Friday, April 18, 2014

Obekpa Has Change Of Heart, Remains At St. John's

Two weeks removed from receiving release to transfer, Chris Obekpa has second thoughts, opting instead to return to St. John's for his junior season. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

In just fifteen days, St. John's has gone from staring a potential year-long rebuilding project in the face to once again reclaiming its perch as a preseason Big East favorite.

After being granted his release to pursue a transfer on April 3rd, Chris Obekpa has reconsidered his initial decision, deciding that St. John's was still the best fit for him as he enters his junior season next fall. Obekpa's change of opinion comes after the Red Storm was besieged by false rumors of guards D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene also leaving the program along with Obekpa and JaKarr Sampson, who last month announced he would forgo his final two seasons in Queens to enter the NBA Draft.

"After giving consideration to transferring, it's become clear that it makes the most sense to continue my career as a student-athlete at St. John's," the shot-blocking sensation said via a release issued this afternoon by senior associate athletic director and men's basketball sports information director Mark Fratto. "My brothers and I have unfinished business, and I am determined to help St. John's continue the climb up the mountain."

The 6-9 Nigerian import by way of Long Island has led the Big East in blocked shots in each of his first two seasons despite his productivity tailing off just slightly from his four rejections per game as a freshman on a St. John's team that advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. This past year, Obekpa managed to register 2.9 blocks per contest on a 20-win Red Storm outfit whose season came to a crashing halt in a shocking opening round NIT loss to Robert Morris at Carnesecca Arena one month ago tonight.

"Chris approached me last week to communicate his change of heart," head coach Steve Lavin stated in the aforementioned release. "After good dialogue, we are pleased to announce Chris will continue his career as a student-athlete with the Red Storm."

Having served as a sixth man over most of his first two seasons, Obekpa will likely occupy a place in the starting five for St. John's next season, as Sampson's departure leaves the Red Storm somewhat inexperienced in the frontcourt aside from soon-to-be senior Sir'Dominic Pointer and redshirt sophomore Christian Jones, who sat out last season.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Five-Year Plan Realized After All

What became a record-breaking season started over five months ago at Rose Hill Gym. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

April 17th always provides an opportunity for me to break the fourth wall, so to speak, because on this date in 2009, the Plan B I formulated in the event that my career as a play-by-play announcer ran out of gas faster than Robby Gordon in the 1999 Indianapolis 500 (GOOGLE IT) was born into existence.



Nonetheless, while my broadcasting career has taken full flight and remained substantial, A Daly Dose Of Hoops has blossomed into its own enterprise, and continues to expand its horizons with each passing day since April 17, 2009, when it opened as a part-time blog with no particular theme or direction (its initial posts were reactions to the death of Phillies play-by-announcer Harry Kalas and the retirement of John Madden) long before any concept of turning into a full-time website devoted to local college basketball coverage was even in the cards. So, yes, we (and I say "we" and not "I" because you, the readers and fans, have helped me increase this site's reach even more than you may realize) have already achieved so much, and we are still goal-oriented and still focused. Although I did not think so initially, we had a five-year plan. (and no, it wasn't "don't die!")



In that aforementioned five-year plan, it was the fifth year that was the most lucrative. One year ago today, the site's total traffic stood at 94,237 views. This morning, that number has almost quadrupled, as the counter stands at a staggering 370,698, while the Daly Dose Of Hoops Twitter; established a full 19 months after the site was created, has taken on a life of its own as well, with over 1,700 strong in a following that includes such luminaries as Joe Lunardi, Stephen Bardo, Golf Channel personality Ryan Burr, and the one and only Vin Parise, who has been an ardent supporter since the day he and I met in 2010. As I always say every year in this annual acknowledgement, without you, there is no me. No truer words can be spoken, believe me when I tell you.

Aside from the statistical growth, the brand growth of "The Dose" was just as tangible in a season that saw the site cover 126 games in either an on or off-air capacity, six better than my 2012-13 mark of 120. Among those 126 contests were seven postseason tournaments spread across five conferences, as well as the National Invitation Tournament and by far the biggest highlight and milestone of this site's brief history, the East Regional semifinals and final of the NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden, featuring eventual national champion UConn. It was a grueling schedule and a five-month stretch in which sleep was hard to come by, but most of all, it was emotionally rewarding and fulfilling. If you can look yourself in the mirror and recognize that your efforts paid off, that vindicates everything. Reflecting now on how things could have been, it was worth it in the end.


