One Last Time

I am a failure. Ok, I really needed to get that off my chest. When I found out I was going to write this blog I had visions of grandeur. One blog per week, creative ideas, and funny angles that would ultimately lead to a cult following which would land me a spot on Bill Simmons’ podcast to talk about the wonderful things that are division III basketball. Oops. I guess some things were just not meant to be. Alas, I failed miserably on all accounts. And for that I would like to say I am deeply and truly sorry to all of my loyal fans, yes both of you.

As you might have figured, (or should have figured by the title of this blog) our season is over. We finished a fantastic season in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Middlebury, VT with a 64-57 loss to Middlebury. It was a disappointing ending to one of the most rewarding four years of my life. I don’t want to summarize the whole game, but there are a couple of parts I want to highlight elementary school style, yup with Gold Stars. 13 stars to 8 foot tall Andrew Locke of Middlebury. (Wait a minute, that’s Manute Bol) That is one for every block he had Friday night. I’m serious. For those of you scoring at home, that is one more than Jesus had disciples. He blocked me alone 5 times. Here is an example of what happened Friday night. Unbeliveable performance. Andrew, you will receive your stars in the mail. 12 stars for two time NESCAC defensive player of the year Tim Edwards of Middlebury for the number of misses he forced me into Friday night. That’s right I was 3-15. He is a tremendous defensive player and made life difficult for me all night, hence the 3-15 shooting night. On second thought, he can just share his teammate’s the gold stars. 2 stars for the Gordon College Men’s Basketball team for the number of double digit deficits we fought back from. We battled through a rough first half after being down 12 to enter halftime down by 3. In the second half we found ourselves down 16 only to battle back to a five point game with 2 minutes to play. That shows the kind of character and never say die attitude our gritty little squad has. And finally, 1 Million Gold Stars to The Pit. The Pit is the Gordon student section of about 200 students who made the 4 hour trip to Vermont on their own dime because we were on spring break while this game took place. I can’t explain how much their support means to us and if I had anything other than Gold Stars to give out I would.  We have the best fans in New England, bar none.

It is difficult to put into words what my time at Gordon has meant to me but since I have this blog I am going to try anyways.  I have been blessed to be a part of a TEAM in the truest since. There are many teams around the country but very few TEAMS.  A team is a collection of individuals who come together to try to reach some sort of collective goal. A TEAM is a group of people bonded together with a passion for each other who commit to reaching a goal and do everything they can to attain it. TEAMS are special. The latter is what I have experienced the past four years. I am a part of a special class of people who for four years grew to care more about each other than ourselves as individuals. In order to attempt to quantify how special this class has been I am going to go against my nature and brag a little bit. Our senior class will graduate as the All-Time winningest class in school history, has played in more games than any class in school history, the first class to have back-to-back 20 win seasons, two regular season conference championships, and the first Conference Tournament Championship in school history.  One of the most incredible stats is that in four years, our class has missed a total of 3 games due to injury. That is 6 players and over 600 games between the 6 of us and we have all been healthy for all except 3. Even more in incredible is that one of our seniors who will remain nameless gets infections like it’s his job. (We found a creative solution to this problem) We have had 6 All-Conference selections, the defensive player of the year, the player of the year, the senior scholar athlete of the year, and we even won the sportsmanship award. It has been an extraordinary four years and I could not have asked for a better group of guys to experience it with.

