The UAlbany Great Danes Men's Basketball team has done what many around New York's capital region considered a near impossibility: Run through the America East conference tournament as a four seed and punch their ticket to the NCAA's Big Dance. Their prize for achieving the most improbable run in America East tournament history? The two-seeded Duke Blue Devils, a Goliath of college basketball, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The 15-seed Great Danes will have the near insurmountable odds stacked against them in Philadelphia, PA this Friday (March 22, 2013), but I think everyone understands that the Danes' ultimate goal has already been realized. We have to remember exactly how UAlbany came to have their name on millions of brackets across America, because the journey to the dance is the real story in all of this. At this point last March, a 19-win UAlbany team was supposed to be one of nine Division I teams (out of 347) in the country to return every player the following year. The future looked promising. Gerardo Suero finished 7th in the nation in scoring in his first season of D-I hoops and Logan Aronhalt, another all-league performer and top-10 scorer in the America East, was set to be a senior. Within a two week period in the Spring both players made plans to vanish for their own separate reasons; Suero pursuing professional ranks overseas and Arohnhalt transferring to Maryland. From every piece of fire power returning to losing 49% of the teams scoring, the Danes went from title frontrunners to picked fourth in a nine team league. After starting the non-conference season red hot with a back-against-the-wall approach, UA hit a serious lull against the best teams in the America East, at one point losing 5 of 8 games. In the local papers UAlbany's believability as a contender was compared to that of Manti Tao's invisible girlfriend. But in the conference tournament the Danes would 'prove their existence' in story book fashion. After squeaking by Maine in the quarterfinals, UAlbany knocked off top-seeded Stony Brook, a team they'd lost to six consecutive times. If that wasn't enough, they traveled to Vermont and dethroned the reigning champions, and preseason favorite, on their own floor on national television to capture their third America East tournament championship in eight years. Don't ever confuse this next fact: This is, without question, the greatest post season run the America East has ever had. Only twice in 33 years (!) has a team outside the top two seeds won it all. Albany did so as a four, knocking off one and two seeds along the way. With his latest title, head coach Will Brown became the fourth coach in America East history to register three championships, joining the likes of such legends named Jim Calhoun, Bill Herrion and Tom Brennan. Also, with the win over Vermont, UAlbany hit the 24-win mark, their most ever in a season in the Division I era. The 2013 Great Dane's are all about redemption. From counted out, to counting wins. From sports personalities calling for Will Brown's job, to Brown joining the most elite company the America East has ever seen. From being accused of catfishing upstate New York, to the biggest fish in the capital region pond. From preparing for Hartford and Maine to scouting Coach K's Dukies. Who knows if UAlbany played another 50 years if they'd ever replicate what they accomplished this season. What I do know is that during that same stretch of time I won't soon forget the year, 2013, when UAlbany defied everyone's odds and became an immortal team by way of a banner that will hang in UAlbany's SEFCU arena for the rest of time.
Below are the full highlights of the America East championship game.
The UAlbany Men's Basketball team pulled off perhaps its most impressive and improbable victory of the season when they knocked off the #1 overall seed in the America East tournament, Stony Brook, on Sunday night at SEFCU arena in Albany. What an experience. Coming into the semi final matchup Albany was an underdog to say the least (+4.5 at home). Not only had Stony Brook been the best team in the America East this season from start to finish, capturing their third regular season championship in four years, but they had already beaten UAlbany twice. Maybe the most discouraging evidence coming into the contest for UA was that the latest loss to Stony Brook had come just eight days prior...a game where the Danes outshot the Seawolves from the field as well as outrebounded them, two telltale statistics that often indicate who wins the game. I remember wondering after that loss down in Stony Brook if Albany could ever beat this team. They had just thrown their best punch at the conference bully and the champs were still standing. Naturally, considering my position as radio broadcaster for UA, I hoped the best for Coach Will Brown and his club. But my objective side told me Stony Brook was a better team. Period. 48 hours before the matchup, during the America East post season awards, Stony Brook had cleaned the joint out. Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year all shared the Stony Brook strand. To pile on the pregame fodder, UAlbany had lost its last six and 11 of the last 13 games against Stony Brook. I cannot sit here after the fact and tell you I believed Albany would win. But where my belief in this UAlbany team may have waned, it was more than made up for by the 12 players and five coaches in the Purple and Gold locker room. I played the game of basketball at what I perceived to be a high level for ten years, but I had never been a part of something like Sunday night. The intensity of the battle was so thick in the air that none of the 3,400+ in attendance could deny feeling it. As time expired after senior guard Mike Black drove to the hole with two seconds left to break a 59-59 tie, the UAlbany student sections on both ends of the floor stormed the court. Those 10 seconds immediately after the final horn were the rawest form of energy and excitement I've ever seen, an obvious culmination of getting beat up time and again by 'big brother'. The win for UAlbany pushed the Great Danes into the America East Championship game at Vermont on Saturday (March 17th), only one game removed from a NCAA tournament birth. The upset also pushed Albany to the 23-win mark, matching the University's highest win total in it's Division I history. Below is a link to the game's full highlights, a true 'must see'. Best of luck to the UAlbany Great Danes this weekend in an attempt to cap off an already historic season.
