"When our actions do not, our fears make us traitors." - Lady Macbeth
I could sit here and make the usual list of excuses for you: it's hard to simulate the pressure, it wasn't quite the same as it was in practice, it was a tougher chance than it looked. You've heard them before, I'm sure.
But the bottom line is my team, my support system, and the forces of fortune put me in position to make the big play, and I didn't get it done.
To understand the rest of this story, you have to read this from Kyle, written before the 2010-2011 season. As a new member of the Mid-Majority team, my view of Jimmy Patsos prior to a few months ago was "the Stephen Curry idiot," the lunatic that coaches Loyola (was it Illinois or Maryland?). I didn't like him. I thought he was an embarrassment to the coaching profession. I laughed when his team made a rare television appearance (at least here) and were dismissed by Saint Peter's in the MAAC quarterfinals last season. How is this jerk still coaching a Division I college basketball team? Any team for that matter?
And then I read Kyle's piece, with the impeccable title, "Warm Blood." And I read it again. And a few more times. Although I have approximately zero in common with Jimmy Patsos, I had a new perspective. His plight is our plight.
Sure enough, Patsos has actually put a tremendous product on the floor this year. And after being thwarted by my own coaching career in a couple of previous attempts to see Patsos and the Greyhounds in the flesh, on Super Bowl Sunday, there he was in Jersey City, N.J., to take on Saint Peter's (who had gone on to win the MAAC Tournament after ending Loyola's season), and there I was.
But it gets better, and this is where the fortune comes in. Due to the local team being in said Super Bowl, the tipoff was moved up to noon, and either the locals didn't notice or didn't care, as when I arrived on the Saint Peter's campus at about 11:15 a.m. (the early tip-off allowed me to beat New York City traffic as well), I was worried I was in the wrong place. The campus (small, but with some nice buildings) might as well have had tumbleweeds rolling through it.
Sure enough, though, I saw the Loyola bus, also running late, pull into the Yanitelli Center, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I was at least in the right place.
Normally, I go for the cheapest ticket option, but I noticed a regular ticket cost $10 and a courtside one went for only $15. And you got a free (normally $2) program.
"Do you have any courtside seats left?"
After a few different student-workers asked around, they decided they had 10 remaining, and one was mine.
When I walked in, there was hardly anyone in the building -- hell, there wasn't anyone -- but at least I had a cushy back to my chair.
The head coaches never come out for warm-ups (does anyone have a good answer for that?), and teams always warm up opposite from their bench, so I was enthralled with Saint Peter's assistant Dalip Bhatia. As it turns out, he's a 5-foot-4 Indian, who was on the fast track at Deloitte only to go coach college basketball? At Division III Kean as an assistant? He deserves his own story, more than I can do here. Luckily, someone has done it.
Finally, as the game is ready to begin, out comes Patsos in a gray suit. As the game tips off, he's...sitting down? Quiet? C'mon, Jimmy, I didn't pay the extra $3 to watch you sit down, man. It is early after all, and within a stone's throw of New York City (almost literally), who knows, right?
It didn't take long for Patsos to wake up, though. He called his first timeout three minutes in with his Greyhounds off to a narcoleptic start, but our first big Patsos moment came at the under-eight media timeout, when he sprinted past half court to voice a few choice words to junior Erik Etherly. No matter that Loyola had a 10-point lead or anything.
To his credit, Etherly responded with four points, including a dunk, the Peacocks called time, and Etherly was greeted at the bench by a giant smile from his head coach. I guess that's the Jimmy Patsos experience in a nutshell. There was some other yelling, some quizzical looks from players he just removed from the game, some mild official abuse led by, "That's seven in a row you gave them. Seven," even as the foul count read 4-3 for Saint Peter's at the time.
There was one thrown jacket late in the game as the Peacocks threatened to get back into it, but it was quickly picked up and put back on.
As it turned out, the grand total of the courtside seating for this matinee consisted of me and two other middle-aged gentlemen. I asked the guy next to me if he followed Loyola and he said he didn't, but his friend did. I proceeded, unprompted, to tell him the story of Patsos and my transformation on him, and how well he was doing this season. I'm sure he didn't care.
Fortunately for Patsos, his team was clearly superior Sunday, both physically and technically,and that bodes well on his quest for the Promised Land. Saint Peter's got within five midway through the second half, but never really felt in it, Loyola moving to an impressive 18-5 with a 66-55 win.
After last year's NCAA Tournament appearance, the Peacocks are just 5-19 this season, and I felt for Bhatia. He had obviously scouted Loyola well, seemed to know where every play was headed, but it didn't matter. At one point, as Etherly was about to inbound, Bhatia was screaming, "Watch it coming back! Watch it coming back!" Sure enough, Etherly threw it in, got it back, and laid it in, as Saint Peter's seemed to look on in bewilderment.
Ah, the life of an assistant coach that spends an inordinate amount of time breaking down tape.
Another guy I felt sorry for was Saint Peter's senior Brandon Hall. He played his butt off, more than once flying to the ground and nearly into a wall. With time running out, and the game largely decided, Hall dove to get a loose ball and caromed into the courtside seating, a.k.a. me. After a quick, "sorry", he was back in the play. It was a close call for my phone, but I was fine. As Loyola dribbled the clock out, Hall had a dejected look of someone who knows his career is close to being over.
With the game over, I walked to the other end of the court to take my obligatory final score picture, then was about to walk out, when it occurred to me that I had forgotten my free program on my seat.
I strolled back to get it, but there was someone standing in front of my comfy chair, chatting with the two guys I was sitting next to. I said, "Excuse me," and a fairly large man in a gray suit said, "Sorry" and took a step to his left.
Wait a minute, that's Jimmy Patsos.
I wanted to tell him that I was writing for Mid-Majority, and thought Kyle's piece on him was fantastic, and that I was rooting for him this season, that he embodied what a lot of the Mid-Majority was all about.
But I didn't want to sound like a groupie or something. I had worked in the media, I didn't want to be over the top.
As he looked at me, I said, "Good game, Coach."
"Thanks," he said, shook my hand, and walked back toward the Loyola locker room.
And that was that.
After a moment, now with my thoughts collected correctly, I moved that way, watching as Patsos made the rounds, picking up little kids, hugging Loyola supporters, making the rounds in a way any politician would have been proud of (Patsos actually is similar physically to the current governor of New Jersey, and surely future Republican Presidential candidate, Chris Christie).
As he walked past me one last time, he gave a hug to one of his former players who had made the trip to the game. "I don't know about you, man," the player said.
Patsos smiled, threw up his right hand, and disappeared down the stairs to the victorious locker room.
I could have interjected. I could have butted in. But that wouldn't have been right. I had my good look, and I had missed it.
Maybe I'll get another opportunity. I'll surely see Patsos and Loyola again at the MAAC Tournament next month, and who knows?
But big chances don't come every day. You don't know when the ball is going to come to you with the clock running down, when the fans rise as one, when everything conspires together to put you in the spotlight.
I just have to keep working hard and hope the wheel comes around to my little spot again.
In the meantime, though, I can take solace in knowing I did the best I could, even though it wasn't quite good enough. And I just want to apologize to Kyle Whelliston. I know he worked very hard to keep this site going over the years. I'm sorry I didn't write better for him.