Maybe you can understand if I tell you a little about these guys. First off is the honorary member of our class Ben “Moose” Drake. Moose played for three years, and was unfortunately unable to finish this season with us. However, Moose is as much of a part of our team’s success as anyone I know. He never played many minutes, but in some ways that is the most important member of the team. People will always look at the most veteran player who does not get many minutes to replicate their attitude. I have never met someone with a better one. He is the epitome of a teammate. Always putting others first, working as hard as he can day in and day out, and constantly supporting his teammates. Moose even joined us for a couple of honorary team showers. Can you say “Only team in America”? (For those of you who don’t understand this concept this video may help)To top it all off, when I looked into the crowd on Friday night, guess who I saw in the first row cheering on his teammates. Yep you guessed it, Moose. Next is Jeff Derr, the 6’8” gentle giant, and walking sports encyclopedia who is one of the most unselfish players I have ever played with. As a multi-skilled big man he has willingly sacrificed his own glory for the good of the team throughout his career and placed others above himself and contributed in some major ways along the way. That is the epitome of a team player. Next is Brady Bajema. There may not be a better teammate in the country than Brady Bajema. I have had the privilege of being co-captains with Brady the past two years. I have never played with a person who truly only cared about winning. He is the most competitive person I know and constantly kicked my butt in pick-up games, practice and shooting drills the past four years. Brady could honestly care less how many points he scores or assists he has as long as his team has more at the end of the day. Next is Tim MacDonnell. You really need to see Timmy play to understand what he does for a team. (Think Dennis Rodman minus the tats and funky hair and add rec specs) I am sure a number of coaches have looked at our stats when scouting us and wondered, “why does this guy play so much” only to watch film and end up wishing he had a team full of guys like Tim. For example, in our final game, Tim took more charges than I took the entire season, possibly my career. Yes I am a ninny, but what Tim does for his team is impossible to quantify in numbers other than wins and losses. His teams just win. Tim literally gave his right arm for his teammates. He has played the last two and a half seasons with a torn labrum. Some people would miss an entire season with that sort of injury. Not Tim, he missed one game his entire career. Finally is Ben Gaskill. When I think about how unique our team is, Ben is the poster child. He is 6’9” with red hair, and runs like a deer (seriously, when in shape he can run a sub 5 min mile). In my two years as his roommate I have seen him dress up as Ernie from Sesame Street, a shark eating a person, wear a bed sheet as a cape, rip that same bed sheet on a fire extinguisher, and spend more time in the shower than any human on than planet. Not only that, but Ben turned himself into a defensive and rebounding menace. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in our conference and was the main reason we ended the regular season with the third highest rebounding margin in the country. He took his role, embraced it and thrived in it. Ben could have tried to be our leading scorer, which would bring more recognition. Instead, he found how he could best help our team win, and without that we would never have reached the level of success that we did. I also must mention the outstanding coaches we had during our career. While we did encounter a major coaching change before this season, we could not have asked for two better men to lead our teams over four years. These coaches not only led us on the basketball court but helped teach us what it meant to be men of character.  Coach Murphy, Coach Krass, Coach Whitley, Coach Schauer, and Coach Martin, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

One final note that everyone reading this needs to know. As amazing as this group is, our parents are even more incredible. The six of us are from, Overland Park, KS; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Burlington, VT; Philadelphia, PA; and Worcester, MA and I can count on one had the number of games parents missed this season. The commitment each of our parents made to supporting us is unparalleled. On many occasions my dad described it as “crazy.” While it may have been, it is impossible to express how much the support our parents gave means to each of us. On behalf of all of the seniors, THANK YOU!

I know this is getting long, but you have to be careful to give someone a platform to speak, because they just might use it. Sorry Mr. Coleman. This season has been so rewarding, not because we won so many games and achieved so many program firsts, although we did that a lot. It is because of what we went through to get to where we are. We battled expectations, disappointment, a coaching change, frustration, selfish desires, losses, not to mention our opponents, all to arrive at this point. I have heard the quote, “TEAMS are built through shared challenges.” However they can also be broken through them. We chose to become a TEAM through our challenges. We began this season with a new coach and a 4-3 record; we finished as Conference Champions and a 24-5 record. We began our careers as six strangers from all over the country; we ended it as lifelong friends. Even more than that we helped build a program, just as the classes before us have. While our stated goal was to be the “Best team in Gordon history” the true goal was to leave the program in better shape than we found it. Only time will tell, but if future Gordon teams can become a TEAM like ours, our class will no doubt have been a success, regardless of my failures as a writer.

