Sunday, February 12, 2012
Despite Close Losses, Fordham Still Improving
Junior forward Chris Gaston is one of many players giving long-suffering Fordham fans reasons to smile despite Rams' 9-14 record. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)
Sadly, it's been easy to forget about Fordham basketball in recent times; and that was way before the meteoric rises of Victor Cruz and Tim Tebow, and even the most recent phenomenon created by Jeremy Lin. As the de facto middle child of the seven Division I college basketball programs in New York City, (along with Columbia) the casual fan may only realize the Rams' existence solely for their mere presence as a reputable institution of higher learning. However, what happens inside the iconic Rose Hill Gym is a life-altering experience that will leave even the most negative of fans optimistic that something will soon be made from what most perceive as nothing.
Over the last two years; Fordham has remained in the lower half of the Atlantic 10, but head coach Tom Pecora has upgraded the atmosphere simply through his past success and affable persona. In just his second season, Pecora has already seen his young team reach new heights after defeating Georgia Tech for the program's first win against an ACC school since 2005. Just five days later, the Rams followed that historic win up with a resounding home victory over a then-ranked Harvard team that is likely to represent the Ivy League in this year's NCAA Tournament.
"There's been marked improvement," said Pecora when I asked him what the overall mindset around the team was despite Fordham sitting five games under .500. "We had a winning nonconference record; we're going to have a winning home record, and just look at the crowds." Rose Hill has been averaging close to a sellout in seemingly every game recently; including the most recent contest in the oldest arena in Division I, a bitter 72-70 overtime loss to Dayton yesterday afternoon that Pecora insisted was a harder pill to swallow than last week's setback against UNC Charlotte.
"These were two games that could have got us into the conference tournament," a dejected Pecora stated after the Dayton game. "We had two games I thought we deserved to win, but we couldn't close them out. You've got to walk before you can run, but I'm not happy."
Considering how far the program has come since he arrived from Hofstra in March of 2010, even a fierce competitor like Pecora still has to marvel at how much his hard-nosed group has accomplished. Junior Chris Gaston has become one of the most underrated players in the Atlantic 10 despite playing out of position for the bulk of his career, and senior Kervin Bristol had one of his best games of the season yesterday against Dayton when he posted 15 rebounds. While Gaston and Bristol pose problems in frontcourt matchups for opposing teams, the young Fordham backcourt seemingly wills the Rams to victory in almost every game. Sophomore Branden Frazier; who initially committed to Hofstra last season before following Pecora to Fordham, is the face of the Rams' three-headed guard monster, but freshmen Bryan Smith and Devon McMillan have the same clutch makeup. In fact, McMillan scored eight of Fordham's thirteen points in a late-game stretch that brought them back against Dayton when the Flyers appeared to be pulling away. By the way, McMillan (and Frazier too) battled the flu to a point where his coach doubted whether or not he would be ready to go.
"He was so sick, I didn't think he was going to play," Pecora said. "He competed. He didn't shoot the ball well, but he competed. We need a game where all of them (McMillan, Smith and Frazier) play their 'A' game."
Sometimes; as Rocky Balboa proved when he first fought Apollo Creed, the loser of the battle doesn't always lose the war. There is still a long way to go before the program returns to relevance, but Fordham University is well on its way in a city that embraces the underdog and the unexpected.