Category Archives: Xavier

God, Xavier, The Queens

Xavier defeated Saint John’s 82-77 Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden, a game marred by what appeared to be a serious injury to Edmond Sumner and what was definitely a severe injury to the game of basketball inflicted by Ed Driscoll and his crew of referees, who made the game virtually unwatchable, except perhaps to aficionados of middle age male tit jiggle. Because they got a lot of camera time … Saint John’s came out flat and were lucky to be down seven at the half: they were 2 for 12 from three, had eight turnovers and were outrebounded by ten. The only reason they weren’t down more was that Xavier, an alleged top 25 team, was just as bad: they had ten turnovers and were one for nine from three. Xavier extended their lead to 15 early in the second half and just when it looked like it was going to turn into a laugher Saint John’s decided to play some basketball: they went on a couple of eight point runs that got them to within a basket a couple of times, but just couldn’t get over the hump. One time Lovett took a dumb shot and another time Ellison took one and collectively they missed a bunch of crunch time free throws. That Saint John’s resurgence coincided with Sumner’s injury isn’t lost on me, it’s just that being ever the optimist – my glass is half full, of hemlock – I prefer to emphasize the positive. That being the case I’d put this somewhere between a pretty good loss and a moral victory: other than Sumner – who is, or at least was, an NBA talent – Xavier starts five seniors; and at the risk of being morbid, what the second half showed is that take away Sumner and Saint John’s underclassmen are every bit as good as Xavier seniors. How’s that for a silver lining … Once again the picture tells the tale:

 

SJU got close in the second half but as is often is the case when a team makes a big come back the energy expended getting them within range exhausts the reserves they need to finish the job. Oh well. Hopefully they learned that not lazing their way to a double digit deficit is harder than putting forth the effort to keep it a bit closer. The big number from the box score is rebounds: Xavier was plus 20, which essentially game over. You often hear that rebounding is an effort stat and it is to an extent, but it’s also a size stat: Denis Rodman wouldn’t be in the hall of fame if he was 5’2″. Xavier doesn’t start anyone smaller than 6’5″ and Saint John’s doesn’t start anyone taller than 6’7″ and SJ’s big men weigh about as much as Xavier’s guards and that’s a lot to overcome by a vague appeals to effort. None of Saint John’s big men – particularly Yakwe but none of them – are good rebounders: some of that is effort, sure, but some of it’s instinct and some of it’s footwork and some of it’s positioning, all of which comprise experience, which Saint John’s bigs don’t have. It didn’t help that Saint John’s shot 20 percent from three – and in fact during most of the second half run they stopped shooting threes altogether – and neither did turning the ball over 13 times and missing eight free throws … This recap wouldn’t be complete without me heaping oppobrium of the referees – who were terrible, they made Jim Burr and Tim Higgins look like King Solomon and Learned Hand – and kudos to Donny Marshall’s terrifying eyebrows for calling them out for it repeatedly during the broadcast. In 40 minutes they called 57 fouls, which resulted in 66 free throw attempts, which accounted for 57 points, roughly a third of the points scored in total. It would have been more but the teams missed 17 free throws combined. And it wasn’t just the number of calls, it was their randomness. What was a foul on one end was a play-on on the other and for every phantom infraction called there were two that should have been. There were a couple of bad ones I jotted down – Missini being mugged by three players after stealing the ball at midcourt and Owens getting one while retrieving a ball otherwise stolen cleanly – but the epitome of the crew’s sheer shitiosity is that at the end of the game, when Saint John’s was trying to foul, they didn’t call one. Ahmed nearly had to decapitate his man to get that dope Driscoll to blow his whistle. It was really an atrocious and embarrassing display. On a side note, a couple of weeks ago versus Xavier the refs called 47 fouls, which resulted in 57 free throws. Over 80 minutes versus Xavier that’s 104 fouls, 123 free throw attempts, and 86 made free throws. I don’t know what that is, but it’s not basketball … Fox had a quick shot of Mullin leaning on the scorer’s table late in the second half. (MJ Maher could not be reached for comment.) He looked at the end pretty disgusted and I can’t blame him … Ten and 13, tied for sixth in conference, Marquette up next, take the points

