh.

Of course, there were other elements to the defeat that probably would have cropped up and haunted the Dutchmen anyway, most notably the assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:5. Not a misprint—three assists, 15 turnovers. The Dutchmen also didn’t maximize their opportunities at the free throw line, where they were a good-but-not-great 23-of-31 against one of the most foul-prone teams in the country.

A down week (spoiler alert: The next week was a down one too) after an upbeat one? We can’t say we weren’t warned.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. George Mason, 1/19)
3: Stephen Nwaukoni
2: Taran Buie
1: Stevie Mejia

26: Taran Buie
23: Stevie Mejia
15: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: David Imes
7: Jordan Allen
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

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