Johan calls to say he has to get out of the house. He plans to drop in on the game between Hartford University and Boston University in West Hartford. "It's basketball alumni day," Johan says, "and Vin Baker will be there." Baker is the local phenom from nearby Old Saybrook, a one-time Celtic, Sonic, and Buck, a former best-kept-college-secret while a star at Hartford, and a recovering alcoholic -- a player who most basketball people say never lived up to his promise. I tell Johan I will come.
Johan and I lead busy lives, and we always run late. I follow him from Lok Hing restaurant, where we drink Tsingtao beer and eat the hors d'oeuvre sampler, to Chase Arena like the pursuing vehicle in a car chase. On campus, we find two illegal parking spaces in the food service lot. When at the ticket window Johan offers to pay the admission, I say, "How about I cover the tickets and you cover the tow?"
If Vin Baker and the other alums were honored in a pre-game ceremony, Johan and I have missed it. We walk into a game marked by man-to-man defense and poor shooting. Hartford leads 21-15 in the middle of the first half and looks ready to break the game open. The Hawks double-team the BU guards and create turnovers, but misfire on several three-pointers in a row.
"Why the three?" Johan says. "Why the three all the time?" Johan will be fifty this year, and he started playing the game as a schoolboy (as did I, as did Baker, who is 42) before the three-point field goal was adopted.
Ultimately, Moore feeds Schneck who cuts to the basket for a lay-up and a nine point Hartford lead which presents Johan, at least momentarily, with a more palatable brand of basketball. The inside move also opens up the perimeter for the Hawks, and threes by Cole and Peterson stake Hartford to a 36-26 halftime lead.
But Johan has left -- having watched less than ten minutes of action. Maybe his indignation at the bombs-away offense gets the best of him. More likely, the image of his wife at home with their two small daughters drives him restlessly out of the arena. The one-year old, Lizzie, is learning how to walk. "And look at me," he says before he goes. "I am old enough to be the father of the cheerleaders."
Halftime does not begin with basketball alumni; instead, the mascot of the Boston Celtics sets up a trampoline for a show of flips and dunks which I have no desire to see. I am also worried about my car. I go out to the food service lot and move it out of the tow zone and, as it turns out, miss the ceremony.
To start the second half Hartford cannot connect on two layups, although they maintain their ten-point lead through the first eight minutes with more fast, sloppy play. Then, two baskets by BU's Irving trim the lead to six, 43-37. But a 6-2 run, punctuated by a putback by Sikma (Jack Sikma's son, wearing his father's number, 43) and a jump shot by Nwakama, on his way to 22 points, restores the Hawks' double-digit lead.
I realize I have lost my chance to see Vin Baker tonight. I can see the basketball alums up in the arena's one luxury box. There is a spread of food, for sure, and possibly some alcohol, which Baker, of course, will have to avoid. Or maybe Hartford officials decided against alcohol. Or maybe Baker is not up there at all. Like Johan, bewildered tonight by his life, he may have had his own reasons to come late and leave early.
at HARTFORD 66, BOSTON UNIVERSITY 58
BOSTON UNIVERSITY 11-11 (5-4) -- J. Papale 2-8 0-0 6; D. Irving 4-13 4-6 14; D. Morris 2-7 0-0 4; M. Watson Jr. 4-9 0-0 10; T. Robinson 4-7 0-0 11; N. Dieudonne 3-6 2-3 8; M. Thomas 1-3 0-0 2; J. Kennedy 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Chionuma 1-3 1-1 3; J. Alston 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 7-10 58.
HARTFORD 12-10 (5-4) -- Y. Moore II 2-7 3-4 8; E. Cooper 1-3 2-2 4; M. Nwakamma 9-15 3-5 22; J. Peterson 3-4 1-1 9; J. Schneck 2-5 0-2 4; C. Wroe 1-2 2-2 4; W. Cole 4-6 0-0 10; N. Sikma 1-3 0-0 3; O. Faulk 0-0 2-2 2; P. U'u 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-45 13-18 66.
Three-point goals: BU 9-26 (M. Thomas 0-2; D. Irving 2-7; T. Robinson 3-6; Z. Chionuma 0-1; J. Papale 2-7; M. Watson Jr. 2-3), HART 7-16 (J. Peterson 2-2; W. Cole 2-4; M. Nwakamma 1-2; Y. Moore 1-4; N. Sikma 1-3; E. Cooper 0-1); Rebounds: BU 24 (D. Irving 8), HART 33 (M. Nwakamma 12); Assists: BU 11 (M. Watson Jr. 4), HART 13 (Y. Moore 4); Total Fouls -- BU 18, HART 17; Fouled Out: BU-None; HART-None.