As Kyle talked about in his essay at the beginning of Season 6 "That Teenage Feeling", college basketball is ultimately about college. As Kyle writes, it is a world where tomorrow comes later and everything is based on what happens right now. Looking back, that sums up my experiences so far in my early 20s. Both as an undergrad and as a grad student, I focused on what I needed to do to excel as a student now, and worried about what happens next later. And now today is what was next, and I have to focus on the next stage of my life which is more difficult when it is hard to find a job. This is a problem for all graduating college students, and is truer today. For now, I spend much of the time going back just as Kyle writes via college basketball. But is college basketball "magic," where you can go back and return to the college you knew?
Not really. When I go back to High Point, I see some of the same stuff I remember from college. But in only four years since I graduated, that has mostly changed. Visitors cannot park on campus anymore, as there is a security gate that checks the IDs and parking passes of drivers going into campus. Colleges since the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings have beefed up security quite a bit, and High Point has done so more than most. Much of this is because of the wealthy students recruited heavily by the school are afraid of the local neighborhood in High Point. They want to live on campus in their own bubble, just like they did back home. The wall around the campus to me represents a cold, unfriendly barrier to those outside of High Point University. The gate is not as tightly secured as some schools, particularly HBCUs as I have previously mentioned. Any visitor can park just off campus and walk in quite easily most of the time. But I would like to see a more open campus to the community, especially since I am no longer a student and have to visit from 170 miles away.
But that is not the only change on campus. When students complained about parking in the past, they were reminded that on a large campus students would have to take a shuttle from their dorms to their classes. But now we have done the same, as most upperclassmen live about a mile north of the main campus in a new housing complex completed just after I graduated.
And the entire campus looks different as well. Outside of the area near the main entrance on Montlieu Avenue, most of the buildings on campus are new and were either built or renovated extensively after I graduated in 2008. Walking on campus is not what it was in the past. As a student I always wanted HPU to get bigger and better, and now it just seems weird to see the school much different from what it was. I hope that the new construction is attracting students who are going to the school for the right reasons. Many of my fellow recent alums have feared that the new HPU is attracting wealthy students who are looking for a place to party rather than to come to HPU as a serious academic institution.
And most importantly, the people on campus are different as well. Most of the people at HPU when I started are no longer there, and that's not just students either. The older faculty and staff have retired; although I still saw some of them come back as well for the basketball game tonight. Others have moved on elsewhere. And as this game does hurt you, some have been fired, often for personal reasons. The current president at High Point, Nido Qubein, has made a lot of changes among school personnel dating back to when he first started in the middle of my freshman year. And the athletic department has seen the most change. Just after I graduated, the HPU AD who was hired a few months before I graduated cut the tennis program without announcing it to the public formally, or even to the coaching staff, who first found out when the local paper asked for the head coach's thoughts on the situation. The women's soccer coach, who had won a conference title my senior year, went back to her old job as an assistant at Kentucky over personal differences between her and the AD. The volleyball coach also quit, and the baseball coach was forced out as well right after I graduated. The most high-profile move was a year after I graduated, when men's basketball coach Bart Lundy was fired after finishing 9th out of 10 in the conference following the graduation of one of the school's all-time greats in Arizona "AZ" Reid.
And as time goes by, players and students that I remember well graduate, leaving the teams with unfamiliar faces. One of my friends at High Point gave up on getting a degree a year after I graduated and went to find employment instead. Another friend of mine graduated in 2010. The last team to still carry much of the High Point I knew was the women's basketball team, which seemed to be on the path to successfully rebuilding with a group of five talented freshmen my senior year at HPU. One of these players had also gone to high school with me for a year as well. But that player would be booted for disciplinary reasons midway through her senior year. So I went to see that team play in the conference tournament at High Point last March. This would be their last chance at an elusive conference title, and it ended with a blowout loss to Liberty. The leading player from that group fouled out of her final game, and it was really sad to watch her crying on the bench. I knew then that not only was her career over on a bad note, the HPU I knew was losing the last it had. And sure enough, the coach of the team after ten successful seasons was pressured to resign like all of the other coaches before him. He had done well, but failed to get over the top with his best recruiting class. So the AD decided to go with a coach he personally knew who had graduated from Wake Forest.
So I decided to come to the women's game before the men's game, now with players and coaches who were not at HPU when I was. Despite the high turnover in players and coaches, the HPU women were in first place in the Big South. They played Coastal Carolina, and while High Point won 80-65 I felt a bit uneasy watching a different style of play, especially when Coastal cut a large High Point lead down to five at one time. It was not the HPU I was familiar with, yet they still ended up with a big win.
All of our schools change. But some change more than others, as is the case at High Point. In the "Teenage Feeling" essay, Kyle writes that the fight song will never change. But my senior year at HPU they did change it, and now they use it to lead into a team chant that did not exist when I was in school. I also have not been happy with how we hardly use the Panther logo, going more heavily with the HPU letters logo in recent years. This is all about marketing, and President Qubein (known to the HPU family simply by his first name Nido) is big on marketing the school. Qubein became president in January 2005, and has worked to change much of the school to fit his image of what it should be. Qubein prior to becoming president had no experience working in a university setting, as his main qualification came from being an alum who became wealthy from his business interests. Qubein has worked tirelessly with his business interests at funding numerous projects on campus. When I was a student, construction delays became a major headache for students, and the construction still will never stop. And it's not just HPU doing this, my public schools back home have done much the same, as are other universities. Every school has to change to meet new needs and compete for students, and change is going to happen even more when marketing is a central part of the school. Qubein appears in most of the school's marketing campaigns, trying to sell the school from his perspective.