The world-famous NCAA cup mandate was on full display during East Regional semifinals and final. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Of every game and team this site covered this past season, with all due respect to every program we were able to get closer looks at, none were more enjoyable to watch than the Manhattan Jaspers, with whom I spent 22 nights as Steve Masiello took a team that went 14-18 in 2012-13 to its first MAAC championship in ten years before Manhattan nearly upset Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. Having never got to spend as much time alongside a championship team before, the experience with Manhattan will always hold a place in my heart, and special thanks goes out to Masiello, associate head coach Matt Grady, assistant coaches Rasheen Davis and Mathiew Wilson and director of basketball operations Mike Bramucci for allowing me to spend so much time observing what they built into a winner. While I'm at it, sports information director Pete McHugh also deserves his share of thanks for allowing me to call the Jaspers' season opener, a double-overtime victory at La Salle, in relief of my good friend Christian Heimall, whose unforgettable final call of the MAAC championship game can be found alongside our Manhattan photo gallery:

Rhamel Brown poses with MAAC championship trophy at the Sheraton in Springfield, Manhattan's team hotel during conference tournament. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

In addition to Manhattan, special thanks goes out to every sports information director, coach (and in the case of Michele Patsos, coach's wife) and program who have continued to leave their doors open to A Daly Dose Of Hoops over the years, as well as all of our colleagues who were kind enough to not share press row with us and the people we met along the way this season, particularly Ray Curren of The Mid-Majority (rest in peace) and Ryan Restivo of Big Apple Buckets, who has become a friendly rival over the past two years and is once again churning out MAAC and Stony Brook-related content at a pace I cannot keep up with. If you're willing to have me and my staff back next season, I would consider it an honor.

I couldn't do it alone, however, which is why I appreciate the tireless contributions of Jason Schott and Ray Floriani all the more. Not only was Jason the go-to guy for St. John's University coverage, he also stepped up to cover the NCAA Tournament and NIT among his many other efforts, while Ray's photo essays captured the season in a unique way that has yet to be duplicated, not to mention the "Renaissance Man" introducing tempo-free statistical analysis to the site and converting a long-standing traditionalist in yours truly into a new way of sizing up the teams we saw in front of us. 

In November, Patrick McCormack became a member of the family, making his debut in the championship game of the preseason NIT between Arizona and Duke, providing A Daly Dose Of Hoops with a four-man staff that I would like to add to next season. Reach out at dalydoseofhoops@gmail.com if you are interested in coming on board, and we can go from there.

Finally, I cannot end without thanking everyone who takes the time to read the content on this site. You all are the people who matter most, and each of you is; and will always be, a much bigger part of my life than you will ever know. We do it for the love, we do it for the fans, we do it for all of you.

Five years are in the books, and I think I speak for everyone in revealing the enthusiasm we all share in regard to our sixth year together. The road to be traveled is still a blank canvas, with mounds of surprises to be revealed along the way, and if all goes well, it will be an experience that should be, in the very least, just as memorable as the one that concluded earlier this month.

I've said pretty much everything that needs to be said, and for those of you who know me well, you know of my great pride in being a throwback as a play-by-play announcer, one who tells a story without an excessive amount of words while letting the game speak for itself. I close by once again expressing my thanks for everything over the past five years, and I would love to be able to bring the game of college basketball to you again in 2014-15.

Your support of what has come to be the closest thing I have to a child (in the foreseeable future, at least) means far more than any amount of words in which anyone attempts to describe it ever can. One more time, thank you, my friends. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor
A Daly Dose Of Hoops




  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nemanja Zarkovic Joins Fordham

Tom Pecora fortifies his backcourt today with signing of Nemanja Zarkovic, a Canadian point guard. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)

In an offseason where Fordham must prepare to begin life without Branden Frazier after his stellar four-year career, Rams head coach Tom Pecora took the first step in stabilizing his backcourt, confirming the signing of Nemanja Zarkovic.