What a sad day in the world of professional wrestling this past Tuesday, March 5th, when we discovered that the WWE/WWF legend, Paul Bearer, had died. For someone my age that grew up with professional wrestling in the 1990's, this was a crushing blow. Not to say that I had even thought of Paul Bearer in years, but at the same time the longstanding manager of The Undertaker had a profound impact on my wrestling experience as a child. My first Paul Bearer experience at the tender age of six scared the hell out of me. Here was this creepy man carrying an urn on the television screen talking about how he and The Undertaker were making special caskets for my favorite WWF superstars. It took all I had to not urinate in my pants. I don't exaggerate when I say that childhood nightmares from ages 6-10 often occurred in Paul Bearer and Undertakers universe. Looking back on old interviews I can't help but to laugh out loud at this over the top character. Think about it, he was a pseudo paul bearer, named Paul Bearer! Doesn't get any more classic than that. The facial expressions and tone in his voice while doing promotional interviews were downright special. Paul Bearer's role in pro wrestling would change throughout the years, ditching The Undertaker for goons like Mankind and Kane (more classic wrestling names!), but to me, he'll always be that exotic funeral parlor director who was never caught dead without his urn, and swore he and Undertaker built a double wide casket for Yokozuna. Of course I never knew the real Paul Bearer, William Moody, but I found some comfort seeing his name trending on Twitter the day of his death. It wasn't just me who had an impression left on them from 'the men from the dark side'. You see, even while pro wrestling is as fake as a Kim Kardashian press release, and the product has deteriorated with time (or maybe I just got old), there's still a reason why millions and millions and millions of people watch it every Monday...because of characters like Paul Bearer. In closing, if I could steal an Undertaker line for a brief moment in relation to Bearer's passing..."May he reeeeest, innnnnnn, peeeeace." Feel free to check out below the classic Paul Bearer promo from the early 90's talking about, of course, mass graves.
It's all about who you know, right? This past weekend (2/22/13) for me and a good friend it paid to know the capital regions resident 'Godfather', UAlbany men's basketball advisor Don Basset. Basset's name has been ringing out in basketball circles around New York state for decades. The Capital District Hall Of Famer is known by basketball fans of New York's section 2 for winning over 300 games, most of those at Catholic Central in Troy. He also helped guide my alma mater Saint Rose in back to back division II final four appearances in the 1990's, his name still engraved outside the 'Don Basset Locker Room' where I used to change every day before and after practice. Currently the aging Basset serves as an intricate advisor to the division I UAlbany men's team, evaluating talent, studying plus/minus trends, and working with troubled free throw shooters. Not to be forgotten though, especially for the sake of this anecdote, is the work that Don Basset did with the Albany Patroons, a pro basketball team formally of the CBA, many, many years ago. Once upon a time the Patroons head basketball coach was legendary NBA coach, George Karl, now of the Denver Nuggets. Through their work together in Albany and after years of phone conversations and visits from Basset to wherever Karl happened to be coaching, the pair are lifelong friends. So this past weekend when I had to travel to Washington D.C. for a work venture and discovered the Nuggets were visiting the Wizards on Friday night, I figured I'd try to pull those Basset strings and score a ticket for my buddy and I. "I'll see what I can do" was the response from Basset as he promptly pulled out his phone, navigated his way to George Karl's name, and sent a simple text" message. Not 24 hours later we had two fourth row tickets behind the Nuggets bench waiting at 'will call' in the Verizon center in D.C., with two back stage guest passes to boot. Boom! Everyone who knows better shows Basset the utmost respect, and this obviously includes George Karl who put his NBA coaching duties aside for a moment to honor the request from mere friends of Basset. Although Karl's nuggets dropped a close one to the Wizards despite a entertaining 27 points and 12 assists from Ty Lawson, the value of our up close and personal experience is immeasurable. We kiss 'The Godfather' ring in thanks to Don Basset who when shown respect will return it two fold, the best kind of guy to have in your corner.
I swear that Kobe Bryant has stumbled upon a time machine. There's really no other explanation why 17 years after being drafted and at 34 years of age he's still able to physically accomplish the things that he has this season. And I'm not just referring to the unworldly fact that Bryant is averaging 27ppg to go with 5rpg and 5apg. No, I'm talking about the anecdotal flashes of a more athletic yesteryear. On Tuesday night (2/5/13) in Brooklyn Kobe reminded us one more time of his greatness. The scene: Fourth quarter...down one...under 3 minutes to play...No Dwight Howard...No World Peace...No Pau...No problem. Kobe 'Bean' Bryant came diving down a open lane and put a legendary dunk on the heads of BOTH Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries to take a lead L.A. would never give back. At the time Kobe rocked the rim in BK I happened to be sitting in a sports bar in Baltimore and the reaction from the other patrons was identical to mine. A swift jerk of the body and a consensus 'Oh God'! Kobe has handed out about 1,000 posters like this one since 1996 but naturally they don't happen with the same frequency as when his age started with a '2' instead of a '3'. Less frequency, for me anyway, equals more appreciation. Add in the context of the games scenario and combine it with the sixth Lakers win in seven games, and you'll have a L.A. fan (like this one) dedicating a quick blog post to it. If you didn't see the play from Kobe that naturally found it's way to the #1 play on Sports Center, check it out below. Raise your glasses. A Jam and Toast.