The Transitive Property

This season is absolutely flying by. We have cruised through the Pre-Party Party Period and moved right on into the Family Reunion. As a matter of fact, this season is becoming history faster than Bill Belichek’s relevance and Tom Cruise’s sanity. At Gordon College this has been a particularly good period for us. We began the Pre-Party Party Period by winning the Union College Sig Makofski Tournament. First let me tell you a little about Mr. Makofski. He was a first-team All-American in basketball and was also named an honorable mention All-American in football at Union before there were NCAA divisions. He then went on to coach Schenectady High School and Mont Pleasant High School in Schenectady to a record of 461-35 in basketball and coached the Mont Pleasant football teams to a 418-3 record. On top of that he held fourteen local golf course records. He just couldn’t settle on being better than everyone at the major sports. He had to beat everyone in retirement too. Are you kidding me? Look at those coaching records. That is a 93% winning percentage in basketball. That that is not even close to his record as a football coach. He won a laughable 99.3% of their games. I can’t even do that on my PlayStation and I quit games before I lose to the computer. You know the phrases that any team can beat anyone “on any given day” or “that’s why you play the games” when an upset occurs? Well, those don’t apply to Sig Makofski.  But here’s the real question. What happened in those three football games? Poor coaching? I’m guessing not. They either must have been playing Notre Dame or they only had 8 players. Even then I wouldn’t count out a Sig Makofski coached team. (Thanks to the Union College website for this information)

Knowing a little about the tournament’s namesake gives a little more meaning to the trophy given out. For the second time in three years we won the Sig Makofski Tournament. In the opener we beat the host Union College 69-47. This shows the quality of the teams in the tournament. The host team normally schedules the team they feel they had the best chance to beat in the first game so they can play in the championship. Obviously that did not work out so well for Union. However, they went on to win the consolation game against Elms who finished last year 26-2 and ranked 12th in the country. We on the other hand advanced to the championship to play Montclair State. To say Montclair and Gordon play differing styles would be just the tip of the iceberg. They have an enrollment over 5x larger than Gordon’s private Christian school enrollment. Their team roster contains more outstanding athletes than we have at our entire school and they play a style that reflects that. It was truly a battle of contrasts that in the end resulted in a 61-53 Gordon victory. We had three players named to the All-Tournament team including the MVP. This tournament has just been the tip of the iceberg. Crap, I already used that cliché? Umm… how about that just got the ball rolling? Let’s go with that one. After starting the season 4-3. We felt we had some real momentum after the tournament but everyone knows conference play is a completely different animal. (See Huskies, Connecticut) we began the family reunion with a 57-49 win against Wentworth Institute of Technology. They start 6’11”, 6’6″, 6’5″ in their front court, a rarity in our conference and it was a matchup between two of the top 10 rebounding teams in the country.  We followed that win up with a hard fought win against a scrappy and much improved Anna Maria team on the road and an 81-58 rivalry win in a “holy war” game against one of the only other Christian Schools in New England, Eastern Nazarene. With that victory we have run our record to 10-3. Those three losses, while still losses, are by a combined 8 points to the #9 team in the country in overtime, MIT,  a quality Westfield State team, and a loss to our biggest rival Endicott College. A couple of different bounces and we could be looking at couple of more wins.

We could play the “what if” game all day and every team in the country has a reason why their record should be better. However, what I want to talk about is the extreme parity I have seen throughout the country this year, especially New England, as evidenced by 4 of the top 5 teams in the country losing last week. No one seems to want to take a stand as the best team in the country. To prove that point, I will use the famed transitive property of basketball to prove who should be dangerous come tournament time.

Bard (1-13) beat Polytechnic (3-9) , who beat Medgar Evers (8-8), who beat Castleton State (7-5), who beat Colby-Sawyer (9-6), who beat Middlebury (14-1 #10 in Top 25). Therefore Bard (1-13) is better than #10 Middlebury (14-1)

Oh that is just the Northeast and it doesn’t work for the rest of the country you say?

MacMurray  (3-10) beat Webster (8-7), who beat Spalding (6-9), who beat Mt. St. Joseph (8-7) , who beat Thomas More (12-4), who beat Transylvania (9-7), who beat Wash U (12-2 #4 in the Top 25). Therefore MacMurray (3-10 ) is better than #4 Wash U (12-2).

Encore? Ok, just this once.

Salve Regina (1-13) beat Connecticut College (6-8), who beat Coast Guard (5-9), who beat Babson (7-8) , who beat Emerson (9-5) , who beat Pomona-Pitzer (6-8) , who beat Whitworth ( 13-2), who beat UW-Whitewater (14-2 #6 in Top 25), who beat UW-Stevens Point (13-1 #1 in Top 25). Therefore Salve Regina (1-13) is better than #1 UW-Stevens Point (13-1)

There are plenty more where these came from. What do they all mean? Absolutely nothing. Except that parity is everywhere in DIII basketball this year.  Everyone knows that the transitive property does not work in sports and the only way to find out if a team is better than anyone else is to play head to head (except in college football where everyone knows computers do a much better job of determining champions.) If a team does not show up ready to play anyone could beat them on any given night. Except maybe if Sig Makofski was coaching.

The Division of Misfits

The holiday season is filled with lots of great traditions; waking up extra early to open presents, spending time with family, decorating the Christmas tree, watching White Christmas and other traditional Christmas movies, baking Christmas cookies, admiring the beautiful Christmas lights. I love Christmas; for all of these reasons. One of the best traditions is the CBS Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special that plays every year. In that movie, Rudolph travels to an island called “The Island of Misfit Toys.” It is this island that has given rise to my grand theory of DIII basketball. (Trust me, I have thought this through, just stay with me.) While on this island Rudolph and his loveable band of misfits encounter, among other things, an elephant with red spots, a train with square wheels on its caboose, a bird who swims, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. All of these toys are functional, even endearing some may say, (I mean, wouldn’t you want an elephant with red spots?) but because of one flaw they have been banished to a remote island to toil away in anonymity.

We are the “Division of Misfits.”

In my last posting, I went on a quasi-rant about how most people not associated with DIII basketball do not understand the quality of basketball that happens at our level. Every year there are DIII teams who manage to beat quality DII and DI opponents. This year, we saw Randolph-Macon beat last year’s Patriot League Champion, American. In years past we have seen the likes of Holy Cross, Princeton and George Mason fall at the hands of DIII teams.  While I am not saying Randolph-Macon should make the jump to DI and plan to win the Patriot League this year. I am saying that many DIII teams can compete with teams at levels that are often considered “higher,” on a given night. This is not a fluke. It is because the skill level at each of the NCAA divisions does not differ drastically. The difference is usually one or two attributes, other than individual skills, that push a DI kid above the DIII level (Kevin Durants and Michael Beasleys excluded). A great shooter is a great shooter regardless of division, great post moves are great no matter what the front of the jersey says.  In Division III however, many of the great shooters may not have the quickness or size of a DI guard.  Many post players that I have seen have DI level post players at our level but simply lack 4 inches, a 40 inch vertical, or the foot speed a DI program looks for.

Examples, that’s what this column needs, concrete evidence of what I am talking about. I will leave names out of this, but trust me, I’m not making these players up. The first one is a teammate of mine. He is currently shooting over 60 percent from the 3 point line on over 5 attempts per game. Yes you read that correctly. OVER 60% FROM 3!!!!! I CAN’T STOP USING CAPS!!!!!!! I rebound for him every day in practice and I would put him up against any shooter in the country at any level. Think about that. The best pure shooter in the entire country may play in Division III. The fact that he is not going to throw down a tomahawk dunk anytime soon does not change the fact that he is an elite shooter. My next example comes from another New England Region team. There is a post player who has averaged over 18 points and 8 rebounds per game and on multiple occasions has scored over 40 points in a game. He is the toughest post player we have faced because of his phenomenal post moves and his understanding of post positioning. There is one catch; he’s 6’4″. Give this man 4 inches and he is in a DI program right now. Instead, he is in the division of misfits putting up great numbers and validating our level of play. The last example I will use is of another guard. This player returns this year as a 1st Team All-Conference selection and is currently averaging 19 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals per game. I recently watched this guy play, and the kid is a stud. He’s one of the quicker guards I have watched, has a great looking jump shot and can get to the rim with ease. Yep you guessed it, there’s a catch. He’s generously listed at 5’4.” Guys with his skill level are all over the Division I level. Division I coaches however, tend to shy away from guys who are shorter than Napoleon. This is their loss and our gain. Players with DI skill level who play at the DIII level only give our division the validity we need to sleep well at night, knowing what a great level of basketball DIII is. We are able to combine the greatest attributes of all divisions. Great basketball, true student-athletes, and players who play for the love of the game.

While I have only given 3 examples I am sure anyone reading this can think of the “misfits” on their team. Seriously. I know you know them.  If you think about it, almost all of us are. And that’s what makes this division great. The country is littered with them and that in and of itself defines a DIII coach’s job. Find the “misfits” and turn them into stars. We have a fraternity of guys who were either not wanted other places or chose DIII because of all it has to offer. Are there any John Walls at the DIII level? Absolutely not. But what we do have is a group of “misfits” who compete at a high level.  And that makes me proud to be a part of the “Division of Misfits.”

Owenby’s perfect night

Maryville (Tenn.) Daily Times writer Marcus Fitzsimmons should be a familiar name to hard-core Division III fans. Here’s a feature he wrote from Wednesday’s Maryville-Greensboro game:

Owenby’s perfect night goes for naught

By Marcus Fitzsimmons

Ever hit the trash can with a coke can when you knew you should have missed?

Lewis Owenby had that kind of feeling for a full game.

The junior for Greensboro College went 12-for-12 from the floor Wednesday night against Maryville in a 93-78 loss to the Scots in Boydson Baird Gymnasium.

“The first one I put up just bounced in off the glass and I was like, ‘woah’,” said Owenby.

Battling Maryville’s Greg Hernandez the Black Mountain, N.C., product found himself nearer the foul line than the basket early but scrapped that strategy with his second kiss-off-the-glass jumper.

“We didn’t do a good job defending him at all,” said Maryville head coach Randy Lambert. “But to his credit he knocked down some of those shots from outside the paint.”

Adding to his range was something Owenby admits working on over the summer, but he never imagined a night like Wednesday.

“I was just playing within our game,” said Owenby. “I didn’t really think about it until after the game.”

The junior left the floor after picking up his fifth personal with 2:53 remaining and not even the coaches were aware of the performance until a miscredited miss at the 1:58 mark was corrected on the box score.

“That kind of night on that many shots in this game, its just unheard of to have a perfect night,” said Greensboro coach Bryan Galuski. “It was obviously a great shooting night for him.”

Owenby had been averaging 8.8 points per game and had a season high 17 on 7-for-9 shooting against LaGrange before his 27-point performance Wednesday. His only weak spot was the foul line, where he was a merely human 3-for-5.

Greensboro opens USA South play at Averett on Saturday.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is a sports writer for The (Maryville) Daily Times covering Maryville College, the GSAC and USA South.

DIII Christmas List

Time sure flies when you’re taking finals. It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last checked in. At that time Gordon College had just lost a tough game to our rival Endicott College in the middle of the Redneck Doublewide portion of the season. It didn’t get any easier from there. We travelled to unbeaten MIT the next Saturday afternoon to take on the Engineers. After getting punched in the mouth 10-0 to start the game (this is becoming a pattern) we bounced back off the mat and played toe to toe with MIT the rest of the way. We held a slim 3 point margin with just under a minute to play when MIT hit a 3 to tie it. We battled into overtime but eventually fell by 5. It was a tough, hard fought game between two very strong New England region teams. While moral victories are not the type we are looking for this time of year, we can find one in having a chance to beat the #22 team in the country on their home floor. Unfortunately, the win column doesn’t show moral victories and we fell to 4-3. We closed the Redneck Doublewide with a good home win against Wheelock College. Wheelock had previously beaten 3 of our conference rivals, so to close the first half of our season with a win against them was encouraging. Needless to say 5-3 heading into Christmas is not where we expected, nor hoped we would be. (Yes, I did just make correct use of the word nor.) With that being said, we’re probably not the only ones who wish the Holiday season had gone a little bit differently. What?  Too soon?

Anyway, in order to see if Santa can help us, along with the rest of the teams looking turn things around after Christmas, I have compiled a DIII basketball Christmas list of what every DIII basketball player, or at least me, really wants for Christmas. (Okay, maybe not that)

1) Wins – This is an obvious one. Everyone is hoping Santa brings some wins this Christmas. I’m going to put a shout out to New York City Tech, Cazenovia, Bard, Kalamazoo, FDU-Florham, Bluffton, Eastern Nazarene, Maine-Presque Isle, Maine-Farmington, Schreiner, Methodist, Caltech, and Bethany Lutheran because I think they could use one a little more than most right now. (Unless they made the naughty list this year) Credit for this information must go to the D3hoops forum for updating this list.

2) Respect – This may be the top on most DIII basketball players’ wish lists. I know I’m preaching to the choir on this website, but there is some very good basketball played at the DIII level. Most people don’t get that.  When they hear DIII they think, “well that must be worse than DII ‘cuz 3 is worse than 2.” Little do they know that many teams at the Division III level could compete at the DII level on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, we are left to continue to defend our level of play and let our game speak for itself. Ok, enough sour grapes for one blog.

3) Sean Wallis and Aaron Thompson of Wash U to graduate – I mean, seriously guys. Come on! 2 National Championships aren’t enough? Even Michael Jordan went to play baseball for a while. Let’s let someone else have a chance. For the record, I’m rooting for Transylvania Tuesday night. That is all.

4) Restricted Area for Charges – I know that the charge/block call may be the most difficult one in sports. I get that. But how about making it just a tad bit easier on officials by giving them a line to designate the restricted area rather than a magic, make believe, imaginary, pretend area that is literally called “under the basket.” You can read for yourself, but you are considered “under the basket” if any part of the defender’s foot is “under the basket.” Really. So the referee, who has probably worked 5 other games that week and is exhausted from his 50 hour work week at his real job, now must make a split second decision as to whether any part of a man’s foot lies underneath a cylinder that is 10 feet above the ground all while the man is colliding with another man traveling at a high speed without the aid of a line on the ground. Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks NCAA. One more video for good measure.

5) Non-Fast Food on road trips – Hey, I love the McDonald’s dollar menu as much as the next guy (okay maybe not that guy), but a change of pace would be great. Our team was treated to Chipotle Burritos for the first time in my 4 years after our last away game. It was glorious. Let’s keep that up.

6) Fan Support – This is not a Gordon College wish. We are lucky. We have one of the best fan sections in New England and the best in TCCC. However, I’m guessing, based on some of the other schools in our conference, other teams are not as lucky. That is a shame. Playing DIII basketball is unlike any other sport at any level. For 6 months out of the year, players spend 3-4 hours every day practicing/preparing for games. This does not include time spent on road trips and away games. On top of that, there are no traveling tutors, no over generous boosters to “help” us through class, and even fewer professors who understand the commitment it takes to play a college sport. (There are no professors at Gordon College who fit this description. Absolutely none.) And we do it at some of the most demanding academic institutions in the country. Why, you ask? Because we love it. If there are any fans reading, do your classmates a favor, attend some games, paint your chest, and scream loudly, and cheer for your lab partner, he deserves it.

Finally, just like my mom always says, it’s not Christmas until Rasheed Wallace is singing Christmas carols.

Merry Christmas!