They say you never forget the spot where you fell in love, and Matthews Arena – which sits on St. Botolph Street on the campus of Northeastern, and straddles the divide between Boston’s trendy night spots and posh shopping jaunts of the rich and famous, the college world of opportunity, and the darker corners of the city where the real world gets REAL in a hurry – is where I fell in love with America East hoops.
It was during the 2002 conference tournament, held in a mostly empty Matthews. You could hear the echoes of leather slapping hardwood reverberate off of the empty, faded-red, plastic seats. You could smell the sweat in the damp corners of the arena, and hear the squeak of sneakers bounce off of the wrought-iron pillars and beams. Matthews is the oldest multipurpose sports arena in the world, and the oldest in all of college basketball (it’s been 101 years now), and back then (prior to the multimillion dollar renovation) it really looked it.
But man did it have character. I loved the obstructed view; loved the cracked and corroding, cobweb-gray walls. And I loved watching down from the upper-level overhang seating just below the rafters. I was 17 years old, a senior in high-school, and it was a rare moment for my father and my brother (four years my junior) to still hang out together as a family.
It remains one of my most vivid memories of spending time with my father, and one of the last things we ever did together as a family.
I had already become a follower of the America East by tournament time – after having grown up as a member of the UMass “Refuse to Lose” family during the John Calipari/Marcus Camby/Lou Roe years (my dad had played college ball at UMass), we migrated to Northeastern, BU and the America East after the Minutemen jumped the shark (and new head coach Bruiser Flint alienated many of the faithful alums).
But three big things happened on Sunday, March 3rd, 2002, that forever cemented my love of the America East (Perhaps I should preface it by saying that Austin Ganly had the dunk of the decade the day before against Maine, which piqued my interest, and foreshadowed the following day’s impact on my life):
1. I saw Trevor Gaines play the final game of his college career. I will never forget that game.
To say that Gaines played with a heart the size of a basketball is a tremendous understatement: He was a center who stood 6’5 ½” in his sneakers. He relied on the best low-post moves I have ever seen in the league, and he relied on guts, guile and determination; on outworking and out-hustling his opponent every single night. As a senior, he was named First Team All-Conference, averaging 15.5 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting almost 56 percent from the floor.
Gaines’ 11 rebounds per game ranked 7th in the nation. His 4.79 offensive rebounds per game led the nation. Think about that: a 6’5” center led the nation in rebounding. That was Trevor in a nutshell: rebounding is, above all else, an effort statistic – simply fighting as hard as you can for positioning and willing yourself to the ball – and Trevor’s effort was second to none. Continue reading “My Hallowed Ground: Love, loss, and Matthews Arena – where it all began for Sam Perkins”