A 6-3 guard by way of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, Zarkovic is currently enrolled at College-Jean-de-Brebeuf in Montreal, and was a member of the Brockwood Bounce Elite team that competed against Sacred Heart and eventual CBI champion Siena last summer when the two schools toured Montreal in August before the season. He joins Eric Paschall in a recruiting class that Fordham hopes will enable the program to turn the corner after being mired in a stretch of hard times for the past two decades.

"We are thrilled to have Nemanja become part of the Fordham basketball family," Pecora said in a release. "His experience, ability to run the offense from the point guard position, and his talent to score the basketball will be a huge part of Fordham's future success."

Zarkovic is expected to compete for minutes as the point guard in a Fordham backcourt that returns Mandell Thomas and Atlantic 10 All-Rookie selection Jon Severe for their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively, as well as soon-to-be senior Bryan Smith.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Year In Review: Fordham

While Fordham bid adieu to Branden Frazier in 2013-14, Tom Pecora's Rams ushered in what program hopes will be era of prosperity led by freshman Jon Severe. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Dwyer via The Sports Cycle)

We've returned from a post-NCAA Tournament vacation to begin our offseason with the first of what will be several year in review pieces of the programs we are privileged to cover as the slow build to the 2014-15 campaign has started. Up first in this series of retrospectives is, of no surprise to our most ardent supporters, the school in the Bronx that was among the first to open its doors to us once we started branching out in the tri-state area.

In late August, once Fordham University announced its nonconference schedule, a much more favorable slate than the difficult ledger the Rams played in 2012-13 on their way to a 7-24 finish, Tom Pecora had this to say when we asked him of the competition his team would face as he entered his fourth season at the helm at Rose Hill:

"I think we're moving in the right direction," the coach stated with regard to a 13-game nonconference schedule in which the Rams hosted several early-season games at Rose Hill Gym. "This is where we need to be."

A 98-80 exhibition victory over Northwood University showcased Fordham's potential early in the season, and Jon Severe's freshman debut record 28 points started the year off on a winning note when the Rams steamrolled Saint Francis University by the final of 87-67. Yet for all the positive signs Fordham showed, their record was still 2-2 after the first four games, alternating wins and losses with victories against Saint Francis and Lehigh followed by losses to Syracuse and Sacred Heart, the latter of which was a confounding 85-73 defeat at home to a team that had not won a game at that point in the season, and only ended up winning four contests overall for first-year head coach Anthony Latina.

After the Sacred Heart loss, criticism of Pecora emerged, something that would later become an ongoing issue as Fordham struggled when Atlantic 10 play began. In their next contest, the Rams needed a strong effort against crosstown rival Manhattan in the 106th Battle of the Bronx, and after a combined 69 points from the trio of Severe, Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas, Fordham got exactly that, using a seven-man rotation to post what turned out to be their biggest win of the season, a 79-75 victory over Steve Masiello's eventual MAAC champion Jaspers at Draddy Gymnasium, where the Rams had lost 81-47 two years prior. Fordham won its second straight with a 31-point thrashing of Furman that was the largest margin of victory in Pecora's tenure, and only the third of 30 or more points in the coach's career, which included nine years at Hofstra.

And then, debacle No. 1 happened.

Coming into Madison Square Garden with momentum on their side, the Rams turned in a 19-for-80 performance from the field as Severe went 1-for-21 in a 104-58 loss to St. John's that was essentially over after the 16-minute media timeout in the first half.

"We're young," Pecora started his press conference by saying after the Red Storm turned the Holiday Festival matchup between the two schools into a glorified exhibition. "We didn't execute a game plan."

That was putting it mildly, as Fordham essentially mailed it in during the second half, giving Ram fans flashbacks to Dereck Whittenburg's reign of error in a game everyone would love to forget. Wins over Colgate and Howard upped the Rams' record to 6-3, but losses in three of four games to Monmouth, Harvard and Siena, coupled with a hamstring injury to Mandell Thomas in the Monmouth game dropped Fordham to 7-6 with Atlantic 10 play starting on the road against a Duquesne team that the Rams beat one year prior at Rose Hill behind a career game from Frazier.

The conference schedule did not help matters much to start the year, with Fordham losing each of their first six league games before their 76-70 win over George Mason, one of just two A-10 victories during the 16-game league season. However, the success was short-lived thanks to a 90-52 massacre on the road at UMass that prompted friend of the site Gary Moore to put the thoughts of the Ram fan base on paper with this scathing critique of Pecora's stubborn nature and reluctance to change his coaching style.

