Monday, March 7, 2016

Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

Charles Jenkins. Greg Washington. Nathaniel Lester. Mike Moore. Brad Kelleher. David Imes. Mo Cassara.

If we’re being honest, the only time in life it’s probably acceptable to invest any sort of self-identity in a college sports team is those four or five or six years we’re actually in college. Those are the years where the players are our peers, in which we attend class with them, eat lunch next to them in the cafeteria and throw back beers with them at the bars near campus.

(True story: I did a feature on a Flying Dutchman basketball player, a guy who had an interesting career in the blue and gold, during the 1994-95 season. It was the boilerplate feel-good redemptive feature. He gave me some a good quote, something about resiliency and never giving up. I asked him where he got it. “On a table at McHebe’s,” he said.)

Osei Millar. Kenny Adeleke. Wendell Gibson. Justin Jones. Michael Radziejewski. Woody Souffrant.

Maybe, if we’re being generous, we can extend the limits of plausible acceptability to the first few years after college, when ex-classmates and former fellow bar crawlers are still playing for the school.

But after that? We’re rooting for laundry, worn by increasingly younger men with no connection to our tenure, or the memories, good and bad, that molded our emotional fandom. It should be about them, and how they play for each other, instead of how they play for us.

Gibran Washington. Kenny Harris. Ryan Johnson. Mantas Leonavicius. Zygis Sestakos. Mike Davis-Sabb.

But look, humanity is a weird condition. We fall in love with plots of land, and courses in a bulletin. Then we get on to campus and begin to feel an association with our surroundings.

Those are our buildings and our trees and our club offices and our nooks and crannies. If we’re really lucky, we fall in love in those buildings and club offices, and the alma mater becomes the foundation for a life to be shared together.

Dane Johnson. Greg Johnson. Darren Townes. Miklos Szabo. Cornelius Vines. Yves Jules.

And those are our teams we go to watch. The connection is immediate and unbreakable. It is “we,” when there is some semblance of ownership in the outcome, and will always remain “we,” even after the timeframe for one to be called a “young alumni” lapses and the campus undergoes a transformation that makes it unrecognizable from the one we grazed.

Middle age approaches and arrives, yet we still go to games and still speak in the first person plural. College sports makes us feel young again, brings us back, a couple hours at a time, to the days when we had impressive waistlines and wrinkle-free faces and could sketch a future on any canvas we wished.

Paul Bilbo. Roland Brown. Dwan McMillan. Stevie Mejia. Shemiye McLendon. Taran Buie. Matt Grogan.

Our emotional investment often reduces us to the type of illogical insanity at which we’d usually scoff, or worse. We watch and we believe we are out there, thinking we could somehow replicate or better how an athlete moves or reacts. We have a historical narrative into which we categorize their feats and struggles. It’s nuts, really.

Yet we will never feel as young as we do tonight, and we will embrace it. We will live vicariously through those on the floor as well as those young enough to still utter “we” without absorbing weird looks or stern lectures, all the while enjoying the perspective brought upon by our wizened nature. 

Daquan Brown. Jody Card. George Davis. Jordan Allen. Stephen Nwaukoni. Darren Payen. Chris Jenkins.

Do you remember what you were doing on the first Monday of March 2006? I was pulling all-nighters balancing a job and writing a book. I slept half the day. The best players on the team were juniors. There was an at-large bid waiting even in the event of a loss. There would be more nights like this, maybe as soon as the next season. 

I didn’t know the best player had a testicle twice the size of the other and that he spent the afternoon pissing blood. I didn’t know the most indispensable player was graduating. I didn’t know the game was rigged. 

Adam Savion. Dan Steinberg. Zeke Upshaw. Daryl Fowlkes. Eliel Gonzalez. Moussa Kone. Dion Nesmith.

We won’t make those mistakes today. We’ll know what this means, and how it feels. We’ll realize it’ll be over before it’s begun, and that we need to savor all the hours leading up to the two hours we’ve dreamed about for 10 years. We’ll remember how it feels, for however long it lasts and however long we need it to last.

Tonight Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley and Denton Koon and Brian Bernardi and Rokas Gustys and Desure Buie and Andre Walker and Justin Wright-Foreman and Malik Nichols and Joe Mihalich dance for themselves, and to enjoy what happens when talent intersects with a little bit of good fortune, and to grasp the opportunity to reach the pinnacle of the sport they play and coach. Tonight is about them, and their chance to ensure they are remembered for as long as sports are played at Hofstra University.

Tom Pecora. Antoine Agudio. Carlos Rivera. Adrian Uter. Aurimas Kieza. Loren Stokes.

But they will dance for the rest of us too, those who preceded them on the court the previous 15 seasons as well as those for whom Hofstra sports has always been about the “we.” Tonight, they will dance for the desperate and the broken-hearted.

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