Game 046: at Drexel 88, James Madison 60Saturday, January 29, 2005
Daskalakis Athletic Center - Philadelphia, PA
They ended up sending me a bunch of admissions brochures, but Malik Rose was a far better ambassador for Drexel
University than any glossy-print booklet could ever be. I remember sitting in my apartment across the street from the University of Oregon's
campus, dreaming about moving back East, watching Rose and his gold-shirted Dragon twelves upend five-seed Memphis
in the first round of the 1996 Tournament. He was so liquid, so fluid, so classy.
"That's where I want to transfer," I thought. And I eventually did.
But when I arrived in Philadelphia the next year, Malik was gone... off to the Association. When I first entered what was then known as the Recreation and Athletic Center on a cold December night, I was mortified. I had spent a good portion of my young adulthood watching games at a classic, haunted barn nicknamed "The Pit,"
and I was staring down a garishly-lit second-floor gymnasium with 200 fans, many of whom were cracking textbooks. All that remained of Malik's legacy was his double-zero jersey in the rafters. I wondered if I had made a mistake by not going to Temple
But I kept going to Drexel games in order to feed my hoop jones when the Palestra wasn't open
. I met a few guys in my classes who liked to go too. We'd hang out at the Subway shop down 34th Street for about an hour before tip time, and head into the gym and yell our lungs out for two hours. We even thought of printing t-shirts for our group because one of us could get a good deal, but we could never come up with a good name. "Herrion's Hundreds" just wasn't going to cut it, especially because there were only about seven of us. Needless to say, we didn't last too long as a cohesive unit.
Our Dragon teams had no Malik Rose-in-the-rough, but there were likeable and hardworking ballers all the same. We had big rangy Tim Whitworth, gentle-giant Joe Linderman, and an endless stream of decent-shooting guards. In the late stages of the Bill Herrion era, before he went off to coach the East Carolina
Pirates after the 1998-99 season, Drexel won a whole lot of ballgames, but always seemed to fall just short when it really counted.
Drexel graduated from the America East conference, and are in the Colonial Athletic Association now. They've got Bruiser Flint, a dapper and animated "name" coach. Over the past few years, attendance has picked up considerably as the Dragons have started playing up to their new conference's level of competition. People in the University City coffeehouses can be overheard talking about Drexel hoops, along with the standard talk about which Big Five team is the best. And in each recent season, there's a big yellow area over in the west stands, slowly taking over the DAC like a fungus. A very loud, boisterous, fun-loving fungus.
This past Saturday, though the opposition was offered by a sad-sack James Madison
rebuilding project, a late arrival had considerable trouble finding a seat to sit in. And maybe that late arrival had to find a place there in amongst the yellow-shirts, the most ear-splitting 300 square feet in the whole building.
Nick Intrieri is a senior Computer Science major at Drexel, and he's also the president of that Dragon student section, better known as "The DAC Pack." I hoped to gain some understanding as to how the Pack succeeded where we had so miserably failed.
Nick gave me a rundown on the Pack's history so far. "We first started four years ago - Bruiser's first year, my sophomore year," he says. "A bunch of us from the CAAZone.com
boards would all attend Drexel games regularly, however we didn't know about each other."
I suppose that's an advantage "Herrion's Hundreds" just didn't have. Back in my day,
we still called this thing the "World Wide Web" and used this crazy web browser called "Netscape."
"I discovered CAAZone on my first co-op while really bored at work," Nick continues. "I instantly became addicted. After a home game against George Mason
, one of the GMU fans told [future Pack member] 'FanOfTheYear' about CAAzone.com. He started posting, and I met him there. He told his friends about it, I told my friends... we formed a group at the games."
"'Dr. Exel' also was on the Zone, he works in the Athletic Department and is in charge of all events having to do with the basketball team. He proposed the idea that we start a club. During Bruiser's second year, we applied, we got funding, and we started the DAC Pack. We almost called ourselves the Bru Crew but changed it since we didn't know how long Bru would last."
And there you have it. Instant fan section! Just add a few passionate hoops fans, a high-tech communication mechanism, and some actual organizational skill.
"It's pretty amazing what a message board can do," says Nick. "Even though we went to the same school, we would have never met each other with the Zone."
The Pack holds regular social events at a house right across the street from the DAC, right next to that same Subway shop. That's where the Pack hangs out and plans their strategy for upcoming games. Lots and lots of strategizing, right, Nick?
"The most organizing as far as cheers go is on the boards," he admits. "This is an area we can probably improve on... Not gonna complain though, since anything is better than no spirit at all."
But lest one think that the DAC Pack isn't just an outlet for students who like to wear bright yellow shirts and scream a lot, there's a lot more to membership than that. Over its four-year existence, it's become an increasingly well-oiled public relations machine, and it's recently become more involved in community service.
"Each year, we've been doing as much as we can to get our name out there. We always have an ad in The Triangle [student newspaper]. Last year we started a pretty decent website
. This year, we've participated in some community service events. We hosted a dodgeball tournament at the DAC, and raised $1,000 that we gave to Bruiser for Coaches vs. Cancer
I asked Nick to name his favorite moment in DAC Pack history so far. "Two years ago, CAA tournament, Drexel versus Virginia Commonwealth
," he said. "Robert Battle hits a shot to put us ahead by one with four seconds left. VCU inbounds, tries to throw a pass to Nick George at halfcourt... Battle steps in front, knocks it out off of George. We inbound, they foul, game is over."
"We went absolutely insane.
Our players were going nuts, we hung over the rail mobbing them as they ran off... everyone but Battle. He walked off like he was on a mission. He really was. He played amazing the next night and kept us in the game, too bad [Brett] Blizzard was on that UNC-Wilmington
Students from small schools occasionally send me questions about how to start fan sections of their own, and I wondered what advice Nick might have for kids at Albany
or Boston University
who want to form their own T-shirted, tight-knit fan communities to strike terror into the hearts of their opponents.
"Try to talk to people at the games," he suggests. "If there is a message board for your team, go to it and post. Try to get to know some people in the Athletic Department, it always helps to have sponsorship."
"If you can get a core number of people, most schools will allow you to start a club for just about anything. Research these opportunites. It's much easier to recruit new members when you have some school dollars to work with."
And so, on a Saturday afternoon in that shopworn old gym on the second floor of the Daskalakis Athletic Center, Drexel's Dragons dispatched the Dukes in dominating fashion, their outside shooters pounding away with run after punishing run. And while they weren't needed on the court to help their team complete their appointed rounds, the DAC Pack's members were able to leave imprints on the Dukes' psyches all the same.
"[JMU sophomore guard] Ray Barbosa inbounded a ball three inches away from me," Nick says. "You know
he hears me."
And despite the fact that it'll never be a Palestra or even a Pavilion, Nick Intrieri loves his DAC. "It's hot, it's sweaty, and we're right on the court. Couldn't think of a better home court advantage."Photo Gallery