Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Liberty 80, Mystics 76: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY- ­ Heading from Penn Station to Eighth Avenue for my first Liberty game since the All-Star break, a man with a sign was spotted. The sandwich board-style announcement read ’help, I need money for weed.’ Amid the rush hour commuter traffic, he went virtually unnoticed.

‘Announcements’ and so forth aside, the main attraction on this night was a WNBA meeting between the Liberty and Washington Mystics, the latter winners of four straight. Adhering to the wishes of coach Bill Laimbeer, the Liberty got off to a good start. When the Mystics’ Ivory Latta stole the ball and went in for a potentially momentum-changing layup with 2.8 seconds left in the half, the Liberty responded. Alex Montgomery buried a 48-footer as the half ended, extending the lead to fifteen points.

The final half tested the resolve and character of the home team. Washington gradually fought back, took advantage of some Liberty complacency plus errors on the defensive end, tying the game on a Bria Hartley layup with 2 seconds to go.

The Mystics drew first blood in overtime and appeared to be in the driver’s seat. The Liberty, sensing the urgency, maintained poise, and possession by possession, took charge of their own destiny. They got the stops and made the essential plays in the stretch of the added session, sealing an 80-­76 overtime victory. For New York, it was win number four in their last five outings, and it came against an Eastern Conference opponent. Of paramount significance, the win showed the Liberty’s ability to overcome adversity and respond. Indeed, signs of a quality club.

A New York City fixture, a Sabrett's hot dog stand outside Madison Square Garden:
The Liberty's Anna Cruz and Ivory Latta of Washington take a free throw respite:
A picture may say a thousand words, and this conveys a similar number of emotions, as former Liberty great Sue Wicks honors several breast cancer survivors as part of Breast Health Awareness Night:
The Mystics regroup immediately after a tough loss:
A popular visitor to Liberty games, New York Knick Iman Shumpert honors a "selfie" request:
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer assessing a vital win after the game:
Sugar Rodgers came up with a few clutch plays, and discusses them in the Liberty locker room:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Holiday Festival Field Set, Headlined By Manhattan

Now a team leader in absence of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado, Emmy Andujar will lead Manhattan into Madison Square Garden for first time since 2009 when Jaspers compete in Holiday Festival. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)

Once upon a time, one of the biggest draws of the Holiday Festival was its prominent local flavor. Not only could you find St. John's in the Madison Square Garden classic every year, but it was also not hard to find schools like Fordham, Iona, Columbia and Hofstra in recent seasons, as well as Manhattan, who makes its return to the pre-Christmas event.

The Jaspers will be participating in the Holiday Festival this season, as the reigning MAAC champions will take on Rutgers inside the "World's Most Famous Arena" on December 14 as part of the one-day tournament format that will also feature St. John's and Fordham squaring off for the sixth year in a row, and fourth at the Garden. The game will mark Manhattan's first contest on the home court of the New York Knicks since January 24, 2009, when the Jaspers lost to conference rival Iona; and will be looking for their first win in the Garden since 2003, when Bobby Gonzalez guided the Riverdale school to a victory over Holy Cross before Penn's last-second heroics the following night denied the Jaspers a third consecutive Holiday Festival crown after winning the tournament in 2001 and 2002.

"We are extremely excited about playing in the 'World's Most Famous Arena,'" head coach Steve Masiello said in a release issued by the school Monday morning. "We have a very difficult opponent from the Big Ten in Rutgers, who we have a ton of respect for." Manhattan athletic director Noah LeFevre echoed Masiello's sentiment, declaring that the Jasper community was "thrilled to be back at the Mecca of college basketball."

The Holiday Festival is the latest in a litany of marquee games for the Jaspers, who also compete in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at Mohegan Sun in addition to facing Atlantic Coast Conference members Florida State and Pittsburgh early in the season as Manhattan seeks to overcome the loss of seniors George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado on the way to defending their conference championship.

Added LeFevre: "It will be a great event to showcase college basketball in the New York metropolitan area."

FDU Releases Full Schedule

Both in their second seasons, head coach Greg Herenda and rising star Matt MacDonald return to steer Fairleigh Dickinson further in right direction. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

Last season, Fairleigh Dickinson emerged from a half-decade-long morass to win ten games, instilling a glimmer of hope as first-year head coach Greg Herenda went to work rebuilding the Northeast Conference program into the contender it had always been under Tom Green before Greg Vetrone was unable to maintain the status quo.

