THP #32: Time

March 6, 2022 – Waltham, Massachusetts
Bentley vs Franklin Pierce
Northeast-10 Championship Game
Men’s Basketball

I don’t feel time passing. I don’t think any of us actually do. I know time’s gone by when I can triangulate myself with a point in the past.

I was at Bentley for the final stop of the season and felt the passage of time in a major way.

Looking up at the rafters I saw the 2007 and 2008 Elite Eight banners. I remember being in the gym with my father at those games when I was a teenager. I remember the stifling energy of the room. I remember guys like Jason Westrol stealing the show.

That was 15 years ago. In my head, I don’t realize that 15 years have passed. I’m trying to live my best life today, but seeing those banners brought back the memories and made me take a step back and realize just how much time had gone by since then.

Time is infinite, but college basketball is finite. Players get four years to wear their school colors and then they’re off to the rest of their lives. But the sport keeps plugging along. Each year a new roster. Each year another crack at a championship.

I traverse the roads of New England so I can mark myself in time. Each stop is a moment in my life I can go back to and remember and think about where I am today by looking at yesterday.

Everyone has anchor points in their life. College basketball is one of mine.

The Campus

When I first went to Bentley it was a college, but it 2008 it became a university. Specializing in business disciplines, Bentley is one of the top business schools in the region.

It was founded in Boston in 1917 as a school for accounting and finance, and today is a university with 4,200 undergrads in Waltham, 13 miles west of Boston.

With a fresh snow on the ground, the campus looked lovely. The school is split into upper and lower campus with Beaver Street acting as the separator. Upper Campus, which plays up to its name by being located on a moderately steep hill, houses the academic buildings and the dorms while Lower Campus is home to the athletics facilities. There is also North Campus, a short drive up the road, which is just dorms.

And there was one singular construction motif: brick.

Bentley Library, which is on the school’s official logo.
The Student Center
The Rauch Administration Center

Abutting Beaver Street is the Bentley Arena. Opened in 2018 to house the Falcons Division I hockey team, the arena is one of the greenest sports venues in America.

With a capacity of just under 2,000, and built on land that was formerly just six tennis courts, it makes for a cozy atmosphere for hockey.

Bentley Arena on opening night 2/16/2018 – Credit: Me

The Dana Center

The Dana Center is unlike any other college basketball venue in New England. Home to the basketball and volleyball teams, the Dana Center is also the home to all the offices of the athletic department along with multiple classrooms, weight rooms, and other facilities.

But where it stands out from every other venue in New England across all the divisions is that there’s a damn restaurant in the lobby.

Immediately on your left when you walk in you see a jumbotron hanging over a seating area. The screens play ESPN and other sports channels.

But within is a Currito, a burrito chain with 24 locations in seven states. When I first came to the Dana back in 2007 my mind was blown to smithereens. There were no oversteamed hot dogs and potentially stale bags of lays, there was a real damn restaurant right here.

Back then there was also an A&W burger restaurant but that’s long gone, replaced by a GrubHub pickup station for Currito.

So when in Rome, or Waltham, you have a damn burrito before the basketball game.

I’m more of a bowl guy these days and treated myself to the steak. Currito is far and away my favorite of the fast-casual Mexican chains. Having mix-ins like caramelized onions and cucumbers will instantly make me a fan of you.

It was delicious from start to finish. Add in a chocolate chip cookie, one of the top-three chain cookies with Arby’s and Wendy’s, and you have a damn fine if unusual pregame meal.

Before we jump into the game let’s take a quick break and have a moment with Bella.

The Game

Bentley has long history of athletic success, especially in basketball. That’s evident by a trophy case just for the sport.

The Dana Center is also the first venue to feature a national championship banner for the 2014 women’s team that went 35-0 and won all but three games by double figures.

With a max capacity of 3,920, the Dana Center is the largest lower division venue in New England by max capacity.

It also features a center-hung scoreboard which makes it feel just a little more big-time than a standard gymnasium.

And it was a big game with the Northeast-10 title on the line. For Bentley, it was a chance to win an 11th conference title. For Franklin Pierce, it was a chance to win its first.

The host Falcons got the better of it early, jumping to an 11-4 lead four minutes into the game.

Eventually, the Ravens found a way to plug the leak and cut the gap to three four minutes later.

The game then fell into a pattern of the Falcons finding ways to stay ahead while the Ravens gave chase. Bentley couldn’t break away Franklin Pierce found ways to make key shots.

This three from Max Zegarowski made it a five-point game late in the half.

Mohamed Traore cut it to three just seconds later thanks to a steal and a dime from Isaiah Moore.

Isaiah Moore, only a junior, is one of the top players in all of Division II. He is sixth nationally with 23 points a game and 18th in the country with 5.4 assists a game. He’ll finish this one with 20 points.

But Bentley kept finding ways to respond and went into halftime up 40-34 thanks to 10 points each from Jordan Mello-Klein and Colton Lawrence.

Out of halftime the script flipped. Franklin Pierce came out and smacked the Falcons hard for six minutes. When Isaiah Moore flashed by his defender for this layup the Ravens led by four.

And so a rock fight ensued. Gritty, intense basketball. Bentley retook the lead but the Ravens went shot for shot with the home team. It was thrilling.

Bentley opened up a six-point lead. Franklin Pierce stayed with them.

Down the stretch the game grew more claustrophobic. There was no floor artistry. It was all about brute force trying to put the ball in the bucket. Pete Blust punched the ball in to put the Falcons up eight with three minutes to play in a play emblematic of how difficult the game had been.

But then Moore hit a three to cut the gap to five to set up the final two minutes with a conference title on the line.

 

Mello-Klein hit his free throws to put a bow on a win and a conference title.

Bentley 68, Franklin Pierce 62. Final
Player of The Game: Jordan Mello-Klein – 23 points, seven rebounds
Time of Game: 1:30:31

Before the game started I saw a guy walking across the court and could have sworn I knew him. Watching him find his seat I realized I did know him.

I walked on up to where he was sitting. It was the first time I’d seen Don and Al in a couple of years. Ever since I was a young kid I’d been seeing these two at games. They’re constants in an ever-changing world.

When I was younger going to games with my father, Don and Al were always there but we never talked with them. Eventually, probably 10 or 12 years ago we introduced ourselves and have been friendly ever since.

Time goes by but Don and Al stay the same. Both are from the North Shore. Maybe Beverly. Maybe Marblehead. I don’t remember. I don’t know their last names and we have never exchanged phone numbers. We only ever talk when our paths cross on the road.

Don’s a self-important asshole, and I say that with love. Always wearing a Frozen Four hat and a black and gray and blue knockoff starter jacket he probably bought before I was alive, Don always has “very important opinions” about everything from the pros to the refs to every minute aspect of the games.

Al is much more my speed. A gentle, kind man who just wants to enjoy a night out at the gym or the rink with friends. He always make sure to tell me that the Chicago Bears, my father’s favorite team, are terrible. That never fails to get a smile out of me. It’s a small inside joke that remains after all these years.

I’ve run into these guys in New Hampshire at the NCAA hockey tournament, college basketball all across eastern Massachusetts, the Beanpot, and high school hockey.

My relationship with Don and Al is the most freeing relationship I have with any people I know. It’s eternal and never changing. We bump into each out at a game, chat sports and enjoy the show for a few hours, and then we go our separate ways with no expecations. Maybe we see each other a week later, maybe it’s four years later.

Whenever I see them I can forget that time has passed for those few hours. I’m a teenager again talking sports with some local townies who enjoy the game the same way I do. I hope everyone has a relationship like that in their life.

And that brings an end to season three of The Hoops Project. Ten games, four states, three divisions. It was a fun, chaotic season. A lot happened since I walked into Bryant back in October, and I’m grateful to have been able to document the journey along the way.

If you’ve read any of these pieces, thank you. This project is a deep passion of mine, and I love sharing the sport I love and the region I love.

I’m already got plans for season four and it includes a whole lot of miles and a whole lot of weird. I hope you’re around to share the journey with me.

And with that, one last time this year, here’s one for the road…

 

THP #31: As Good As It Gets

February 26,2022 – Dartmouth, Massachusetts
UMass-Dartmouth vs Keene State
Little East Conference Championship Game
Men’s Basketball

There’s a chasm separating a good game from a great game.

A good game can happen any day of the week. It can be the season opener. It can be a random non-conference game in the middle of December. It can be a late January matinee. A good game is competitive and entertaining to watch.

A great game is different. Great games don’t happen every day. Great games need something special: stakes or a story.

Stakes instantly imbue a game with an added intensity and energy that a regular January matchup simply doesn’t have. Stakes come this time of the year thanks to conference tournaments and the Big Dance.

A game with story is harder to pin down. It can be a perfect set of circumstances coming together, like Chris Beard’s first game back in Lubbock after taking the Texas job. It can be an annual attraction like Duke-Carolina or the rock fight that is the Big East with long history and many famous characters playing big roles along the way.

And then you get a game like my friend Alex and I were at last Saturday. A game with stakes and story played at the highest level in front of a massive crowd that built to a crescendo so phenomenal that the final flourish truly was the beautiful embodiment of March and the chaos this game brings.

But first, I have a whale to show you.

The City

Dartmouth is a suburb in every sense. With a town motto that translates from Latin to “Useful and Agreeable”, and a population just under 34,000, Dartmouth sits along the South Coast and Buzzards Bay.

The third-largest town in Massachusetts by area, Dartmouth has a long agricultural history and a long history with the sea.

However, bordering Dartmouth to the east is the city of New Bedford. America’s most lucrative fishing port for decades, New Bedford is one of the most underrated cities in New England.

Downtown New Bedford

With a population of 102,000, it’s the largest city on the South Coast. Long a hub for fishing and whaling, New Bedford showcases its long history with the sea. The New Bedford Whaling Museum sits right on the waterfront and features galleries of art and exhibits about the history of whaling and its connection to New Bedford.

There’s also a huge whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling right when you walk in.

Whale

A few years ago I was invited to a wedding at the museum. The ceremony was held in the amphitheater (more weddings need stadium seating) and cocktail hour happened in a room with The Lagoda, a half-sized model of a whaling ship which is also the world’s largest. It was a fun time.

