- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
ALBANY, N.Y. - "The Road Not Taken" is one of the most misinterpreted pieces of American literature.
The obvious takeaway for the reader is to blaze a new trail, to go not where others have gone before, but - as with many things in life - most of us don't want to take the time to actually put the final lines in context with the rest of the poem.
For instance, two lines before Frost wrote, "I shall be telling this with a sigh ages and ages hence". Why the sigh? Why so much doubt throughout? While Frost himself was always cryptic about the meaning, he did once say about "The Road Not Taken"
(even the title has come down incorrectly over the years, many people note it as "The Road Less Traveled"), "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem - very tricky."
Albany sits about halfway from New Haven and Syracuse, and at some point in my undergrad career, I got very tired of the same interstates (and tolls) and searched
for a better, more scenic way. With now-ancient, but then-innovative Mapquest technology, I found it, winding through backroads through the beautiful Berkshire Mountains with little traffic to speak of, even at busy times.
With no real responsibilities after school Monday, and the closest TMM eligible game in Albany, I decided to see if the trip was still as scenic as it always was. I wasn't disappointed, eventually running into the New York Thruway at the same Sunoco gas station in Canaan, N.Y., which always amused me because it was literally at the end of the road (granted, not far off the highway, but still).
I was impressed at the size of the University of Albany campus, a sprawling state school with nearly 13,000 undergraduates, proving that Mid-majority schools
come in all shapes and student populations. I was underwhelmed, however upon entering the SEFCU Arena. Maybe because it was sponsored by a bank, or because I had rarely heard of it, I was expecting something brand new, but instead got a fairly bland arena that opened for business in 1992 (then known as the RACC). The bizarre shape and sightlines, as well as the scoreboard without anything even as flashy as how many time outs teams had left struck me as very familiar, until I remembered it was nearly identical to Stony Brook Arena.
Sure enough, both were state schools
in New York, both were moving up to Division I at about the same time, and each got a cookie-cutter bizarrely shaped multi-purpose arena. The Seawolves have begun a $20 million renovation on their place, maybe Albany will soon as well.
There was plenty of noise as I walked in, and it was coming from visiting Wagner, even though it was nearly an hour before tip-off. The Seahawks were yelping and sprinting through game-like sets, cheering each other on. Even the assistant coaches were drenched in sweat, poor Scott Smith was having all kinds of trouble keeping up with players demanding passes in different directons.
As with many of the assistant coaches I've come across this season, Smith has an interesting story. He was friendly with Danny Hurley when both were at Seton Hall together, although Smith was working in athletic administration. But he loved coaching enough to stick with it, through the youth programs of New York City, in junior college, and Division III ball. Eventually, he became an assistant for Hurley as he built St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.) into a state and national power.
When Hurley jumped to Wagner three years ago, Smith was rumored as a replacement, but instead followed Hurley to become a not-so-heralded Director of Basketball Operations, a position that many use as a springboard to coaching, but somewhere where the NCAA restricts actual time on the court. A year later, though, an assistant spot opened and Smith was back on the bench next to Hurley.
"This is a tough business," Hurley said of Smith at the time. "If you don't have people who are loyal and hard-working, then you could be up against it."
Of course, a year later, Hurley was off to Rhode Island, and Smith - now with three grown children - had lived near New York his whole life. Luckily, he knew the new coach, Bashir Mason, who was in Hurley's first class of players at St. Benedict's. Now 28, Mason is the youngest Division I head coach in the nation.
Albany didn't know quite what to make of Wagner's antics before the contest. Most of the Great Danes just looked curiously as the Seahawks got after it fiercely at the other end. There were a couple shakes of the head.
Personally as a coach, I think the warm-up can be a bit overrated, but I could see what Wagner was trying to do. With a young coach and struggling out of the game, they wanted to bring energy. The Seahawks won 25 games under Hurley last season.
However, energy doesn't necessarily help you put the ball in the basket, as Wagner found out when they scored just 38 points over the weekend against North Carolina Central (a game they somehow won, 38-36, Mason's first victory). You could see why in the first half Monday night, as - without junior guard Latif Rivers - Wagner had few offensive options in the half-court.
However, through senior Jonathon Williams, Wagner was able to stay in the game. I talked about Albany assistant Jeremy Friel in a previous game (he was involved in a funny incident at tip-off in this game where the team forgot to save him a seat on the bench, and a 30-second game of musical chairs ensued until there were enough seats for everyone), but it was fellow assistant Jon Iati who was most animated in this one.
My guess is that Iati (whose brother, Jacob is a starting guard for the Great Danes) was in charge of scouting, which basically involves figuring out what opponents' strengths and weaknesses are. Obviously, Wagner didn't have many options, and when Albany went to a zone and closed out too hard on a couple of shooters they didn't have to, Iati jumped off the bench in disgust. He was then apoplectic as they doubled another player, leaving the red-hot Williams open for a jumper. Nothing like all those hard hours of working watching film being wasted.
Eventually, Albany began to pull away, leading by nine at the half, and extending that to 48-33 with 15:20 left in the game on a Jacob Iati jumper.
Wagner seemed dead and buried, but Mason decided - possibly out of desperation - that he might as well use that energy we saw in pregame for 94 feet instead of just 47. Almost immediately, the Seahawks' fortunes began to turn. Williams, who would finish with 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting, led the charge, along with point guard Kenneth Ortiz, who was pretty invisible to that point.
Albany point guard Mike Black, one of the more impressive players I've seen this season, was still battling an injury I saw him incur in the Loyola game. He was a gametime decision, and looked a decent amount of pain for most of the contest, but finished with 19 points, including some big buckets down the stretch.
Still, eight quick points from Williams brought Wagner to within 65-63, and they got the ball back trailing 66-63, but could never really get a good look at the basket, as Eric Fanning tried a desperation three-pointer that didn't come really close at the final buzzer.
The pressing question (what a pun) afterward would obviously be why Wagner and Mason just didn't push the issue from the opening tip. The game was most entertaining, and the Seahawks certainly played a lot better, to the uneducated eye (mine), it hid a lot of their previously glaring weaknesses.
There might be a bit of a revolution going in the NEC in this regard. King Rice at Monmouth and Jamion Christian at Mt. St. Mary's have both instituted high-intensity styles, with Christian bringing his "Mount Mayhem
" from VCU (and won at George Washington Monday night), where he was an assistant under Shaka Smart, who has obviously done a decent job with it over the last few seasons. Might Mason be able to do the same?
Time will tell, I guess. I noticed something a bit odd about the Albany pep band, or should I say, old. Not that I should be one to be pointing fingers, but a few of the members looking like their days on campus should have long passed them by. So, being the curious guy, who drove all the way here for this meaningless basketball game, I asked.
It turns out that being a big school with a small-time basketball team sometimes doesn't exactly inspire the student body into supporting the squad (I saw more students playing in the pickup game next door than I did in the student section at SEFCU Arena, granted there will probably be a few more when they take on cross-town rival Siena Saturday downtown). So about a decade ago, the school sent out a memo to anyone who could play an instrument.
A few staff members answered the call, and have been the Albany pep band ever since. Scott Birge is the director of the Campus Center, and has working at U of Albany for more than 20 years, "One day, my vice president said, 'Didn't use used to play drums in high school?' He said, 'We need you.' And here I am. It keeps the mental health treatments down after a long day at work."
Sure beats chasing rats
With darkness long having descended on the east coast, I took the highways home. It was not nearly as scenic, and about as monotonous as they come.
But it did make a difference. About 30 minutes.