They really can't be thought to have enough intelligence to discern that good people are sometimes wrong and bad people are sometimes capable of good things. And maybe the difference between a "good" person and a "bad" person is in the eye of the beholder, which may or may not be biased.
Fairleigh Dickinson was closing its season Saturday afternoon at the Rothman Center, a campaign they'd probably rather forget for a program that hopes it is finally hit the bottom. After a respectable 7-9 start (2-2 in the NEC), including wins over Lafayette - who would go on to finish second in the Patriot League - the Knights lost their final 14 games, most of them by lopsided margins, culminating in the 103-82 blowout to Mt. St. Mary's, the same team they beat in Maryland two months ago.
To most involved with FDU basketball, it probably seems like two decades ago. There was the obvious lack of effort, but also reports of players quitting, both literally and figuratively, and the increasingly worse scorelines as the end of the season progressed.
FDU finished 15-74 over the last three seasons, just 7-49 in NEC play, and while it wasn't meant to leak before the season officially ended, it was no surprise that Greg Vetrone was out as head coach
. Not even to Vetrone.
But it put Vetrone in a unique spot Saturday as he went through the motions on Senior Day and had to coach a game he knew would be his last no matter what happened.
Karma police supporters may believe that Vetrone had it coming. Wittingly or unwittingly, 15 years ago, Vetrone represented everything that was wrong with college athletics. As an assistant for UNLV, his job was to get high level high school basketball players to come to the school, and if that meant bending a few rules, well, everybody else did it, too. Only Vetrone - unlike most others - ended up in Sports Illustrated and his basketball name was tarnished forever. (Although he was officially cleared by the NCAA, he did say, "I was immature. I look back at that time and feel like I was a horrible role model for the players. I was a horrible husband.")
Vetrone stayed in basketball through another controversial figure - Sonny Vaccaro - but as Vaccaro neared retirement, Vetrone moved on to coaching high school and picking up whatever he could to make ends meet. This story from the Newark Star-Ledger
tells most of the rest of the story better than I can here. Long-time Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tom Green gave Vetrone a chance, two decades after Vetrone started his career there.
A year later, Green - after 26 years as head coach - was fired and replaced by Vetrone
. David Langford, like so many athletic directors in Our Game, probably heard his recruiting pitch, knew he once was among the best in the business at selling himself to impressionable 16-year-olds (which, sadly, is a side of college basketball we don't like to focus on here, with good reason), and that the loyal Green's time had passed.
But the Vetrone experiment failed miserably.
So as I took my seat at the Rothman Center, I didn't really know what to expect. Would FDU even try? Would Vetrone go out with a bang, maybe he'd just sit there for 40 minutes and not say a word?
I was especially keen to keep an eye on his best player, senior Kinu Rochford. Despite the mess that was FDU basketball this season, Rochford was somehow one of the most efficient players in the NEC this season, his second with the Knights after transferring from James Madison. He gained the reputation of being a bit impetuous at times, though, and occasionally tough to control. He fouled out no less than seven times this season and finished with four fouls in 10 other games.
Early in a game last week at Robert Morris with FDU down big, Rochford let his frustration get the best of him, reportedly taking off his uniform and walking away, never to return. The boxscore that day shows he played only 10 minutes and committed no fouls.
Seems like a punk, right?
Only you probably wouldn't have gotten that impression by just Saturday's game. With his team losers of 13 in a row and obviously in big trouble, Rochford - a 6-foot-6 swing player - put up his usual solid numbers (14 points, five rebounds, six assists). There were a couple of times that he threw up his hands in frustration at a call or something that Vetrone tried to tell him. And when Vetrone took him out in the dying minutes, he immediately wanted to get his sneakers off as soon as possible.
But two days later, FDU had an interesting Tweet. Its women's team was involved in a big game, and they reported, "FDU Men's Basketball star Kinu Rochford supporting Knights with dance in bleachers."
Hmmm. Again the black and white way to define someone fails the sportz journalist.