With wins over in-state rivals Rutgers and Seton Hall, the Knights established themselves as a scrappy foe that would not go away quietly, and that impression will surely be revisited upon FDU's set of opponents this season, which became official with the release of the Teaneck institution's schedule last week.

After opening the year at Hagan Arena on November 14 against reigning Atlantic 10 champion Saint Joseph's, the Knights host Division III FDU Florham three days later before road games at Rutgers and Columbia to take them into Thanksgiving, with Patriot League member Lafayette invading the Stratis Arena at the end of November.

FDU christens December with a pair of games against power conferences, first traveling to South Bend on the 6th for a meeting with Notre Dame at the Joyce Center prior to taking on St. John's at Carnesecca Arena. Following a ten-day break for final exams, Delaware comes to the Garden State, with John Dunne and Saint Peter's awaiting on December 23 at the Yanitelli Center for the Knights' final contest before Christmas. Towson wraps up the nonconference slate for Herenda's squad, as Pat Skerry's Tigers host FDU on December 29.

The Knights open Northeast Conference play on the road when they battle Central Connecticut State on January 3 before meeting LIU Brooklyn two days later at the Wellness Center. A home matchup with St. Francis Brooklyn starts a stretch of four of six home games for FDU, with Mount St. Mary's and Wagner coming to New Jersey after a road trip to Bryant, but before a journey to Sacred Heart. LIU completes the home-and-home series with FDU on January 24 prior to the Knights' Pennsylvania trip to play Robert Morris and Saint Francis University.

The Red Flash and Colonials will return the favor one week after FDU visits them, with Bryant wrapping up a three-game homestand at Stratis Arena on February 12. A three-game voyage to Wagner, St. Francis Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary's serves as the Knights' final road trip before concluding the regular season with a pair of home games against Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State, the latter of whom FDU opens NEC play against.

***Click here for Fairleigh Dickinson's schedule release, featuring quotes from head coach Greg Herenda.***

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rider Releases Nonconference Schedule

Trips to Kansas and Orlando highlight a promising nonconference schedule for Kevin Baggett and Rider. (Photo courtesy of Rider University)

In an offseason where programs across the country are finding it harder and harder to schedule games for a myriad of reasons, one Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school has released its non-league slate, the first MAAC member to do so this summer.

Kevin Baggett and Rider broke the ice this week, unveiling a slate that will see the Broncs visit Allen Fieldhouse before returning to Florida for the Orlando (formerly Old Spice) Classic in an intriguing schedule for the Lawrenceville, New Jersey outfit.

A November 8 exhibition against Kutztown at Alumni Gym precedes Rider's season opener on November 14 against local rival Princeton at Jadwin Gym. Four days later, the Broncs travel to the Palestra to face Penn before hosting Lehigh on November 21 for their official home opener.

The aforementioned trip to Lawrence to battle Bill Self's Jayhawks takes place on November 24 as the guarantee game that Rider will play prior to the Orlando Classic, a tournament that includes the likes of Michigan State, Marquette and Tennessee among others, and will be played over Thanksgiving weekend in the Sunshine State.

Howie Dickenman and Central Connecticut State make their way to Lawrenceville on December 3 before a ten-day hiatus leading into the Broncs' trip to Hartford to meet John Gallagher's Hawks. Rider's final pre-Christmas contest is a December 18 home tilt against Morgan State, with their last nonconference game coming at Wagner on December 29.

***Click here for Rider's nonconference schedule release, featuring a link to the schedule as well as quotes from head coach Kevin Baggett.***

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wagner Releases Full Schedule

Bashir Mason enters third year at Wagner with younger group eager to return Seahawks to top of Northeast Conference. (Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance)

A year ago, Wagner was at the center of the preseason universe in the Northeast Conference, returning the most experienced roster in the league to Staten Island en route to being selected as the favorite in the annual coaches' poll, a credit to Dan Hurley building for the future before being tabbed to lead Rhode Island out of a morass that landed them in the lower rung of the Atlantic 10.

Hurley, as well as a senior-laden roster led by shooting guard Latif Rivers, forward Orlando Parker and 6-10 shot blocking extraordinaire Naofall Folahan, have all since departed, but third-year coach Bashir Mason; still the youngest head man in the nation at just 30 years of age, remains with a group that will enter the year hungry to validate their former standing as the Seahawks rebound from a 19-12 campaign that ended with the Verrazano Warriors' third consecutive loss in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament.