The Folk Festival in the summer is a favorite of my wife and I. The whole downtown area shuts down and becomes pedestrian-only with live music, food trucks, and vendors hawking their wares. It really is one of a kind.

Me in the boat.

I can’t wait to get back their with the wife and the dog. Speaking of that, here’s a moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

New Bedford, and the South Coast in general, is home to the largest Luso-American (or people of Portuguese descent) population in the country. Nearby Fall River has the most Luso-Americans in the country and New Bedford is second. New York City is third with less than half the number of Portuguese as New Bedford.

With that comes culture and food. The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament every summer is the largest Portuguese cultural festival in the world. And for me, on this day, it meant my first encounter with linguica.

Located on Purchase Street, the Whaling City Diner is a quintessential American diner. Serving breakfast and lunch, it had everything you’d want to fill your stomach the day after a big snowstorm.

I went with the eggs, home fries, and linguica with a pancake. Linguica is a Portuguese sausage. Smoke cured, it’s traditionally seasoned with garlic and paprika. And it was damn good.

Rather than the herbacious, almost floral, notes of a traditional breakfast sausage, the smokiness came through along with the deeper flavor of paprika. Honestly, I’d rather every diner switch to linguica for their sausage option. 10/10, will come back.

The Campus

UMass-Dartmouth has a long, winding history. The university was created on the back of combining the Bradford Durfee College of Technology and the New Bedford Institute of Textiles and Technology in 1964.

In 1969 the school became known as Southeastern Massachusetts University before getting its current name in 1991 when it was incorporated into the UMass system.

The history of the school can be seen inside the athletic center where every school seal is on display.

The campus is laid out perfectly. A ring road encircles the majority of the campus and makes getting around incredibly easy. However, in terms of looks, the campus looked barren and desolate.

This was due in no small part to the majority of buildings being concrete brutalist structures built more than half a century ago.

Combined with a fresh snow, the concrete gave an eerie feel to the campus. No one was out and walking around. All the architecture felt harsh. It was an incredibly strange vibe.

It was made even stranger when we got to the library and saw this outdoor amphitheater which looked like it could have been a set from Hunger Games.

The Game

After a long walk through campus, we found our way to the home of Corsairs athletics, the Tripp Athletic Center. A corsair is a synonym for a pirate or a privateer.

The Tripp sits in a complex with the other UMD athletic fields. Upon entering there’s a small lobby with a large hall of fame/trophy case.

The gym was quite large by Division III standards. A crowd of 3,217 would be in attendance for the game. Banners to past success and a wonderful old scoreboard highlighted the far wall as two large sets of wooden bleachers filled the room.

The conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament were up for grabs, but it was more than that for Keene State. If the Owls lost their season was over. For UMass-Dartmouth, a 24-3 season meant that by all accounts a loss here would still have them in a strong position for an at-large bid.

And early on it was a back and forth affair with neither team getting more than a handful of points ahead.

Let’s meet the first of our protagonists: James Anozie. The 6’6 senior form Poughkeepsie, NY was the engine on the inside for the Owls. Against a fast, dynamic Corsairs team, he would be needed to play large on the inside on both ends of the court. And excellent he was throughout his 26 minutes of play.

As the first half progressed it was clear that neither team was going to dominate. The lead flipped six times in the opening 20 minutes, and neither team led by more than six points.

Every rebound. Every loose ball. It was a battle on both ends. A byproduct of being not just the conference final, but also the third meeting between the teams this season. Both were won by the Corsairs.

Marcus Azor. I don’t gamble much, but I’d wager that the senior from Brockton will make it onto one of the national All-America lists this year. He’s been spectacular all season and would be today.

His stat line for the game would read like a cheat code (16 pts, 10 rbd, 10 ast, 5 stl, 2 blk).

The Owls would go into halftime leading 37-31. It was a fine first half, but after the intermission the energy in the building found a different level. The game rose to a different level to meet it.

Keene opened the lead up to 12 points early in the second half before the Corsairs answered. That three by Sean Leahy cut the gap to seven with 16 minutes to play.

Then Jake Ashworth stepped out from the wing.

Owls by five.

Two minutes later Azor pulled up from the elbow. Owls by three.

And so it went with the Corsairs hitting big shots and the Owls just finding ways to stay ahead. Having James Anozie certainly helped.

Anozie was paired on the inside with Jeff Hunter. Both would finish with double-doubles and 19 points each. The Owls would need every one thanks in no small part to Adam Seablom.

The senior from Lakeville, Mass recorded his 1000th career point earlier in the season and played with a chip on his shoulder all game. This backside finish to end a crazy play tied the game at 54 with six minutes to go.

Seablom would have 15 of his game-high 24 points after halftime.

And so it went down the stretch. Neither team able to break free by more than two points. Everything on a knife’s edge.

With 35 seconds left, and the game tied at 58, Keene State had an inbound in front of their bench with three seconds left on the shot clock.

60-58 Keene. But of course, there was still ample time for Corsairs to figure something out.

I turned to Alex, who by that point was on the edge of his seat as his Owls were moments from a tournament bid, and said “if I’m Dartmouth I’m running Seablom on a cut backdoor.” Well…

Tied at 60. And the Owls would get three cracks at the win. The first two were well defended and led to inbounds plays under the basket. The third came with 1.7 seconds left from the corner in front of the Keene bench.

Watch that clip a handful of times. There’s so much to see. The coach in the red jacket ready to pop off. The student section seeing the season flash in front of them. The Owl bench losing it and having to regroup. You can hear Alex next to me “It was halfway down!” It was. I don’t know how it didn’t fall.

Either way, five more minutes were put on the clock.

Leahy from Azor put the Corsairs up a bucket with 3:45 to play.

But yet again, when the Owls needed a key bucket, Anozie was there to tie the game.

As the game hit its final minute it did what all great games do to go supernova: it got weird. As the pressure builds, the players make decisions that cascade into myth.

It makes for the most entertaining version of sports on earth, and it took all of us in the crowd along for the ride.

With 20 seconds left Anozie took a hard foul under the bucket to send him to the line for a one-and-one. The crowd was delighted. Anozie was a 58 percent free throw shooter and had missed all six of shots from the line in the game. Get a rebound off the miss and the Corsairs could win it.

But on a night when he would score a season high, Anozie made his last point count to put the Owls up by two.

A great game can be ruined by a shit finish. A contest with a great rhythm and flow can turn ugly late due to fouls. A bad call by a ref could send people home sour. A poor coaching decision could be the main talking point even after a classic.

This game ended as it should have: with chaos in its bones, a freaky final bucket, and a hell of a memory for everyone who was there.

 

Nate Siow. Jeff Hunter. Dunk for the win.

Keene State 71, UMass-Dartmouth 69. Final (OT).
Player of the game: James Anozie – 19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks
Time of game: 1:46:44

This was a special day. As we walked back to the car I said to Alex “This is my drug.” That type of energy. That type of moment. That type of theater. That’s what I chase. There’s no greater thrill for me than that moment I mentally turn everything off and am just one with that instant.

Any game you go to is a bet. Sometimes it’s a 25-point thumping and you’re waiting for the clock to run out. Other times it’s something like this, and games like this are so rare that when I come upon them it truly feels like magic. What a game.

Thanks for reading. Now, here’s one of the great athletic feats of our time…

 

 

 

 

THP #30: Growing Up, Staying Young

February 22, 2022 – Chicopee, Massachusetts
Elms College vs Colby-Sawyer
GNAC Tournament – First Round
Women’s Basketball

When I was a kid I invested everything of myself into following sports. It didn’t matter what it was or where it was played, I was determined to know everything that was going on.

It truly was an obsession. Staying up until 3 am watching college football. Working both of my parents’ computers and the big TV with March Madness on demand back in 2008 to watch as much of the Big Dance as I could (thank god for the TV deal with Turner getting every game on TV).

I once threw a tantrum because I couldn’t go to a college hockey game because I screwed up in school. That was in October, 2001. In my defense, I was 10.

Now I’m 30. I’m married. We have a dog. Hopefully, a child is in the near future. With those changes comes a change in priorities. I don’t watch much sports on TV anymore. It’s mostly just college basketball, Formula 1, and a little soccer and hockey. My wants and desires have changed and making sure I know wholly and completely who the best football team in the Big 12 is just doesn’t matter anymore.

But I still want some of that chaos in my life, some of that roller coaster that comes from investing yourself into deeply following something and giving a piece of yourself over to it. I may be getting older, but I still want to be a little bit reckless.

And with this blog I can be reckless. I can hop in the car and drive seven hours into Maine for a basketball game. I can find myself muttering “what the fuck” to myself as I roll down questionable roads deep in the woods trying to find a campus.

I can pull off at some random shack and get the best meal I’ve ever had. I don’t know what I don’t know when I hit the road, and that’s the thrill. My life will continue to change and go up and down, but this will remain.

I love doing this. I love the purpose and drive it’s given me. I love how close I feel to New England and everything I’ve learned so far and will continue to learn going forward.

And now, here is your moment with Bella.

The City

On this day, the weather was absolutely brutal. Rain all day and rain all night. With that, I didn’t get to see much of Chicopee, but it’s a city with an interesting history.

With a population of just over 55,000, it’s the second-largest city in Western Massachusetts and has a long history of weapons manufacturing dating back to the Civil War. The winner of the annual Chicopee High-Chicopee Comprehensive football game wins a sword manufactured in the city in the 1890s.

The city is also home to Westover Air Reserve Base, the largest Air Force Reserve base in the country. And the Duryea brothers, Charles and Frank, were the first Americans to manufacture a gasoline-powered car back in 1893.

The Good Eats

Lots of good food options in Chicopee. With a large German and Polish population, there are many different types of places to eat. However, tonight I wanted quick and easy, and that made an easy answer: pizza.

You can’t miss the bright red sign of Milano’s as it beckons into the night.

My order was simple: a cheese pizza, a bottle of water, and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

The pizza was excellent. Chewy, toothsome, well seasoned. This pizza was exactly what I’m looking for. No grease puddles. No cheese trying to escape because it wasn’t constructed to code. You probably won’t find many better pies in Hampden County.

On the other hand, the cookie was big, as evidenced by how much of that box it takes up. And that superlatives end there because it was underbaked, lacking flavor, and disintegrated in my mouth. It tasted like cookies I would get with lunch in high school.

