New York City Bureau
"Of all sad words of tongue of pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been!"
-- John Greenleaf Whittier
Imagine for a minute, you're Jack Perri at Long Island University (LIU) or Steve Masiello at Manhattan. You're in your 30's and this is your first Division 1 head coaching job. It's not a huge school or conference, but you're program is in New York City and the team has a history of success. You have the reigning conference player of the year coming back, and your sights are set on an NCAA berth at the end of the regular season.
Then boom, you're hit with a punch in the gut.
The player you're counting on to lead your team, the candidate for league MVP gets hit with a season ending injury before conference play starts. That's what happened with George Beamon for Manhattan and Julian Boyd for LIU. Of course, the team suffers some losses right off the bat after this happens. You start using phrases like, "This team is trying to find it's identity" and "Other guys need to step it up", in press conferences. All looks lost for the 2012-13 season. Just chalk it up as a learning experience and build for 2013-14 is the conventional wisdom from writers and fans. Then again, what isn't seen or experienced by the outside world is what happens at practice. Philosophies are being followed, leadership is passed on to different players, and team members who were once silent are starting to make their voices heard.
For instance, take Rhamel Brown from Manhattan and Jamal Olasewere from LIU. They are both power forwards for their respective teams. While they both play aggressively on each end of the floor, they are soft spoken by nature. During the 2012-13 campaign, they have emerged as vocal leaders when called upon by their coaches to do so. Both teams have leaned heavily on underclassmen and transfers to step up, and they have. What looked like a lost season for both the Jaspers and the Blackbirds may not be. They are playing their best basketball here in mid-February. Both of their conferences are topsy-turvy, and it's looking like any team could end up with an NCAA bid if they just get a little luck in the NEC and MACC conference tournaments.
It's the nature of college basketball that coaches come and go from smaller programs. Jobs like LIU and Manhattan are a stepping stone for a coach to advance to a top teir conference, better facilities and a bigger paycheck. It may seem like a raw deal to the smaller schools, but they'll always be a home for a coach who wants to develop what kind of coach he wants to be. The coaching lessons on how to lead and move on from a crisis is something best learned outside of the spotlight of nationally televised games. The college game is so much more than X and O's. It's having the ability to bring out the best in young men no matter what the circumstances are. It's practice, practice, practice to get a philoshpy right. Most of all, it's realizing that things are beyond your control once the whistle blows and the game begins. It's earning your team's trust, and having them buy into your system.
No matter what happens to the Jaspers or the Blackbirds this year, they both overcame adversity and played hard with no excuses. It's a great reflection of both of their young coaches and their teams. Time will tell if they Masiello and Perri move on or not, but the job they have both done this year deserves recognition.