 
PLAYERS: Ponds led all scorers with 23 points, which might have been more had Malik Ellison passed him the ball every once in a while. Oh for six from three but 11-13 from the free throw line which makes him 19 of 21 over his last two games … Lovett had a quiet 11 points and five assists. Uncharacteristically missed two free throws late … Ahmed had 11 points including three threes but sat during most of the second half run. Seems to have dyed the top of his head a lovely shade of Lucille Ball, which should delight the red and white club no end. All he needs now are a couple of tattoos to complete the tableau … Owens had seven points, six rebounds and four blocks – three of them pretty spectacular at the rim – before fouling out. Once again had to be pulled away while woofing over a fallen opponent. Do I detect an anger management issue? … Williams (nine points, three rebounds) provided a welcome inside presence during the second half run. It was his foul that sent Sumner to the locker room but it wasn’t much of one: Sumner seems to have just landed awkwardly. They showed the replay several times but I only watched it once, because legs aren’t supposed to bend that way … Missini played a nice five minutes in the first half: he had a step back jumper, a three and a mid court steal for a breakaway. Unfortunately he clanked a couple of threes in the second half when they might have mattered … Malik Ellison had seven points and six assists which might seem pretty good if you hadn’t watched the game. Unfortunately I did. He was two of eight from the floor, zero of three from three – he seems to be cocking the ball behind his ear now a la George Gervin, which is the only thing about his game reminiscent of Gervin’s – and three of five from the free throw line, which 60 percent raised his average because he’s a lousy free throw shooter. He took a couple of really egregiously bad shots during Saint John’s aborted comeback: he either imagines himself Kobe Bryant or has worse court vision than Ray Charles … Yakwe was the victim of a couple of terrible calls and mostly sat with four fouls … Fruedenburcg played which was bad, but he played instead of Alibagowith, which is good

 
NOTES: Since this nonsense has been going on for three years now I’ve been going back and reading my prior posts to make sure I’m not plowing the same field twice and also to see if there’s any low hanging fruit I missed, because 30 recaps is a lot of recaps and even I run out of interesting things to say every once in a while. Looking back at Xavier this morning I saw that I’ve never done a famous alumni list which got me excited for a moment but then when I googled it I remembered why: Xavier’s most famous alumni is Jim Bunning. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Jim Bunning – he won 200 games over 17 years; was second only to Walter Johnson in strike outs when he retired; threw a perfect game; threw a no hitter in each league; and once got out of an inning by striking out the side on nine pitches; and after that served a couple of terms in the US senate. But that’s not much of a legacy for a university that’s been around since 1840. In fact other than him and crybaby John Boehner, left wing hack Gary Wills and a couple of basketball players (Brian Grant, Lionel Chalmers, James Posey, David West) I’ve never heard of any of the rest of these dopes, the most noteworthy of whom are the actor Robert Romanus, who is “perhaps best known for his role … as Natalie Green’s boyfriend Snake on The Facts of Life”; Rhine McLin, Mayor of Dayton (although a Xavier grad she also holds an associate’s degree in mortuary science from Cincinnati College); and Laura Esselman, a former contestant known as Red Velvet on a television called The Bachelor, who don’t bother googling, if she was hot her picture’d be up top and I wouldn’t have had to spend 20 minutes looking for stills of a Facts of Life porn parody. So to recap: the most illustrious graduates of Xavier University in nearly 200 years are a baseball player and a second rate actor famous for taking Mindy Cohn’s virginity. Compared to that Saint John’s is the Sorbonne … Xavier is also notable for having two sports mascots. Their original mascot was the musketeer, an early sort of soldier armed with a firearm, as made famous by Alexandre Dumas in his serial The Three Musketeers. This makes sense: like Redskins and Braves musketeers were manly men who defeated their enemies on the field of battle, just as sports fans hope their teams will defeat their opponents on the field of play. In 1985 though, someone called Sally Watson, then spirit squad coordinator – I mistakenly joined the spirit squad in college after misreading their poster as the spirits squad and quickly resigned after learning that they did something other than getting shitfaced at basketball games – decided that the musketeers “scared little children” and so designed a second mascot, the Blue Blob. As its name suggests, the blue blob is an amorphous globule of blue fluff with cartoon eyes and a big fluffy white nose. As its name doesn’t suggest the blue blob has a 22 inch tongue, which “hangs out inside its mouth until the person uses his or her arm to operate it, licking children.” Yes you read that right: Xavier replaced as its mascot a character upon which Walt Disney based his Mouseketeers with a giant blue monster that performs fellatio on children. This is I suppose progress, although of what sort remains a mystery.

Thank God Almighty I’m Free Throw At Last

GAME: Xavier defeated Saint John’s 97-82 Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati, in a game so atrocious that I can barely bring myself to write about it. It wasn’t the game itself. I mean, sure, Saint John’s sucked but they’ve sucked before and in fact most of the time the more they suck the more entertaining I am. And Xavier put on a clinic that probably I’d have enjoyed if I was on the other side of it. They looked to me like the best team we’ve played all year even taking into consideration the competition. What made the game nearly unwatchable was the officiating. Pat Driscoll – who until recently earned nearly $130,000 a year as full time director of a youth program in Syracuse while simultaneously refereeing 70 basketball games between November and March which seems nearly impossible – and crew called 47 fouls – that’s a foul every 51 seconds for 40 minutes; combined SJU and XU took 57 free throws; and both teams were in the bonus in both halves, at the 12 minute mark in the first and the eight minute mark in the second. By way of comparison, last week versus Creighton Saint John’s didn’t take a free throw until 12:39 in the second half; today there were four offensive fouls called in the first two minutes. And it’s not like this was a particularly physical game: of the 100 or so field goals the two teams took combined about 50 of them were threes. There was no chippy play, there were no particularly hard fouls, and for their part Saint John’s barely played defense. So the game was essentially two hours of bird calls and commercials interrupted by the occasional dunk. Colorman Colorperson Stephen Brando noted that the head of officials was in the arena and maybe that had something to do with it but all in all it really was just stupid and disgusting and a big waste of my time. And I still have the Lion game to look forward to this evening. It’s a shame Aqueduct’s card got snowed out I would have hit the trifecta of suck … Last recap rather than rehashing the box score I used a graphic to demonstrate how lopsided the game was, which turned out to be a real time saver so I’m going to do it again.