When you go to Milano’s stick with the pizza: it’ll satisfy every time.

The Campus

Officially known as the the College of Our Lady of the Elms, Elms College opened in 1897 as a girls prep academy in Pittsfield, more than 50 miles west of the current campus.

Two years later the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and the Diocese of Springfield bought the current location and created a normal school on the site. After petitioning the Commonwealth to charter a women’s college specializing in teaching in 1927, the school officially opened its doors as a college in 1928.

The school started admitting men in 1998.

Today, Elms features an enrollment of just over 1,200 students and caters to students who are the first in their family to go to college.

With just 14 buildings on campus, it’s a small and compact place to go to school.

Berchman’s Hall, which looms large over Keating Quadrangle

I’m always curious as to what draws someone to go to school like Elms? For the 2021-2022 school year the total admission fee was a tick over $54,000. While there’s certainly a glut of colleges in New England, what draws people to a small college in a suburb of Springfield? There are many other small colleges in the Northeast, and many Catholic institutions too.

How do the coaches recruit athletes? What’s the student life like at a small school like this? If you went to a small, lesser-known school like Elms, shoot me a message. I’d love to know how you found your way to the school and what your experience was like.

The Game

Known as the Blazers for an old school tradition of sophomores getting a blazer as a right of passage, Elms athletics revolve around the Maguire Center.

Home to the gym, offices, and classrooms, the Maguire Center acts as the nerve center for Blazer sports.

And tonight it was playoff basketball for the Blazers as they welcomed the Colby-Sawyer Chargers down from New Hampshire.

A small, cozy gym was made raucous due to the running track that circled the court from above.

During the game it became the peanut gallery from hell thanks to a large student turnout.

And the Blazers came flying out of the gate early. Elms jumped the Chargers in the first quarter and led 14-5 midway through the period.

After a quarter it was 24-13 Elms and it felt like, even that early, that the Blazers were going to roll. First-year guard Aiyanalee Lopez (first video) was dialed in from jump street.

Grad student Angelica Peguero-Flores (second video), from nearby Springfield, had a crazy first quarter with nine points, six boards, and a block.

In the second, the Blazers kept pouring it on. The lead grew to 14 as Elms was feeling it. The students were loud, the vibe was rocking, and it felt like the Blazers were right on the precipice of turning the corner and turning the game into one big party.

But tournament basketball rarely goes that way. Slowly and without too much fanfare, Colby-Sawyer slowly chipped away at the gap and got it back into single digits.

At half, Elms led by eight. Immediately out of halftime bang: a three from Emily Parent cut the lead to five.

And suddenly the game devolved into a rock fight as the Chargers clawed back into it. Back and forth it went throughout the third quarter. Peguero-Flores did everything she could for the Blazers to keep them ahead.

But by hook or by crook, the Chargers found a way. With under a minute to go in the third quarter, the game was tied at 47.

Enter Rahmia Johnston. After a first half that saw her play just seven minutes due to foul trouble, the sophomore from Trumbull, Conn. put the Blazers on her back.

That falling layup in the waning seconds of the third quarter ignited a 13-0 run for the Blazers that lasted until midway through the fourth. Johnston had nine of the 13 points.

The run was enough to give the Blazers the breathing room they needed to loosen up, and her teammates closed the show.

Johnston finished with 11 points. Peguero-Flores had a monster game with 24 points (including her 1,000th career point), 12 rebounds and four blocks.

Emily Parent put Colby-Sawyer on her back, but her 18-point performance just wasn’t enough.

Elms 66, Colby-Sawyer 59. Final.
Player of the game: Aiyanalee Lopes – 20 pts, 17 rbds, 4 ast, 2 stl
Time of game: 1:29:44

Always fun to get to a small D3 school. I try to tell everyone I can: go support your local D2 or D3 school. It’s the best deal in town, there was no admission fee for this game, and the intimate settings bring a special type of energy that larger arenas can’t match.

Elms can consider me a fan going forward and I’ll try to catch them at my other GNAC stops.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road.

 

 

THP #29: Hometown Check-in

January 25, 2022 – Worcester, Massachusetts
Assumption vs Southern Connecticut State
Women’s Basketball

This was the first of four stops in my adopted hometown of Worcester. My wife and I moved into our house here in July, 2021. With keeping it local for this blog I wanted to look back at the first quarter of The Hoops Project thus far and take stock in what this project is and what I hope for it to become.

The Hoops Project started as a pie-in-the-sky idea in the summer of 2019. The idea, in my head, was to go see a game at all 120 four-year colleges in New England and write a travelogue-esque blog about each one.

It has since become a personal monastic journey into myself with basketball as the crux that drives it forward. Those early posts I thought I was very important by documenting these places and these schools. This blog is important to me, sure, and it’s a footnote of a footnote in the long history of college basketball in America at best.

I love this project. In a way I look at it as my first kid. I’ve had a long career in sports media. I had my first byline in 2008 at the age of 16. I’ve covered NCAA tournaments across all sorts of sports, the NHL, the NBA. I’ve seen all sorts of future pros back in their high school days. I’ve done some TV as well.

Almost all of it runs together. All the football and field hockey and lacrosse and soccer and hockey games have been great experiences; they’re just a jumbled mess of the last 14 years of my life to one degree or another.

With this, it is my own. I have two friends who give me some feedback in the process, but other than that it all comes from me for me. I’m grateful to be in a position to be able to do this. I feel more complete as me when I’m on the road going off to these far-flung places.

So far I’ve driven just roughly 4,500 miles (or just about the distance from my home in Worcester to Anchorage) and added another three miles by foot to get to this project to where it is today. And in all of that travel I’ve learned a few things about myself, basketball, and New England.

I’m more comfortable being alone at a game

Being a high school sports writer makes for many a lonely night on the road. However, when I have my notebook and my laptop I’m working. Like many others, when I’m working I just want to do work and go home.

However, I never would go to a game myself alone as a spectator. It felt wrong. A game should be experienced with a group, with others. But I learned to deeply love being invisible in the crowd.

I’m still a part of the energy and vibe of the crowd, and I can just do my own thing when I want. If I want to chat someone up I can. If I want to sit in a corner and just enjoy ball I can. It’s incredibly freeing to be able to enjoy a game exclusively on your own terms. I recommend everyone try it at least once. It’s the ultimate in relaxation.

Maine is fucking huge

New England is the area of the country with all the small states, but Maine is sneaky big and almost the size of the other five New England states combined.

Maine’s total area: 35,380 square miles
MA, NH, CT, RI, & VT combined: 36, 608 square miles

Maine is bigger than South Carolina and almost the same size as Indiana. That feels so wrong to say, but it’s the truth. My first trip was to Fort Kent, the town atop the East Coast and more north than Montreal and Quebec City.

At the time I was living just north of Boston and it was 420 miles each way to Fort Kent. For context, if I had driven south that same distance I would have ended in the suburbs between Baltimore and Washington.

Traveling the Pine Tree State is no joke. I love The Great State of Maine.

I’ve become a keen follower of higher ed in the region.

The engine that drives this project is college basketball. There needs to be colleges with teams to travel to. Since the project started a handful of schools have closed up shop, and the initial 120 has dwindled to 114. Small colleges like Pine Manor and Becker and Southern Vermont and Newbury are all gone to the universe now.

My current philosophy is to hit as many small private schools as I can as soon as I can. Boston College and UConn will be there in 10-20 years. Will small schools like Rivier or Eastern Nazarene still exist in that time? Who knows? That’s why I’m chasing them now so I’m not regretting missing a school like I did with Pine Manor and Becker.

My white whales

There are two things I’m desperately trying to see on this journey. The first is a buzzer beater at the horn to win a game. I came damn close once before, but the shot didn’t end the game. I’d just love to be able to document one buzzer beater for this series.

The other is a game that goes under 80 minutes in length. While I wasn’t officially timing it like I do now, the game at Fitchburg State went 81 minutes and would have gone under if the losing coach hadn’t called a timeout with less than a minute to go.

It’s so coveted because it takes very specific circumstances to occur. I’ve seen plenty of games go under 90 minutes, but to have those last 10 off is ridiculously difficult.

It needs to be a D2 or D3 game without commercial breaks. The game needs to be close enough to keep the starters in for most of it but spread out just enough so that the end of the game doesn’t become a calvalcade of timeouts and fouls. The refs need to keep the whistles to a minimum and free throws need to almost be non-existent.

It’s such a perfect storm of circumstances to occur that I’ve become enamored by the concept of it. One day. Hopefully.

And with that, here’s your moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Worcester is a great food town. And in the three future stops in town I’ll be exploring it all from a nationally-ranked diner, to one of the best hot dogs in New England. But today, it was chain eating.

D’Angelo/Papa Gino’s (two parts of one larger company) is a New England-specific chain offering pizza and sandwiches. It’s one of my favorite places to get a sandwich, and the pizza is solid too.

I love fast food too much and always enjoy trying chains around the country when I travel. Zaxby’s and Raising Cane’s are my favorites, although the later does exist in Boston, but ask someone for a New England fast food chain and the answer you’ll almost always get is Dunkin Donuts.

I don’t drink coffee and I like good donuts and muffins so I don’t patronize Dunks all that much. However, D’Angelo makes damn good sandwiches that are vastly superior to Subway or a place like Firehouse.

Considering it was a combo restaurant I got a little of each. It was a slice of cheese and a Korean barbecue steak sandwich.

It’s a good slice. Of all the chain pizza places this is the one I would always take, hands down. Unlike the other pizza papa, it tastes like good pizza and not a cardboard box.

As a sports writer, when you’re a high-level game (D1 college, pros, lower division NCAA tournaments) there’s always some sort of meal for the media and the arena staff. Some are catered. Some are just sandwiches from a local shop. All are passable to excellent. The only time I’ve ever forgone the free meal was when it was Papa John’s pizza. Had it once, never again. Would rather pay than eat it for free.

The sandwich rules. Sirloin, American cheese, cilantro, Sriracha cole slaw, and a spicy Korean BBQ sauce on a toasted sub roll. It’s just so damn good that I can’t recommend it enough. With the chips and drink it is, in my opinion, a perfect meal.

The Campus

Assumption University (Assumption College until 2020) is one of four colleges inside Worcester limits and the lone school with Division II sports.