Mason, who can now finally put his own stamp on this year's roster; a collection of talents headed by senior point guard Marcus Burton and explosive junior wing Dwaun Anderson, opens the season at the Comcast Center in College Park to take on Big Ten newcomer Maryland on November 14 before invading Levien Gym four days later for a clash with crosstown rival Columbia. Division III program Old Westbury serves as the first visitor to the Spiro Center in 2014-15 on November 20 before Wagner travels the Belt Parkway into Long Island to take on Joe Mihalich and Hofstra in their final pre-Thanksgiving tuneup on November 23.

A home game with Penn that the Quakers are returning from last season's meeting at the Palestra precedes a three-game road swing to open December against the likes of Maine, Lafayette and Vermont. Following the excursion, the Seahawks' former NEC rival Monmouth comes to Staten Island on December 20 before a road trip to Cincinnati and a home matchup with another former NEC program in Rider close out the non-league portion of Wagner's ledger.

Northeast Conference play will begin for the Seahawks on the road against Saint Francis University on January 3, 2015, and in a reversal of last season; where Wagner had the bulk of their home league games toward the end of the year, Mason's team will contest four of their first seven league tilts in Richmond County, starting on January 5 against reigning conference champion Mount St. Mary's in a three-game homestand that will also see last year's regular season titleholder Robert Morris and former three-time champion LIU Brooklyn tip off inside the Spiro Center before the Green and White head to Rhode Island and New Jersey for meetings with Bryant and Fairleigh Dickinson, respectively. Saint Francis completes the back end of their home-and-home on January 22 in Staten Island as the NEC returns to an 18-game schedule this season, playing a double round robin with their 10-team setup.

Five of Wagner's next eight following their home matchup with the Red Flash are also on their Grymes Hill campus, with Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State making the trek to New York after the Seahawks skirmish with Howie Dickenman's Blue Devils in New Britain first on January 24. A rematch with Sacred Heart on the 31st sends the Staten Islanders into February, where they open the month with back-to-back matchups against Glenn Braica and likely contender St. Francis Brooklyn, with the Terriers hitting the road first on February 7 before Wagner returns the favor five days later in Brooklyn Heights.

Home duels with Fairleigh Dickinson and Bryant precede a three-game road trip to conclude the regular season, as Wagner travels to LIU Brooklyn on February 21 before wrapping up with journeys to Pennsylvania and Maryland for Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary's.

***For Wagner's full schedule, click here***

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Masiello, Manhattan Already Focused On Encore

Following MAAC championship and near-upset in NCAA Tournament and tryst with South Florida, Steve Masiello has returned to Manhattan focused on maintaining success in Riverdale. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Mid-July is usually not a time when college basketball programs are in midseason form. Between the lull of the offseason and the start of the live evaluation recruiting period, there is not much going on until schedules get released and the calendar draws ever closer to the start of practice in October.

Then again, Manhattan College has never been like everybody else, a uniqueness that has served the Jaspers well over the years as they enter the 2014-15 campaign retooled to some degree, but still a formidable threat to defend their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, which returned to Riverdale this past March for the first time since 2004.

The Jaspers' latest summer workout this past Wednesday at Draddy Gym confirmed their difference when compared to some other local programs, as the intensity exhibited was reminiscent of an early January MAAC contest.

"They're in the middle of a 'mini-hell week,'" head coach Steve Masiello declared as he greeted us before putting his players through the gamut of on-court drills. "They've been up since 5 a.m. every day this week doing Navy SEAL training and tactics. It's going to mentally grind them out as much as possible."

The struggle will only serve to strengthen Manhattan as the year goes on, especially considering the need to replace seniors George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado, who combined to account for over half of the Jaspers' offensive productivity.

"We're going to really miss Rhamel," Masiello intimated shortly after commencing the proceedings. "If we can get Jermaine (Lawrence, who transferred from Cincinnati) eligible, I think we'll be okay. Our talent's probably better than last year. I think we're right there."

The "big three" may be gone, but Manhattan's young core returns having garnered much-needed experience in last season's run to the NCAA Tournament and a near-upset of Louisville, coached by Masiello's mentor, Rick Pitino. Expect senior forward Emmy Andujar, Masiello's first recruit upon replacing Barry Rohrssen in 2011; as well as fourth-year junior Ashton Pankey, to lead the charge up front while RaShawn Stores and Tyler Wilson reprise Manhattan's two-point guard system with Shane Richards and sophomore Rich Williams on the wings, the latter of whom has already drawn high praise.

"He could be a first-teamer this year," Masiello said of Williams. "Whether he is or he isn't, I'm not sure, but that's what his impact will be for us."

