Posts Tagged ‘Jon Iati’

The death of a dream and the birth of a calling

Monday, November 4th, 2013
A car accident ended former Albany Great Dane Lucious Jordan's career and nearly took his life, but it gave him  a passion for helping young players on and off the court.

A car accident ended former Albany Great Dane Lucious Jordan’s career and nearly took his life, but it gave him a passion for helping young players on and off the court.

God never closes a door without opening a window.

To most, it is a clichéd saying – little more than lip service paid after a stroke of bad luck or a terrible tragedy. To former Albany Great Danes’ guard and current Siena Saints’ first-year assistant coach Lucious Jordan, it’s the gospel truth.

At least once a day – during an early morning layover in a vacant airport terminal; on a lonely drive along a dusty back road on the recruiting trail; or in an empty arena an hour after the last echo of the final horn – Jordan’s thoughts drift back, seven years ago. Back to that ditch along that desolate highway, 40 feet from his car and 3,600 miles from home, where his body lay broken and his dreams were dashed into dust upon the ground.

“I think about that night every day. Everything happens for a reason – I truly, honestly believe that,” said Jordan in a calm voice that conveyed every ounce of stocky-strength carried in his 6’2” 220 pound frame.

Up until that fateful morning, Jordan’s path seemed clear: to keep lacing up his sneakers and following the game wherever the ball bounced. But his career on the court was forever derailed after that horrific car accident.

“My dreams at the time died that day, but it’s where I found my purpose: To help kids navigate through basketball and life. To make an impact and make a difference.”

Lucious Jordan slumped across the back seat of a cramped sedan on the outskirts of Emmen, Holland, in the predawn hours of Sunday, Oct. 16, 2006.

That March, he had helped lead his hometown University of Albany Great Danes to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, bringing his college journey – which began by leaving home for Loyola University in Maryland and ended with him playing the role of returning conqueror at Albany – full circle.

Now, he was trying to get comfortable in to the back of a small European car while simultaneously trying to adjust to a new country. Behind the wheel was the head coach of his new team, the Emmen Eagles, who was also doubling as Jordan’s agent.

The Eagles were a second-rate team in third-rate league, but that didn’t matter to Jordan. At every previous stop of his dirty-work career, the 6’2” man without a position had been told that he was too small, too slow and too un-athletic to compete. And every time the ball was rolled out he had flat out dominated.

As the car bombed down the darkened throughway, the rhythmic hum of rubber meeting to road reverberating through the rear bucket seat, Jordan’s thoughts floated back along the improbable, rocky-road he had already traveled: This – playing for peanuts on the far peripheries of professional ball – wasn’t his final destination; it was just another stop along the way to bigger things.

Jordan’s eyes closed and his thoughts had just drifted off into dreams when he felt the car begin to shake. (more…)

Naasir Williams to walk-on at Vermont

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

082111_GauchosGm2_14.jpg(Burlington, VT) — Vermont head coach John Becker used up his last available scholarship two months ago on human-highlight reel Harry “Dre” Wills, but that didn’t stop him from landing another potential impact player.

On Wednesday, pint-sized Harlem, NY, play-maker Naasir Williams formally decided to attend the University of Vermont where he will suit up for the Catamounts for the upcoming season as a walk-on.

Typically, the biggest impact a walk-on makes on a program during his career is by keeping up his grades in the classroom; diving on loose balls, scrapping for rebounds, and taking physical abuse while pushing his star teammates in sweaty practices in empty gyms; and by waving towels and cheering like a madman from the end of the bench. The only time most walk-ons ever see the floor after the opening tip is in garbage time blowouts.

But the America East has seen some notable exceptions to the walk-on rule. Mahamoud Jabbi began his career at Binghamton as a walk-on before blossoming into an All-Defensive and All-Conference Third Team selection (and OBW First Team pick). Ryan Cook walked on at UMBC and exploded into an explosive game-changer and prolific scorer, graduating as an All-Conference Second Team pick. Former UNH Wildcat Chris Brown set foot on the Durham campus as a red-shirt walk-on, he left as a First Team All-Conference selection.

Vermont fans need look no further than Catamounts forward Clancy Rugg, who began his career three years ago as a skinny walk-on stapled to the end of the bench, before playing a key role in the Catamounts 2012 NCAA season as a sophomore and garnering Second Team All-Conference honors (OBW Third Team) as a junior.

And then there is Catamount-killer Jacob Iati, who began his career paying his own way at Albany before turning into the league’s best shooter.

