BRONX, N.Y. - While they still receive significant attention from a niche following, the heyday of the American ghost and apparition movement probably dates back to the 17th century, when witches were tried and hanged in Salem without much regard for physical evidence. Even the CSI crew in Salem would have had a hard time convincing the powers that be that their work was genuine.
But by the 19th century, the tide has turned a little for our haunters. While we still had our share of evil spirits, there were some more informative ones in there as well, Honest Abe
and others showing that the after-life wasn't so stressful that you had to come back and torture the living.
As I watched Saint Louis take on Fordham at Rose Hill Wednesday night, I couldn't help but be struck as to how much the Billikens are a Rick Majerus team, even though he sadly isn't with us anymore. He never really coached this year's team due to his health, but when you watch the offense they run and the stingy man-to-man defense, the Majerus influence is clearly evident.
When the big foreign players who don't rank high on the athleticism scale, then step out and drill superhoops as a bewildered defense tries to figure out how they can cover space in help defense and still get out in time, Majerus might as well be standing there in spirit next to current coach Jim Crews, who took over in Majerus' absence.
(Crews has an interesting story of his own, controversially fired from Army before being given a chance by Majerus, who never has much interest in someone's past, as long as they could coach.)
Saint Louis fought off a determined Fordham team for its fifth straight Atlantic-10 victory and at 16-5 (6-2 in the A-10) look to be in decent shape for an NCAA Tournament berth. With veterans at almost every position, they may not go away easily, either. Rick Majerus teams rarely do. And whether or not, he's here with them anymore, Saint Louis is a Majerus squad.
The stats prove it as well. Five players averaging nine points or more per game? Allowing just 58.3 points per game (good for 22nd in the country)? Leading three-point shooter (Cody Ellis) being a 6-foot-8 Australian with a bad hairdo (and Ellis had 22 points and six superhoops in this game)? Still have any doubts?
My coaching career in basketball started when I answered an ad in a local paper looking for volunteers for a middle school league. We had 14 teams, and games were mostly on Saturdays, meaning that they ran every hour from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. A city basketball league needs to keep overhead low, so they don't like to pay people to do things such as keep score.
So I volunteered when my team wasn't in action. And, don't tell anyone, but I kind of loved it. It reminded me of keeping score of baseball games in my youth, everything had a place, and you could tell with one look of all the pencil marks I had made what was going on in the game. When the book has reached the end of its cycle, it wasn't hard to tell the games I kept score for, those were the meticulous ones with everything filled out. After a while, I would actually do the scorebook and run the scoreboard simultaneously on occasion, yet another one of my talents that are far from lucrative.
Eventually I moved onto high school coaching and we had managers to do the books, which I of course would make sure they did correctly.
More on Fordham's plight in the Atlantic-10 in a moment, but I ordered a ticket a couple of days before this game and ended up front row at center court behind the benches. Now that's a worse position to watch a game than it sounds. Your view is blocked by coaches, players, and any number of people working near them (stats, PA announcer, guy running Twitter account, etc.). However, as I sat down 30 minutes before tip-off, I was right in front of this:
I marveled at how all the names were already in the book, the depth that the scorer was prepared to go into at the Division I level, but also that pretty much the same book I used in the rec league back in Connecticut was used in a game on national television.
Soon veteran referee Earl Walton was over chatting with Renee the scorekeeper, who by know had donned her black and white shirt (which I never had), going over last-minute signals and what to do if there was a problem. A group tried to pose for a picture with the court in the background and wanted to use the ball sitting there as a prop.
Renee looked confused before the scoreboard operator chimed in. "That's the game ball, man, sorry."
Ah, the sacred game ball. Just like in the rec leagues.
Renee scribbled diligently, put her hands up to show one-and-one and double bonus when she had to, and really only got involved in the game only once. Midway through the first half, a foul was called on No. 41 for Saint Louis. The referee went back to inbound the horn when Renee put her hand up and the buzzer sounded.
"Four. One," the referee barked, and then quickly spun around to check himself.
