Game 024: Boston University 72, at Albany 69Sunday, January 2, 2005
Recreation and Convocation Center - Albany, New York
When you play college hoops on your PlayStation or XBox, you have the option to enter something called "legacy mode." As you take the reins of a bottom-feeding school and try to recruit and coach your way to Tournament glory, it's a process which requires a lot of monk-like patience and button-mashing skill.
I've never been much for legacy mode - I'd much prefer a "provisional mode," which would offer the chance to take a college up to Division I. You'd have to deal with endless NCAA paperwork, go on disastrous recruiting trips, fight to maintain your school's academic integrity, get pummelled and thwacked by just about every other team, and try to fill out your schedule by making futile summertime grovels to other coaches. Now that
would be a real challenge.
Great Danes know all about the things that aren't "in the game" yet - this is their fourth season in the America East, and they only had 20 total wins to show for their first three. But Albany does have a basketball history, and quite a distinguished one at that. Their greatest coach, Richard "Doc" Sauers, arrived in 1955 - his 41-year run was highlighted by a 1993-94 team that compiled a 16-game win streak on the way to a 25-3 season, a campaign that featured two victories in the NCAA Division III national tournament. After making the decision to make the Great Leap Forward into D1, the Great Danes played the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons as an independent, and made a mid-sized splash by hiring away California
assistant coach Scott Beeten in 2000. The Great Danes found a home in the AE starting in 2001; but Beeten never got a taste of conference play, after starting out the season 1-7. He was fired over the holidays and replaced by current coach Will Brown.
Brown was discovered in the community college ranks, at Sullivan County C.C. in tiny Loch Sheldrake, NY (down near Poughkeepsie). That first America East game back in 2001, a 28-point beatdown by Vermont
, must seem like a lifetime ago. The 2004-05 edition of the Purple and Gold features Coach Brown's first fully scholarshipped 12-man roster, and he's preparing for the program's growth spurt with discipline, system-ball and transfers.
But growing pains aren't limited to the coach's office and the hardcourt, there are general organizational issues to consider as well when you make the jump to D1. To wit: the moment a school declares serious intentions is when someone hands a kid an orange flag and a wad of ones, and starts charging fans to park their cars. But if you're going to demand $15 for good seats - and are not yet accepting online orders - you should really, seriously consider accepting credit cards. Or at the very
least, you might provide a cash machine that's closer than the convenience store four miles away (outside the paid parking lot, natch). Because if my local takeout pizza joint can have its own ATM, so can the University At Albany.
And so this is what wound up happening when The Official Wife Of The Mid-Majority™ and I showed up at the Recreation and Convocation Center (or the RACC, not to be confused with Rutgers'
arena) on Sunday. The New York State Thruway ate up all our cash for tolls, and we ended up having to dig through the loose change in our pockets to get me into the arena so that this game's 100GP status could be assured and validated. It's a good thing the nice co-ed behind the window whispered, "It's free starting at halftime" - ah, some non-D1 traditions die hard. So while my S.O. chatted up The Official Mother-In-Law™ on the phone out by the oversized Great Dane statue in the lobby, I watched the tangled mass of humanity that passed for a first half. The score stood at 25 all at the break.
Albany's Fabulous Wilson Twins were last seen in this space back at Game 19
, a contest the Great Danes were able to make halfway-interesting against a halfway-interested Villanova
team. Although they're only related in the ebony-and-ivory sort of way, streaky little guard Jamar and 6-8 long-bomb specialist Brent make up the Danes' brotherhood of offense. Jamar, who may someday indeed allow Coach Brown to live his dream of never having to call a play from the bench, ended up leading his Danes with 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Brent has one of the featheriest touches I've ever seen for a fellow translucent-skinned dude with an arm tattoo. He was the team's second-leading scorer with 14.
If you want to quickly sum up the America East (and this goes for most of the anonymous mid-major leagues around the country), you can say it's a "guards league." Most of the AE Preseason All-Conference teams in Punditville don't even list
a center. So incoming transfer Kirsten Zollner, a 7-1 toothpick from Germany who spent two years as the White Guy At The End Of The Bench for Boston College
, makes an instant impact on the league simply by being there... almost as if the ghost of ex-Holy Cross
gentle-giant Neil Fingleton
. He would pop in for a few minutes at a time, faithfully jaunting up and down the floor, setting picks and menacing BU's little guards and getting free for the occasional foot-plant-and-layup in the lane. Not surprisingly, these were the stretches when Albany made its runs, when they prevented the visiting Terriers from running away with the game.Boston University
is a tragically-starred team whose peak-year Tournament dreams were smashed on their home court in last season's AE tourney (by Stony Brook
, no less). In this game, they finally did take the lead for good around the eight minute mark of the second half. They did it by shooting over the UAlbany zone for threes, and slicing into the defense's soft underbelly with violent baseline incisions. But the Danes' offense kept them in the game, and Brent Wilson kept hitting key shots. But his last attempt as time ran out misfired, and the red-clad boys from Beantown headed ended up celebrating a three-point win on their rainy bus trip home.
"Boston," as their shirt-fronts proclaim, were led by slashing forward Rashad Bell, who torched the Albany defense for 23 points on an 8 for 12 shooting day. But any recap of the Terriers' sterling second-half effort would not be complete without mention of 6-6 freshman guard Matt Wolff
, who drew murmurs, quizzical looks and guffaws when he came off the bench sporting a Naismith-era all-the-way-back-over-the-head-and-snap! shooting style, but went ahead and shot 4-of-6 from the floor for 11 late-game points anyway. The Official Wife™ pointed out that his old-school look and playing style bears more than a passing resemblance to the left-most guy in the Mid-Majority header graphic, so from this point forward our icon will wear the number 2 in young master Wolff's honor.
As for Albany, the future can and will only get brighter. They already have matched their win total from last year with five, and I can easily rattle off the names of five of the other nine America East teams they could beat right now (OK, fine, here: Binghamton
, New Hampshire
, Stony Brook and UMBC
). A successful 2004-05 will be the opportunity to wear their home gold jerseys in the first round of the conference tournament at Binghamton, and someday in the near future, Tournament dreams might not seem as irrational as they do now.
And when that time does finally come, their heaven will be a big heaven, and they will walk through the front door.Photo Gallery