Once again Saint John’s is the red line, and what you see is eerily like last game. Other than a 16-1 first half run that put them briefly in the lead they spent most of the game behind and by quite a bit. In fact no sooner had I written “SJU 16-1 run not going to last but fun while it does” in my notes Xavier went on a 12-0 run that turned into a 36-9 run that turned into a 45-21 run that might have been worse had not Saint John’s ended the half of a 7-0 mini run to pull within 15 at the break. The rest of it was dead even and dead boring except perhaps for those greedy optimists among you who took the 14 points … Xavier shot 60 percent from the floor and nearly 50 percent from three and frankly that seems a little low, because they did not seem to miss; Saint John’s was at 40 and 40 but if you take Lovett and Ponds out they were 9 of 40 from the floor and 3 of 13 from three and that’s not going to beat Xavier’s women’s team. The bright side if there is one is 15 assists on 26 made field goals and 20 of 25 from the free throw line … Nothing Mullin could do about it because SJU was just over-matched but there were some extremely peculiar line ups from time to time: in both halves for example Missini, Alibegiwitz and Freudenburgh were on on the floor simultaneously, which unless that’s supposed to be some sort of reenactment of the Axis advance into the Ardennes in the summer of 1939 does not seem like much of a good idea. Those three probably shouldn’t be on the floor at all, much less together. Maybe there’s a method in the madness or maybe it was the fouls but it was passing strange … So two and two sixth place and oh and four Georgetown up next on the road. I’m not sanguine but John Thompson III is the worst so anything is possible

PLAYERS: Marcus Lovett had a career high 32 points: 10 of 14 from the floor, 4 of 7 from three and 8 of 8 from the free throw line and Ponds had 21 points and seven rebounds, albeit mostly when the game was already over. The rest of them don’t deserve mention and yet I persevere … Owens had six points and four rebounds … Ahmed was 3 of 12 from the floor … The best thing Ellison did all day was foul out … Yawke scored no points. Again … Freudenburg also scored no points but he has an excuse: he stinks … Alibegovitch had six rebounds, which is six more than I thought … With about 5 minutes to go and Saint John’s down about a thousand I turned to long suffering Missus Fun and said: wake up toots, it’s Missini time. She scooted to the edge of her seat and was immediately rewarded by a dagger three that pulled Saint John’s within 997. Missini was oh for otherwise and made a spectacle of himself chasing Edmond Sumner around the court in what I can only imagine was intended as a parody of a college basketball player playing defense. For the record Saint John’s is now oh and two since his return … Forgetting someone, oh yeah Darien Williams

NOTES: I received not one not two but three messages this week from helpful readers informing me that all this time I’ve been spelling Saint John’s wrong: I’ve been spelling out the s-a-i-n-t bit whereas evidently the official name is St. John’s, that is capital S, small t, period. My initial reaction – as usual the uncharitable one – was first to wonder what sort of a fucking moron spell checks some else’s blog and second to wonder why if that moron was so concerned with spelling he attended a shitty commuter school in Queens. But as I said that was uncharitable. The truth is that I frankly had no idea. Upon reflection I’m surprised that a school that’s so bad at marketing that it has to refer to itself as STJ because Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia owns the online trademark rights to SJU would have the gall to even have an official spelling. So anyway I’ve decided to continue calling it whatever I want but what I won’t ever call it is St. John’s, because screw those guys … From the not the onion files and speaking of guys – or at least what used to be guys – Frederick Douglass High School in Fayetteville Kentucky announced this week that due to community pressure they’ll be replacing their team mascot, the stallion, because it’s not “inclusive enough.” The issue it seems is that not only “stallion” a term for a male horse that has not been castrated but is also slang for a “powerful and virile man.” So this is what we have come to in postmodern America: it is no longer politically correct to be a male with a functioning cock and balls, because testosterone is offensive. Fans of irony will appreciate that Frederick Douglass was himself something of a powerful man: he escaped from slavery and afterwards was amongst many other things influential in its abolition and if his five children are any indication he seems to have been able to maintain an erection. Perhaps soon the Musketeers – manly men brandishing phallic symbols – will become the Mouseketeers and the Providence Friars the Providence Nuns and Valparaiso Crusaders the Mamalukes lest we offend our Muslim friends. We can only hope, because only then will there truly be justice. Anyway some clever wag has started a petition to change the mascot’s name from stallion to scallion and I’d suggest you scurry over to sign it as I have several times

https://www.change.org/p/frederick-douglass-high-school-change-the-frederick-douglass-mascot-from-stallions-to-scallions

… This is the second year in a row where I’ve missed Lou’s birthday: he turned 92 two days ago. I grew up watching Lou coach and his unparalleled record of post season futility convinced me pretty early on that the game had passed him by – which it had – but at the same time that frustration blinded me to what an extraordinary career he actually had and considering the conga line of losers and buffoons who followed him it makes me wish I’d been a little more appreciative back then. So happy birthday Lou and returns on the day.

X-Wray

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RECAP: Saint John’s lost to #10 Xavier 74-66 Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena for their third straight loss to start the Big East season. Oh and three is not good but lest we forget Steve Lavin’s 2013 team full of juniors started the Big East season 0-5 and righted the ship on their way to a glorious first round loss to Robert Morris in the NIT, so perhaps all is not yet lost. In any event I’m not going to start to worry until Mullin starts his redshirts and walk-ons, which was Lavin’s solution to his team’s woes … I took copious notes during the game but in light of morning they turn out to be none too helpful. I started out trying to track the comings and goings of the players relative to the score to see if Ellison really was the Jonah I perceived him to be but stopping and starting the DVR and scribbling notes became pretty cumbersome and not just because I was knocking back absinthe at a pretty good clip. So I’ll have to trust my memory, and we all know how unreliable recollections can be … Xavier led most of the way as you would expect the number ten team in the country to do against a bunch of freshmen, but Saint John’s made a game of it late before faltering. All in all it was an entertaining affair and at the risk of repeating myself them being competitive is about all a rational fan can hope for at this stage … Except for field goal percentage the numbers – 3 point shooting, rebounds, turnovers, assists – were about even. The difference was that Xavier’s guards – who were otherwise 8 of 20 from the floor and 3 for 8 from three – combined for 37 points, thanks mostly to the 20 free throws they were awarded, of which they made 18. At least a couple of those fouls were ridiculous calls on poor Amar Albiviowitz, who stood statuary under the basket while people scaled him like King Kong crawling up the Empire State Building. Unlike Fay Wray at least he took it like a man. I don’t like to whine about the refs but a differential of 11 free throws in a game that was within one point with two minutes left is a big deal. The differential is all the more puzzling because SJU took nearly 20 shots more than Xavier. Ordinarily one would not think that 40 percent more FG attempts would result in 30 percent fewer free throws, unless you’re playing dewk obviously … In other news Chris Mullin sat on scorer’s table again. I think like me Chris Mullin is just waiting for Chris Mullin to have enough players who are capable of learning basketball from Chris Mullin. If that’s the case he might as well wait on the scorer’s table as anywhere else.

PLAYERS: Mussini was on his way to another abysmal performance before he hit four threes in a 4 minute stretch  during Saint John’s late comeback. It was for a brief moment like being whisked back to that magical day in December of last year when Phil Greene had his 3 minute career versus Syracuse. Unfortunately on the very next play after the fourth one Mussini got a stupid technical that resulted in a 9-2 Xavier run that put the game away … Ron Mvouika emerged from his three week coma to score 19 points. He was only 5 for 14 from the floor and 2 of 8 from three but somebody’s got to shoot. In the first half he banked in a three as the shot clock expired, which is usually something only the other guys do … Speaking of shooting Durand Johnson took many bad shots, few of which went in, including none of his 8 threes. He did however lead the team in rebounds (5) and assists (3) and had a pretty thunderous tomahawk dunk in the first half that I watched a bunch of times … Alibeckowith played his usual game. One minute he makes a beautiful turnaround jumper on the baseline and the next kicks the ball out of bounds trying to take his guy off the dribble. When I think of the European vacation that resulted in Amar’s recruitment I’m reminded of David Puddy’s line “what do you think they have in the Gap in Rome that they don’t have here” … Sima had 5 rebounds in 11 minutes before injuring his hand and not returning. I appreciate his aggressiveness on the offensive end but every time he shoots the ball someone is in danger of decapitation … Ellison and Yawke played 20 minutes between them and scored 2 points. Yawke had an excuse: he didn’t take any shots. Ellison otoh was 1-5 … Felix Balamou was a 91 percent free throw shooter over his first two years at SJ. He is in his last two years a 66 percent FT shooter. Last night was no exception … Chris Jones had 4 points and 4 rebounds in nearly twice as many minutes as he has been playing previously. I will leave it to the great basketball minds among us to determine whether 4 rebounds in 28 minutes is more or less better than 10 rebounds in 18 minutes when you take into account intangibles that do not show up in the box score

NOTES: It’s amazing how much more prepared and engaged Steve Lavin is as a halftime analyst than he was as a head basketball coach. When he was on the sidelines at SJU he jumped around like an epileptic monkey in a track suit and prattled on incomprehensibly about condiments and super heroes and box stores. In the studio though he’s all this guy is 5 for 7 from inside the arc on Thursdays while the moon in in its third phase. It’s almost as if he takes being on TV seriously … Lou Carnesecca in attendance, looking no worse for wear after celebrating his 91st birthday late into the afternoon on Tuesday. Many happy returns on the day.

X-cellence

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Saint John’s demolished Xavier Monday night at Madison Square Garden, completing a season sweep of the Musketeers and assuring SJU of a bid to the NCAA tournament. Although the box score says that we only won by one point, 58-57, that’s deceiving, because the outcome was never in doubt. There was no way a mid-major team like Xavier was going to come into our house with so much on the line and get out of there with a victory. Especially a team from a backwater like Ohio … The score illustrates a point that I’ve been saying all year and one that all knowledgeable sports fans know: statistics don’t tell the whole story and are in fact for all intents and purposes meaningless. What’s really important is the eye test. For example a newbie might look at our shooting line – 40 percent from the floor, 30 percent from three, and 40 percent from the free throw line – and say that we did not shoot well. But longtime fans know that we are shooting dramatically much better than we did when Norm Roberts was coaching and that our fundamentals such as ball screens and tertiary footwork have improved too. I mean sure, maybe last night the ball didn’t go in the basket as much as we’d like, but points are just more statistics and sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is that Saint John’s outplayed Xavier in every facet of the game, except maybe rebounding, where Xavier had a slight 47-27 advantage. That we were able to pull out the victory proves the point made by Lavs earlier in the season when he said that rebounding doesn’t matter … As for Lavs, he outcoached Chris Mack and once again demonstrated that we are lucky to have him as part of our Saint John’s family. His rotations, use of timeouts, Xs and Os and halftime adjustments were once again exemplary. With the victory we’re now ahead of five teams in the standing and behind only four – and three of those four we’re behind are ranked. Even a coach as skilled as Lavs cannot be expected to be ahead of teams that are ranked higher than his team is. I mean, he’s not a magician. With three games remaining we’re only 5 games behind front running Villanova (BOO!) – anything can happen. Who could have imagined that after only five years at the helm Lavs has us once again in the Big Dance. That he’s done all that while beating cancer and overcoming the devastating loss of a parent – which is the sort of tragedy few people in history have ever had to go through – is nothing short of astounding. … One thing Lavs doesn’t get enough credit for is how he handles the press. Last night he demonstrated his media savvy in the postgame interview when he deflected criticism about his team’s poor start (and you have to think that it’s no coincidence that that criticism came from a UConn graduate – jealous much Donny Marshall?) – by comparing the beginning of the game to a make out session where a nervous virgin starts to kiss a girl but instead of suavely thrusting his tongue into her hungry willing wet mouth he instead bangs his teeth against her teeth but then recovers and is able to pleasure her with his tumescent throbbing manhood, which is just the sort of graphic sexual analogy employed by other beloved NY sports figures such as Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra and even our own HOF coach Lou Carnesecca, who used to talk about his “feather duster,” which you don’t have to be Elmore James to figure that out. A coach with less ability might have discussed the intricacies of the game but Lavs is more than a mere coach: he is a philosopher and a visionary. It makes me proud to have the same first name as Coach Lavin and the even the same initials. Hopefully the university comes to its senses and extends him before some other program scoops him up …. I know that some Gloomy Gus SJU fans like to complain about the referees, and believe me I completely respect their opinions. I mean sure, usually when we lose games it’s because of the referees, but that’s sports, right? Tonight though I thought the refs did a great job of letting the kids play for the first 16 minutes, during which 16 minutes they did not call a single foul, and then after that did a great job of reining the players in by calling 30 fouls over the next 24 minutes. Typically Saint John’s got the short end of the stick, 17 FTs to 15. I’m just glad that this time differential did not come back to bite us in the ass … We now have a week off to get healthy for the home stretch and after that the BE tournament and hopefully another Cinderella run in the Big Dance. We are Saint John’s!

PLAYERS: In a timely article in Monday’s NY Post, Phil Greene was finally given the recognition he deserves as one of the best players in the Big East. In the article (written by Zach Braziller, who is a top notch journalist IMHO) Greene described himself as a “hero,” which IMHO is an understatement, because hero means “a man distinguished by courage and admired for his bravery and nobility” and Phil is so much more than that. IMHO it’s about time Phil was recognized alongside other NY champions such as Jackie Robinson, Bobby Thompson and Willis Reed. Greene also talked about how frustrating it was for him that his heroism does not receive the accolades it deserves, but noted that real fans of basketball appreciate everything he does, especially the little things. Most people have never accomplished anything near what Phil has in his illustrious career, so we can only imagine how tough it must be not having the sort of quiet heroism he displays night after night rewarded by cheers and adulation. It must be heartbreaking. Greene’s fortitude was on full display last night, when he bravely continued to shoot the ball despite his inability to get it to go into the basket. Greene courageously shot 2 for 7 and ended up with 5 heroic points, for which I am awarding him a long overdue game ball … I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a back-up PG who’s had a better career than Jamal Branch and the closest I can come is Mark Jackson when he backed up Mike Moses, but even that comparison doesn’t do Branch justice, because Jackson was a freshman, whereas Branch is a talented senior who would likely be all league if he played on another team in another league. He comes ready to play every night and you would be hard pressed to name another guard who throws a no look pass with the sort of accuracy as does Branch. Although he finished with no points or rebounds last night he contributed in many other ways, including through intangibles … Chris Obekpa once again played a good game and seems to have fully recovered from the injury he suffered when his elbow was head butted in the Butler game several weeks ago. It is IMHO a joy to watch Obekpa play: his infectious grin is representative of everything that should be celebrated about amateur athletics … A lot of sourpusses were down on Lavs last recruiting class but when all is said and done I think it will go down as one of the best in school history. The most impressive of the bunch has been Amar Alibegovic. He’s an imposing physical specimen, a good rebounder, and one of the best screen-setters I’ve ever seen in 35 years of watching SJU basketball. He‘s also a dead eye shooter, even if his percentages – .38 from the floor, .27 from three and .14 from the free throw line – don’t reflect it. Another example of stats being deceiving. Although Alibegovic did not score last night, look out, that’s just the beginning for him. Once he gets used to living in a foreign country and adjusts to playing in the best college basketball conference in the country look for those numbers to sky rocket … After a big win against Concordia in 2012 Lavs noted that Christian Jones was a “special” player; coach went on to praise Jones “poise and ability to see the game” and noted that Jones “can post up as well as any freshman I’ve ever had.” Considering the caliber of player that Lavs has coached in his illustrious career that is high praise, and well deserved IMHO. It is only a shame that this year’s team is so deep and talented that Jones cannot earn floor time to showcase his prodigious skills for NBA scouts. He is however by all accounts a great teammate and is often the first player off the bench to clap his hands and cheer his teammates on. Although he did not get a chance to play last night he has shown great strides over his career and I look forward to watching him play for years to come … … On any other team seven footer Joey De La Rosa would be getting major minutes, but because Saint John’s is so deep in the front line he’s been forced to come off the bench. When he does though, he changes the game because of his physicality, basketball IQ, and ability to set solid picks. It’s a shame he doesn’t have another year of eligibility because next year a front line of him, his brother Adonis, Alibegovic and Obekpa would make us an immediate contender for the national championship and maybe even the favorite. Although he did not play last night he has a bright future and I would not be surprised to see some NBA team take a flier on him in the second round of the draft. Because you can’t teach size … One player who’s made a substantial contribution to the success of this year’s team is Felix Balamou. Last year, when a less dedicated player might have red shirted after suffering a serious head injury, Felix instead applied himself in practice and by virtue of his unparalleled work ethic played his way into the starting line-up before suffering a relapse and not playing anymore. The same thing happened this year, although not the head injury, just the hard work and starting and not starting. He is such a great leaper that sometimes he jumps center and sometimes even wins the tap! You’d be hard pressed to find a SJU player who could match his leaping ability. David Russell or Michael Porter, maybe. When coach described him as one of the greatest leapers he has ever coached, well, let’s just say that was not an exaggeration. Balamou did not play last night, hopefully his concussion is not acting up, as we will need him down the stretch … Speaking of practice, no recap would be complete without mentioning the unsung work the walk ons and practice players do. Although they do not receive the sort of praise that the regular players do they are in many ways more important than the players who play. Because of our storied history we’re able to recruit walk ons such as David Lipscomb and Myles Stewart, who would probably be starters and scholarship players had they gone anywhere else. But they knew, as do we, that it’s better to sit on the bench in New York City than it is to see floor time in backwaters such as Kentucky or Kansas. Because if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.

NOTES: The game was broadcast on Fox, which did an excellent job IMHO. Not only was the picture crystal clear and the audio letter perfect, but the director did an exemplary job of showing the action – it can be quite difficult to manage several cameras at one and to cut from one to the other at just the right time, but I thought he did so. The game was called by Joe Davis and Donnie Marshall both of whom were good. As the play by play guy Davis did a good job of describing to the people who were watching what they were watching. Marshall was the color man and did a good job providing analysis and background information. His experience as an excellent college player was a real plus here, as he was able to supply nuanced and subtle info that the lay viewer might have otherwise missed. Such as for example when he said “that block doesn’t even matter, it really doesn’t, obviously it does,” that really added to my understanding of the game … It’s winter here in upstate New York. Winter is great IMHO, although I would not be able to pick a favorite season: spring has flowers and the Kentucky Derby; summer has hot dogs and the beach; fall has pretty leaves and the World Series and Lions football. They’re all so wonderful, it’d be too hard to pick just one. In winter – besides snow and ice, which are so picturesque – there are all sorts of fun things to do, such as skiing and snowboarding and especially figure skating, a sport for which I have a particular passion. Today being sunny and a balmy 6 degrees Fahrenheit I decided to bundle up and go for a long walk. Imagine my surprise when while snowshoeing across the back forty I saw the cutest little bunny frolicking across the snow with his family. They were so precious and I so moved that I hurried back to the house and wrote for you all a poem while I drank my warm cocoa and warmed my mukluks by the fire. I hope you don’t mind that I share it with you here.

The fluffy wuffy bunnies hip hop down Happy Street.
They skip and laugh and bow their ears to everyone they meet.
They’re never sad, they know no pain ‘neath cotton candy skies.
And no one ever stops to think, and no one ever dies.
The pretty witty kitties see them prance in Gleeful Glen.
They frolic ‘mongst the flowers, and sing and laugh and then,
they greet the fluffy bunnies; together they do play.
Then home to happy families, to laugh and sing and pray.
The king decreed the weather, and never did it rain.
He banished all diseases; he exiled death and pain.
They all left with the ogres, on Good Ship Lollipop,
It sailed across the ocean, and never did it stop.
The fluffy wuffy bunnies sing happy tappy tunes
They skip and laugh and decorate with baubles and balloons.
and no one is a mopey dope and nothing’s ever bad,
and no one ever stops to think and everyone is glad.

X Parte

heart

RECAP: Usually when it comes to Saint John’s I’m hard to surprise – mostly because always I expect the worst and usually they deliver. But today I am: Saint John’s beat Xavier 78-70 in Cincinnati Saturday afternoon. Consider: Saint John’s was on the road where they play poorly and out of state where they’re atrocious; Chris Obekpa was hurting; Rysheed Jordan got in early foul trouble; D’Angelo Harrison went down late in the first half after looking to have seriously injured his calf; and Steve Lavin was coaching. None of that is a recipe for success and most of it a recipe for disaster. And yet they managed to pull it off and in doing so absorbed a few punches along the way: Xavier went out to an early 10 point lead and SJU responded, outscoring them by 20 over the next 16 minutes; Xavier started the second half on a 9-2 run to tie the game and SJU went on an 8-0 run of their own; and Xavier overcame a 10 point deficit late to pull within three and SJU put them away. In each case Saint John’s made plays when it counted. Thank goodness for seniors … Once again SJU shot well: 50 percent from the floor, 35 from three and 80 from the line. Some of that is fool’s gold, as they continue to take bad shots – especially Pointer and Greene – that continue to go in despite the laws of physics and thermodynamics. Because of which I assume they’ll come back to earth eventually, so enjoy it while it lasts. As for Xavier, they’re two teams. The one with Matt Stainbrook is not awful. The one without him stinks. Despite the importance of the game – and no matter how SJU finishes the season this loss is going to look awful on Xavier’s tournament resume – they came out with zero energy and got worse as the game wore on. Even the crowd was lame; they might as well have played at Carnesecca. Xavier shot poorly and turned the ball over and basically stunk. If I were charitable – and we know I’m not – I might blame the early start, or maybe they’re still upset about that whole Porkopolis thing. Whatever. Suck it Musketeers … Lavin once again appeared to be wearing make-up, although today it looked like it might be some sort of spray-on tan. Perhaps he’s auditioning to take Monasch’s place? Who knows. Anyway, he did a good job of stealing minutes here and there with the bench and called some dubious time outs and clapped his hands a bunch. That is, business as usual about which the less said the better … SJU has now won 4 of their last 5 and is suddenly .500 in conference, albeit still in seventh place. Assuming a split with Georgetown, a loss to Villanova and one bad and inexplicable loss to some seeming pasty, 9 and 9 seems likely. That would put them in about 5th place and firmly on the bubble going into the BE tournament. If they keep playing the way they have they probably deserve a bid – what? – and will be a team no one’s going to want to play in the first round. Glass slipper anyone?

PLAYERS: Dom Pointer was once again a wrecking ball: 24 points on 9 of 10 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the line, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks. It’s only a shame the lightbulb didn’t go on sooner … Harrison had 18 points, 13 of those in the first half. He scored only one field goal after injuring his calf – fortunately it was the other one – late in the first half. My notes regarding which say: “and there goes the season.” He limped off at halftime and was limping in the second half warm ups, but despite being graded as questionable played the entire 20 minutes. On a team where players miss games because of sore throats, sprained ankles and paper cuts that sort of heart is refreshing to see … Jordan was mostly missing in action, but he had a huge three late after Xavier had pulled to within three. Threw an absurd lob to Pointer on a breakaway late but like everything else today it worked out pretty well … Jordan was spelled in the first half by Jamal Branch, who had 11 points on 5 for 7 shooting, this after scoring 2 points over his last four games. Despite which, he did not play barely at all in the second … Obekpa had zero points but the game changed in the first half when he entered at the 16 minute mark: Xavier, which had been scoring at will on the inside for the first 4 minutes, suddenly became tentative around the basket. Provided an amusing moment in the second half when after Pointer made some dopey play he pointed at his head. At first I thought Obekpa was reminding Pointer where the best place to throw an elbow was but then it occurred to me that he was telling Pointer to think … After Phil Greene fouled Xavier’s JP Macura in the first half Macura gave Greene the sort of run of the mill pat on the ass that passes for sportsmanship on the basketball court. Greene spun around and got in Macura’s face: “Don’t touch my ass” he said. By his reaction you would have thought Macura tried to slip a fist in there. Doth the lady protest too much? Greene had 15 points on 14 shots – many of those ill-advised and out of control, especially late, when he sometimes gets it into his head that he’s the team’s star, as opposed its weak link – including 3 of 8 from three, to go along with no rebounds, no blocks, no steals, and 1 assist … I’ve figured out what Amir Amirovich reminds me of: a Russian Olympic wrestler, except less grabby …. Balamou started the game but did not play much in the second. Which is just as well. Hopefully he takes some assertiveness training over the summer, because I’ve known more aggressive geishas… I don’t find much occasion for mirth when reading the various SJU fan forums, because let’s face it most of you people wouldn’t recognize a joke if Bill Burr recorded a comedy special in your small intestine. But I nearly did a spit take this morning when some astute Saint John’s fan recommended that Joey De La Rosa start, because “he matches up favorably well with Matt Stainbrook.” Update for that poster: Joey DeLa Rosa doesn’t match up favorably with a stanchion. He makes Tom Bayne look like Mikhail Baryshnikov. JDLR played a minute at the beginning of the second half, during which time he committed two fouls and turned the ball over after which he went to the bench, never to return.

NOTES: I cannot comment too much on the broadcast, except to say that Bob Wenzel started talking at 12:15 and did not shut up until I muted the television at around 1:30. The most insightful thing he said during that time was “Yikes.” I have in the past catalogued Wenzel’s myriad shortcomings at length and will not do so again except to remind you that the only thing he knows less about than broadcasting is basketball: as a coach he had only 6 winning seasons out of 15 and won 20 games only once; he was 73 and 95 over his 6 years at Rutgers and a dismal 20-34 in the Big East. Shut up Bob … Yesterday was Friday the thirteenth and today Valentine’s Day, a perfect confluence for those of you unlucky in love. The origins of superstitions relating to the number 13 are obscure – some postulate that it’s because there were 13 apostles at the last supper, Judas Iscariot being the odd man; others that is due to the mass execution of a slew of Knights Templar by King Phillip on that day in the 12th century; and others still others because it’s one more than 12, which is a regarded as the perfect number: 12 months in a year, 12 hours in a day, 12 apostles, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 in a dozen and so on. Friday is of course unlucky because it was on that day of the week that the Baby Jesus was crucified. Together they are the perfect storm. There’s no evidence that Friday the 13th is anymore worse than any other day and none of this seems very scientific anyway: in Spain Friday the 17th is considered unlucky and in Greece Tuesdays and let’s face it most days don’t work out well for most people most of the time anyway. The best practice seems to be my own: expect the worst at all times, that way at least you’ll never be disappointed … Valentine’s day is named for Valentinus, a Christian decapitated by the second Emperor Claudius in the third century on February 14th. This explains why head is the traditional Valentine’s Day gift. How a 2000 year old decapitation came to be associated with modern day romance is anyone’s guess, but associated it is: traditionally February Fourteenth features the exchange of gifts between lovers, traditionally flowers, which makes a perverse sort of sense, as flowers, themselves severed vegetative sexual organs, are delivered to females by males castrated by capitalist convention. My own Valentine’s tradition is to give the old lady a break by making my own sandwiches. Through the years Valentine’s Day has come to be associated with the Roman God Cupid – Eros in Greek mythology – the son of goddess of love Venus (the Greek Aphrodite) and god of war Mars (the Greek Ares). Quite logically those two genetic strains combine in Cupid’s special power: he owns a bow by which he inflicts lust upon the recipient of his arrows. You don’t have to be Fellini to figure out the symbolism there. In the original version Cupid was a grown ass god married to a mortal broad called Psyche. After a bit of tomfoolery that need not concern us here Psyche finds herself wandering the country side where she’s discovered by the half horse Pan, who betrays Psyche to her evil mother in law Venus, who never approved of the marriage in the first place. To have her revenge Venus first locked Psyche away in a dungeon and then sent her off on a series of quests, the last of which found her in Hell, where in an odd twist she found redemption instead of everlasting torment; afterwards she is returned to earth, made immortal, and reunited with Cupid. Despite all this grown up adventure Cupid somehow through the ages came to be portrayed as a fat baby in a diaper, who in the middle ages was often portrayed by artists astride a dolphin. Scholars suggest that the dolphin has to do with his mother’s origins – she is said to have spontaneously generated out of the sea – but you can’t fool me: it’s just a giant penis, which also makes a perverse sort of sense, as Cupid is sort of a dick. Apropos of which, this, by Stephen Crane

In the desert I saw a creature,
naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.