"There isn't.....," Renee started, but was cut off.
"Wait, wait, wait," the referee said pointing at his chest. "My bad, my bad, Five, one. Fifty-one blue."
There wasn't a No. 41 on the floor.
The officials also commended the Fordham game staff for a shot clock issue late in the game where there appeared to be a change of possession when there wasn't. They were trying to figure out what to reset it to when the scoreboard operator remembered that the ball was inbounded just two seconds prior, so it should go back to 33, saving everyone a two-minute check of the replay monitor for a negligible two-second change.
"That's a great job by you guys," Walton said.
The next train out of Fordham back to Connecticut until 45 minutes after the game ended (in part thanks to an 8 p.m. for TV tip-off), so I wandered around Rose Hill for a while. Renee, as I had done so many times but with an efficiency that would probably put me to shame, filled in all the totals, adding my hand, counting on her fingers, glorious - although probably only to me.
When she was done, she took one last look, nodded, and slammed the book shut, grabbing her coat to go. I asked her if I could take a picture of the final book, my mind raced to come up with a plausible motive as to why, but failed.
"It's a joke I'm playing on someone."
Wow. Even by my standards, that was poor.
I got the best possible expected response. "Ohhh-kay."
And with that, it was out into the chilly Bronx night to wait for my train.
Rose Hill is historic and has plenty of charm. Even with the Rams' subpar record, a decent amount of students showed up and it got a little fired up when Fordham made a couple of runs.
But it's not an Atlantic-10 facility. And Fordham has no business being in the Atlantic-10, let's be honest.
Tom Pecora and the Rams may eventually prove me wrong. At one point, the Rams made a run in this game with Travion Leonard, Mandell Thomas, Ryan Rhoomes, and Jermaine Myers on the floor, all of whom are freshmen. In the end, the Billikens just executed and defended better in the second half, and it was an all-too-common result for Fordham fans. What could add to the embarrassment this season is the Atlantic-10 Tournament being in New York.
However, only the top 12 (of 16) teams qualify. Last year, it was only two who didn't make it, and - of course - Fordham was one of them.
It seems with conference realignment that it's easier for schools to leave than to get the boot. The Atlantic-10 has obviously grown past Fordham, and yet there are few talks of them moving that I've heard. I guess now a move back to the Patriot League would be tantamount to a surrender, but there's nothing wrong in life with admitting you're wrong on something.
Patsos would love this place. Army, Navy, Lehigh, Bucknell? Perfect fits for what Rose Hill and Fordham are offering. But my views - as always - will likely fall on deaf ears as Fordham looks at its television money and "status" of being in an almost big-time conference.
Kyle wrote in last year's Prologue, "It doesn't get much lonelier than sitting alone in an enclosed, locked, metal container in the middle of American Nowhere. It's a feeling that encourages a perspective of the universe as viewed through the spectral prism of one's navel."
I never feel alone when driving in my car. There's always music I can play, lectures I can listen to, a moving canvas to see things from, even in the dark.
But as I stood on the train platform in the Bronx Wednesday night, I felt that loneliness more clearly than the chill of the late February night. And it wasn't because I felt scared. It was because I felt helpless. Dozens of people stood on the platform in silence, depressing silence, most looking at the ground, a couple checking their phones, some staring into space at God knows what.
And so the spectral prism didn't shine toward my own navel, but toward the feeling of those around me. Where were they headed? Why the glum face? What brought them here? I could have asked them, of course, maybe I should have. But in the Bronx at 11 p.m. with some valuable things (including the computer I'm typing on right now), I wasn't going to rock the boat.
Kyle also borrowed a quote from Chris Owen in last year's Prologue, "Death has the final word over narcissism. You can't be the center of the universe if you don't exist."
I've used that often since. But I wonder if it might not apply here.
Rick Majerus has been dead for two months. But he still might be the center of the Saint Louis basketball universe, whether they know it or not. And with him along for the ride, who knows how far the Billikens can go?