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A Bronx Tale

March 1, 2004 Columns No Comments



A Bronx Tale: The Time is Now

by Jesse Ullmann

The All-American guard Luis Flores is a senior and Bobby Gonzalez may be leaving the Bronx for a not-too-shabby opportunity over there in Queens. Fan support and television coverage in Riverdale are peaking so if there has EVER been a time for the Jaspers to grasp the moment with open arms, it’s now.

Manhattan basketball has clinched back-to-back-to-back 20-plus win seasons and the MAAC regular season title for the second straight year, an unprecedented feat, largely in part due to the backcourt tandem of Flores and senior David Holmes.

UNC-Wilmington, in the Colonial Athletic Association, is a perfect example of mid-major success gone terribly wrong. The Seahawks, almost pulling off the biggest upset in March last year over then-defending national champions’ Maryland, watched seniors Craig Callahan and Brett Blizzard depart. After three of four years with NCAA tournament appearances, U-Dub has since fallen to seventh place in the Colonial at 8-8, 12-13 overall. Wilmington has now fallen off the radar screen of teams to beat in the CAA as Drexel and others clearly emerge with young talent.

In dominating fashion, Manhattan cast a shadow over other mid-major competition Saturday versus the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (17-9), defeating the Horizon league leader 83-76 on the road. Flores scored a game-high 27, limiting the Panthers star player Dylan Page, and showed his performances against MAAC foes are not to be deceiving.

The Jaspers must make a statement this year.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has become to its head coaches what a one-night stand has become in the work place. Trying to get ahead of the game, it seems sooner or later everyone’s had a piece of the “MAAC” (pardon the pun). From Tim Welsh to Paul Hewitt to Fran Fraschilla, Gonzalez may become the latest casualty to leave. With the blessings of a one Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps et al, the fifth year head coach at Manhattan has become the leading candidate for the St. John’s position, notably due to his exceptionally connected involvement within the inner city high school catholic league.

This is a team so well poised and so ready to up the ante with guys like senior Jason Benton and junior forward Justin Gatling knowing what’s potentially to come, and they have fully embraced the moment. It was 1943 when Manhattan last finished with an overall record this impressive. Never in its history has the school made consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, with a chance to do so this season.

A lot is riding on the line, even possibly an at-large bid into the NCAA’s if, by chance, Manhattan loses the MAAC tourney, set to get underway March fifth. The Jaspers will soon look to move the headlines in New York from Isiah and A-Rod to Cinderella.

Appetizers

• A grin could be found on my face this week. Rutgers and St. John’s have some chances of helping each other out here in the final stretch. The Storm blew an opportunity against Virginia Tech this weekend, which would have put the Hokies virtually out of contention in the Big East tournament picture. The Scarlet Knights, with an extremely light schedule ahead, would have been a full two games ahead of both Tech and Georgetown. Instead, the Scarlet Knights fall deeper into the “grid-locked” middle pack of the Big East and, yet again, we witness a classic little brother example of Jersey and New York’s love-hate relationship.

• Ever wonder what happens when Duke’s Mike krzyzewski hands over the keys to the kingdom? They’re going to collapse…would be the hopes of other college campuses across the country. Ten or 20 years from now when Krzyzewski retires, Duke will no longer be the team to beat. Coach K. has players at Duke because of Coach. K., not because of the facilities or the history or the national attention. The kill or be killed Krzyzewski-mentality will be gone, and the Blue Devils will be at a loss.

• During a Washington Wizards game this past week at the MCI Center, some poor guy, proposing to his girlfriend at halftime, was rejected in front of a national audience. How gutless on her part to say no! Say yes, for the time being, tell him we need to talk (privately) after the game and then call it off.

     

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