While the struggles of New York’s professional basketball team have been well documented, the city’s Division I college teams have been stuck in the mud as well. None of the city’s teams– with the exception of Wagner on Staten Island– posted winnings records last season, and expectations are generally tempered again heading into this season.
It’s a shame, because as much as New York is viewed as a baseball town, basketball’s in our blood too.
There’s a reason Michael Jordan referred to Madison Square Garden as the “Mecca of basketball,” and it has nothing to do with the building’s architecture.
This city eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. It’s the game we grew up playing on the playgrounds of the inner city. That’s why we yearn for our teams to be successful.
That’s why the city rallied around Manhattan College in 2004 when they ran to the NCAA tournament and shocked the Florida Gators, currently the city’s last great local basketball moment.
That’s why, despite his antics and attitude, fans at the Garden were still chanting for Stephon Marbury.
And that’s why, despite their awful play during the Isiah Thomas era, fans still packed the Garden for the Knicks.
New York City is suffering from basketball withdrawal.
So maybe two of the local college teams can turn it around. St. Johns showed flashes last season, starting 4-0 and going 6-5 before Big East play began. Norm Roberts says that this team is his most talented, but even if they aren’t, with the extra year of experience for the younger players and the supremely talented Anthony Mason Jr., the Johnnies figured to be better anyway.
Over in Brooklyn, Long Island University had been stuck for even longer than St. Johns, posting nine straight losing seasons since last winning the Northeast Conference in 1997-98. During that stretch, the highest the Blackbirds finished in the NEC was 4th.
However, last season, led by Jaytornah Wisseh, the Blackbirds started the season 9-3 before finishing at 15-15, the team’s first .500 season since ‘98.
Now, Mason and Wisseh may not make their teams world-beaters. But that’s not the point. No one will look down upon St. Johns if they fail to win the absolutely stacked Big East. The Blackbirds won’t be judged if they can’t get past Mount St. Mary’s.
Neither St. Johns or LIU needs to win their conferences to be embraced by the city. They just have to go out, play hard, win some games, and get people excited about college basketball again. As the old saying goes “sometimes the ride is more fun than the destination.”
New York doesn’t need a winner; it needs teams that play hard, especially after having to watch the Knicks for the past few years.
LIU and St. Johns will play each other tomorrow night in a game between two teams that have the opportunity to captivate the city, even if they end up going nowhere.
Let’s hope we enjoy the ride.