Founded in 1904 by the Augustinians of the Assumption, the college was located in North Worcester and educated mainly local men of French-Canadian descent.

The famous Worcester tornado of 1953 ripped through and destroyed a good chunk of the campus, and the college moved to its current location on the west side of town in 1956. The old campus is now home to Quinsigamond Community College.

With an undergraduate enrollment just under 2,000, it’s a small and cozy campus. Tsotsis Family Academic Center

Tsotsis Family Academic Center

Emmanuel D’Alzon Library
Richard J. and Sophia Catrambone Health Sciences Building
Chapel of The Holy Spirit

Two types of campuses always strike me as quintessential New England: The small, ivory towers liberal arts school and the small Catholic college. Assumption definitely falls into the latter with a mix of mid-50s brick architecture and newer, glassy modern buildings.

I liked it and definitely want to be back. The football field is named after famous alum, and noted Southerner, Brian Kelly. The school has a lovely charm tucked away in a residential section of the city. Yes, Worcester has 200,000 people but Assumption is anything but a “city” school.

The Game

Separated by a campus road, the Plourde Recreation Center and Laska Gymnasium are the beating heart of Greyhounds athletics and wellness. The Plourde is home to the swim team and houses fitness rooms, boxing and fitness classes, and is the place for the student body to workout.

Laska Gym, named for longtime basketball coach Andrew Laska, is the beating heart of the athletic program. Home to offices, locker rooms, and the gymnasium, Greyhound sports are powered by Laska.

Laska Gymnasium

And they have a helluva logo.

The gym itself is unique in that it’s one of the few lower-division facilities in the region with seating on all four sides. Everything is bright and the school colors of blue & white.

A quirk of the gym are placards adorning the walls on either side with the names of fellow Northeast-10 conference members. However, they need an update. As you can see below, UMass-Lowell is still on the wall despite having transitioned up to Division 1 almost a decage ago.

Merrimack, which went D1 in 2019, was on a placard on the opposite side of the gym paired with LeMoyne.

The game itself featured a cross-division matchup with the Hounds hosting the SCSU Owls. Southern Connecticut came ready to play with Jessica Fressle, who ranked in the top-60 nationally in both points and rebounds per game.

And SCSU came ready to go.

Early on, the Greyhounds opened up a seven-point lead thanks to strong shooting and good ball movement. But thanks to seven points from Fressle, the Owls were able to close the gap to one point by the end of the first quarter.

This Katie Williamson bucket early in the second quarter cut it to 18-16 Assumption.

But then, like greyhounds tend to do, Assumption raced away. Assumption scored 11 points in the next 1:48 to open a 13-point lead. Lauren Hammersley had a pair of triples. Meghan Cramb had a three. And just like that, the rout was on.

The lead stayed in the teens all the way to halftime. Assumption kept finding ways to score, and the Owls couldn’t figure out the best way to adjust to the Greyhounds. Hammersley had 11 of her 14 points for Assumption in the second quarter.

Any chance of a comeback after halftime was extinguished almost immediately. Assumption scored the first 10 points out of the break to take a 50-25 lead.

And that was it. The rest of the game was maintenance from Assumption. The Owls never cut the deficit to less than 20, and Assumption led by as many as 30 points in the fourth quarter.

Even with an excellent 16-point, 14-rebound performance from Fressle, Southern Connecticut could do nothing except do themselves in. The Owls turned the ball over 23 times and shot just 32.1 percent from the field.

Assumption had 17 assists, SCSU had 6. Assumption had 32 points off the bench, SCSU had one. Assumption had 20 offensive rebounds, SCSU had 13.

It was all Greyhounds all day as they rolled in a rout.

Assumption 76, Southern Connecticut State 48. Final.
Time of game: 1:36:16
Player of the game: Marina Callahan (Assumption) – 14 pts, 10 rbd, 5 ast, 2 blk

I certainly enjoyed the short drive to this one, and Division II basketball is the four-leaf clover of New England. With so few programs it’s always a treat to see and experience. The Greyhound women have a long history of success.

Earlier this season Kerry Phayre, now in her 26th season, notched her 400th win as coach of Assumption. She’s made multiple NCAA tournaments and has kept Assumption in the thick of the Northeast-10 hunt for years.

I love supporting schools like this. I love getting out to the D2 and D3 campuses and shining a light on them. Duke and Ohio State and UCLA will get plenty of publicity, but your local small school won’t. Go support them. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road, and it’s one I listen to every time I’m traveling for The Hoops Project.

THP #28: Hot Mic

January 8, 2022 – Framingham, Massachusetts
Framingham State vs. Westfield State
Men’s Basketball

Along with writing I also broadcast games. You’ll get to hear me in the video clips in the game recap below, at least as much as gets through due to the mask.

I never took a single broadcast class in college. I’ve just always loved the rhythm of a good broadcast and learned it all by observing. And in my short time on the mic I think I’ve done a lot. Five different sports, all three divisions, games on ESPN +/3/ocho, and I even did a game on TV. It’s been a blast.

I enjoy the small, local beat. After a decade of covering high school and college sports for papers and websites of all sizes it’s nice to be able to be done with work when the horn sounds instead of just getting started.

And with that I want to peel back the curtain for anyone interested in becoming a broadcaster or just curious as to how it all works and give you four tips and factoids about small-time broadcasting

It’s a dance.

That’s great that you know the history of the last 10 years of a team you’re covering, but if you can’t showcase that information in an entertaining way then it’s best left unsaid. If you’re in a two-person booth, the ability to flow and work well with your partner supersedes everything else.

The play-by-play person should work to make whoever is on color look good and vice versa. It’s a vocal dance, and you want to move with your partner, not against them.

For color analysts: don’t look at the ball

I heard Cris Collinsworth say this in an interview years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. The play-by-play is looking at the ball. The camera is following the ball. The fans at home are watching the ball. As the analyst, you need to be looking anywhere else.

It can be hard and chaotic, and you get better at it over time. If you want to be a good broadcaster it is definitely a worthwhile skill to learn.

It’s harder than it looks

“Oh c’mon, you’re just talking about a game you’re paid to be at. That’s a dream job!”

Yeah, it’s fun. It’s still hard. It took me a while to realize that me broadcasting is almost like being a pro wrestling character. It took me several years to find my broadcasting voice and learn how to talk with out ums and uhs on the air.

Working at the local level also means that I rarely work with the same partner on multiple games. So knowing the mechanics of how to talk on air allows me and my partner to mesh quick and work a good show.

Once you find your voice and have a rhythm, you can do any game. The only difference between a small D2 game and the Super Bowl becomes a factor of scale. The mechanics stay the same.

Focusing can be the other difficult part. If it’s an 80-50 basketball game with lots of fouls, you can’t just check out to chat with friends or go grab a pizza slice from the kitchen. Staying engaged in those types of games can be brutal.

Sometimes ESPN doesn’t mean ESPN

I’ve done a few dozen games on ESPN+/3. The only “ESPN” thing about them has been the graphics and the streaming site you watch it on. Everything else is a mix of a team of freelancers, students, and a small handful of full-time university staff.

ESPN, and other networks are the same on the streaming side, is mostly just a distribution house in this instance. With every league having broadcast deals the network simply can’t staff every one with full-time network broadcasters.

So, in order to make the games make the screen, there’s a massive group of freelancers and students across the country helping to make them happen. And we’ll travel. I only do games in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but one guy I’ve worked with lives in Connecticut and casts a wide net that includes schools in Boston, New Jersey, and New York.

That’s a little bit of inside baseball on local broadcasting. Hope you enjoyed it as much I as love doing it.

And with that, here’s your moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Framingham sits in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts, which is a group of cities and towns between Boston and Worcester. A city in its own right, with a population of just over 72,000, Framingham is the most populous municipality in the region.

Being Jewish means always knowing where the best deli is, and I’ve had Kugel’s circled for a long time. As bare bones as it gets, Kugel’s is all about the food.

I started with the matzo ball soup, and while it looked the part it was sadly lacking for one thing: seasoning in the matzo ball. The chicken noodle soup in the bowl was amazing, there just needed to be a bit more salt in the ball itself.

I also treated myself to two meat knishes. It’s finely ground beef and dough, what’s not to love? The ones I grew up eating for Rosh Hashanah were from a deli that used a cakier dough, and these ones were more in the puff pastry family. Regardless, they were excellent.

The main event was a chicken salad club on rye with the works.

A monster of a sandwich, it satisfied in a big way. And the sides shined. The fries rocked, the cole slaw was great, and half-sour pickles are the best flavor of pickle. An awesome way to cap the meal.

Things to Do

By now you know I’m a sucker for an art museum, and just down the road from the main campus there was one of the sneaky best art museums I’ve been to in New England. The second floor of the art building just off of Framingham Common, the Danforth Museum may be the most hidden hidden gem.

When you get off the elevator it immediately dumps you into the museum, and for $7 there is a whole lot to see. My personal favorite was Foiled Again by J. Jones. For one, the name was a pun, and the colors of the piece made me do a double take.

Usually I’m not a still life fan, but the works on display made me question that. So bright and vibrant and full of life, I much preferred the work here than the “classic” still lifes like Sunflowers.

On permanent display was an exhibit on Meta Vaux Warwick Fuller. One of America’s first prominent Black sculptors, she lived and created in Framingham for the last 60 years of her life. The exhibit included a full recreation of her attic studio as well as showcasing her works.

The thing I love most about museums is that they can always surprise you with something new. Sometimes you stumble upon a full-sized T-Rex and sometimes you come across an art piece made in a way you never knew existed.

Rebec Player by Esther Geller

Geller made this using encaustic, which is the method of heating and mixing dry pigment with wax. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The colors were so rich, and the texture was a mix of grainy pitting and reflective shine.

Geller painted Rebec Player in 1947. It was in her obituary photo when she passed at 93 in 2015, and here it is still moving people today. Four years earlier, Kenny Sailors unleashed the jump shot onto the world of basketball, and a beautiful rainbow still moves people today.

One of the galleries was focused on indigenous art and what “American” art even is. My favorite was this bright, bouncy piece from Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

From the Salish & Kootenai tribes in what is known today as Montana, Smith’s work showcased Native art styles and forced the conversation about what is history and who gets to curate it.