Swingman Donovan Kates and forward Carlton Allen also return to Riverdale this year, as does walk-on Trevor Glassman, with Manhattan welcoming a quartet of freshmen that Masiello hopes will fill the voids left by Beamon, Brown and Alvarado. Early on, it seems as though the coach has found yet another diamond in the rough, his latest gem coming in the form of 6-9 Calvin Crawford, who impressed in his showing on both sides of the ball.

"He's going to be really good down low," Masiello said of his prospect. "He really knows how to play, and we hope he's our heir apparent for Emmy."

Just as it was last season on the road to a conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, depth is once again abundant on this year's Manhattan roster, as is a hungry group of players that were unable to celebrate their success the way they had hoped to.

"It's been more about me, and it should be more about the players," Masiello stated with regard to his pursuit of the then-vacant coaching position at South Florida making headlines for unintended reasons. "Regardless of what has gone on or hasn't gone on, the players achieved what happened last year, not me, and they should be rewarded for that."

When asked of the possibility of a championship hangover, Masiello was emphatic in pointing out that this year's team will be different, but also that there is unfinished business to settle.

"We're not looking around to celebrate or hang banners by any means," he proclaimed. "I think everyone's aware of who we are because of the success we've achieved. Although we feel we had a good year last year, we didn't achieve what our goals were, what our destination was. That loss (to Louisville) has got to be fertilizer for our success. It's got to set the ground, set the bar for what we need to do, and anything less than that, we won't be happy with."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Year In Review: Manhattan

What began in promise ended in celebration as Manhattan ended their 2013-14 season with first MAAC championship in ten years. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

When we made our first trip of the 2013-14 season to Draddy Gym for an early November practice before eventually getting to see Manhattan in 22 games, what stood out was the depth that Steve Masiello had built for the Jaspers, making them into not just a tough mid-major, but a roster that could stand up to any program in the nation. Two season-opening victories, a double-overtime thriller at La Salle followed by George Beamon's last-second heroics against Columbia only confirmed that suspicion.

A valiant loss to Fordham dropped Manhattan to 3-2 on the young season, but what happened from there only solidified the Jaspers as a threat on any given night, as the pride of Riverdale ripped off an eight-game winning streak highlighted by a convincing win at South Carolina, the first win for the program against a team from the Southeastern Conference since Bobby Gonzalez and Luis Flores led Manhattan to the biggest victory in school history, their 75-60 upset of nationally ranked Florida in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

Then, the 2014 version of Flores, senior shooting guard George Beamon, landed hard on his shoulder while diving for a loose ball against Quinnipiac and did not return to the game. Manhattan fought on gamely without their leader, falling short by just five points to the Bobcats before managing to go 2-1 in Beamon's absence from the lineup, including a tour de force effort from fellow senior Michael Alvarado to erase a 10-point second half deficit against Marist to defeat the Red Foxes 86-79 in overtime.

"Adversity reveals who you are at all times," Masiello instructed those assembled for his postgame press conference after Alvarado's 33 points guided the Jaspers to an improbable comeback. "When you can survive when you're supposed to go down, you're going to live a long time."

Losses in three of four games, most notably a shocking defeat to a Fairfield team previously winless in MAAC play, dropped Manhattan to 7-4 in the league, two games behind bitter adversary Iona, whose win over the Jaspers on January 31 made it seem as though the Gaels would run away with the regular season championship. Yet the Jaspers, perhaps spurred by Masiello's adversity comment of three weeks prior, would only lose once the rest of the way going into the MAAC tournament in Springfield, capturing nine of their ten final regular season contests in a stretch that saw Emmy Andujar kill Iona yet again in a dramatic overtime victory two days before RaShawn Stores shut down conference Player of the Year Billy Baron to seal a sweep of Canisius, giving Manhattan the No. 2 seed going into the postseason.

Wins over Saint Peter's and a demon-exorcising victory over Quinnipiac set up a dream rubber match between the Jaspers and Iona, one in which Masiello made a case for both teams to be included among the NCAA Tournament field before the opening tip.

Each side played like they were deserving of such an honor, with neither the Jaspers nor Gaels giving in after inefficiency at the free throw line kept Iona alive even as Manhattan threatened to drive away. With the score 70-68, Tim Cluess called a timeout following an A.J. English dunk, leading to a foul on Jasper swingman Donovan Kates; a normally reliable free throw shooter, but in this moment, only successful on the first of two attempts.

With no timeouts and only 16.3 seconds remaining, Iona drove the length of the floor, but was unable to get a decent look at the basket due to Manhattan's suffocating defense against both English and Sean Armand, forcing forward David Laury to take an off-balance three-pointer that grazed the rim as time expired, avenging a 60-57 loss the Jaspers had suffered to these same Gaels on this stage one year prior.

"I can't even put it into words," a jubilant yet humble Masiello remarked after the win. "We've just been through so much."

The best was yet to come, however, as Manhattan was rewarded for its efforts with the No. 13 seed in the Midwest Regional and a matchup with reigning national champion Louisville, whose Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino groomed Masiello for six years prior to his return to Riverdale in 2011. For over 38 minutes, however, the team described as a mirror image of the Cardinals executed the Louisville playbook step by step to the tune of a 60-58 lead late in the second half. Louisville took the lead for good with four unanswered points preceding two Luke Hancock threes, the first coming after a pump fake fooled Beamon into jumping prematurely, the second an uncontested shot with 27.5 seconds left to vault Louisville to a 71-64 win. However, the star was Masiello, who was praised by his mentor Pitino on national television for "one of the best coaching jobs" he had seen in his 39 years in the game.

Beamon, Alvarado and Rhamel Brown may be gone from a team that embodied their New York roots and embraced its role as the scrappy underdog who stands with Goliath shot for shot, but that does not mean Manhattan has faded into the sunset. The core of last season's team is back for an encore, and, with a coach who has now proven that he can make some magic happen, a return to the field of 68 is possible once more.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Liberty 87, Lynx 80: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY – About 40 minutes prior to game time, players were on the court, stretching, practicing ball handling and shooting to get in rhythm with the rim. A normal pre-game routine. Virtually everyone exited for the locker room. An exception was Tina Charles. The New York Liberty center stayed outside to spend about 15 minutes working on free throw shooting.
Charles received the ball from a ball boy, bent the knees, kept eyes on the rim and shot. She continued and stayed focused. It was an exercise bringing back memories of years past.
Back a few decades, not years, teams in high school gyms on cold nights would shoot around prior to game time with someone always on the charity stripe working on free throws. Why did they warm up this way? Because the pros and college teams did and they were simply following the example that was set.

Today, unfortunately, it is rare to see an individual take time to work on free throws. Those days have gone the way of Chuck Taylor Converse and sweaters on cheerleaders. Thank the highlight reel mentality with an assist from beyond the arc. Kids want to make fancy moves and bury treys, not worry about cashing in on the point the uncontested shot from the line will give you. 
On this afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Liberty upset the Minnesota Lynx 87-80. Charles led the way with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Sound in her game prep, it was no surprise the fundamentals carried over to the game: Setting a target in the post, catching, pivoting, shooting and securing rebounding position. 
It was not all Charles, as Cappie Pondexter added 18 and 11 boards while Anna Cruz played a solid floor game (10 points, 3  assists) and coach Bill Laimbeer noted, “the role players gave us what we needed.” 

Now the Liberty, at 7-11, have a three-game win streak and the momentum of four wins in their last five contests. One added stat of note, Charles was a perfect four-for-four from the line.

Our entrance to Madison Square Garden, off 33rd Street:

Seeing is believing: Tina Charles during her pregame workout regimen, concentrating on free throws:
Minnesota assistant Jim Peterson relaxes about 45 minutes prior to tipoff:
Yours truly with Cecil King. A coach with the highly successful New York Gazelles, King was awarded a community service honor by the Liberty. I had the honor of officiating with King and later wrote a story about him coaching Tina Charles during her Gazelle days: (Photo courtesy of M. Saidra McLaughlin)
Tina Charles meets the media in the Liberty locker room:
A familiar face, former St. John's star Nadirah McKenith is now with the Lynx, and chatted about her new club and love of St. John's:

We're Still Alive

Just wanted to check in with everyone to inform you that all is well despite the lull in content over the past few days. Throughout the week and holiday weekend, yours truly has been in the process of moving, so between the endless hours of packing and transport to the new Daly Dose headquarters, (around the corner from where I grew up in Woodhaven, New York...still in Queens) to not having an available Internet/cable/landline installation until Tuesday, activity has come to somewhat of a halt. Fear not, my friends, as that will soon change once business picks up again. In fact, Ray Floriani has another photo essay from yesterday's New York Liberty game that will be posted on here soon, plus we'll have more nonconference schedule updates and other miscellaneous offseason nuggets as they become available.

Until then, in the words of my former WSJU broadcast partner Reginald Bazile: Be safe, stay focused; and as always, may God be with you.

Enjoy what's left of the summer.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor