THP #38: The Heights

November 27, 2022 – Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Boston College vs Rhode Island
Men’s Basketball

I covered my first game 5,603 days ago. I was 17 covering Methuen-Haverhill hockey for the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in Northern Massachusetts. A year earlier I got an internship with the paper answering phones and putting together box scores. I was 16 and living the dream I had had since I was 10 years old.

Now I’m 31 and a whole lot has changed. I’ve covered everything from little league to the NBA. I’ve done countless NCAA tournaments across sports. I was part of a documentary film production. I’ve eaten far too many sub-standard chicken tenders while covering state championship games. It’s been a charmed life.

And I’m no longer pushing for professional success. I’m no longer chasing the dream of becoming the next Cris Fowler, Beth Mowins, or Dan Shulman.

Why? Because as fun as this job is it can be brutally debilitating.

You dream of covering the big games and being in the thick of the action, and I have been. You don’t think about the days when you’re sitting in a Dunkin Donuts in Greenland, New Hampshire chilled to the bone after covering high school football on a raw, cold day filing a story on deadline and thinking “what the fuck am I doing?”

You don’t think about the countless thousands of miles and late nights out away from your girlfriend, away from family, away from the boys covering state soccer playoffs in some town you will never go back to.

There have been games in far-flung towns with names like Penacook and Turners Falls and Weare. All of them I had never been to before. To all of them I will never return.

In an interview after his career, pro wrestler Kevin Nash summed up his business in one perfect sentence: “there’s only two things real in this game: the money and the miles.” And that line has kicked around in my head many times when I’ve been on the road.

I remember intensely covering the winter tournaments for ESPNBoston about a decade ago and I spent, from what I recall, 14 of the first 16 days of March at the Tsongas Center in Lowell covering hockey and basketball playoffs. So many long nights. So many mediocre chicken tenders. I made $1,000 that month freelancing at $50 a game story. That was a long one.

I have loved working in sports, and I will continue to for as long as my services are welcomed by schools across the region. I still have goals. I want to broadcast a game on national television. I’ve done ESPN streaming and regional broadcasts, but I want something my aunt and uncle can watch in Florida and my brother can watch in D.C.

Maybe I’ll get it; maybe I won’t. But I’m happy with where I’m at. I grew so bitter three years ago whenever I went out for an assignment. I had a quick trigger when it came to getting angry at a game for going even a minute longer than I expected. It wasn’t fun. Bitching to my friend Paul, he said something so simple: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”

It was the kick in the head I needed and I started dramatically pulling back on game assignments. I invested more time into making my broadcasts as entertaining as possible and making The Hoops Project as fun as possible. It’s been far more fulfilling living in the business that way.

I made it. I’ve been in the game for 15 years. Thousands of people come out of school with broadcasting and sportswriting dreams and wind up out of the field four years later due to poor pay, poor job prospects, or a crowded field of applicants. But I made it. I’m still here. I’ve never worked full-time in the business in my life. I’ve always been a freelancer that’s found ways to stay around. From the tens of thousands of miles driven to the thousands of stories filed, I’m still here.

To anyone in a job they dreamed of but now are miserable about, please heed this advice: stop letting dreams of a past you hold the you of today hostage. It’s ok to change your dreams. If anyone gives you shit about it, fuck ‘em.

My dream in sports now is to get that national TV game and keep evolving with this ridiculous blog, but I have bigger dreams.

My dream is to be the best possible dad I can be for my daughter. My dream is to be the dream man my wife married that she deserves every day of the week. My dream is to make the best life I can for myself and enjoy it as much as possible.

And none of that involves a Dunkin Donuts in Greenland, N.H.

But you know what is always a dream? A moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Chestnut Hill is a part of Newton, a large, wealthy suburb that borders Boston to the west. With a large city comes a large variety of restaurants. None I like better than Johnny’s Luncheonette.

Located in the heart of Newton Centre, this retro diner has all the old-timey nostalgia elements and great food to bring it all together.

When you first walk in it’s a lot to take in.

My fraternity brother and I snagged a booth and hunkered in under a blimp? A general flying machine? A sculpture? You decide.

But the menu is a classic Jewish deli all the way down to the description of the matzo ball soup as penicillin with or without a matzo ball.

I got me a bowl of that delicious soup, and it lived up to the hype. Nothing messes up a soup like underseasoning, but this was salted perfectly and stuffed full of noodles and veggies to go with a baseball-sized matzo ball.

For my main it was a deli classic: the turkey club. I’m a simple man that loves a simple sandwich. Done right, it is excellence, and this one was magic.

I’ve said before that meal can be elevated or destroyed by the quality of its french fries. Boy howdy, did the fries send this one to the moon. If you’re in Newton, going to BC, or just craving a Jewish deli you need to stop at Johnny’s.

