There is always a mental checklist of things whenever you're getting ready to go to a game, particularly if you're making a drive of any decent length.
Game time is right? Yup.
Gas in the car? Taken care of.
Money for tolls? Got it.
One thing I was not prepared for Saturday afternoon, however, was a full military checkpoint. In retrospect, I obviously should have been. Even if the purpose of my visit was hardly a matter of national security, I was entering the United States Military Academy, after all.
Who knows when a long lost relative of Benedict Arnold is going to show up and try to finish the job?
As I sat in line watching the three guards at the gate do their work, I wondered if maybe I was at the wrong entrance. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw a big coach bus belonging to the St. Francis basketball team, so this was the spot, I guess.
In my haste to grab my drivers' license out of my wallet, I evidently rolled a few feet further than I should have, which immediately drew the ire of the large, bulletproof vest-wearing man in front of me.
"You know there's a stop sign there, right?"
(I once tried to inject humor into a conversation with a guard at the Canadian border when I was asked if I had anything to declare when returning to the States. My answer of: "I do have some Mountain Dew in the trunk" not only told me I did not have a future career in comedy, but it cost my friends and I 45 minutes as they proceeded checked anything and everything. I tried no jokes here.)
"Get out and open the trunk for me, please."
"What's the purpose of your visit?"
"The basketball game. This is the way to go, right?"
"Yes, sir. Have a good day."
Needless to say (and as I tried to illustrate earlier this season), things are different at Army. But it's nice to keep things in perspective once in a while. Upon arrival at the Holleder Center (which houses Tate Rink for hockey and Christl Arena for basketball), named for Don Holleder, who -- like Pat Tillman -- gave up potential football glory only to give his life for his country halfway across the globe, this monument greets you with a quote from Douglas MacArthur:
"Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory."
We don't often refer to our strifes as friendly in our current sporting culture, but even with the minor delay, I was slightly early, and a walk around the facility brought me to the Class of 1956 Walkway, which connects Christl Arena with the basketball offices (it was quite sad to walk by the women's offices and think of Maggie Dixon) and Michie Stadium, home of Army football.
And when you see a wall with inscriptions like this (with the coincidental identical name to mine as well), it does make it hard to seriously critique a basketball game:
Your Daddy thinks of you every day. The hurt of being separated must be suffered because the work in Vietnam must be done. Some time in life we all have a duty we must do. I must be here because my country needs me here.
- Captain Raymond Celeste, Jr., Class of 1956
But the contest in Cristl Arena turned out to be a good one as well. The Terriers out of Brooklyn - who somewhat ironically started a Serbian and a Brit against the USMA - led by as many as 10 in the first half and eight at the intermission.
However, Zack Spiker's bunch buried St. Francis with a barrage of three-pointers in the second half (shooting 8-of-10). The Houston connection of Julian Simmons (24 points) and Ella Ellis (23) led the way, but this day belonged to Simmons, who had 22 of his 24 points after halftime, and pulled off one of the greatest individual sequences I've ever seen.
With Army's lead a tenuous 59-55 and eight minutes left, the Terriers had what looked to be a 3-on-1 break. Brent Jones sent the Black Knights defender the wrong way and had an easy assist, but out of nowhere sprung Simmons, who not only got to the ball, but his diving deflection miraculously ended up in the hands of a teammate, who started the other way.
For his troubles, Simmons' momentum carried him into about the seventh row. He was helped up by a couple of the fifth graders who had played at halftime, dusted himself off, checked to see if everything was still in the right place, and got back in the game.
Meanwhile, the Army break had stalled and they were working the ball around for at least 10 seconds when Simmons reappeared at the top of the key, took a pass, and drained a huge three-pointer that pretty much finished St. Francis off.
Simmons also drew defensive duties for most of the contest against the Terriers' leading scorer, the aforementioned Englishman Ben Mockford. Mockford finished with 17 points, but 14 of those were in the first half, and he was 1-of-8 from the field after halftime. Even with the game decided, Simmons contested Mockford's final shot, which led to some minor trash talk between the two.
Yup, Simmons is the kind of guy I want on my team. And on another day, on another field, I'm sure he's going to be a big success.
There was only about an hour of light left when the game let out, but I took the time to wander around and check out the sights (I'm told that normally self-touring is not allowed, but because it was New Year's Eve, the campus was pretty much deserted, a rarity). If you've never been to West Point, the scenery is quite breathtaking. As I stood overlooking the Hudson, a man walked up with his two daughters.
"Shush, I'm trying to give you a history lesson here," he said. "You know why they chose this spot? Because see how the river turns like that? George Washington thought this spot was the most important strategically to have in America, and there was no way they were going to let the British have it."
"Can we go home now?"
"They put a big chain across the river there so no British ships could pass. Then they put a guy named Benedict Arnold in charge, though, and he was a lowlife and thought he could switch sides and give West Point to the British."
"I think I've heard of him. What a jerk. He didn't go through with it, though, right?"
"Well, he tried, but luckily a couple of people found out what was going on and told George Washington. I don't know what would have happened if they didn't."
Screw you, Benedict Arnold.
at ARMY 79, SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 70 12/31/2011
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 4-9 (1-1) -- T. Proffitt 3-8 2-2 10; B. Mockford 6-16 1-2 17; S. Perunicic 7-19 0-2 17; J. Cannon 2-7 4-4 8; J. Newton 1-2 1-2 3; B. Jones 3-7 2-3 8; A. Johnson 2-2 7-8 11; M. Milk 2-4 0-1 4; T. Nichols 0-2 0-0 0; K. Douglas 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 24-63 15-22 70. ARMY 6-8 (0-0) -- E. Ellis 8-16 4-6 23; J. Simmons 9-16 2-3 24; J. Herbeck 3-7 0-0 7; J. Springer 1-3 2-4 4; M. Washington 3-5 3-4 10; M. Lenox 2-3 0-0 4; M. Williams 1-2 0-1 3; A. Stire 2-2 0-0 4; W. Thornton 0-0 0-0 0; C. Gramling 0-1 0-0 0; J. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 11-18 79.
Three-point goals: SFNY 7-27 (J. Newton 0-1; S. Perunicic 3-10; B. Mockford 4-12; T. Nichols 0-1; B. Jones 0-2; K. Douglas 0-1), ARMY 10-20 (J. Simmons 4-8; E. Ellis 3-4; J. Herbeck 1-4; M. Lenox 0-1; M. Williams 1-1; M. Washington 1-1; C. Gramling 0-1); Rebounds: SFNY 36 (J. Cannon 13), ARMY 27 (E. Ellis 9); Assists: SFNY 8 (J. Newton 3), ARMY 17 (M. Lenox 8); Total Fouls -- SFNY 20, ARMY 19; Fouled Out: SFNY-J. Newton; ARMY-None.