The Catamounts are hoping that Williams will be much more than a practice player. A prototypical New York City guard, Williams is flashy, fancy and creative with the rock. Very quick and adept at shifting gears, he excels at taking his man off the dribble, drawing defenses in the lane and either dishing to the open man, or finishing on floaters and circus shots around the basket. When he is squared up, Williams has also proven to be a capable outside shooter.

Williams bounced around during a have-game-will-travel high school career, suiting up for The Hun School in New Jersey, before transferring to Rice High School and then, after Rice closed, excelling as a senior running the offense at Cardinal Hayes.

Williams, who played AAU ball for New Heights, had mid-major interest but nothing concrete following his senior year and opted to prep at Millbrook. During his prep year, Williams received an offer from Eastern Illinois and interest from Iona, Hofstra, Fairfield, LIU, Monmouth and, of course, the Catamounts.

The biggest knock against the speedy and shifty point man is his size, or lack thereof: Williams is tiny even for a 5’9” listing, but his game is robust.

The America East has seen a host of 5’9” and smaller players make massive impacts, among them Jose Juan Barea, Chaz Carr, Matt Turner, Jay Greene, Jon and Jacob Iati. The Boston University Terriers ran by most of the league last season with a pair of sub-5’10” guards in D.J. Irving and freshman sensation Maurice Watson.

It would be beyond premature to envision Williams making a similar impact before he has played a single minute – or secured a scholarship – but the fact that he has drawn comparisons to a poor man’s Watson is worth noting. And the fact that Becker gained a player of his caliber without using a scholarship speaks to the credit of the program, the coach and the player.

The hope in Burlington is that he can come in and push back-up point guard Josh Elbaum for minutes immediately.

Clock Strikes Midnight on Albany’s Cinderella Season

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

(Philadelphia, PA) – At 2:28 pm Eastern Time, the clock hit 0:00 at the Wells Fargo Center and struck midnight on the Albany Great Danes’ Cinderella season.

Albany, a 15th seed in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps the biggest underdog to ever come out of the America East as the fourth seed in their own conference tournament, fell to second-seed Duke 73-61.

The Great Danes came up short in their upset bid, but walked off the hardwood and out of the bright lights of the game’s biggest stage with their heads held high: For 40 minutes, the bigger, stronger, faster Blue Devils hit Albany with everything it they had – usually in the form of a back-board shaking sledgehammer slam from Mason Plumlee, or a Seth Curry swish – and every time the Great Danes hit Duke right back.

Albany lost the game, but the Great Danes were magnificent in defeat, proving they belonged on the same court as one of the best teams in the country and arguably the most storied program in college basketball history.

“We challenged them. We made Duke work. We made Duke beat us,” said Albany head coach Will Brown.

From the opening tip until the final horn, the Great Danes played the Blue Devils as equals. And this wasn’t a Duke team looking past the Great Danes while playing at walk-through speed: this was a Duke squad still trying to swallow the bitter taste of last season’s upset by 15-seed Lehigh, squarely focused on Albany for revenge.

After spending a year stewing on the Lehigh debacle, Duke came out playing for blood. Albany played even harder.

“We didn’t quit, but we never did all season,” said redshirt freshman guard Peter Hooley. “We were right there with them. I think we are proud of ourselves. We never gave up.”

“We went down fighting against one of the best teams in the country,” said Albany senior shooting guard Jabob Iati.

Iati led the way for the Great Danes, scoring a team-high 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. The smallest player on the floor, Iati was fearless driving the lane and drilling deep three’s with several long arms in his face. Iati, who would be generously listed at 5’9”, added six rebounds and six assists, leaving every last drop he had on the floor in the final game of his career. (more…)

Shock the World: Mike Black powers Albany to 63-62 stunner over Washington for program’s first win over a BCS opponent and head coach Will Brown’s 150th DI victory.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Albany players mob Mike Black after the senior point guard propelled the Great Danes to a 63-62 upset over Washington. The win was the programs first over a BCS school (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Mike Black spent most of the first three years of his career out of the spotlight, taking a back seat and second billing behind one flavor-of-the-month teammate after another. On Tuesday night, the senior point guard took center stage and stole the show.

Black scored a game-high 22 points, the last of which came on a heavily contested lay-up with 3.7 seconds left, as the Albany Great Danes shocked Washington on its own floor, 63-62.

“This is awesome,” Albany head coach Will Brown said in a post-game radio interview. “We played so hard, man. I can’t tell you how proud I am. Nobody thought we had a chance to win this game.”

