January 19 - Games: 4; Gyms: 3; Division: II; Days: 1
Last weekend I did my first one-day college hoops quadrupleheader. And there weren't any St.
John'ses, Seton Halls or even Fordhams or Manhattans in this group.
This is a small taste of the world of N.Y. Metro area Division II basketball.
My first stop was Molloy College, just off the Southern State Parkway in
Rockville Centre, Long Island. The gym seats maybe 500,
cheek-to-cheek, and was at near-capacity for the women's basketball
game vs. Dowling, from up the road apiece in Eastern Long Island.
After each team enjoyed extended runs, the visitors managed a 2-point
lead at the half. My lasting memory of the game was not the traditional
three-point play with around a minute left that put the game out of reach,
but the 'and-one' fist pump by the animated Molloy coach Joe Pellicane that nearly turned his athletic
director into his first career TKO victim.
The game turned out to be the best one of the day, but my adventure was just getting started.
My next visit was to Adelphi University, just a short 10-minute drive from Molloy. AU was founded in
1896, and apparently the gym was founded about 10 minutes later.
The most obvious distinguishing characteristics of Woodruff Hall are the floor — it's about three feet
too narrow on each sideline — and the lighting — or lack thereof. I kept waiting for Jimmy Chitwood
and Coach Norman Dale to morph out of Hoosiers and run the picket fence at 'em. The host
Panthers defense smothered New Haven, whose 51 points were the most scored against Adelphi at
home this season.
The women's contest that followed had all the makings of being a great show. New Haven came in
unbeaten in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference, and AU was second with just one loss.
Anticipation for the opening tip grew even more when the referee, ball in hand and players gathered
around the jump circle, needed a full 90 seconds to untangle the whistle as he removed it from his
pocket. "Technical difficulties," giggled the p.a. announcer. Classic.
Alas, the game did not live up to its billing, as the guests wore down the undermanned Lady Pantherd
on the way to a blowout win. Some under-the-breath entertainment was provided by one of the
referees that seemed to come right from a Harlem Globetrotters game. While I worried inside
whether the big guy would be able to keep up with UNH's fast pace, I secretly hoped to hear, just
once, "Foul on yoooooooou, Forty-twooooooo!"
From there it was on to Queens College, the most commodious of the three facilities. The
homestanding Knights put an old-fashioned 35-point thumping on a hustling but talent-starved New
York Institute of Technology squad. Just like in Division I, these teams all have walk-ons who seldom
get into games, especially in a league as competitive as the NYCAC. So as the rout neared the end,
the crowd called for and got its heroes, who obliged by putting up the needed 8 points to reach 100.
What struck me most was how these games were just as important to the players, coaches and fans
as any Division I game I've been to — and clearly more meaningful than any regular season NBA
game I've seen. The hard work that they put in, and the effort they put out, is the same. Coach
Pellicane's best Joe Louis imitation, the gritty determination the Dowling team used to take a halftime
lead after trailing, 28-9, and the excitement of the small but vocal UNH fans as their team ran away
and hid in the second half are repeated in gyms large and small, before millions of TV viewers or just
handfuls of fans, all across the country.
While watching their women's team get ready for its game, several of the New Haven players were
approached by about a dozen Long Island kids who had just watched the game. They sat and signed
caps, t-shirts, programs, whatever the kids could get their hands on, for a solid half-hour. To these
kids, it was like meeting royalty. It wasn't even the team they were just cheering for, but to meet and
say hi to these players made their day.