Fordham's 85-79 home win over Rhode Island the night before the Super Bowl was the Rams' last of a disappointing regular season, which concluded with; among other things, a loss to VCU that left Pecora perhaps realizing he may have bitten off more than he could chew despite insisting the Rams played well, and a heartbreaking defeat to La Salle in which Tyreek Duren was left under the basket to lay an inbounds pass in as time expired. Pecora did bring Fordham its first postseason win since 2007 with a second victory over George Mason in the Atlantic 10 tournament play-in game, but a loss to Dayton concluded the coach's fourth year at 10-21, just a three-game improvement in a season where a finish near or slightly above .500 was an expectation with the addition of Severe, the 2013 Mr. Basketball in the state of New York, and a campaign that marked the end of one of the most underrated careers at Rose Hill, that of Branden Frazier.

As Josh Adams mentioned after Fordham's regular season ended with a three-point loss to George Washington, Frazier was more than just a point guard over the last four years; rather, the Brooklyn product was a beacon of support, and in a lot of ways, a better game coach than Pecora, who sometimes placed undue criticism on his senior leader after losses where some things would have been better left unsaid.

The Rams will introduce Eric Paschall into the lineup next season to join their already existing core of Severe, soon-to-be juniors Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, and senior forward Ryan Canty, and lose brothers Jared and Jake Fay after they, along with Jermaine Myers, decided to transfer during the offseason, but before any expectations can be placed in front of Fordham, it is time for the man charged with leading the program out of the abyss to really evaluate both himself and his roster.

With all due respect to Tom Pecora, who has always been a brutally honest coach to a fault and a very easy man to cover for this site given his tendency to shoot from the hip and tell it like it is, the coach needs to rethink more than a few things going into the 2014-15 season, one that could be a make-or-break year for the affable New York native. For all the praise he has received in luring Severe, and now Paschall, to Rose Hill, what good is a star player when his team does not have solid chemistry too many times than fans care to count and hesitates in the moment of truth? Steve Lavin proved at St. John's that all the talent in the world is irrelevant when five players cannot share a common goal for 40 minutes every night, as his Red Storm team turned a season in which they were expected to return to the NCAA Tournament into an NIT flameout that most would consider embarrassing in the wake of the glory days of Lou Carnesecca. The same can be said for Pecora, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Playing four guards was a necessity for most of this past season with Travion Leonard battling back problems and Canty taking several weeks off to tend to personal issues, not to mention Manny Suarez being ruled a partial qualifier, but the combination of Bryan Smith landing in foul trouble after a handful of minutes and positive results on the rare occasions that two forwards were on the floor at the same time rendered that strategy ineffective more often than not.

Going into 2014-15, hope still springs eternal for Fordham, but the pressure is on Pecora to make sure that the faucet turns on every night. Giving Jon Severe a green light to chuck up 20 shots a game when nothing is falling does not make it any easier. If Pecora, whose player development at Hofstra was one of the many skills that landed him his current line of work at Fordham, can tap into his old bag of tricks and manage his roster, the Rams can finally be on their way to the light at the end of the tunnel that fans have been assured was coming for the last two seasons. It is just going to take a modification of tactics on the bench, and if the more things stay the same, the sooner things may have to change.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After The Madness

In NCAA Tournament full of shining moments, none topped unexpected run from UConn to emerge as last team standing for second time in four years. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Just about 48 hours removed from a University of Connecticut national championship that will probably not get the credit it deserves from some circles despite it being the fourth title for the Huskies since 1999, more than Kansas or Louisville, just as many as Duke and only one less than North Carolina or Indiana, and tied for fifth-most all time, the wake of the celebration brings us to a traditional rite of passage into the offseason. Back by popular demand, the following is the fourth annual airing of grievances and insights gathered from the greatest spectacle in sports, the NCAA Tournament:

First off, the American Athletic Conference made up for the perception that it was underseeded, and did so well before UConn cut down the net in Texas. In addition to the Huskies, the AAC got a second Sweet 16 representative in Louisville to offset the Round of 64 loss by Cincinnati to Harvard. Granted, UConn's road to the Lone Star State may have been a favorable draw considering their games in Buffalo and East Regional matchups at Madison Square Garden, but before you come at us crying about how unfair it is, just remember all the times that didn't work out. (i.e. Duke twice in the last three years, getting de facto home games only to lose to Lehigh and Mercer)

