Monday, January 09, 2006

This is the Greatest Night of My Life!!


Nope that ain't Master P. He only ball like he be. That is our boy, Lee (Levine, that is)

College basketball has long been a passion of ours. We cried when Syracuse lost to Indiana on Keith Smart's clutch baseline jumper. We are all, however, aware of how oversensitive we at Bojangles be. We are also aware that "March Madness" is the greatest sporting event known to man. But the NCAA tournament is, much like New Year's Eve, amature hour. You don't start watching the NFL only after the wild card round of the playoffs, nor MLB just in time for the LCS and World Series. True, there is something magical about the NCAA tourney. The David versus Goliath Scenarios. The heroic performances by kids half our age. The 260 pound secretary winning hundreds in the office pool based on picks made by her seven cats. Don't get us wrong, bojanglin' love dat shit too. But now is the time to jump on the college hoops bandwagon. Think about it, man. The games are short for those of us with an attention span that is a bit, ummm...where was I? The fans are passionate - even Dunford almost killed a wee man coach just this evening. The tix are cheap - UAlbany's can be had for an average of $3.50 apiece with your Price Chopper AdvantEdge card (or free after halftime).

But don't take my word for it, listen to a professional writer:

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The University at Albany's Recreation and Convocation Center is a subterranean concrete bunker of a gym, a good place to escape the crazy world above for a couple of hours. But in among Wednesday night's 2,000 studious observers spread out over the RACC's bleachers, two separate assemblages of noisy home fans (each 40 or so strong) did their best to make sure UAlbany's home gym didn't become library quiet.

One loud purple-and-gold crew was located behind the Great Danes' bench, the other in the bleachers behind the basket they were defending (all the better to distract the visiting Hartford Hawks' free-throw shooters). During breaks in the action, the two groups engaged in a little long-distance call and response.

I say U, you say A! U! (A!) U! (A!)

Hey, it's a start. For the most part, the RACC has been little more than a good place for UA students to crack textbooks and get some studying done … during games. The former teacher's college jumped from Division III to I in 1999, spent two years as an independent provisional, and had a rude initiation to the NCAA's top division: 20 total wins over its first three D-I seasons.

But head coach Will Brown began assembling a solid core of players in New York's capital city -- kids like guard Jamar Wilson (15.8 ppg) and small forward Brent Wilson (no relation, 11.5 ppg). Just like that, the Great Danes went from league punching bag to a tourney four-seed in one year, collecting 13 total wins in 2004-05.

And with the America East departures of Vermont's power trio and the Northeastern Huskies, Albany suddenly found itself in a position they haven't been since coach "Doc" Sauers took the Danes deep into the 1994 D-III NCAA Tournament: favorites. They were picked first in the conference coaches' poll as well as by Blue Ribbon Yearbook, a snowball of hype that was picked up and rolled along by the national (cough) media.

"At the beginning," Brown said. "Everybody thought we'd throw a cape on, jump out of a phone booth, be superheroes and go undefeated."

But Brown's bunch was much more Kazaam than Superman in the early going. After splitting a pair at their Coaches vs. Cancer pod in Gainesville, Fla., the doormat-to-destiny Danes returned to Albany and lost their home opener -- to the Sacred Heart Pioneers, a team that hasn't even qualified for the Northeast Conference's eight-team tourney in six tries. Albany had thrashed SHU 85-67 a year earlier on the road, without the services of then-junior Jamar Wilson.

"I think they thought that as soon as the ball went up for the tip-off, they were just going to go away," Brown recalled. "But they hung in there. When we lost to Sacred Heart, it was like, 'Oh, my God.' Our guys started panicking, they put a lot of pressure on themselves."

The embarrassing loss was like a collective leg iron on their California swing, a roadie on which they lost to San Diego State and UCLA. Then, in their key city game on Dec. 3 against the MAAC's Siena Saints, the Great Danes stormed back from 20 points down only to lose 82-74 in overtime.

"That loss really crushed us, because it's like the Albany Super Bowl around here," Brown said. "Guys were reading the newspapers and message boards. Everybody was writing, 'We thought you guys were supposed to be good, what's going on? Why aren't you doing this, why aren't you doing that?'"

Albany was returning to all-too-familiar territory: adversity, mediocrity and losing streaks.

"We were just wound up so tight," Brown said. "I told this team after we lost to Harvard [61-48, Dec. 17], 'Take all the expectations, all the pressure, and we're going to crumple it all up and throw it in the trash. We're not going to be concerned about anyone except us. If we stay focused, we'll see how quickly we start steamrolling to win after win.'"

Once all the preseason predictions were safely in the recycle bin, the heavy machinery came out. After losing six games over a seven-game stretch, Albany swept its first two league games (against Binghamton and Stony Brook), beat up on the Ivy League's bumbling Brown Bears over the holidays (a 62-47 win on Dec. 28), and then returned to America East play on Wednesday night with a solid 75-62 home victory over Hartford.

"At the level we're at in Division I, we're a one-bid league," Brown noted. "Take all the nonconference, forget about it. Learn from it, but forget about it. We're the only 3-0 team in the America East right now, and the only one that doesn't have a losing overall record. Are we the best team in our league? We don't talk about that."

No, that's an issue for the pundits and pollsters and bloggers to chew on. One thing is for certain, though -- no matter what its record, Albany will always be No. 1 with its furry team mascot, who's just a purple and gold suit and a giant "A" away from being a dead ringer for Scooby-Doo. And as for that growing core of devoted supporters, more wins always mean more fans. Soon they won't have to yell across the floor at each other.

I say Great, you say Danes! Great! (Danes!) Great! (Danes!)

Like I said, it's a start.


Mayhap we shall edit this into a sensible form in the future...more likely we will not.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Sit Down Woodward!