Monday, March 14, 2016

Selection Sunday at FDU: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Teaneck, NJ - They filled their plates with sub sandwiches, salad, and chicken. The room permeated with basketball small talk, NCAA field projections and congratulatory hellos to the coaches and players. At FDU, as was the case in many schools across the country, the occasion was the Selection Sunday party. In a conference room in the Rothman Center, those assembled were afforded a view of the court. It was quiet, save for a few young kids ‘practicing’ layups and mid-range jumpers. In the room upstairs, celebration mingled with anticipation. For FDU, there was no worry about being pushed off the bubble. The Northeast Conference championship trophy sitting on a small table below the big screen TV attested to this. The champion Knights were dancing. Where or when, that was the source of concern.

FDU coach Greg Herenda worked the room and sampled some food. The players sat in the front row before the TV, chatting and genuinely enjoying the moment they worked so hard for. It wasn’t just fans and alums present. Those in the basketball community, such as respected Ramapo College coach Chuck McBreen, were on hand. McBreen knew Herenda from their North Bergen, NJ youth days. It was a great time for McBreen to chat March Madness and honor a good friend. Even ‘legendary’ FDU PA announcer Burt Shoobs was on hand, taking it all in.

Selection Sunday starts with the  first bracket. Media coordinators Tommy Meade and Phil Paquette are poised with cameras, ready for action. The players move up a bit near the edge of their seats. The one and two-seeds gain most of the attention, as FDU realistically knows their fate is probably a 15 or 16-seed. Kansas pops up on the board, their draw is Austin Peay. A collective sigh of relief from the players ensues. As matchups are shown, everyone remarks on the draws, potential upset games, and, well, all things related to the Big Dance. The second region is revealed, and still no FDU.

There was anticipation on the part of the players. Like kids awaiting the joy of Christmas morning, they waited yet, at times the excitement overcame patience. Finally, the third region is unveiled. North Carolina is up on the board. Their opposition brought a collective roar. Roy Williams would be facing the winner of Florida Gulf Coast and Fairleigh Dickinson, and Florida Gulf Coast made a Cinderella run a few years ago. This is a different group, and a nice way for the Knights to open the tournament.

Following hugs and high fives, Greg Herenda took the floor. Behind them, other matchups were being posted and the analysts were breaking them down. To those in attendance, the focus was undivided on the Knights. Herenda, ever in a coaching mode, did not spend the last few days following the NEC title game in a celebratory downtime mode. Rather, he and his staff, thinking they might go to Dayton in a play-in game, started to break down potential opponents. “We know something about Florida Gulf Coast,” Herenda said. “They are well coached by a New Jersey native, Joe Dooley. After we break here, our staff will get to work getting to know more and preparing.”

Prior to a team meeting in the locker room and a night of breakdown/preparation, Herenda took a few moments to address the crowd.  “It is the players,” Herenda said. “In July, you could hear the generators in this building and the bouncing of the balls as these players were here working out, putting in the time to get better. They mean so much to the university and are responsible for the success of the program.” On the way to this reception, Herenda had a stop: The cemetery. He brought along the Northeast Conference championship trophy as he visited the graves of his mother and father. In fact, his mother, Grace, was a basketball player, but did not play competitively, as competitive opportunities for women were very limited in her day. Keeping with family, the FDU mentor also praised his wife, Jill and son, Trey. “She has been through so much,” Herenda said. “There were times when it was a struggle, especially money-wise, and the hours were so demanding. Through it all, she was always there. If she has not earned a spot in heaven already, then there’s no heaven.”

Herenda also praised his assistants. “Bruce (Hamburger) and Dwayne (Lee) were here with me from the start, when we came in, had six players and had to start from scratch,” he noted. “Now, we also have Winston Smith and Peter Lappas. Our staff are like my players. I will frequently get on them and be demanding, but think the world of them.”

Less than 24 hours after the reception ended and the late night game preparation was finished, FDU would be on a charter bound for Dayton. “It is a nine-hour trip to Dayton,” Herenda said. “I once ran a marathon in four hours and 40 minutes, so you fans can drive nine hours,” he said in an encouraging tone. Tuesday, Florida Gulf Coast lines up as the opponent. The winner goes to Raleigh to face North Carolina. “After our game Tuesday is a charter to Raleigh,” Herenda said. “We are going to be on it.”

FDU players watch and wait for the Knights to be revealed on Selection Sunday:
The Northeast Conference championship trophy:
FDU's reaction as their selection is announced:
Greg Herenda addresses the group following the selection:

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