Second, here is where the annual recap takes on its rant tones. For those of you who know us well, you know the sentiment we express toward the Turner influence that March Madness has taken on since the new broadcast deal was signed in 2011. From there, the NBA-style presentation has increased further, despite the welcome additions of Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr to deliver one of the best booths in recent memory, finally providing Jim Nantz with a pair of exceptional analysts to complement the face of CBS' already exceptional play-by-play skills. The Turner scenario reared its ugly head, however, with the staggered start times for Round of 32 games during the first weekend of the Tournament, providing fans with dead ends on almost every turn. Arizona/Gonzaga at 9:40? That's just as bad as David Stern demanding the NBA Finals start after 9 p.m. on a weeknight against baseball, hockey and network television.

But that's not all.

The Final Four, for the first time ever, was televised on a network other than CBS, as TNT carried the national semifinals. For an event billed as the pinnacle of the sport, it only makes sense for a maximum audience to witness it; and as modern as society has become, not everyone has cable, internet access, or a smartphone. That's not to say the ratings didn't dip significantly, (we're sure they didn't) but aside from ESPN airing the Stanley Cup in the '90s and 2000s before the second lockout, no other sport does that. Can you picture the Super Bowl or World Series on Fox Sports 1 or either of the NBC or CBS Sports Networks? Neither can we.

Enough attacking. Now, it's time to commend everyone involved for once again, despite some minor disagreements, joining together to once again give us three weeks we could all enjoy, aside from DeAndre Kane's late-game heroics of course. A tip of the cap on a job well done, until next season, that is. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Steve Masiello Reinstated At Manhattan

Steve Masiello, who led Manhattan to MAAC championship before flirting with USF job and being placed on leave after it was discovered that he did not graduate college, will be reinstated by Jaspers upon completion of degree. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

On the twelfth day of deliberations, the "jury" at Manhattan College has reached a verdict, and for its defendant, no result could be more positive.

Steve Masiello, the Jaspers' third-year head coach who just four weeks ago cut down the net at the MassMutual Center to celebrate Manhattan's first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in ten years before nearly leaving for South Florida and having his lack of an undergraduate degree revealed through an extensive background check, will be reinstated by Manhattan upon the completion of his outstanding coursework, as per a release issued through sports information director Pete McHugh. In Masiello's absence, associate head coach Matt Grady will serve as interim head coach for a Jasper team that will defend its championship on the heels of a 25-8 season that saw the program accrue its second-highest win total in school history.

"I am extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity to continue as the head men's basketball coach at Manhattan College," Masiello said via the aforementioned release. "I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love. Details matter."

The 36-year-old Masiello, who had previously served as an assistant to Bobby Gonzalez during Manhattan's last run of success before this season, was placed on leave by the school on March 26 upon the discovery that he did not graduate from the University of Kentucky in 2000, as was previously indicated on his resume when he applied for, and was on the verge of accepting, the vacant head coaching position at USF just days after guiding the Jaspers to a near-upset of reigning national champion Louisville and his mentor Rick Pitino, falling to the Cardinals by just seven points after leading with two minutes remaining in regulation. In his three years at the helm, Masiello has compiled a 60-39 record since succeeding Barry Rohrssen on April 13, 2011, ironically three years ago tomorrow.

"After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment, but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the College," Manhattan president Dr. Brennan O'Donnell stated. "After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties."

Once Masiello does return, he will need to replace Manhattan's three-pronged senior class of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado, but will return nearly everyone else from last year's team, including soon-to-be senior forward Emmy Andujar and juniors Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards on a team that is still expected to be a contender in the MAAC during the 2014-15 season.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Minnesota 65, SMU 63: Ray Floriani's NIT Championship Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITYOne of the truly intriguing aspects of the NIT is the background stories. It is not just about the teams whose names are inscribed on the championship trophy, not only the leading scorers, MVPs and now MOP (most Outstanding Players) and the like, but also the attraction to our nations oldest postseason tournament is rooted in those memories and exploits.

On Thursday evening, Minnesota and SMU tipped it off in the championship game. Before the ball was put in play, we had talk of Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame, well-traveled and successful mentor on the SMU sidelines against his counterpart, a young coach in Richard Pitino with a bright future and a well-known father.

It all came down to the final seconds as Minnesota held on for a 65-63 championship. Pitino, in his initial season at the Big Ten school, had a National Invitation Tournament title.

The game capped off a scintillating week of basketball at the Garden. Last Friday and Sunday, the East regionals were played with each game going to the wire. The NIT semifinals on Tuesday were very much along the same script. The NBA was in on Wednesday for a one-sided game, giving Knick fans delight in victory.

Finally, on Thursday, there was another contest full of drama and very much worthy of being contested on the historic Garden court. The NIT added another chapter to an ongoing history, one captivating fans for decades.


SMU players in deep devotion and thought during the national anthem:
Larry Brown reacts to a play with extreme displeasure:
SMU's Markus Kennedy, an all-tournament choice, looks for an opening in the Minnesota defense:
The NIT championship hardware, waiting under the stands to be brought out and awarded postgame:
NIT champion Minnesota celebrates at center court:
The Pitino family (Rick, Joanne and Richard) celebrates with the NIT championship trophy:
Yours truly and two Minnesota cheerleaders with the championship message in the background: (Photo courtesy of Minnesota cheerleading coach Julie Poeschl)
Richard Pitino and his daughter Ava meet the media:

Minnesota, led by a Pitino, wins NIT, which had a notable absence

Minnesota with the NIT championship trophy. Photo by Jason Schott

By Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor Jason Schott of BrooklynFans.com - @JESchott19
The Minnesota Golden Gophers won the NIT, as they outlasted the SMU Mustangs, 65-63, in the championship game on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who is in his first year at the school and is the son of Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino. This is the second straight year a Pitino has won a postseason tournament, as Louisville won the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
Pitino said of winning the NIT, "Obviously extremely happy for our guys to win a championship. They were a lot of fun to coach. I thought they all got better, they worked extremely hard, and had an unbelievable enthusiasm all year, every practice. They're a special group, they taught me a lot, they made me better, and I'm really, really happy for them that they get to walk off the Madison Square Garden court as winners."
SMU Head Coach Larry Brown said of the game, "Got to give a lot of credit to Richard (Pitino) and his team. It got really rough there, they got down seven, got their kids to dig in a little bit, and we didn't handle prosperity very well and had some terrible turnovers the rest of the game and I think it turned the game around. Obviously, both teams were disappointed we weren't able to play in the NCAA and I think all the teams that were here showed a lot of character picking themselves up and making a run."
Pitino said of facing off against Larry Brown, "He is a Hall of Famer and an unbelievable coach and I have unbelievable respect for him, his passion of the game. He's 73, he doesn't look like it, he doesn't coach like it, he's as sharp as it gets. Every time we switched defenses, he sniffed it out right away. I've got a lot of respect for him, and I really do appreciate, you know, for an older coach, he was very, very gracious to me, and it really means a lot. He's a really good person, a phenomenal coach, but a really good person."
The game was an exciting thriller that had the intimate crowd (5,268) at The Garden on their feet toward the end. SMU appeared to be in control with 5:52 left in the game when a Markus Kennedy dunk gave them a 53-46 lead.
Minnesota responded with an 11-1 run capped by an Austin Hollins layup that gave them a 57-54 lead with 1:52 left. On the next possession, SMU tied it on a Nick Russell three-pointer. A minute later, Austin Hollins hit what would turn out to be the winning shot, a three-pointer with 45 seconds left that gave Minnesota a 62-59 lead, and they would not give that lead up the rest of the way.
Austin Hollins was named Most Outstanding Player of the NIT, as he scored 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Hollins said of this team winning it, "I think the biggest thing for the NIT was to help this team get that experience and build for the future. The guys were working extremely hard and they just didn't quit. They showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness and were able to come back."
Hollins' father is Lionel Hollins, who until last season was the coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Since Lionel is not coaching in the NBA this season, he was able to go to more of Austin's games, so Austin said "things are meant to happen for a reason." Austin said of his parents, "Being here four years and putting in so much work and having them be here for this moment felt great."
Andre Hollins, no relation to Austin even though they both are from Tennessee, had 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. DeAndre Mathieu had 13 points (5-8 FG) and 7 assists.
NIT OFFICIALS NOT HAPPY WITH ST. JOHN'S: The four teams to make it to the NIT semifinals at The Garden on Tuesday night were Minnesota, SMU, Florida State, and Clemson. Three of them were number one seeds except for Clemson, which was a No. 3 seed.
St. John's had the top spot in Clemson's bracket, but showed no effort in the opening game of the NIT on March 18th in a loss at home to Robert Morris, 89-78, in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated. NIT Executive Director Jack Powers pushed hard to make St. John's a top seed, and was very disappointed with their lack of effort and not dressing starting point guard Rysheed Jordan for the game because of laryngitis. It may be a while before St. John's is invited back to the NIT.
It has been a chaotic couple of weeks for the Red Storm, as JaKarr Sampson declared for the NBA Draft last week, three-pointer specialist Max Hooper announced late last week that he is transferring, and Thursday brought the news that shot-blocking extraordinaire Chris Obekpa will also be transferring. To think, if things were different, they all could have been suited up for the NIT championship game on Thursday night and tried to reclaim some glory. Instead, the future does not look promising.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Obekpa To Transfer From St. John's


