Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

Justin Wright-Foreman. Jacquil Taylor. Dan Dwyer. Kenny Wormley.

Did you know it’s perfectly possible to go to college, get a terrific degree, meet your future spouse and set upon a course for adulthood, all without completely obsessing over its men’s basketball team?

My parents went to Central Connecticut State University (it was a college back then), and the only time my late Mom mentioned anything about their men’s basketball team was when the Blue Devils made the NCAA Tournament in the early 2000s and she got nervous watching with my Dad.

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

All these years later, my Dad probably knows little about the program other than Donyell Marshall, the former UConn star, is the head coach. He didn’t grind his teeth over their 4-27 record this year, or spend any time immersed in self-pity over their 13-year NCAA Tournament drought, or hear songs from his childhood that he would associate with the opportunity to play for an NCAA Tournament berth decades later, because that would be weird.

Me? I’m a little different, even now at the supposedly grown age of 46 years old. But I make no apologies for it. I grew up a huge sports fan and wanted to go to a college where I could get the experience of writing about and rooting for a Division I program.

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

Back in the fall of 1992, when I was figuring out where to go after graduating junior college, there were still a bunch of independent schools playing D-I hoops, and one of them was Notre Dame, so if Hofstra was in the same non-league as Notre Dame, well, that had to be pretty good, right?

Then I got there in the fall of 1993, I got there and the Flying Dutchmen were playing in something called the East Coast Conference, which I swear was a real thing even though they were playing schools named Troy State and Chicago State (those aren’t states) and Northeastern Illinois (what, four directions weren’t enough?) and Buffalo and, I kid you not, Central Connecticut State.

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

Like Hofstra itself, the athletic program wasn’t perfect, but like Hofstra itself, it was perfect for me. And the athletic program became as big a part of my experience as everything else, as a campus became a home, as “we” became a pronoun and synonym for Hofstra, as strangers morphed from roommates and cohorts at the campus newspaper into some of the most trusted and loyal friends I’ll ever make and people with whom I walked that imperfect path into adulthood…and as that cute girl became a girlfriend and eventually my wife, and the mother of our daughter.

For us, Hofstra basketball keeps us connected to the university in a way no annual donations ever could. It reminds us of where we have been, how we got here, and the people and the lessons we will rely upon as we continue moving forward.

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

The bonds to Hofstra grow stronger every year, as does the emotional investment in Hofstra basketball and accompanying illogical insanity. Thirty-plus times a year, we are young and invincible again, uttering “we” about the Flying Dutchmen even though everyone on the team was born after we graduated and were in preschool when the NCAA Tournament drought that consumes our every waking sporting thoughts began.

It sounded crazy four years ago, it sounded crazy last year, it still sounds crazy. It seems crazy just to type how much this means — so bleeping much — to a small but fervent group of us. 

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

But this is who I am. This is who we are. And just like four years ago and just like last year, we will never feel as young as we do tonight. We will live vicariously through those on the floor and equalize the potential realization of our dreams with the potential realization of theirs, understanding how it’s not supposed to make sense, but it does.

While they prepare for the game of their lives, we will savor the buildup. We are no longer too young to appreciate this opportunity, as we were in 2000 and 2001 and we thought things would always be this easy and carefree, and even in 2006, when we were too naive to understand how we were going to get screwed six days after the conference title game loss.

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

We will relish this third chance to finally experience the ultimate euphoria, remembering all the championship Mondays and Tuesdays in which someone else got to enjoy the torturous build up of anticipation as well as the day spent along the Inner Harbor in Baltimore in 2016 and the watching of the clock at home last March.

We’ll also remember the quiet drive home up I-95 following the overtime loss to UNC Wilmington and the silent house following the loss to Northeastern, because we know what this would mean, and how it would feel.

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

We understand it will be over before it’s begun, and that whatever happens over the two hours we’ve been waiting to experience for exactly 19 years will need to be cherished, even if it doesn’t yield the result we want. We don’t know if the dream will become reality, but this is all we’ve got tonight, and we need to remember how it feels, for however long it lasts and however long we need it to last. 

And if exactly 19 years and 6,939 days between conference championships isn’t enough, we’ll hold out hope that 20 years and 7,304 days will be enough, or however many years and however many days will one day be enough.

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

We will do so comforted by the knowledge this is a team filled with players and coaches who embody the very best of Hofstra — and will do so win or lose — and GET the Hofstra experience, and how so much is rewarding when nothing is easy.  We know they have navigated their own imperfect paths, at the perfect place to do so, and that Hofstra will remain their anchor long after they have left campus.

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

We know it’s unfair to expect them to share our burden, but we know they understand it. They know it’s been 19 years since 2001. They know why Craig Claxton is Speedy, and why that 2000 NCAA Tournament banner overshadows everything he did in the NBA.

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

Tonight Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton and Connor Klementowicz and Tareq Coburn and Jalen Ray and Stafford Trueheart and Isaac Kante and Kevin Schutte and Caleb Burgess and Omar Silverio and Jermaine Miranda and Hal Hughes and Carl Gibson 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 remembered 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 86 players, two head coaches and eight assistant coaches who came before them that never got to dance. They will be taking the court for those that never wore the uniform but for whom Hofstra, and Hofstra basketball, has been a constant companion through all the ups and downs and twists and turns that basketball and life have offered ever since they first stepped on campus and especially over the last 19 seasons.

Tonight, once again, they will try to dance for the desperate and the broken-hearted.

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