The win over the defending Pac-12 regular season champions was the first win over a BCS opponent and the biggest regular season win in program history. It was also the 150th Division-I win of Brown’s coaching career. It was a signature win for the Great Danes and the America East Conference, both of which have taken it on the chin during recent seasons.

“It’s my 150th win?” said Brown. “Maybe they’ll give me a raise and an extension. I’ll remember it. We beat a Pac-12 team for my 150th win. I just have to thank those guys for it. I’ve had some great players and some really good teams. Hopefully I’m around to get to 200.”

Black has spent the first three years of his career seeing teammates – Will Harris, Tim Ambrose, Logan Aronhalt and Gerardo Suero – billed as “The Man,” and the program’s best player. If it wasn’t already apparent after last season – a season in which he averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 assists, and emerged as the clear-cut best point guard in the league – it’s now impossible to ignore that the diminutive six-foot senior is the Great Danes’ best player, and quite possibly the best in the league.

Black scored 20 points against fourth-ranked Ohio State in a 82-60 loss on Sunday, and followed it up by scoring 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting Tuesday, while also pacing the Great Danes with team-highs in assists and rebounds, with six and five, respectively.

Black quarterbacked the Danes’ pick-and-roll offense to perfection all night, scoring most of his points blowing by defenders, leaving the bigger Huskies in his dust. The senior closed out both halves with buckets off of slashing drives to the hoop. The first gave the Great Danes a 31-27 lead going into the intermission, the second gave them the game. (more…)

Welcome Back… Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome-Back! Albany gunner Jacob Iati will return for final year of eligibility.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

(Albany, New York) – The Albany Great Danes lost a graduate assistant but gained a gunslinger, as Jacob Iati has decided to return to the court for his final year of eligibility.

Iati, who played his freshman season at High Point before transferring to Albany (and following in the footsteps of his older brother, former Great Danes long-bomber Jon), graduated this season with a degree in Business Administration.

Iati spent most of his first two seasons in Albany on the end of the bench; averaging under five points per game during that span.

Pressed into starting action down the stretch, Iati exploded in his first extended playing time, scoring a ten career-high 20 points against Rider on February 18th, only to surpass that point total one game later with 22 in a road win at Binghamton on February 23rd.

Despite his offensive eruption and a year remaining of eligibility, Iati was honored as the lone graduating ‘Dane on senior night, and had already agreed to join head coach Will Brown’s staff as a graduate assistant next season.

Iati once again set a new career mark with 23 points on 7 3’s in Albany’s 89-79 loss to Manhattan in the CIT tournament on March 14th, but publicly, his future still remained unclear.

Privately, the wheels were already in motion as Brown met several times with Iati in attempts to convince the best pure shooter in the program to return.

On Monday, it became official, as Brown tweeted “I hired Jacob Iati as our GA for next year and already fired him! Welcome back to the team Jacob! #opportunity”

The Will Brown experience: Albany head coach’s press conferences are worth the price of admission.

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

I’ll admit it: I’m a Will Brown guy.

I respect the hell out of what he’s accomplished on the court in his ten years at Albany; turning around the worst program in the country and taking the Danes to back to back NCAA’s. But it’s more than that: The guy is the best quote in the league.

Albany’s head coach since taking over on an interim basis during the 2001-2002 season, Brown currently stands as the longest tenured head coach in the America East, but still hardly looks – or sounds – the part of “elder statesmen.”

The road that took him the youngest head coaches in all of Division I basketball, to present has been a long and winding one to say the least.

Ten years ago, Brown was charged with simply bailing water to try and keep arguably the worst program in all of Division I afloat. During his first few seasons, the Great Danes were handicapped by the 5-and-8 rule (which limited schools to only bringing in 5 scholarship players in one recruiting class and a maximum of 8 over a 2 year span). (more…)

The smallest dog, with the largest fight

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Picture yourself wandering through the empty hallways of the Walter Brown athletic complex on one of Boston’s hot, sticky, sweltering summer nights. Through the stale, molasses thick air that hung in the dark corridors of the old building, you’d hear the sound of leather smacking against hardwood and the squeak of sneakers against floorboard.

The sounds of Matt Griffin.

Griffin was there, practicing in the empty and dimly-lit gym in a darkened building, breathing the stale, humid, heavy air. He set the tone for the Boston University Terriers. He laid the foundation for Boston University head coach Patrick Chambers to build his program.

“Nobody works harder than Matt Griffin,” is a quote that Chambers has uttered more times than he can count, and if you spend any time around the Terriers, you quickly learn it first-hand. (more…)