40,000 Years

Being in this gallery got me thinking of my own place in this chaotic America. Being Jewish, I’m always wondering if I’m welcome in certain spaces and how much of myself I can set free. What it means to be “American”.

Growing up in New England there is little to no Native culture. I live on the historic land of the Nipmuc and grew up on the land of the Pentucket. So much is named for tribes and their landmarks but little time is given to their history or current existence. Nipmuc and Pentucket are both the names of local high schools.

Who is American? What is American? I feel like those questions will always have a changing, nebulous answer based on what the asker wants the response to be.

The Campus

Framingham State is one of the nine small state universities in the Massachusetts State Universities system, which is separate from the UMass system.

With the exception of MassArt, which doesn’t have sports, they all share an athletic conference (Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference/MASCAC). More than that they were all founded in the 19th century as teacher’s colleges, then called normal schools.

Framingham State is the second-oldest school in the league, founded in 1839, but certainly looked modern and up-to-date even under a fresh coat of snow.

The McCarthy Center is the beating heart of campus, as most student unions are, and is a sleek, contemporary building that stands out from the crowd of older brick and stone facades.

Dwight Hall, home of the president’s office

With roughly 3,200 undergrads, and 4,500 students overall, Framingham State is mid-sized compared to the rest of the MASCAC.

The Game

The Athletic and Recreation Center is home to the campus store as well as classrooms, multiple gymnasiums, as well as offices and other facilities for the school’s 14 teams. Opened in 2001, the $12 million facility feels like it was just opened this year.

A quirk of the layout means that the gym itself is down a few dozen stairs from the entry way, giving way to a slightly ominous view up from the lobby.

And then there’s the high ceiling. With seating for roughly 1,000 people, the ceiling can make the gym feel like a cavern even if it is well-lit.

And on this day it was Brendon Hamilton and the Westfield State Owls in town. Hamilton entered the game second in all of Division III with 15.7 rebounds a game to go with his 15.4 points a night. At just 6’6, I was excited to see him go to work, and he did not disappoint.

On paper, the 10-2 Owls looked to easily be favored but the early going was anyone’s game.

Ivan Nyantenji and Jahden Erold did everything they could for Framingham in the first half. Nyantenji led the Rams with 17 points and ran the point smoothly.

Erold pitched in with 10 of his own.

The problem was that no one else scored for the Rams in the first half, and the Owls kept the offense diverse and put their mark on the game heading into halftime.

Westfield went into the break up seven and never let the Rams get closer than six in the second half and Hamilton was a big reason why.

It was such a pleasure to see him play. He was three or four plays ahead from those around him when he was on the floor and made it all look effortless. Now, he certainly has good teammates around him, but when he had the ball he was like watching a dancer entrance you on stage.

While Erold finished with 27 points, and Nyantenji had 20, only one other Ram had more than two points. Nine players for Westfield had more than two points.

And even in just 28 minutes, Hamilton stole the show.

Westfield State 69, Framingham State 60. Final.
Player of the game: Brendon Hamilton (WSU) – 18 pts, 13 rbd, 6 blks, 2 stls
Time of Game: 1:31:38

This was a fun one. The MASCAC will always have a special place for me because it was the first league I ever saw live way back in the late 90s. I remember seeing Framingham in the 2004 conference final get taken apart by a monstrous Salem State team. The MASCAC has always been the backbone of my love for D3 basketball even if I’m not around as much as I used to be. And the Danforth was one heckuva hidden gem.

Lastly, my friend Clayton Trutor has a book coming out next month chronicling the rise of professional sports in Atlanta and the intersection of politics, economics, and a whole lot more. I read some drafts early on and it is a rollicking good time. If you’re a fan of sports, history, politics, or any combination I’d love if you check it out here. Thank you.

And in honor of that final score, here’s one for the road…

 

THP #27: The Unicorn

January 2, 2022 – Waterbury, Connecticut
Post University vs. Holy Family University
Men’s Basketball

Sports are the ultimate communal experience.

Games big and small are held in front of crowds, sometimes numbered by the dozen and sometimes by the hundreds of thousands. All operate as unscripted theatrical performances for those in attendance.

And through this project I’ve learned to love these games by myself. I find a great joy in being alone among the crowd. I feel the energy vibrate in my bones, and I dictate everything about my own experience.

There is no friend who showed up late or wanting to leave early. Someone’s being a buffoon near me? I can quietly get up and move someplace else.

I love the nameless friendships I make along the way. Just two people passing through a point in time experiencing it together and moving along on their own path. I’m not myopic about personal friendships, and I hold those close me as close as possible.

I just love being able to not have any requirements. There’s no bullshit icebreaker or forced conversation like at a work mixer or the first day of school. We’re both there for basketball. Nothing more. It’s freeingly honest.

It’s the main reason why I’ve only been joined on four of these stops. My dad came to Bowdoin, my brother to UMass, my friend Paul to URI, and my friend Clayton to Middlebury.

There’s a few more people I want to come along to a stop or two, but I enjoy walking alone. We’re told from a young age the importance of going out and doing things with our friends, and it’s damn important to be social and create stories with other people.

But the kid at school eating by himself is a loser. And people feel ashamed about going solo to a movie. Why? As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized it takes a ton of confidence to go it alone for an afternoon out and about.

And I enjoy running the day myself. I research where I want to go, figure out my timeline, and just go do it. Over the last few months I’ve realized that a lot of my anxieties stem from mentally going to the most catastrophic result for a situation I can’t control. Running the day lets me enjoy the process of making this blog and gives me a respite from the V10 engine that can be the anxiety in my head.

This project has been peaceful from day one and through the pandemic for me. And there’s plenty left to do.

Now, here’s your moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

I try to eat at a place in the city or town where the school is located, but located just eight miles away from Post, in the town of Woodbury, was Dottie’s Diner. Ranked as one of the top 15 diners in New England, it was a no-brainer to take the short drive west and get a meal.

Opened in 2006 with a retro 50’s theme, Dottie’s nails the diner aesthetic bang on.

The bright teal booths and checkerboard tile bring an energy to the room that a more staid palette wouldn’t.

It was breakfast so I kept it simple, the two egg combo with home fries, multigrain, and bacon. And I always add a single chocolate chip pancake at the diner.

It was damn good and well-portioned. When I ask for two eggs I want two eggs, not two big ladles of eggs to make a scramble the size of a football. The eggs were almost dry but still moist, how I like them, and the toast and home fries were crisp.

The bacon was from a nearby farm and was damn fine, and that pancake was perfect. A place will always have my heart when they garnish a chocolate chip pancake with more chocolate chips.

And on the way out I bought four donuts, two chocolate dipped and two vanilla dip for my wife and I to split. The donuts were ranked in the top 25 in the country so I had to try them.

What an awesome donut. It’s a simple food. Light, airy fried dough with a rich frosting on top. I’ve had a whole lot of mediocre donuts in my day (thanks Dunkin) and not many good ones. You can tell why this is a top donut in the country. And for $1.25 a piece I felt like a thief. 10/10, will donut again.

A quick aside about the humble spoon. I love the spoon. It is, in my opinion the most versatile piece of cutlery. I love using it to scoop my eggs and my homefries up with a little ketchup. And yet, I almost always need to ask for the spoon. It’s rarely provided at the table.

The spoon deserves better and far more admiration than it gets. The spoon is capable of more than just for scooping ice cream and soup. I use it for my eggs and when I eat fish and for stews when the meat is so soft it can glide right through. Love the spoon. It’s earned it.

The City

If asked to name the 12 most populated cities in New England no one would blame you for missing Waterbury. Even with a population of 114,000 it flies under the radar.

Waterbury Green

Located 30 miles southwest of Hartford down Route 84, Waterbury has a long rich history but has seen time pass it by in a lot of ways. Known as the Brass City for its manufacturing heritage when it was one of the nation’s biggest producers of brass and clocks, there’s a whole lot of empty storefronts and boarded buildings in town.

Palace Theater, downtown Waterbury

And even against the backdrop of a wet and gray Connecticut weekend, the city’s character still shown through. There was the Union Station clock tower. Beckoning across the city at 240 feet tall, the tower cuts a striking figure in the sky just as it did when it was built in 1909.

The 14th-tallest clock tower in the country, and the 52nd-tallest in the world, it is impossible to miss. It is currently home to the city’s newspaper, the Republican-American.

 

 

 

At the end of the town green sits the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. A beautiful stone building nearly a century old, the basilica can hold 1,500 parishioners.

Just down the street from the basilica was the Mattatuck Museum. Dedicated to artists from Connecticut and the history of the Nutmeg State, it was a chance to have a unique museum experience.

I started on the top floor at the button museum. Yes, a button museum. It had tens of thousands of buttons, made in Waterbury during its heyday as a brass and metal manufacturing hub.

It’s buttons of all types and constructions. Buttons that were displayed at World Expos many moons ago. Buttons for clothes. Buttons for decor. It is a room covered wall-to-wall in buttons.

The second floor was the art museum and featured a little of everything. Janet Maya’s Women/Strength/Beauty was beautiful, and the large gallery featured art across genres including a brilliantly surreal piece by Waterbury native George Marinko.

She, Her, Hers, Aura by Janet Maya
Hypothetical Gallipot by George Marinko

I like art that can stop me. I’ve seen plenty of portraits and plenty of landscapes. It doesn’t matter if the artist is world-renowned or local, they all eventually run together for me. Bright colors. Sharp lines. A piece that tells a story. That’s what I want.

Meant to evoke memories of Sunday dances at the Savoy in Harlem, Faith Ringgold’s Groovin High is kinetic, brilliant, full of things to see.

Groovin’ High by Faith Ringgold

And lastly, there was a special exhibition featuring the muses and work of Norman Rockwell that featured the only photograph credited to him. It was as Rockwellian a piece as I had ever seen.

Done on commission from Eastman Kodak in 1957, the piece was shot at a cottage in the small Long Island hamlet of Quogue from a camera mounted atop a station wagon.

In typical Rockwell fashion, the image is brightly colored and heavy on narrative, in this case, multiple narratives.

Closing Up a Summer Cottage by Norman Rockwell (Art Director)

It was a lovely art museum, and if I had more time I’m sure I would have loved the history portion as well. An excellent museum that is worth a stop if you’re riding through central Connecticut.