Just a short walk up the road was Tatte bakery. A higher-end bakery that looked the part and sold a wide range of baked goods.

In my quest to find the best chocolate chip cookie in New England I ordered one, but it wasn’t a regular chocolate chip cookie: it was a halva chocolate chip cookie.

Halva is a traditional West Asian treat made from tahini, sugar, and spices. Added to a traditional chocolate chip cookie it gave a rich depth of flavor I had never experienced before.

This wasn’t a cookie; this was a portal into a new way of thinking. Move aside Fork & Spoon from Bangor and Fratelli’s from Quincy: there is now a new #1 chocolate chip cookie in New England.

The Boston College Campus

Boston College is one of the most well-known schools in Massachusetts. A famous Jesuit institution, the college has 9,500 undergrads and another 5,100 postgrads.

The campus is stunning and headline by Gasson Hall, the first building built on the Chestnut Hill campus. The imposing Gothic structure opened in 1918 and was originally known as the Recreation Building. It was eventually named for the college’s 13th president.

The Burns Library and St. Mary’s Hall also show off the college’s Gothic architecture.

Burns Library
St. Mary’s Hall

However, the modern building on campus also look nice but don’t have the august look and feel of the older structures.

O’Neill Library

The Game

Conte Forum is the home of Boston College hockey, basketball, and volleyball.

Much maligned by fans in the area due to poor sightlines in many parts of the building, I’ve always enjoyed coming to Conte (which is known as Kelley Rink for hockey games) even though I’m only here once every 2-4 years.

The seats toward the ends of the building definitely aren’t conducive to watching basketball in the 8,606-seat arena, but we were able to move around when we wanted thanks to the low turnout.

Underneath it’s about what you’d expect from an arena of this size and caliber. Standard arena food and amenities aplenty.

For lunch I got two pizza/two soda combo to split with my friend Akil. Now, on the board it said $25, which seemed fine by arena standards, but at the register it rang up just $13.

The guy at the counter said that all food purchased before the game is half-priced. There’s no signage saying that in the building, but it is an excellent tip to know. And the pizza was pretty solid.

No, I did not eat all this food in one afternoon. The cookie and meal at Johnny’s were a few weeks prior to the game.

At one end of the arena there is an extensive trophy case dedicated to all things BC sports. National championship trophies for men’s hockey and women’s lacrosse highlight, but every sport has its moment to shine.

I just miss this era of the Big East and really love the logo

Banners aplenty hang from the walls and ceiling of past successes. The national championship hockey banners shine brightest.

The game allowed me to do something I don’t get to do often: over-invest emotionally. I was cheering on my Rhode Island Rams, which I hadn’t seen live in a few years, with new coach Archie Miller.

And it started well.

That was Brayon Freeman taking the long way around for two. We’ll check back with him later.

The first half was a battle of two teams trying to turn a corner programmatically and fighting hard for a local non-conference win. Did the points come? Eh, not really, but it was damn entertaining.

Rhode Island had the chance to hold for the last shot of the first half, and the partisan Rhody crowd wanted the Rams to go into the room with a flourish.

28-28 it would be going into halftime.

If you’ve been to a sporting event you’ve no doubt seen a t-shirt toss promotion where cheerleaders or team staff throw shirts into the crowd.

But here at BC not only do they have the t-shirt toss but they have the…

Yup, they threw wrapped packages of chicken tenders into the crowd. Just when you thought you’d seen everything the world of sports unearths a new gem.

The second half was just as close and just as much of a rock fight as the first. Neither team could break away on either end of the court.

The teams traded buckets. The pressure built. I started making noises of unknown origin when Rhody would score.

With the game tied at 44 with five minutes to go let’s check in and see what Brayon Freeman was up to.

47-44 Rhody.

But there was much left to play for and the Eagles would find answers. It took some time but BC found a way to pull ahead with just over a minute to go on this backdoor bouncer to Devin McGlockton that I did not appreciate.

Under a minute we went and the Eagles led by two. Rhode Island then somehow found a fascinating way to not score a basket.

Ish Leggett would split his free throws to cut the gap to one.

A made BC free throw made it a two-point game and Rhody had a chance to tie or pull ahead.

McGlockton would make his free throws and that was all she wrote from Chestnut Hill.

Boston College 53, Rhode Island 49. Final.
Player Of The Game: Brayon Freeman (URI) – 21 points, 9-20 shooting
Time Of Game: 2:05:35

Tough result but always nice to get to the Heights. My first time here was back in March of ’99. I was two months shy of my eighth birthday and my father and I stupidly trekked through a brutal snowstorm to see our new favorite hockey team, the Merrimack Warriors, play the Eagles.

