Saturday, February 23, 2008

Things Happen

The 1966-67 Citadel basketball team of which Conroy writes and of which the site garners its title finished the season with a record of 7-19. This year's Citadel squad is no better, they have a record of 6-20. Basketball State lists them as the 338th ranked team in the country. They are coached by Conroy's cousin Ed Conroy.

My acquaintance with loss has sustained me during the stormy passages of my life when the pink slips came through the door, when the checks bounced at the bank, when I told my small children I was leaving their mother, when the despair caught up with me, when the dreams of suicide began feeling like love songs of release. It sustained me when my mother lay dying of leukemia, when my sister heard the ruthless voices inside her, and when my brother Tom sailed out into the starry night in Columbia, South Carolina, sailed from a fourteen story building and plunged screaming to his death, binding all of his family into his nightmare forever. Though I learned some things from the games we won that year, I learned much, much more from loss. Pat Conroy on his losing season.

In spite of Conroy's words, it's difficult to think that either Pat Conroy or his cousin Ed Conroy have learned nearly as much as those players and coaches associated with the New Jersey Institute of Technology this year. NJIT is 0-28 entering their final game at Utah Valley University. They are coached by Jim Casciano, a former Drexel player who has a fairly impressive resume of coaching stops at the division II level. Last week, the school announced that Casciano would not be returning next year. Essentially, this is his last game as coach at NJIT. NJIT is the lowest ranked team in both the RPI and Basketball State rankings at 341.

I attend the game and sit directly behind their bench. There are a handful of other NJIT fans, all people from New Jersey living in Utah who recognize the dire need of support for NJIT at this time. I sit next to an assistant coaches' wife. She says that it is too bad the coaching staff is changing as the "momentum that has been built up this year is going to be killed." Only a coaches wife could find "momentum" in the 0-28 season.

NJIT is like today's opponent UVU in that they play as an independent at the division I level and are meeting the NCAA's three years of play requirement before becoming eligible for postseason play. This is only season two. Like Northern Colorado, Portland State and UVU who have all been written about in this blog NJIT's dream is the NCAA tournament.

As will happen when everything has gone wrong in a season, the NJIT flight is late and the game is delayed one hour. It doesn't help. NJIT gets the first basket of the game on a three point shot and there is hope as all four of us in the NJIT contingent get our first and only chance to cheer for a lead.

Coach Cariasco is a typical firey Italian coach. He calls time outs at appropriate times, uses his white clipboard to diagram mistakes during the time outs. He has players who leave the game sit next to him after exiting and he coaches them just as Mike Kryzewski and Eddie Sutton would do. The assistant's wife indicates that much of Cariasco's coaching style comes from Villanova's Jay Wright who is at least partially responsible for Cariasco's opportunity at NJIT. Earlier today Villanova upset UConn. Perhaps it is a good omen. With the coaching change she indicates that next year's potential game at the Palestra against Villanova for NJIT has already been canceled.

NJIT does appear to struggle offensively as a great deal of their offense is ran beyond the three point line and they struggle to get any inside opportunities. They do, however, dive for lose balls and get upset at bad calls - it's obvious they are trying to win, but they are not good enough.

The Highlanders entire season is perhaps best mirrored by play at the end of the first half when they play for the last shot in spite of a 21 point deficit. The clock ticks down and NJIT tries a long three pointer, which misses, UVU gets the rebound and Ryan Toolson throws in a 35 foot bomb at the buzzer. UVU takes a 24 point half time lead.

The 76-50 loss to UVU drops NJIT's record to a new NCAA record worst 0-29. Previously, only Savannah State (2005) and Prairie View (1992) had compiled 0-28 season records. In the end, NJIT's season and future is best summarized by one supporter sitting in front of me, "things happen" he says. He is right. Conroy writes,

Basketball has always been a game for the poor kids of the big cities, the game where the boys of immigrant families could prove themselves while navigating their ways along the mean streets of fierce ghettos whether they were Jews, Irish, Poles, Lithuanians, or the soon to be dominant black kids.

That should help ease the pain a give some hope for the future for a school in New Jersey.

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