And on the way out there was a legitimate one-horse open sleigh. I promise, this will not be the last time Jingle Bells appears during The Hoops Project.

The Campus

Post University is the unicorn of New England college basketball because it is the lone for-profit university that has NCAA athletics in the region.

Founded in 1890 as the Matoon Shorthand School, it became Post College in 1931 and changed to a university in 2004. However, in between that, it was known as  Teikyo Post University in the 90s due to the school’s affiliation with Tokyo’s Teikyo University.

It moved to its current location in 1965.

Torrance Hall, home to admissions and the president’s office

However, on this Sunday it was too quiet. Yes, it was holiday break and it was still pandemic season but it was frighteningly quiet. There were five cars on the main part of campus and three people, including myself.

Add to that, all the buildings except for Torrance felt sterile and forboding.

Some of the dormitories
Post University Tree, a common gathering spot. Added to list of Connecticut’s Noble Trees in 2014.

Even in broad daylight I felt like I had to tiptoe around lest I woke something up. Seeing two people working out on the football field was startling because everything was so still and quiet. I’ve never been on a campus so silent that it bordered on spooky, but that’s what it was on this afternoon.

The Game

A short drive down the hill from the main campus was the Drubner Center, known as The Drub. Despite having the look of a strip mall daycare center, the Drub is the beating heart of Eagle sports.

Main lobby at Drubner

Now, I’d thought I’d long ago found the smallest gym in New England, but Drubner may take that title. With just five rows of seats and four feet between the baseline and the wall, it is as cramped as can be and made for a great place to watch a game.

The free admission certainly helped too.

Before the game I pulled out a chocolate chip cookie I purchased on an impulse as I walked out the door of Dottie’s. Gooey, toothsome, and crunchy on the edges it was my new #1 chocolate chip cookie in New England. Best way to prep for a game.

Part of the Central Athltetic Collegiate Conference, Post is one of two Division II schools in New England to not be in the Northeast-10. It’s the eastern outpost of an all-private league full of mostly religious schools in the Mid-Atlantic. On this day the Eagles welcomed Holy Family in from Philadelphia.

And early on it was a fun one as the teams traded buckets. Seven minutes into the game Post held a slim 14-11 lead. But then Post turned up the wick on both sides of the ball.

The Eagles found ways to open up the Tigers inside and out. By the midway point of the half Post had opened up a nine-point lead.

Post put the game away on the back of a ridiculous press defense that Holy Family simply didn’t adjust to as well as the shooting of junior guard Tyler Small.

After being held to just three points in the first nine minutes, Small finished the first half with 17 and would end the game with an insane career-high of 29 points on 59% shooting as well as 7-11 from three.

As for that defense, take a look for yourself. Small pokes the steal and sends Devonte McCall in for the highlight.

Post led 50-29 at halftime, and the game was well and truly over even before the intermission.

In the second half the Eagles kept pouring it on and the Tigers kept not adjusting.

Led by Small, Post finished with four players in double figures. McCall had 14 points in just 18 minutes of play, David Jasson had 18, and Abdul-Basit Ajia had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.

And the Eagles outrebounded the Tigers 56-29 to boot. It was as thorough a domination as I’ve seen in three seasons of this project.

I’ll let Tyler Small play us out.

Post 93, Holy Family 55. Final.
Player of the Game: Tyler Small (Post) – 29 pts, 4 rbd, 3 ast, 3 stl
Time of game: 1:32:44

After a month of adjusting to being a dog owner it felt real nice to get back in the saddle and be back in a gym. While Division III basketball is my spiritual home, I do enjoy the speed of a good Division II game. It’s just a shame that there aren’t many D2 options in New England.

I don’t think I’ll be back down at Post much, but I loved being there to take this little snapshot and tell its story. Not every game is going to be a classic, but every stop is a moment that I’m grateful to document. Thanks for reading.

And with that, here’s one for the road:

 

 

THP #26: Something Different

December 2, 2021 – Nashua, New Hampshire
Rivier University v Lasell University
Women’s Basketball

I take this project probably too seriously. I have a long history of conceiving creative ideas, starting them, and fading down the stretch. I have an advice book 15,000 words deep and a novel I’ve started three times.

I have a feature documentary sitting 90% done that’s been sitting for five years. It’s a deep source of personal embarrassment even if it isn’t a major public thing.

And so with this project, I’ve made sure to invest fully into it. To quote one of my favorite TV characters, Mike Ehrmantraut, no half measures.

I knew it was going to take a long time to complete. As of now there’s roughly 110 or so colleges to get to in New England. I want to go full send and just run wild. Go 15, 20 a season and laser in on putting a bow on this.

But that’s not how my life has gone, and I think it would ruin the spirit of the project which, for me, is one of personal growth and learning about where I live.

And since I’ve started a lot has changed. Got married, bought a house, survived Covid, and now this:

This is Bella, our beautiful new coyote. Having her means I can’t run around New England with reckless abandon but it also means that I have a responsibility I desperately didn’t know I needed in my life.

I’m still on the grind, and I’ll still be at gyms. I’m super excited to keep growing personally and creatively through this project.

And once she’s more comfortable and better trained, you might even see Bella with me at a gym or two. She’s the people’s dog so come say hi.

The Good Eats

There’s a lot of small colleges in New England. One of my driving factors for school selection this season is to get to as many small schools as possible because who knows how many years some of these have left.

The UConns and Boston Colleges of the world will be fine, but small schools a bit off the beaten path? I don’t know. And while Rivier seems to have a solid future everything can change quick so I found myself peeling off Route 3 for my second stop in New Hampshire.

I rolled into Nashua at 6:15 for a game that started at seven. I didn’t have time to sit down and do the wine & dine. That was fine. I love a good meal, but I find most restaurants to be a bit bullshit.

I’d like to think I’m a pretty keen home cook and I can make a damn fine slab of salmon or steak in my own kitchen for far cheaper than a similar piece at a fancy eatery. If I’m going to go out I want to get something I can’t make at home. So I went to Main Street Gyro.

Main Street in Nashua is one of the most underrated food streets in New England. Restaurants everywhere in a city of 95,000 brings out the quality because only the good survive.

A small spot with the spirit of a hole in the wall, it’s exactly what you need when you’re hungry in a pinch.

I kept it simple and got their traditional pork gyro. It was pork off the rotisserie with tzatziki, onion, tomato, fries, and parsley on a fresh toasted pita. At a shade under $10, it’s cheaper than a fast food meal and far superior.

And it came in a paper bag so you know it’s legit.

Yes, it tasted as good as it looked. Down the road was a bougie tavern that brewed their own beer in house and had the dim lighting and “ambience” of a proper restaurant. I can promise, this gyro was better.

The City

Having a new puppy in the house meant there was no time to have a big, expansive journey of the city even if it was a city I’d been familiar with almost my entire life.

I had my 11th birthday at a Nashua Pride game at Holman Stadium. The small 3,000-seat stadium was home to the first integrated team in baseball with the Don Newcombe/Roy Campaneall Nashua Dodgers of 1946.

There’s the football stadium and the high schools that I’d been covering games at for decades. There’s the bars and restaurants I’d had dinner and drinks with friends on and off over the years.

So I walked.

And walking around Main Street in Nashua gave me the opportunity to see the things I had always missed throughout the years. There were the long, wide sidewalks that were perfect for a stroll, and there was art. So much art just out there for people to see.

Every painting a chance to appreciate something new and for myself. Art is subjective. I can look at the painting of the woman in the wave and tell you that I felt that blue in bones. I don’t know what that means but it’s how the piece made me feel.

It was brief but it was lovely.

The Game

Rivier University sits at the far end of Main street, its entrance located on a rotary. A small Catholic school with a shade under 1,000 undergraduates, it’s a bit hidden despite being in a big city.

Walking around, it has all the trappings of a small New England college. Big brick buildings and a brand new science building along with some charming green spaces gives the campus a very un-urban feel despite being in such a large city.

Science and Innovation Center

Founded in 1933, Rivier was a women’s-only school until going co-ed in 1991.

The Game

The Muldoon Fitness Center is the hub of athletics at Rivier. Opened in 2011, Muldoon houses all the offices and training facilities for the athletic program.

The gym itself is small and cozy. Sitting just a few hundred people, every seat is on top of the action.

Once the game tipped the action immediately picked up as both teams found ways to score with ease. Buckets came easily as Lasell took a 22-21 lead after a quarter.

In the second, business stayed hot as both teams found ways to score inside and out.

The pace was blistering as it felt like neither team could miss.

Halftime came and it was Lasell 41-40 after 20 minutes and set up for a chaotic second half.

What made it even more exciting was having Lyric Grumblatt and Meg Carroll on the court. Grumblatt, a sophomore for Rivier, is currently second in all of Division III averaging 25.3 points a game. Carroll, a senior for Lasell, is currently seventh in the country with 23.2 points a game.

At halftime each had 11.

After the break, the game slowed down a bit but the energy remained. Buckets were traded early before Rivier opened a five-point lead in the third on the back of five points from Grumblatt.

But Lasell found a way to flip the script and turn the deficit into a 57-55 lead with 10 minutes to play.

Lasell kept fighting on to hold the lead but the Raiders would not go quietly into the New Hampshire night.

But the fourth was all about Carroll. The Lasers scored 16 points in the final quarter and Carroll put in 14 of them, including every field goal.

A Grumblatt layup in the final minute made it a three-point game. But with less than 20 second left Carroll showed once again why it was her night.

Lasell 72, Rivier 67. Final
Meg Carroll: 28 points, 15 rebounds.
Time of game: 1:37:24

There’s something nice about getting back to a familiar town. Nashua is a place that feels very in hand-in-glove to me. And this Rivier team looks to have a bright future ahead of it. If you’re ever passing through stop in and see a game. This team is worth it.

And, in honor of my new pup, here’s one for the road.

THP #25: Top of The Bell Curve

November 18, 2021 – Providence, Rhode Island
Providence College v New Hampshire
Men’s Basketball

I love this TED Talk by Roman Mars about the importance of design and how we take good design for granted.

When a building is designed well we regularly miss the flow and rhythm of the structure. It’s so good and ingrained that we pass through without much care unless you know what to look for. A well-designed building can quietly be a piece of art.

