(Burlington, VT) – A tidal wave of purple cascaded down over the wooden the bleachers of Patrick Gymnasium, burst through the green and gold floodgates and crashed onto the hardwood floor.
Amidst the sea of purple and gold chaos, first-year Albany assistant coach Jon Iati –who had helped lead the Great Danes to their first two NCAA Tournaments as a player – assistant coach Jeremy Friel – who had first competed against Iati at rival New Hampshire before coaching him as a member of the staff at Albany – and associate head coach Chad O’Donnell bear-hugged at center court; leaping and shouting in celebration – grown men turned kids again by the magic of the moment.
Iati’s younger brother Jacob, a fifth-year senior shooting guard who followed his brother to Albany initially as a walk-on transfer, fought frantically through the fray, searching for his teammate and best friend Mike Black. The diminutive-duo had stood tall as pillars of the program over the grind of the season, and in the biggest game of their lives Saturday, the pint-sized playmakers towered over the court, combining for 22 points.
When Iati finally found his back-court mate, tears were pouring from Black’s eyes and streaming down his face. Now, amidst the uproar, they shared an embrace.
Great Danes head coach Will Brown, wearing a sedated smile, quietly ducked out of the spotlight to find his family: kissing his wife Jamie and embracing his son Jackson.
The final buzzer had sounded. The clock read “0:00,” but it still hadn’t struck midnight on the Great Danes and their fairytale season.
Albany had run the gauntlet through the America East Tournament, exorcising demons and slaying dragons every step of the way. And now, the scoreboard read “Albany 53, Vermont 49” and the Great Danes were the America East Champions. (more…)