It also ended badly for us that night, a 7-2 BC win, but ever since then I’ve been back at BC once every 2-4 years. It’s always strange getting back because I can easily mark how much time has passed and how I’ve changed as a person.

Last time I was here was back in February, 2019 for a hoops game against Notre Dame. I was unemployed. That was compounded by the call I got pulling onto campus from a producer at a college in another state asking why I wasn’t at my broadcast. Why they didn’t immediately fire me I’ll never know. Thanks Ben.

Now I got a good job, and far more importantly I have a wonderful wife, great dog, and will soon have a daughter. Time shakes things up and just staying with it matters so much. And now I was back at BC with a new friend and a whole new chapter of life about to begin. Felt good.

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



THP #12: The Best of The Best

January 31, 2020 -Kingston, Rhode Island
Virginia Commonwealth v Rhode Island
Men’s Basketball

We’re Rhode Island born
And we’re Rhode Island bred
And when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead
So go go Rhode Island island
Go go Rhode Island island
Go Rhode Island

I’ve made it home. The alma mater. The single best place to watch college basketball in all of New England. I love it here.

This is the University of Rhode Island, where I graduated from in 2013. The flagship university in one of the most hoops-crazy states in the union. I love it here.

Looking out at the quad.

Established in 1892 as the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, URI has grown to a sprawling university with 17,000 students across four campuses. The flagship sits in Kingston, a small village of South Kingstown.

Kingston isn’t known for much outside the university. The most important historical event there was The Great Swamp Fight in 1675, a battle between Colonial/Pequot forces and the Narragansett tribe that resulted in nearly 1,500 dead and proved to be the beginning of the end of King Philip’s War.

Looking toward Carothers Library

Academically, URI has grown into a top science and research institution. With a well-renowned pharmacy program, and heavy investment in the sciences over the last decade, URI has set itself in a good position heading into the next decade.

Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, also works at the university as the director for the Graduate School of Oceanography.

The history and the future blend together across the campus’ more than 1,200 acres.

Something old: Lippitt Hall (1897) sits 10 yards away from…
Something New: The Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering (2019) is a gleaming glass monument to modernity

The Good Eats

Tilly’s didn’t exist when I was in school. It was just an empty lot that I’d drive by on my way to the train station or the liquor store. Today, it’s one of the best restaurants I regularly go to in New England and it would have destroyed my wallet and waistline if I was still a student.

Tilly’s serves cheesesteaks, fries, and shakes. And they are damn good. A small spot that sits maybe four dozen, it brings it with the quality in a major way.

And sticking with the low-fi aesthetic they don’t take your name when you order. They give you a card. A playing card.

The cheesesteak is amazing. The french fries are amazing. The homemade pickles tie it all together. 12/10. Absolutely take the short drive down route 138 and grab yourself a sandwich before the game.

The Game

The Ryan Center opened in 2002 and replaced the historic and cramped Keaney Gym, which now is the home for the volleyball team.

Sitting just over 7,600 people, the Ryan Center feels bigger than it is and truly has no bad seat in the building. If there was a concern it would be that there is no center-hung scoreboard, but other than that it truly is a perfect building.

I spent 3.5 years covering the team for the school paper and loved every second of it. This place really is a home for me when it comes to sports in New England. Even as an alum I still make sure to get a miniplan every year so I can get back.

And on this night it was a Ram family reunion with VCU in town for a massive A-10 tilt. The Ryan Center can get real damn loud when it’s half full. Tonight it was sold out.

And Rhody delivered in a huge way, jumping VCU early and blowing the roof off the place. The Rams never trailed and kept rolling it up.

The lead grew from 10 to 15 to 20 and eventually capped at 29 in the second half. VCU cut it back in the final 10 minutes but never got it back into single figures.

Fatts Russell was dynamic with 30 points. Tyrese Martin continued growing into the future star that he’s sure to be as an upperclassman with 18 points. Jeff Dowtin, the captain, had 17.

And Cyril Langevine teased a double-double, putting in 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also left the Ryan Center with one for the road.

Rhode Island 87, Virginia Commonwealth 75. Final.

Before the game I was in the Rhody Pub mixing and mingling and saw a guy in an old Rhode Island jersey trimmed in gold. Rhody hasn’t had gold in their jerseys since the 80s.

His name was Alan. I asked him where he found it. It wasn’t found. It was his old jersey from his club lacrosse days as a student back in 1983. He was the game with his friend John. Alan comes once a year back to campus with John to rekindle old times and keep his personal connection with the school alive.

I asked him why keep coming back. Simply put, it’s the alumni pull. It’s the desire to return to school and breathe in the air of being a student for just a few hours.

And as I shook his hand to go on my way he noticed my Alpha Epsilon Pi bracelet. His son is in the chapter at UConn.

College basketball. Small world.