But a poorly-designed building? Those fuckers will frustrate you from sun up to sundown. Any building that makes you sigh when you’re in it is a mood and a bad one at that.

When it comes to a basketball arena I find that there are a few key things that a building must achieve to be considered good.

1. Every seat must have a good vantage point of the court. No seat should make you ask “really, they charge money to sit here?”

2. Getting in and out of the arena must be easy and common sense. If getting to or from your car is disorienting then there’s a problem.

3. There needs to be a good sound system. If you can’t hear the announcements then the room needs to be smaller.

4. We all know that arena concessions are a con, but at least let me feel like I’m getting something of value and not standing in a glorified bread line.

Now what if I told you that second-largest college basketball venue in New England fails to check all of those boxes? Would be pretty wild, right?

Welcome to the Dunkin Donuts Center AKA The Dunk AKA The Civic Center AKA The Top of the Bell Curve.

But before seeing basketball I needed hot dogs. Excuse me, I mean hot weiners.

The Good Eats

Located in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, New York System is an institution. Sharing a wall with Fete Music Hall, home to some of my favorite memories in professional wresting, New York System is the best.

You can walk in and have a weiner in your hand within 10 seconds. And, in my opinion, you absolutely must order them all the way which entails a steamed weiner (made of a beef/veal/pork blend) in a steamed bun topped with mustard, meat sauce, raw onion, and celery salt.

Just look at these masterpieces.

My order when I go is the special, two all the way with fries, and a burger and diet coke. Considering it was 5:30 and I hadn’t eaten all day it may as well have been the best meal of my life.

And the building is small. You can practically reach over the counter and cook the food yourself. It’s one of the few places where I always find myself in conversations with people whose names I’ll never know. It’s convivial. Familiar.

I’ve eaten at some relatively high-end places on my travels. None of them hold a candle to this. If you’re in Rhode Island or traveling through on 95, hop off and eat here. It’s going since the 40s for a reason.

Getting to the Arena

That’s a new section heading and you’ll never see it again. It’s necessary here because to get to the Dunkin Donuts Center is a herculean feat in its own right.

Situated in the heart of downtown Providence, the best place to park for a game at the Dunk is the parking garage of the Providence Place Mall which has thousands of spots and is only $2. Are there places closer? Yes. But there is no lot cheaper and, more importantly, larger than the one at Providence Place.

Now, parking in a garage to go to a game in a city is a regular occurence. I’ve done it in Boston and Hartford and Worcester and Manchester. However, all of those have one thing in common: you park, leave the garage, and take a short walk up the street to the building. Easy.

But not here. No. That would be too easy. What you can watch below is my eight-minute journey from my car to the Dunk. I promise, it is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Why is the mall fully carpeted? Who signed off on that? Who is the sparkling thoughtmaker that decided to fully carpet a mall that is more than a million square feet?

The Arena

The Dunkin Donuts Center is big. It can hold 13,000 people for basketball and, when the opponent is a big enough name, Providence fans will pack it.

However, when the opponent doesn’t pass muster, the Dunk can be a sparse house.

The arena also hosts the AHL’s Providence Bruins and events as diverse as pro wrestling and the circus to concerts of all types. And as a multi-purpose arena it just doesn’t really fit anything well. It’s made even more striking because the best college basketball arena in New England is also in Rhode Island.

But being hemmed in by the mall on one side, Route 95 on another, and the heart of downtown on another created an oddly-shaped building that is bad for basketball.

Here’s the view from one of the top rows of the building. Notice how half the jumbotron is blocked by the banners because the roof is so low. The sound system is akin to the teacher from Charlie Brown at those heights.

Now here’s the view from a seat on the floor. This is a real seat that could be yours for $525 for the season.

What a lovely view with a whole side of the court blocked and the endline blocked by a table of media people. To sell this ticket, in my opinion, is the equivalent of theft. At least the seat at the top of the building is a victim of poor arena design. This one is insulting.

The only plus to this seat is that you’re right next to the Providence band, and it’s one of the best in New England.

Underneath feels like a dirge. Even with an $80 million dollar upgrade/renovation in 2005, the Dunk is blah. I’ve been here when it’s at capacity. It’s almost unsafe trying to get through the halls. But at least you can get a tallboy for $10.

And the greatest ignominy of all was the Dunkin Donuts in the arena wasn’t even open.

The Game

On paper it was a pretty straightforward game between a high-major team and a local one-bid opponent. Thing is, despite having a marked size disadvantage, UNH came to win.

The Friars jumped to a 20-9 lead. Rather than fold up, the Wildcats chipped away through the rest of the first half to get back within range. This three by Qon Murphy cut the gap to three.

It became tennis toward the end of the first half as both teams kept answering the other.

Nate Watson was a big ole problem for the Friars. The grad student was a nightmare for UNH to defend on the inside and made sure to keep the Wildcats at bay on the defensive end.

Even getting switched over to a Qon Murphy, Watson still gets back to get the swat.

Murphy would finish with a team-high 15 points for UNH off the bench.

UNH got to taste the spoils of adjusting and bouncing back early in the second half when they took the lead. With 16 minutes left UNH took a 40-39 lead.

Providence quickly retook the lead and blew it up to a dozen, but UNH kept chipping back and staying in it. Nick Guadarrama floated this one in, and he finished with 13 points.

But I did say earlier that Providence did have a size advantage and it showed down the stretch. The Friars finished +14 in rebounds and pulled away late.

Nate Horchler finished with a double-double of 10 points an 12 rebounds. All of his points came in the second half, and he had the honors of dropping the dagger.

Providence 69, New Hampshire 58. Final.
Time of game: 1:50:00

With about a minute left in the game the refs called a jump ball on a tie-up. The fans behind me were incensed with the call and loudly rode the officials for nearly a minute about how horrible the call was. Providence had the arrow.

Maybe they were traumatized by the mascot.

Anyway, that’s the Dunk. Let’s meet somewhere else next time. Here’s one for the road.

 

THP #24: Past Life

November 15, 2021 – Quincy, Massachusetts
Eastern Nazarene College vs Plymouth State
Women’s Basketball

It’s a weird feeling when you remember here but it’s a foreign place.

I used to spend a good chunk of time around these parts. My wife’s first apartment was one town over from Quincy (pronounced KWINzee), and she lived there for 2.5 years.

I spent many a night with her and we drove a lot of the same roads I drove on this day. But it had been years since I’d been back. It was a constant feeling of mental strain as I slowly pieced together the roads and how I remembered them.

We still live in Massachusetts, about an hour away, but even in that short distance so much misses you. So many times throughout the day I felt a vault unlock in my mind as I remembered how I remembered where I was.

The false demon that is nostalgia crept in a lot on this cold November day. I was fondly remembering a place that was a B-side in my life. Sure, my wife and I spent some time in Quincy but she lived in Weymouth. It was putting those sweet memories onto a place that for the most part wasn’t involved. That’s why nostalgia is a demon, it’s a tricky motherfucker.

But there I was, on Wollaston Beach, my feet touching the icy waters of the Atlantic, Boston beckoning to my left, wondering how life would be different if this was my home. I love where we’re at now. I’ll always wonder what other paths in life I unknowingly walked past while marching toward the one I’m on now.

Anyway, here’s some dead presidents.

The City

 

The sign says it all. The second and seventh presidents of the United States were born and raised in Quincy. The houses still stand today, the first stops on the city’s Presidents’ Trail.

They currently are on an intersection across from McKay’s Diner and down the street from the Goodfella’s Barber Shop.

My wife and I had a lovely breakfast one day at McKay’s. It was a spring day and I remember walking out into the sun and seeing a large group gathered in front of these houses wondering what was going on. I casually saw a sign and thought “oh, just another colonial tour thing”.

That day hit me like a truck once I realized that today I was on my own colonial tour. One of my beliefs is that we don’t intrinsically know that time is passing. We only know based on outside queues. We see an old movie on TV. We get a high school reunion letter. We realize what the building across from the diner actually is.

And it all hits at once at the weirdest times “Damn, some time’s passed.” It’s a nice feeling though once the initial blast wears off. Being able to recognize the passage of time is better than the other option.

Across town is the United First Parish Church. It is an active Unitarian Universalist parish and it is the resting place of John, Abigail, John Quincy, and Louisa Adams. The church offers tours of the building as well as the tombs beneath it. And if I had known that tour season ended two days earlier I’d have been there.

The structure though is imposing and striking, especially as modern Quincy, a city of 100,000 has grown around it.

A statue of John Hancock stands in the courtyard next to the church, he was born in what is now Quincy and was then a part of Braintree. But what interested me most was across the way: the Hancock cemetery.

I’ve mentioned in the past how I find a serene calm when I’m in cemeteries. I find them to be peaceful and full of stories lost to time. The Adams’ were initially buried here before getting interred in the church. Many people who fought and lived through the American Revolution are buried here.

So much of the war is basically a myth today. It’s so old as to feel like a fictional story full of cartoonish men in weird hats and wigs even if its effects can still be felt. But many of these stones were just people trying to get by.

I stared at the stone of Betsey L. Nash for a good while. That epitaph is brutal. One word that says everything. I dug around a bit online and found out that she had six children, one may have died as a child. In her listing in the 1870 census her profession was simply “keeping house.”

She lived a long life. Was it good? Did she enjoy motherhood? What are her ancestors doing today? So many questions in a single stone.

The Good Eats

Being a city of just over 100,000 people, good food options are easy to find in Quincy. On this day I went bar fare and stopped at Assembly on Hancock Street.

It was what you would expect from a modern bar atmosphere. Lots of TVs, a big bar, and exposed brick.

As I tend to do, I opened with a Caesar salad. It tasted great and may have made my top four in New England if not for three little things. Can you spot them?

Now, I like tomatoes, but a Caesar salad is no place for them. Otherwise, a quality salad.

For the main I went with the special: baby back ribs with fries and cole slaw.

Had the nice modern plating complete with the slaw in a gravy boat. And it was damn good. The ribs were the perfect point of easily coming off the bone while not falling like snow in a blizzard. I just wish there were one or two more of them.