Nido Qubein is not the only college president who has made himself a major part of the growth of his university. Tonight's opponent was Liberty University, a school established by well-known televangelist Jerry Falwell. Falwell always had a vision for Liberty as being a flagship school for evangelical Christians, just like Notre Dame is for Catholics and BYU for Mormons. Falwell set out to build a campus that integrated the environment of a small bible college with the curriculum of a regular academic institution. And Falwell succeeded, establishing a college in 1971 with now over 12,000 students for Division I's most recently established school. As Kyle talked about in his ESPN article, athletics was a big part of Falwell's vision for Liberty University. And after Falwell died in 2007, the school (led by his son Jerry Falwell Jr.) has stayed true to his mission. More money than ever is invested in athletics, and the Flames have far more resources financially than any other school in the Big South. Because of this and the greater vision for the school, some people at Liberty dream of moving across the Red Line, something no other school in the conference could fathom. Falwell's dream was someday to have the Liberty football team play Notre Dame. Qubein would also like to see High Point be able to market itself with athletics, but hasn't made as hard a push as Falwell did. I am sure Qubein sees himself as somebody like Falwell, a visionary with the mindset of how to do things the right way. But as many did not like the things Falwell did, sometimes I am not sure I see things the same way that Qubein does, even though we are both for HPU succeeding. As Kyle wrote in the prologue here, the more you get to know somebody the more they let you down. And that can be the same with schools as well. The more you get to know anything, it seems less perfect.
Some things still manage to not change. When I arrived to purchase my ticket to the women's game, the HPU ticket manager before I even asked and presented my ID gave me the men's ticket I had reserved. This is still the only school that this could happen at, and it lets me know that I still have a sense of belonging here. The mascot outfit designed my freshman year is still wearing a HPU jersey from the 2003-04 season. The interior of the Millis Center has been revamped, but the architecture remains the same. And the team is in the midst of a mid-conference season swoon, an annual tradition. HPU fans always get their hopes up early of a good season before an injury, suspension, or some other bad luck sets the team back and they can't regain that step. This has been pretty much the case in the tenures of both Lundy and Cherry except for 2006-07 (where we did not have a letdown until the conference semi-finals) and 2008-09 (where there was no good start). The Panthers were blown out Tuesday at last-place Radford and were worn out playing at fast-paced VMI Thursday. So even though HPU was playing at home against a team with a worse record, I just did not have the confidence that HPU could snap this losing streak.
And sure enough, the Panthers got off to another bad start, down 13 early in the game. But HPU rallied behind Nick Barbour, who scored 33 points. But every time it looked like HPU would complete the comeback, the Flames answered with a run of their own. HPU cut a 12-point deficit with four minutes left to four with two minutes left, but Liberty's David Minaya made a bunch of free throws to put the game away. It was the fourth straight loss, and at least the Panthers will have four full days of rest before playing at UNC Asheville Thursday.
One famous quote from author Thomas Wolfe comes from the title of his novel, You Can't Go Home Again. You will never be able to relive your college experience, and when you return you will be disappointed in the change you see. Things won't be like you last left them and it won't be the same experience you remembered. As Kyle wrote, you can't sustain the college experience for very long. You will move on to new things, and your school will move on without you. College basketball is a great way to reconnect as an alum, but the experience you have will never be the same as your experience as a student. But what you will still have is a team to root for to give you a chance to re-connect, even if it isn't perfect.
LIBERTY 84, at HIGH POINT 78 01/21/2012
LIBERTY 7-14 (2-7) -- J. Sanders 4-6 6-8 14; A. Burrus 6-12 3-4 15; D. Minaya 2-6 11-14 15; J. Sanders 4-8 5-7 15; T. Speaks 3-6 5-6 11; T. Gielo 3-5 2-2 9; J. Vander Pol 1-2 0-0 2; E. Layer 1-1 0-0 3; C. Phillips 0-0 0-0 0; W. Aikens 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-46 32-41 84. HIGH POINT 7-13 (3-7) -- N. Barbour 12-17 6-6 33; S. Shine 7-17 2-2 17; T. Elliott 5-7 0-0 10; C. Law 0-3 0-2 0; X. Martin 3-7 5-6 11; J. Simms 0-2 0-0 0; B. Mikulic 1-2 0-0 3; J. Cheek 2-3 0-0 4; D. Wallace 0-3 0-2 0; D. Wallace 0-3 0-2 0; L. Harris 0-2 0-0 0; L. Harris 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 30-68 13-20 78.
Three-point goals: LIB 4-11 (D. Minaya 0-2; J. Sanders 0-1; J. Caleb Sanders 2-4; T. Gielo 1-2; E. Layer 1-1; T. Speaks 0-1), HP 5-20 (N. Barbour 3-5; J. Cheek 0-1; X. Martin 0-1; S. Shine 1-5; D. Wallace 0-1; L. Harris 0-2; B. Mikulic 1-2); Rebounds: LIB 28 (J. Sanders 10), HP 35 (S. Shine 10); Assists: LIB 15 (J. Sanders 13), HP 17 (X. Martin 7); Total Fouls -- LIB 18, HP 29; Fouled Out: LIB-None; HP-S. Shine.