Game #9-052: Norfolk State vs. Missouri-Kansas City KangaroosNovember 18, 2012 11:30 am
UNCASVILLE, Conn. - It was 10:45 a.m. on a Sunday, but the casino never sleeps, so the bells and whistles still greeted my sleepy body as I returned to the Mohegan Sun Arena. Somewhere to my left and right, people were winning and losing thousands of dollars, but I still thought this greeting from the security force was a tad bit excessive for a game between Norfolk St. and Missouri-Kansas City, even if the Spartans were coming off a season in which they had won an NCAA Tournament game:
But, as I said in Saturday's recaps, the Mohegan Sun - like any other big business - likes to be as professional as possible. The key word there being professional. Just because they do a thorough job doesn't mean I have to like it. Later in the day, there was a mad security rush near my seat: people got on walkie-talkies, there was much scurrying, and two large men in nice suits and earpieces were in the face of an elderly man.
It turned out the man had tripped on the way to his seat behind me. He had a scratch, but he was fine and just wanted to see a game of college basketball. The men in suits gave him their card, took his name, and assured him if he needed anything to let them know. Again, it was fantastic service, but the cynic in me wondered how many employees were actually assigned to this event? And how was that sustainable? I ask too many questions, I know.
As I tried to count the number of fans actually in attendance (about 15) at this early hour, a lone voice boomed over the mercifully low-decibel warm-up music. UMKC assistant coach Stephen Brough was surely tired, too, but he wasn't going to let it show to his team. His job was to get them ready to play, and it didn't matter what time it was or how many empty seats were in the arena.
"Don't be the weak link. Don't let your teammates down," Brough commanded as they shot short jumpers. "C'mon, nine in a row. 1, 2, 3. C'mon, count. Let's go. Big game today."
And, to UMKC and Brough, it was. With only a win over Division II Lincoln (Mo.) to its credit and a game with Ohio St. the only other thing between them and the opening of Summit League play next Thursday (really), the Kangaroos needed a win badly, particularly coming off a 10-21 season that kind of fell apart at the seams a year ago.
Brough, wearing the always interesting ensemble of an Adidas warm-up shirt with dress pants and shoes, made sure every entry pass he made to his post players was right on and every pass he made to his shooters hit them right in the hands.
When he didn't have a ball in his fingers, he was clapping, always clapping, until the last Roo left the court with 10 minutes left on the pregame clock.
With the court (and arena) now completely empty, I used the time to look up Brough. As is turned out, he graduated from college the same year I did. He was a student manager and when he graduated from Miami of Ohio, became an administrative assistant, and - like me - earned a master's in education, probably a backup plan he has yet to have to implement, because he went from the women's team at Miami, to the Wright St. men, to Baylor. At Baylor, he was Diretor of Basketball Ops, perhaps the most thankless of the positions in the college basketball world.
In 2009, Matt Brown brought him aboard (along with fellow assistant coach Doug Hall), and here he is.
(I was immediately a fan of Brown because he is a John Beilein disciple, bringing with him the same offensive sets and an occasional 1-3-1 defense, things I like to run when I coach. Even though Beilein is above the Red Line, I think he's still sympathetic to our cause.)
I wonder how many stories there are like that in Our Game, how many people contribute to the success (or non-success) of programs that we cover that are never even mentioned, let alone covered?
With the people inside Mohegan Sun Arena still in double digits, I decided to walk around a bit prior to tipoff. Unlike Saturday, I actually saw people wearing UMKC colors, it turned out they were the parents of freshman guard Mason Wedel, who came all the way from Shawnee, Kan., to watch Wedel play four minutes in this game. I saw a man and his young son (wearing an Anthony Davis Kentucky jersey). They said they just liked basketball. That's a novel concept.
One of the reasons a guy like Brough works so hard in the pregame is that there isn't a heck of a lot for him to do once the game starts.
The Roos got off to a great start, but midway through the first half the Norfolk St. pressure started to pay dividends. Anthony Evans stayed in his trademark crouch pose as the Spartans grabbed the lead and threatened to pull away, much to the dismay of Brown and Brough. But UMKC battled back to take a 26-25 halftime lead.