Chris Obekpa becomes third incumbent to leave St. John's in less than two weeks after being granted release. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

As one New York college basketball coach named Steve ponders his personal future, another man in the same line of work with the same first name must now find another replacement for his roster next season.

Chris Obekpa, whose shot blocking prowess helped St. John's procure consecutive National Invitation Tournament berths, has; according to Adam Zagoria of SNY, been granted his release to pursue a transfer. The Nigerian sophomore averages nearly three rejections per contest in 32 games for the Red Storm last season, and will have two years of eligibility remaining wherever he ends up.

Obekpa's decision to transfer comes just one week after reserve swingman Max Hooper announced his intention to do the same after earning his degree a year ahead of schedule, thus making him eligible immediately. Obekpa, however, will need to complete an NCAA-mandated year in residence unless he is granted a hardship waiver, and his departure leaves St. John's shorter in the frontcourt, as 2013 Big East Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson declared for the NBA Draft in March.

At the moment, the Red Storm will return seven scholarship student-athletes for the 2014-15 season, but Lavin has reportedly been targeting several prospects for what he hopes will be yet another highly touted recruiting class as he enters his fifth campaign at the helm. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NIT Semifinals: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY -­ The young lady, Lindsey, wore a purple Clemson sweatshirt. She was going to New York to meet her husband, a Clemson grad, to take in the NIT. On the train from Secaucus, she spoke of her and spouse’s passion for football but did admit, “your school is in the NIT at the Garden. That is a big thing. You have to be there.”

This conversation served as just another reminder of how big the nation’s oldest postseason tournament is. March Madness is not the sole property of the NCAA tournament. The NIT is prestigious, and the fans traveling from Texas, Minneapolis and Tallahassee realize it is an exciting time to get to New York and see your team contend on the hallowed Garden floor in pursuit of a national championship.

The side trips, sights, sounds and experience that is New York are an added feature to those visiting from out of town.

New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson was in attendance and chatted at halftime of the first game with ESPN analyst Bobby Knight. Woodson can remember to exact detail the day he played for the Hoosiers when they captured the 1979 title. “The NIT is still a very big tournament,” Woodson said. “Though Coach Knight and I both said if we were playing, we would sell the place out.”

SMU coach Larry Brown has enjoyed success on various levels during his storied coaching career. Defeating Clemson to get a shot at a NIT title left him, as one who respects the game and tradition, very humbled.

Granted, the tournament is short on press clippings these days, but there is no denying its allure, outstanding tradition and importance to players, coaches and fans alike.

Commuters make their way to and from Madison Square Garden:
A Clemson assistant supervises pregame warmups:
Fran and Meg Fraschilla with NYU standout freshman Kaitlyn Read...she attended high school with Fran and Meg's son Matt in Dallas and is a family friend rooting for SMU:
New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson and his college mentor Bobby Knight share a moment together:
Their uniforms are different, but the SMU band is good, even playing the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."
Minnesota cheerleaders hold their pregame meeting before taking the court:
Like father, like son as Richard Pitino reacts to a play on the floor:
Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown catches up with longtime friend and New York college basketball cult legend Robert Elkin after meeting the media: