Mass. Basketball tips off at the Boston Garden — site of opening triple-header

By Martin Kessler

Harvard forward Jonah Travis should be a favorite to win the Crimson's dunk contest on Friday, Oct. 18. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Harvard forward Jonah Travis should be a favorite to win the Crimson’s dunk contest on Friday, Oct. 18. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

The head coaches from Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, and Northeastern gathered in a large room tucked beneath the bleachers. Just outside, a fresh layer of ice was freezing on the surface of the rink at the center of the cavernous arena. The Boston media swarmed.

The scene looked familiar on Thursday morning at the TD Garden—the site of Boston’s annual college hockey Beanpot. But when all 6 feet 9 inches of UMass forward Raphiael Putney walked through the door into the Legends Room, it became quite clear that the crowd wasn’t there for hockey.

On the cusp of the start to the 2013-14 college basketball season, representatives from Holy Cross, UMass Amherst, and UMass Lowell joined their peers from the Boston area’s four Division I programs for the third annual Commonwealth of Massachusetts Media Day.

In a city known for its historic college hockey rivalries, college basketball is looking to establish its own tradition in Boston. For now it will settle for sharing center stage.

The TD Garden—site of the hockey Beanpot since the arena opened in 1995—will host a college basketball tripleheader on Nov. 10 featuring matchups between Boston University and Northeastern; Holy Cross and Harvard; and Boston College and UMass.

“We’re trying to see if we can gain some traction and some momentum for college basketball in the New England and Boston area,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker explained. “We think it has an opportunity to carve out a little bit of a niche a la what the Beanpot has done in hockey. You know that’s been going for years and years and years, but we think this is the right time.” Continue reading “Mass. Basketball tips off at the Boston Garden — site of opening triple-header”

Heaven is a Playground — Hoopfest: Jorts, Magnum P.I. Cedric Ceballos and futility at the free-throw line

A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.
A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.

The spandex wearers, the Hawaiian shirt guys, the full body suit people, Mario and Luigi, Spiderman, dudes in Jorts — Some people look really out of place no matter what context you view them in.

No I didn’t go to Comic-Con — although I have been told that I mean to basketball bloggers what Joss Whedon means to feminists. Where did I happen to see all of these outcasts and nerds? Amazingly enough, they all congregated at Hoopfest, the world’s largest basketball/streetball tournament.

Held in Spokane, Wash., Hoopfest features 42 city blocks transformed into 450 courts, filled with 7,000 teams officiated by 3,000 volunteers, viewed by 225,000 fans and the ice cream inside the Fudgie the Whale cake: Cedric Ceballos. Yeah, he was there — God only knows why.

The sheer volume of this event is truly awe-inspiring: Block after block of hardened weekend warriors of all ages and skill levels. When I say hardened, I mean Andre Rison at a strip club crazy. The chance to win a T-Shirt really brings out a man’s inner Jordan with the Flu Game 6: I saw an enormously obese 45 year old man dive into a group of teenage girls on concrete in an effort to stop a loose ball from going out of bounds – I can’t stress enough how hard these guys went.

This is one of those events where you see how important athletics are, not just in terms of the participants’ experiences, but the sheer impact Hoopfest has on the city of Spokane.

So how did I end up in the Nexus of the Basketball universe?

In Generations, Captain Picard went in to bring out his predecessor, Captain Kirk, in an effort to join forces in stopping a common enemy. I’d like to think I ended up in Spokane under similar circumstances.

My old buddy (and creator of one of the original basketball social media outlets, Hooptopia, which was basically a 2004 version of Infinite Hoops), E-hop, invited me to play in the tourney with his rag-tag Seattle basketball enclave.

In all my travels, I have seen some characters on the basketball court before. These guys did not fail to impress. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground — Hoopfest: Jorts, Magnum P.I. Cedric Ceballos and futility at the free-throw line”

Patience, persistence, perpetual motion, are virtues for Duquette

After 20 years in coaching, Pat Duquette is finally getting a shot as a head coach, leading Umass Lowell into Division I. Photo Courtesy of Northeastern Athletics
After 20 years in coaching, Pat Duquette is finally getting a shot as a head coach, leading Umass Lowell into Division I. Photo Courtesy of Northeastern Athletics

(Boston, MA) – Early-morning sunlight filtered through large glass windows as Pat Duquette shifted in his seat in an empty terminal in Logan Airport on the second Sunday in September.

The airport’s metal-framed, leather-backed bucket seats are notorious for bashing elbows, compressing spines and stabbing sciatic nerves, but that wasn’t the source of his discomfort: Duquette was sitting still.

The saying goes that if a shark stops swimming it drowns. Perhaps the same could be said for the Dalton, Mass., native. For the better part of the past 20 years, Duquette has been in perpetual motion, swimming upstream. Beginning at the absolute bottom of the coaching ladder, he has climbing every rung – from unpaid intern, coffee-gofer, film-runner and paper-pusher, to recruiting-guru, culture-changer, program builder and molder-of-men – finally culminating at the top: Division I head coach.

