GAME: It was another laugher Sunday afternoon at the Garden as Saint John’s defeated Fordham 74-53 in what is for some reason still referred to as the Holiday Festival. For those of you youngsters out there the Holiday Festival used to be a prestigious and exciting Christmas time college basketball tournament that featured the likes of Bob Cousy, Jimmy Walker, Mel Davis and Cazzie Russell. Now it involves neither a holiday or a festival and features the likes of Fordham, perhaps the worst program in college basketball history. On the bright side Saint John’s won and overcame a bit of adversity in doing so, outscoring Fordham by 20 points after Chris Obekpa fouled out late in the first half. On the not so bright side it was Fordham, so who cares . Saint John’s came out a little flat – it was almost as if they expected Fordham to roll over in the face of a ranked opponent and so spent the first 10 minutes lackadaisically chucking up threes and generally goofing around. Credit where due a Lavin time out at around the 12 minute mark sparked an 11-0 run, after which the outcome was not much in doubt. With Obekpa out of the game Saint John’s went small and pressed full court, which flummoxed Fordham into a timidity that resulted in 22 turnovers and twice as many missed shots as they made. Saint John’s OTOH shot 50 percent from the floor and a respectable 33 percent from three and 70 percent from the line. And once again Saint John’s free throw defense was exemplary: they held Fordham to 60 percent from the line … At 8 and 1 Saint John’s is beginning to develop a bit of an attitude, which I find a bit troubling. In the first place it’s December and in the second this is a group that has not accomplished anything, ever. It would be a shame if come March this team ended up looking back and saying oh well, at least we beat Syracuse, which is why I’m hoping Saint Mary’s puts a hell of a scare in them next Friday.
PLAYERS: You might find it hard to believe but there are posters on various Saint John’s fan forums who consider themselves to be knowledgeable basketball fans who think that Jamal Branch is better at basketball than Rysheed Jordan. I know, hilarious right? But it’s true. And when you point out to them that besides his obvious awfulness Branch has managed 2 points and 1 rebound in his last 40 minutes of play they say, oh yeah, like statistics tell the whole story and append eye rolling emoticons because if you’re an imbecile graphics trump statistics, logic and rhetoric. So I will leave it to those portentous gasbags to explain why Jordan’s 24 point 4 rebound performance wasn’t that really good. I was pretty impressed, but then I’m a rube …Harrison had 22 and passed the great George Johnson on the SJU all-time scoring list. Black hole Zendon Hamilton up next … Dom Pointer had a couple of dunks and 5 rebounds but was otherwise nothing to write home about … Phil Greene reverted to his usual 3 for 12 clank-fest, which suggests that his recent hot streak was an outlier … Which brings us to Chris Obekpa, who was ejected after nearly throwing a Fordham player to the floor and then jawing at the referee afterwards. I think Obekpa was upset because after assaulting his opponent he threw his hands up in the air in the universal I-dint-do-nothing signal but was T’ed up anyway. This is not the first time Obekpa has demonstrated immature and untoward behavior on the court and I am hopeful that Coach Lavin recognizes that Obekpa has anger issues and suspends him for his own good for the rest of the season so that he can seek counseling without the distraction of basketball because some things are more important than winning. Ha, just kidding of course, Lavin is coaching for a contract extension, he wouldn’t suspend Obekpa if they found a couple of nun’s heads rolling around in the back seat of a car he stole from a crippled Gulf War veteran … Speaking of awful things, Jamal Branch had another two point performance. He also managed the play of the game in the first minute when he went up to snatch a rebound with authority, missed it, and had the ball bounce off his head out of bounds. I LOL’ed, and then rewound the game and LOL’ed again …The rest of the scrubs and walk-ons got shuffled in and out in the wake of Obekpa’s departure and collectively showed little or nothing.
NOTES: I owe an apology to Tarik Turner. It is clear after today’s game that he is not the worst colormoron in college basketball. That honor obviously belongs to Ron Thompson, son of the John Thompson, and proof of the old adage that the apple sometimes falls so far from the tree that you don’t even know what kind of fruit fell from which kind of tree. Thompson – who was 9 and 22 in his one year as a D1 coach, so you know he knows basketball – babbled like a nincompoop from the opening tip; when he wasn’t repeating himself ad nauseum over and over again saying the same things more than once and then saying them again he was spouting irrelevancies and inanities, to the extent that I became physically angry and would have turned the sound off if I were not hoping to be rewarded with some imbecilities to share with my regular readers. And I was. For example, with Fordham down 22 and 10 minutes remaining Thompson opined that “the clock was starting to become Fordham’s enemy” and then with Fordham still down 22 with three minutes left noted that the game was “a little out of reach.” Yes Ronnie, and Mila Kunis is a little out of my league … Except for basketball, Fordham is the school Saint John’s wishes it was: a selective Catholic university with a rich intellectual tradition and a wealth of influential alumni and faculty; the latter include Geraldine Ferraro, former CIA director Bill Casey, G Gordon Liddy, Denzel Washington, Alan Alda, the novelist Dom DeLillo, Vince Lombardi, Marshall McLuhan, Vin Scully and Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo. Whereas probably the most well-known Saint John’s alumnus is former governor Mario Cuomo, who was so impressed by his education that he sent both his sons – current Governor Andrew and journalist Chris – to Fordham …. Unfortunately for Fordham they do have a basketball program and unfortunately for the basketball program it’s coached by Tom Pecora, a mediocrity whose name pops up every time there’s a coaching opening at Saint John’s and whose hiring is one of the few bullets that Saint John’s has managed to dodge over the years. But as awful as Pecora is – and he’s 37 and 89 at Fordham – he’s not close to the worst coach Fordham has had. Before Pecora was Jared Grasso, 1-22. Before Grasso Derek Whittenburg – whose most important basketball accomplishment was an airball in the 1983 NCAA championship game – was 69 and 112. Before Whittenburg Bob Hill was 36 and 78. Before Hill Nick Macarchuk was 161 and 192. That’s 304-493 until you get to Tom Penders, the last Fordham coach to have a winning record, barely, at 125 and 114. And in fact the only coach to have a successful career at Fordham since John Bach retired with 482 wins in 1968 was Digger Phelps, who won 26 games in his only year there in 1971 and then got the hell out. Bonus fact: backup point guard on Phelps team was Peter PJ Carlesimo … Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick was Mr. Greenjeans, portrayed by Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum, a jazz vocalist who at one point performed in a band led by Bob Crosby, brother of Bing Crosby, a graduate of Gonzaga whose career was celebrated in an earlier recap. A long standing rumor falsely postulated that Brannum was the father of musical genius Frank Zappa, based upon Zappa’s authorship of Mr. Green Genes and Son of Mister Green Genes. The former of is included here for your enjoyment and edification.