A quick aside about the humble french fry. A quality fry can elevate an entire dish the same way a floppy, lifeless fry can ruin one. The fries at Assembly were perfectly crisp and salted and made for a better meal. However, in the larger scheme, I believe that a good french fry, when part of the plate, is the engine that makes the meal go.

Sure, people call it a “burger and fries” and not  “fries and a burger” but without a quality french fry to act as the backbone of the meal the burger or the steak or the ribs coast by and are just fine. But a good fry…a good french fry holds it all together. Respect and love the good fries of the world for they do more than we give them credit for.

For a sweet treat I went across town to Fratelli’s Bakery. It was everything you would want in a local bakery.

It was the type of place where everything was fresh.

It wasn’t just baked goods. There were sauces and marinades and salad dressings made in house. And even homemade flavored blends of panko breadcrumbs were for sale. I have never seen anything like that before.

But I was here for the baked goods and, as I usually do, I went with the classic chocolate chip cookie. When done right, it is the perfect treat.

And this was among the best I’d ever had. It was odd. It was a touch cakier than I usually like but damn if it wasn’t a nearly flawless cookie. Perfectly salted, used the good chocolate, and chewy in the best way.

Big thank you to Danielle with the cool green highlights in her hair for selling me on this because it was absolutely worth it.

I also walked out the door with a cinnamon stick for my wife and a box of muffins for us.

Fratelli’s is just down the road from the original Dunkin Donuts. I went there once with my wife. We were 10 days away from celebrating one year together.

I went to Fratelli’s today, seven days before we celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. Driving by my past life on the way to my present and future wasn’t lost on me as I walked out of the bakery.

The Campus

If I wasn’t specifically driving to Eastern Nazarene College I wouldn’t have known it was there. I was a tenth of a mile from the campus and there was nary a sign that a college was nearby.

With an undergraduate population of just a shade over 600 students, it was easy for the school to hide within the city.

Founded in 1900 as the Pentecostal Collegiate Institute in 1900 in Rhode Island, the college moved to its current location and changed its name in 1919. The Wollaston Church of the Nazarene sits on the campus quad.

I’ve been on dozens of college campuses in my travels. This was the first time I felt like an interloper walking the grounds in the mid-afternoon. A man was walking his dog by the student center and I felt him watching me as I walked around the quad and the Babcock Arboretum on campus.  Strange vibe.

The Game

Like the rest of the campus, the Lahue Physical Education Center, built in 1973, was more brick and concrete.

Lahue is the hub of Lions’ athletics. The basketball and volleyball teams play here and there are locker rooms and batting cages and all the other accoutrements an athletic department needs.

A small lobby features a fetching trophy case showcasing the school’s championships.

The gym itself was in line with many other D3 programs in New England. Bleachers on both sides, little distance between the fans and the floor, and a smell of lacquer permeating throughout. That’ll always be one of my favorite smells.

At the far end of the gym hung the proudest banner in program history: a Sweet Sixteen banner from 2000.

And New England better be ready because this team is going to be a problem. Sure, the NECC is a four-team league but the Lions are a veteran squad that plays suffocating defense and team ball on offense.

Eastern Nazarene led Plymouth 17-15 after the first quarter before opening it up on offense and locking it down on defense.

Everything was more for the Lions. More ball movement. More screens. More open looks. More buckets.

This three put the Lions up seven early in the second and the lead kept growing before they took a 13-point lead into the break.

The Panthers simply had no answer for the variety of looks Eastern Nazarene threw at them.

Now’s the part I’d transition to the second half but I’d be a goon if I didn’t share that it was on this Monday that I witnessed the greatest halftime entertainment in the history of college basketball.

According to the guy in the Sean Taylor jersey, the school has an intramural dodgeball league and this was a sort of all-star game.

In the second half, Eastern Nazarene did more of the same to Plymouth State. The Panthers tried like hell to score, but the Lions wouldn’t break. ENC picked 17 steals in the win and forced 26 turnovers. Take a look at the instincts the players have in the zone. It feels like there’s six or seven out there.

The Lions took it to the final horn and kept the pedal down to blow Plymouth State away. There are some big teams on the schedule this year, a few NESCAC opponents, Brandeis, in-conference rival Mitchell has a strong team too. All of them are going to have a tough time with Eastern Nazarene.

Eastern Nazarene 69, Plymouth State 45
Time of game: 1:30:42
Player of the game: Alondra Jimenez (ENC) – 16 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals

History, whether personal or national, is all a bit of a ruse. The people buried in the cemetery and under the church are just a fraction of the whole tale of the story of Quincy and the myriad names it was known as before European colonialization.

These roads and who I was when I last drove them are a fraction of who I was and who I am today. I’m not sure why I felt a longing while in the car. Maybe it was because time is the true currency and having lived it I can’t live it again. I’d like to. I want to fall in love and grow again with my wife.

Those moments are locked in their own time capsule though, a beloved capsule, still locked away unable to be done again.

Each of these stops makes a memory that’ll be locked away all the same, unable to be done again. Better to have been remembered than be unknown I guess.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road.

 

THP#23: Pain

October 25, 2021 – Smithfield, Rhode Island
Bryant University v Nichols College
Men’s Basketball

Why am I doing this? Why am I firing up the car and making towns for the blog for a third year?

Responsibility.

Sure, this is a personal creative project, but beyond that it’s far more important to me. It is the responsibility of taking something to the finish line. I’ve started so many projects in my life and seen them fizzle to dust.

I have 15,000 words of a book buried in an old computer. I’ve stopped and started writing my novel three times. I have a 72-minute feature documentary that sits on a friend’s hard drive on Long Island because we couldn’t get the financing to finish it.

And that was all true back in 2019 when I conceived of this project. I just wanted to do something wholly my own that I could look back on and say “Shit, I did that.”

And in the intervening years, especially now, this project, like college basketball overall, has been a major anchoring point in my life as I’ve seen my mental health spiral, rebound, and bounce around all over the place.

I’m trawling the websites of every college in New England as early as August looking for any scheduling nuggets. Sometimes colleges post unfinished schedules and I even pull those up too. Anything to find my anchor and right my ship. Something to keep me upright and on course for port.

Keeping the ship upright is one of the major reasons why I keep pushing myself forward with this. Knowing my anchor is there, keeping me grounded, is everything.

And I really, really like the gyms and the vibes and the food and the people I meet along the way. I just want to better enjoy the company of myself. The miles are very real and the majority of these games I’m by myself with myself.

I don’t know what to do to better enjoy the company I have on the ride out to wherever I’m going. I can run from it with music and podcasts and YouTube videos but every runner always needs a drink.

I’m thirsty.

The Good Eats

Being back in Rhode Island brings with it a whole bunch of memories. I went to the University of Rhode Island, and eternally have a soft spot for the smallest state in the Union.

And one of my favorite things is how fucking weird this place is. Being so small, Rhode Island depserately clings onto anything homegrown and pumps it every chance it gets.

“I just finished my hot weiner as I drove by the Big Blue Bug and am going to get a coffee milk cabinet before I get home.”

That’s a real sentence that would perfectly make sense to any Rhode Islander. In any other state it reads as well as Kanji or Cyrilic. The translation is below.

“I just finished my hot dog as I drove past the extermination company’s mascot and am going to get a coffee-flavored milkshake before I get home.”

Which brings us to Newport Creamery.

A small chain with a dozen locations all in either Rhode Island or in Massachusetts towns bordering Rhode Island, the Creamery is an Ocean State institution.

I can’t walk into one and not feel warm and familiar even though I never went to one growing up. There are small chains like this throughout the country. Every one has familiar food, familiar feelings, and good prices.

I kept it simple on what was a cold, gloomy Monday night. Cheeseburger club with fries.

It was damn good. It was homey. It was something I needed on the day.

But at the Newport Creamery you can’t leave without getting an Awful Awful. Made with different flavors of syrup and a proprietary ice milk, the Awful Awful is the star of the show. As it says on the cup, awful big awful good.

I went junior because I just turned 30 and suddenly I don’t vibe as well with dairy as I used to. Still wasn’t going to say no. My flavor was chocolate. Next time I’ll get the chocolate mint.

The Game

Bryant University is the enigma of Rhode Island college basketball. Every other college in the state is either in Providence or in some way connected to the waterfront and beach culture of the Atlantic.

Bryant is in Smithfield, a small town in north-central Rhode Island a good 30-45 minutes from the oceanside. A private university founded in 1863, the current campus is on land that was donated by alum Earl Tupper in 1971.

You might be familiar with his most famous invention: Tupperware.

The Chace Athletic Center is the beating heart of Bryant sports. Home of the gymnasium, the swimming pool, team offices, the works, places like the Chace are common among low-major schools. And it’s a lovely building. Bright, full of energy, plenty of schools would love to have a building like it.

The gym is a cozy 2,670, and would be electric when it’s filled.

Despite being an exhibition game there was still plenty of juice in the room because Nichols showed out. With a strong recent history of success at the Division III level, it was the Nichols student section and cheerleaders that brought the energy early.

The schools being separated by only 26 miles certainly didn’t hurt either.

I will eternally have a soft spot for Nichols. They were the main protagonists in the best college basketball experience of my life, and for that I will always have a place in my heart for the Bison.

And early on, they controlled the game. A few pieces from the Elite Eight team in 2019 still remained, and the uptempo energy punched Bryant in the face early.

It was even throughout the opening segments of the first half. Bryant had the bigger size but the Bison were wily and kept the Bulldogs in check.

Halfway through the first half it was only 20-16 Bryant and the place was buzzing. Eventually Bryant shook free a bit but the lead hung at a dozen late in the half, and the large Nichols contingent was feeling like an improbable comeback was possible.

Now, allow me to introduce you to Charles Pride.

Those ended a run of four straight threes by Pride to cap a 24-point first half. The last one made it 53-31 and the Bulldogs rolled from there. Pride finished 29 points an 11 rebounds. Erickson Bans had 19 points, five boards, and five assists.

Jason O’Regan finished with 18 points and eight rebounds to lead Nichols.

Bryant 107, Nichols 71. Final
Time of game – 2:06:34

Yeah, I knew this would probably be an unbalanced game, but I wasn’t going to say no to basketball so early in the season. And Bryant is looking to be one of the better mid-majors in New England this year so keep an eye on them. Plenty more to come this season. Thank you for reading.

And now, here’s one for the road.