After spending two decades in a supporting role on the sideline, Duquette is finally stepping out of the shadows into the spotlight — and diving directly into the trenches — as the first Division I head coach in UMass Lowell basketball history.

“I probably waited a little longer than I thought [to get a head coaching job], but I’m just really happy to have the opportunity,” reflected Duquette, while awaiting the latest in a non-stop turnstile of departing flights and sleepless nights that come with building a program from the ground up.

To say that Duquette has paid his dues and earned his first head gig the hard way is a massive understatement: He started his coaching career working two gigs on two different staffs at the same time: One that paid him virtually nothing and the other which paid him literally nothing.

“It never happens exactly how you plan it, or think it’s going to happen,” said Duquette, reflecting on the long and winding road that brought him to the banks of the Merrimack River in Lowell. Continue reading “Patience, persistence, perpetual motion, are virtues for Duquette”

O’Brien touches down in the Ukraine

o'brien

(Zaporozhye, Ukraine) — As soon as Jake O’Brien disembarked from his plane, it was apparent to the former Boston University forward that he was worlds away from his native New England.

“Very few people here speak English, and the ones that do can barely speak it,” said O’Brien, sitting in his apartment in Zaporozhye, an industrial city on the banks of the Dnieper River. Taking a breather from training camp with Ferro-ZNTU Zaporozhye, a team in the Ukrainian Superleague with whom he will begin his professional career, O’Brien reflected on the drastically different landscape from life in Boston.

“It’s kind of weird… [They’re] definitely 20-plus years behind as far as buildings, cars – just the overall landscape,” said O’Brien.

The last year has been a whirlwind journey for O’Brien, who was supposed to spend his entire career in Boston – punctuated by leading his hometown Terriers to the bright lights of the Big Dance – only to have fate get in the way.

A near career-ending injury, two surgeries, four college coaches, a post season ban, a transfer, and a graduate degree later, O’Brien finally can bask in his memory of the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely gotta’ remind myself how fortunate I am,” reflected O’Brien. Continue reading “O’Brien touches down in the Ukraine”

Ciao, America! DiLiegro signs third straight professional contract in Italy

UNH alumn Dane DiLiegro will continue his antics in Italy for a third straight season.
UNH alumn Dane DiLiegro will continue his antics in Italy for a third straight season.

Former University of New Hampshire center – and subject of upcoming One-Bid Wonders/Rufus Wrinklecap short film “Still hungry, humble” – Dane DiLiegro has signed with Acegas Aps Trieste of the Italian Liga Due Gold (the Italian second division).

“Proud to announce I am now a member of Trieste Basket!! #finally I appreciate everything everyone has done to help me get to where I am today. #Backtoitaly,” he tweeted shortly after signing.

It will be the third-straight season that DiLiegro, a 2011 graduate of UNH, will play in Italy. After being naturalized following college, DiLiegro an Italian passport has been naturalized as a dual-citizen due to his Italian ancestry (and a great deal of leg work by his father, Frank), allowing him to play in Italy as a native (and thus not be confined by restrictions on “import” players). DiLiegro will spend the season in Trieste, a seaport in northeast Italy.

“It’s pretty much the Maine of Italy,” joked DiLiegro, who has spent his previous two seasons in the salt air and sun of southern Italy. “I’ve never lived north, so it should be an interesting — and cold — experience. I’m actually going to need a winter jacket this year.”

Last season, DiLiegro played in the Italian SerieA, Italy’s top league and a top-five league in the world, for Banco Di Sardegna Sassari, where he came off the bench to set hard screens, provide physicality, along with a few high-flying dunks. In his role as an instant-energy reserve, DiLiegro averaged 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds for Sassari, which finished second in the regular season standings. Continue reading “Ciao, America! DiLiegro signs third straight professional contract in Italy”

The JUCO Enigma and all-time Top-10

JUCO transfer Stijn Dhondt led the Terriers in the locker room while leading BU to the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
JUCO transfer Stijn Dhondt led the Terriers in the locker room while leading BU to the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

There is no greater enigma in the college basketball landscape than the Junior College transfer.

It is often said that with a JUCO, a school is really only renting them for a year and a half – at best. The thinking being that it takes at least half a year – and often an entire season – for a JUCO to get acclimated to the speed, physicality and structure of Division I ball and perhaps even longer to assimilate to the culture and chemistry of their team.

When it comes to the mid-major level, the risk versus reward polarization of JUCOs is even greater: Either the highly hyped “high-level talent” tends to bring with it serious baggage, or they are players who have flown completely under the radar.

The America East has seen many JUCO’s flame out and fail to live up to the hype (and in the case of Binghamton with the likes of Tiki Mayben and Malik Alvin, take the entire program down with them). But it has also seen many fill a key cog for a successful team, or be just the right piece of the puzzle to turn a contender into a champion; a few even emerged as stars.

But they are far and away the toughest incoming players to project. Case and point: before the 2008-2009 season, the Stony Brook Seawolves landed a can’t miss junior college guard/wing with the reputation for putting the ball on the hoop, creating his own shot at will and filling up the cylinder from all over the court. His name was Jonathan Moore. He lasted 14 games, averaging 4.1 points while shooting lower than 24 percent from the floor.

That same year, the Seawolves brought in another JUCO wing to back up more and do little more than provide depth. He was an afterthought during fall workouts. His name was Muhammad El-Amin, after forcing his way into the starting lineup nine games into the season, he would lead the Seawolves in scoring over his two years and be named league Player of the Year as a senior. Continue reading “The JUCO Enigma and all-time Top-10”

Rocky Road gets rougher for River Hawks: Umass Lowell loses two players to injury

(Lowell, Mass) — A tough first season transitioning to Division I hoops just got tougher for Umass Lowell as the River Hawks have lost their top rebounder and second leading scorer from a year ago, along with their lone incoming recruit, to injuries before official practices even began.

On Sunday afternoon, Umass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette confirmed that senior forward Antonio Bivins will miss the entire upcoming season after suffering a torn ACL. Incoming freshman guard Jahad Thomas, the River Hawks’ first Division I recruit, has also suffered an undisclosed injury that will shelve him for considerable time and quite possibly the entire season. Continue reading “Rocky Road gets rougher for River Hawks: Umass Lowell loses two players to injury”

America East releases conference schedule: Vermont gets hosed

On Thursday, the America East Conference released its entire Men’s Basketball conference schedule; Vermont got hosed.

During the 2013-2014 season, six America East teams will play one conference game on one day’s rest. Two – Maine and Stony Brook – will play two conference games on one days rest.

And then there is Vermont. The team that has five NCAA Tournament appearances over the last 11 seasons – the most during that period and the most ever of any current league member – the team that, two years ago, brought in $ 1.5 million to the America East by dispatching Lamar in the NCAA Tournament’s “First Four” and the team that, on paper, looks like the team to beat this year, will play four – count them, four – games on a single day’s rest.

It doesn’t end there. Continue reading “America East releases conference schedule: Vermont gets hosed”

Heaven is a Playground: Segregation in a “progressive city,” calculus class and a back-breaking NFL Linebacker

That time an NFL player broke my back.

The Summer of 2009: North Korea conducted a nuclear test, swine flu broke out, the guy who looks like he has really bad body odor was reelected president of Iran – stuff was happening in the world!

I had just finished my sophomore year of college, so naturally I was far more consumed with the Jersey Shore and Jeremih’s debut single “Birthday Sex.” Millions of people worldwide spent that summer mourning serial creep-show Michael Jackson; by comparison, I came out looking pretty good.

In between episodes of “Brooke Knows Best” and “Tool Academy,” there were copious amounts of ball to be played. Days were filled with VH1, nights with Street ball.

My hometown buddies, George, Joe, Bobby and myself, composed the nucleus of perhaps the greatest pick-up basketball team in the history of athletics. Never have four un-athletic white people complimented each other so well on the court. We were like an NBA team winning the finals while starting Jason Kapono, Luis Scola, Brian Cardinal and Andres Nocioni. I took care of the post, Bobby was drain-o from behind the arc, George is the ultimate garbage player and Joe is the take it to the rack with your elbows out S.O.B.

It didn’t matter who our fifth was; I would have taken our chances with a well-placed trashcan. We weren’t going through B teams either.

The bulk of our winning happened at Corporal Burns Park on Memorial Drive in Cambridge; the court where Patrick Ewing learned to play the game of basketball and, at the time, easily one of the best courts in Boston. Back in the day you could find BU and Harvard players running pick-up there. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: Segregation in a “progressive city,” calculus class and a back-breaking NFL Linebacker”

Dunking over Durant

durant
Rashad Bell (left) engages in some trash-talk with NBA All-Star Kevin Durant.

(Queens, NY) — Earlier this month, former Boston University Terrier and America East star Rashad Bell went head-to-head – and word-for-word in some serious smack talk – with one of the best players on the Planet. In a dimly lit gym in the bowels of the Bronx, NY, Bell played NBA All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist Kevin Durant as an equal while their two teams battled to a standstill.

Twice during the grudge match, Bell stripped the 6’9” Oklahoma City small forward of the ball. And twice, Bell flew through the lane and above the fray, soaring over the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year for thunderous dunks – a one-handed tomahawk and a two-hand baseline banger.

It wasn’t close to being the highlight of Bell’s summer. Continue reading “Dunking over Durant”