The story of Green and Langford is not completely cut and dry, either. Langford has been Athletic Director at FDU for decade, and has had his successes, including upgrading facilities. If we had a soccer Mid-majority, FDU would have been front and center as they pulled two upsets before falling in overtime to North Carolina in the Sweet 16, which sounds eerily familiar.
FDU's last two seasons under Green were very poor, a combined 15-43, neither one resulting in an NEC Tournament appearance (which means the Knights how now missed the NEC tourney in five of the last six seasons).
Should there be loyalty to a veteran coach, even when they are struggling? Is it all about wins and losses at the Division I level? Sadly, for most athletic directors, that's what it's come to. In this case, hindsight always being 20-15, the coaching change just made things worse. But if Vetrone had succeeded, he would have hailed for the move.
Vetrone, Langford, Green, and Rochford were all together Saturday. Green was in attendance because of a ceremony to honor one of his former players that recently died (sadly, I didn't catch the name and Internet searches have been futile). Green and Langford, as you'd expect, did not speak, and I didn't see Green crack a smile, even when he was talking to his former players. (Green did get another job, by the way, he currently coaches at the City College of New York, now Division III, but the 1950 NCAA Division I champs before a point-shaving scandal ended their prominence.)
FDU actually raced out to an early double digit lead before Mt. St. Mary's - which has enjoyed a fantastic turnaround under first-year coach Jamion Christian - eventually caught and passed them with ease, facing little resistance on any shots, and even when they missed, scooping up 20 offensive rebounds. Impressive freshman Shivaughan Wiggins had 28 points and three steals.
At one point, as I've done in some other places, and wondered how anyone was really expected to win here. It's near New York, but not in New York. I watched kids play on either side of the gym in the massive field house with a basketball court in the middle. Little gymnasts went through practice in one corner. Maybe Green did do a heck of a job to keep them competitive for a while, going to the NCAA Tournament in 1998 and 2005?
By the end of the afternoon, however, the ultimate show became not Vetrone or Langford or Green or even Rochford.
Yosua Cordero-Collado is listed as a senior from Bologna, Italy via nearby Raritan High School. He's 6-foot-5, so he decided to try to walk on to the basketball team this season, and this is not exactly Indiana where Tom Crean probably gets hundreds of requests per year, so Vetrone gave him a shot.
Even by walk-on standards, Cordero-Collado was a little raw and had only appeared in three games all season heading into Saturday. But with two minutes left, and Cordero-Collado's friends and family chanting his name (and it wasn't exactly hard to hear them in the Rothman Center), Vetrone pointed to him and he sprinted to the scorer's table.
Cordero-Collado immediately chucked up an 18-footer from the right corner. Missed the rim by at least a foot. But he was undeterred. The next time down, he parked himself in the lane. The Mount defender didn't really appear to have the heart to block his shot, and the 10-foot hook shot rattled home.
The standing ovation was impressive, but Cordero-Collado's reaction was priceless, as he swung his arms wildly in jubilation while making his way to the other end of the court.
Vetrone was able to face the firing squad with a big smile on his face. To be fair, Vetrone took the latter part of this season in stride and with a positive attitude, his last Tweet saying, "Thank you for the opportunity." I looked over to Langford, who was also standing and cheering. Rochford stopped untying his shoes to have a laugh. Green, well, I'm not sure he smiled, but he probably wanted to.
Eventually, the buzzer went off and the Fairleigh Dickinson season was over. As I was leaving, Cordero-Collado emerged from the locker room, and the smile had yet to leave his face. Holding the framed portrait he was given for Senior Night, he hugged every family member he could get his free arm on.
His team had finished the season losing 14 straight games, his career was over, and whomever the next coach at Fairleigh Dickinson is will face a rebuilding job with few parallels in Division I.
Yet there was no gray area in the joy that Yosua Cordero-Collado felt at that moment. After a whole season of practice with little reward, he could forever say that he scored in a Division I basketball game, and that could never be taken away from him.
After all, it was right there in the boxscore. In black and white.