Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

Juan’ya Green. Ameen Tanksley. Rokas Gustys. Brian Bernardi. Denton Koon. Malik Nichols. Andre Walker.

It’s been 36 months, or 156 weeks, or 1,110 days, or 1,598,400 minutes since we were last in this position (but who’s counting?) and nothing has really changed about the self-aware nature of this arrangement.

We remain grown-ass adults, some more likely to act their age than others, insanely and completely invested in a college basketball team, even though the four or five or six years we actually spent in college are even smaller specks in the rear view mirror. Our memories of the years where the players were our classmates, our lunch-mates and our drinking buddies are equal parts crisper, more remote and more exaggerated than they were in March 2016.

Most of us are at the point where none of the players on the court were even alive when we strutted around campus. If we are being logical and sensible, we realize we are rooting for laundry, worn by increasingly younger men who came to Hofstra for an opportunity and have no connection to our tenure, or the memories, good and bad, that molded our emotional fandom.

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

Of course, sports isn’t about being logical and sensible, especially when they are played at a place that grows more important and meaningful to us with each passing year. What began as a hunch on a splendid tour of campus in the fall or perhaps as a marriage of convenience organically turned into something much more.

Thousands of people over the previous several decades walked the same campus we walked, but just like them, we forged our own paths over those 244 sprawling acres. Traditions were established, the cement of a foundation poured, the seeds of relationships planted and branching off in ways we couldn’t have imagined that first August day we strolled into an 8 AM class.

Osei Millar. Kenny Adeleke. Wendell Gibson. Michael Radziejewski. Woody Souffrant. Yogev Berdugo. Chris McRae.

We don’t need an NCAA Tournament men’s basketball team to be prideful of Hofstra, but there’s a reason sports are called the front porch of a school. It’s the best way for us to thump our chests about how much we love the place, and the segue into why it means so much to us. It was that way in the first days we spent on campus, when the connection became immediate and unbreakable, forever establishing “we” as our pronoun of choice with Hofstra.

The bond grows stronger with each passing year and as we grow a little paunchier, a little grayer, a little thinner atop the scalp, a little more vulnerable to the punches life never seemed to throw back in the day. But basketball games take us back in time a couple hours a night 30-plus times a year, to the days of lesser waistlines and thicker heads of hair and the endless invincibility of youth. 

Justin Jones. Omar Alston. Brian Sisti. Jorge Lebron. Chris Gadley. Anthony Noble. Sal Patricio. Sam Cherilus. Kevin Nee. David Vallins.

Our emotional investment often reduces us to illogical insanity. With each game we see, we are farther and farther removed from whatever athletic prime we ever enjoyed. But we’ll still watch and believe we are out there, sometimes even forcing upon today’s players the historical narrative we’ve constructed for ourselves and their feats. It sounds even crazier today than it did three years ago.

And yet, just like three years ago, 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 get away with uttering “we,” and we will do so with the perspective afforded by our experience.

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

We’ll also do so believing this team understands that perspective more than any recent predecessor. Joe Mihalich was in Niagara and any player on the floor for the Dutchmen tonight was a pre-teen in 2006, so Mihalich nor his players certainly didn’t spend the subsequent years wishing they’d better savored the hours leading up to tipoff against UNC Wilmington, or regretted taking a spot in the conference title game for granted because the best players were underclassmen and there would be more nights like this on the horizon. Nobody coaching or playing tonight will wish he knew then what he knows now, that the deck was stacked against the Dutchmen in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

It’ll be different tonight, for them and for us. A decade between championship game appearances allowed us to savor that gorgeous Monday afternoon in March three years ago, to let the anticipation build as we passed the time walking the Inner Harbor and tried to will the clock to move faster as we toured the sights and sounds of Baltimore. We let our imaginations wander when Hofstra carried a double-digit lead into the locker room.

Dane Johnson. Greg Johnson. Darren Townes. Miklos Szabo. Cornelius Vines. Yves Jules. Tony Dennison. Chaz Williams. Halil Kanacevic.

And we understood just what had slipped through our grasp on a ride home up I-95 that was long and quiet, but much shorter and louder than the one Mihalich took with Justin Wright-Foreman and Desure Buie. We didn’t need first-round exits in each of the next two tournaments to underscore the lesson, but we got them anyway.

“We’re going to really cherish this, because it’s really hard to do,” Mihalich said at a press conference following last night’s 78-74 overtime win over Delaware. “Ask the eight teams that are going home how hard it is to do this. And to do it two times in three years — four years, whatever it was — we’re just so proud to do that. It’s really hard. Ask any coach, ask any player. People don’t understand: It’s hard to do this. And to just have a chance is something that you have to cherish and enjoy, and we’re going to do that.”

Paul Bilbo. Roland Brown. Dwan McMillan. Stevie Mejia. Daquan Brown. Taran Buie. Matt Grogan. Jereme Good. Tevin Smikle.

There will be no taking in the sights of Charleston for 95 percent of us (thanks again Tom!). Any savoring of the anticipation and nervousness and willing of the clock to move faster will take place at our desks or in our chairs.

We’ll know what our friend Dan Crain wrote in February, that this is the only guarantee we have, and that while we will hope there are more opportunities ahead, there will never be another chance just like this one. 

Jody Card. George Davis. Jordan Allen. Stephen Nwaukoni. Darren Payen. Chris Jenkins. Shemiye McLendon.

But even from afar, this will mean more to us than it did in 2016. Now, as then, we will ensure there will be no regrets over an inability to know what this means, and how it feels. We understand it will be over before its begun, and that we must savor the hours leading up to the two hours we’ve been waiting to experience the last three years, the last 13 years, the last 18 years.We don’t know if the dream will become reality, but tonight is for real, and we need to remember how it feels, for however long it lasts and however long we need it to last. 

Adam Savion. Dan Steinberg. Jamall Robinson. Daryl Fowlkes. Eliel Gonzalez. Moussa Kone. Dion Nesmith. Ty Greer. Hunter Sabety. Tommy Ros. Joel Angus III.

All the while, we will do so knowing this team — full of Hofstra lifers who have experienced a roller coaster ride in Hempstead and transfers who have crammed a career’s worth of unexpected memories into one or two years — does not share our burden, but understands it. Everyone knows how many years it’s been since 2001. Everyone knows why Craig Claxton is still recognized as Speedy, and how what he did at Hofstra overshadows everything he did in the NBA.

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

Tonight Justin Wright-Foreman and Desure Buie and Jacquil Taylor and Eli Pemberton and Tareq Coburn and Kenny Wormley and Dan Dwyer and Jalen Ray and Stafford Trueheart and Matija Radovic and Kevin Schutte and Connor Klementowicz and Joe Mihalich will try to 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 remember for as long as sports are played at Hofstra University.

Zeke Upshaw.

But when they take the court tonight, they will also be doing so for everyone who ever wore the uniform before them, especially the 82 players, two head coaches and eight assistant coaches who immediately preceded them that never got to dance. They will be taking the court for those that never wore the uniform but for whom Hofstra basketball has been a constant companion through all the ups and downs and twists and turns that basketball and life have offered over the last 18 seasons. Tonight, once again, they will try to dance for the desperate and the broken-hearted.

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