"Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing. ... You're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You are standing, and cheering, and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt. They hate him now!" - Jerry Seinfeld, on loyalty among sports fans
When it comes to college basketball, with the shelf life of its athletes measured in semesters and not decades, loyalty is often directed toward the names on the front of jerseys rather than those on the back. Rare are the opportunities for hoops fans to put Seinfeld's theory on loyalty to the test -- to act against their more rational instinct and root against a player who once elicited the opposite reaction, solely because of the shirt they are wearing. But for the Vermont faithful packing the wooden bleachers of Patrick Gym, a visit from the Quinnipiac Bobcats was like Ebenezer Scrooge receiving a visit from the Ghost of Catamounts Past. It was the return of Garvey Young.
Young played for the Catamounts between 2008 and 2010, starting 50 games and proving to be an integral defensive element on Vermont's 2010 America East championship team. Coincidentally, that accomplishment is marked by a banner that now hangs in the rafters next to one marking a 2011 NIT appearance, a banner raised before the Quinnipiac game.
For reasons that to this day are entirely his own, Garvey left Vermont after two seasons and headed south for Quinnipiac. The Cats beat Quinnipiac twice while Young was in a Vermont uniform. Apparently even if you can beat them, you still join them.
As I arrived at Patrick Gym on Sunday morning, I wondered how Garvey would be received. Would he be welcomed back as one of ours -- once a Catamount, always a Catamount? Would the fans react like jilted lovers, directing hostility toward him beyond the levels reserved for typical opposition? Or is it possible, with 20 months having passed since Garvey donned the green and gold, that nobody even cared? The answer would come about six minutes into the game, as the Bobcats went to the bench.
As the public address announcer began reading the names of the substitutes, he paused for just a moment and then continued...
"And that's No. 10, Garvey Young..."
Then came the applause. Far from thunderous, but sustained, polite and, most importantly, genuine. No. 10 from Quinnipiac hadn't checked into the game. It was Young, one of ours. At that moment it wasn't about the shirt but the player inside it.
On his first offensive possession, Young had a putback that put the Bobcats up one. After a Brendan Bald jumper on the other end, Young responded with a bucket as the lead see-sawed back to the Bobcats.
As the ball went through the net, there was once again applause. Only this time it was exclusively from the Quinnipiac bench and a smattering of Bobcat fans clad in blue and gold. Garvey had worn out his welcome, and it was back to business as usual. He may be the same human being, but he's wearing a different shirt.
The Catamounts took a slender 30-29 lead into the half, but that didn't deter Quinnipiac. As the second half unfolded, the Bobcats played with a personality that seemed to emulate the sideline performance of their coach, Tom Moore: relentless, energetic, tenacious and tireless. The Bobcats' big man, Jamee Jackson, was an absolute beast inside. His 13 points after the break, coupled with his over-powering work on the glass, allowed QU to catch, match and ultimately pass the Catamounts down the stretch. Not that Vermont did itself any favors, with its shooting inside Patrick Gym colder than the brisk Vermont air outside. All seven of Vermont's 3-point attempts found the iron, and most damning of all, the Cats connected on a mere eight-of-17 free throw attempts in the second half. As a wise friend of mine once said, "You gotta hit your throws. They're free."
When Young got into the paint and scored another deuce with just under a minute to play, giving Quinnipiac a five-point lead, that all but sealed it. The final score: Quinnipiac 62, Vermont 58. Young finished with eight points; it doesn't take a statistician to know that someone who scores eight points in a four-point win had an impact in deciding the outcome.
As I left Patrick Gym, I passed the classroom that visiting teams often use as a makeshift locker room. The Bobcats hooted and hollered as if they had just won a national championship. It was clear: Garvey Young had come home again. He had come home, thrown a rowdy party with his newfound friends and left us with clean-up duty. His only loyalty now is to the Quinnipiac shirt on his back.
QUINNIPIAC 62, at VERMONT 58 12/11/2011
QUINNIPIAC 5-4 (1-1) -- J. Allou 2-3 2-4 6; J. Johnson 4-12 3-4 13; D. Johnson 2-7 2-4 6; J. Jackson 8-15 4-5 20; G. Young 4-8 0-0 8; I. Azotam 4-12 0-0 8; O. Drame 1-5 1-2 3; J. Harris 2-4 0-0 4; N. Gause 0-0 0-0 0; M. Barnett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 10-15 62. VERMONT 4-6 (0-0) -- B. Voelkel 3-9 5-12 12; M. Glass 2-8 0-0 4; F. McGlynn 3-10 0-0 6; L. Apfeld 4-4 2-4 10; S. Carissimo 1-1 0-0 2; J. Elbaum 4-5 3-4 11; B. Bald 5-11 0-0 10; P. Bergmann 0-1 1-2 1; C. Rugg 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-50 11-22 58.
Three-point goals: QUIN 2-8 (G. Young 0-2; J. Johnson 2-4; J. Harris 0-2), UVM 1-13 (M. Glass 0-5; B. Bald 0-1; B. Voelkel 1-4; F. McGlynn 0-3); Rebounds: QUIN 38 (O. Drame 14), UVM 31 (B. Voelkel 12); Assists: QUIN 7 (D. Johnson 3), UVM 9 (B. Voelkel 3); Total Fouls -- QUIN 18, UVM 14; Fouled Out: QUIN-None; UVM-None.