Out of the locker room, another unnoticed member of the staff, the trainer, came out of my shadows. My seats were directly behind Norfolk State's bench and athletic trainer Jessica Cole. Cole came up and chatted with a man, telling him that he thought his son was OK, but she was going to keep an eye on it. I thought that was a nice thing to do. Other than being the only female on the bench, Cole was also white.
Should I have noticed that? Should I feel guilty for noticing it? As it turns out, a check of the Norfolk St. website shows that, despite being in the MEAC, Norfolk St. is very diverse, both in athletes and staff (sophomore Lithuanian Paulius Vinogradovas is on the men's basketball roster, but did not play in this game). The entire training staff (two other women in addition to Cole) is white. It doesn't really men anything, but I found it interesting in historical context.
As it turned out, the man she was talking to was junior Pendarvis Williams' dad, and the injury was to his knee that would "limit" him to just 30 minutes and just seven points. While Williams, integral in Norfolk State's postseason run in March, was not 100 percent, UMKC came out inspired after the half. Back-to-back three-pointers by Thomas Staton and Alton Tanner (who got particular attention from both Brough and Brown in the pregame) pushed the Roos to a 42-34 lead with 14:30 left.
It was 44-34 on a Trinity Hall dunk, but Norfolk St. scored the next 12 points. Another one was getting away from UMKC, as Brown and Brough squirmed and tried to push their team. Their prayers were answered by a pair of Kirk Korver three-pointers, and UMKC played enough defense down the stretch to pull off a 63-57 win that few people around the Mohegan Sun noticed, let alone the rest of the country.
But, as the teams left the court, Brown and Brough were last to go through the tunnel and gave each other a quick embrace. They knew it was a big victory for them.
They would be wise to learn a lesson from Norfolk St., though. Eight months ago, the Spartans and Anthony Evans were on top of the world. Just four months later, they were at the ESPN Sportz Awards
on the red carpet with the stars. And now, they are falling to 2-3 by losing to a directional team in an empty arena in a casino in the middle of nowhere Connecticut. With their star point guard hobbled.
There is a long season to go, and Norfolk St. should be just fine in MEAC play (assuming Williams is healthy by then), but it's a lesson nonetheless.
But, although all glory is fleeting, guys like Brough live for it anyway. And who am I to judge them? Beats about a million other jobs I can think of.
Like sportswriter, for instance.
Later on in the evening, about five hours after their game was complete, I looked down the other end of the court and saw Brown and Brough were still there, taking notes.
Ohio St. was playing Washington and the Buckeyes are next on the schedule.
It would be easy to say, "Screw it , we're not beating them anyway, let's go check out the sights."
Yeah, right.MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY 63, NORFOLK STATE 57
NORFOLK STATE 2-3 (0-0) -- J. Jackson 3-12 5-11 11; R. Johnson 4-14 2-2 11; K. Brown 3-7 1-2 7; P. Williams 3-7 0-0 7; J. Weathers 2-6 1-3 6; R. Gaston 3-6 3-4 9; B. Goode 6-9 0-1 12; K. Lila-St. Rose 2-7 0-0 5; M. Hawkins 0-4 0-0 0; Z. Estime 0-1 0-0 0; A. Rogers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-61 7-12 57.
MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY 2-2 (0-0) -- E. Tyler 4-6 6-7 15; T. Hall 4-8 3-4 11; K. Korver 2-5 4-4 10; F. Chatmon 1-2 3-6 5; T. Staton 5-9 1-2 14; N. Rogers 1-4 3-3 5; A. Tanner 1-2 0-0 2; B. Reid 0-1 0-0 0; N. Kirksey 0-1 1-3 1; M. Wedel 0-0 0-0 0; C. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-38 21-29 63.
Three-point goals: NORF 4-18 (M. Hawkins 0-1; R. Johnson 1-5; K. Brown 0-2; P. Williams 1-4; J. Weathers 1-3; K. Lila-St. Rose 1-2; Z. Estime 0-1), UMKC 6-14 (T. Staton 3-5; K. Korver 2-5; T. Hall 0-1; E. Tyler 1-2; A. Tanner 0-1); Rebounds: NORF 32 (R. Gaston 9), UMKC 27 (F. Chatmon 5); Assists: NORF 11 (K. Brown 4), UMKC 9 (E. Tyler 3); Total Fouls -- NORF 20, UMKC 12; Fouled Out: NORF-None; UMKC-None.