Where would you slot the Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Henderson's dunk over Dwight Howard a few weeks ago on the list of top-10 plays/dunks of the year? Wait, what's that? You haven't seen it? Here in lies my problem. The former Duke guards monster flush over the league's best defensive center got ZERO play from the national media in late December and I'm not sure why. Actually I have a suspicion. His last name isn't Griffin, and he doesn't play for Miami, New York, L.A., or Boston. I can't tell you the amount of times since this play happened that I've brought it up to actual basketball fans and they have no idea what play I'm talking about. Unless you happened to be watching the game when it happened or the highlights immediately afterward (which appeared in the wee hours of the morning on the East coast), you missed it. Now, if this was Blake Griffin or LeBron James who somehow caught a piece of trampoline left in the court from SlamBall (Google it) and did D12 that dirty, well I'm sure at this point in January we'd already be able to quote the announcers call of it happening. I'm acting like I'm surprised but I'm really not. As Bruce Hornsby once said, "I guess that's the way it is, something's will never change." So true, Bruce. That being said hit play and let your eyes lock in on what I believe to be a top-5 play of the NBA season thus far.
If something makes you sit up in your bed when you'd be otherwise horizontal, it's typically either really good or really bad. This past Sunday night, after a long day of bad football wagers and watching my Buffalo Bills get smoked, I was forced to sit upright at midnight because of something really good. Damian Lillard, my second favorite NBA rookie only to Anthony Davis of the Hornets, buried the ultimate game winner against those very Hornets to give Portland its third straight win. I've loved Damian Lillard since his final season at Weber State. I first came across the name when I would continually check where UAlbany's Gerardo Suero stood among college basketball's leading scorers. At this point in time Suero was scoring at an incredible rate, so I was confused who this kid was from Weber State that was scoring that much more?! Suero would have 27 points, and I'd check the list only to discover that Lillard had one of his eight 30-point games. I became a follower. I started to check the list to see what HE did, I watched his pre-draft workouts, and rooted him on when his name was called by the Portland Trailblazers with the sixth pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. Fast forward to today and Damian Lillard is separating himself from the other highly touted newcomers by bulding the most complete Rookie of the Year resume. From the time he first stepped on an NBA court against the Lakers and finished with 23 points the 22-year old hasn't slowed down. To date, Lillard is already a top-20 scorer in the NBA averaging 18+ points per game to go with his six assists. The kid reached at least 20 points in 13 of the 23 games he's played in for the Blazers. I have a feeling that much like when I used to clock the scoring list when he was college, I won't be able to check out the NBA's leading points-per-game men without reading the name: Damian Lillard. I hope you enjoy this cold blooded game winner as much as I did.
Now seems like as good of a time as any to throw a bunch of credit in the direction of the University of Albany men's basketball team who after 9 games played this season is 7-2. Not only are the 2012-13 Great Danes off to their best 9 game start since transitioning to division I in 1999, but UAlbany is, for the second time in school history, ranked among the top-25 mid-major programs in the country (this list includes all teams outside of the BCS conferences). Talk about defying the odds. In covering the team in the role of a gameday broadcaster I knew the team well enough to know that they would come out swinging this season after the losses of Logan Aronhalt (transferred to Maryland) and Gerardo Suero (jumped to professional ranks), but not me or even head coach Will Brown could anticipate that the team would dominate the non-conference schedule the way they have. Quality wins over Duquesne (Atlantic-10), Siena (MAAC), Wagner/St Francis Brooklyn (NEC), and of course the best regular season win in program history at Washington (Reigning PAC-12 champion), have caught New York's capital region off guard. The Great Danes only losses come at a top-10 team nationally in Ohio State from the Big-10, and barely against the reigning MAAC champion Loyola. How could this be happening? This was a team that lost 50% of its scoring in the offseason, and 2 of 3 all conference players. Team basketball is how. Sounds cliché I know, but the fact that the remaining players understood that not one of them was good enough to get any job done by themselves forced them to bind together in a 'fight or flight' mentality. Do the Great Danes have talent? Absolutely. Enough talent to beat Siena in the Albany cup when leading scorer, Mike Black, shoots 3-15 from the field? Not exactly, but enough chemistry, basketball IQ, and the understanding of their role allowed UAlbany to win by double figures. On paper this team isn't too much to look at especially compared to the very teams they've been beating. You could thumb through their lineup or watch them in warm-ups and likely shrug your shoulders or look down at your Iphone, but once the ball goes up so will your eyebrows. Go Danes.
Please join me in giving a warm welcome back to another college basketball season! It doesn't seem even close to a year ago when I was sitting at a hotel computer and blogging about UAlbany's whirlwind trip to open the 2011 season against schools such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Maryland, and George Mason. As I sit here at yet another hotel computer in my second year broadcasting the Great Danes basketball season, things haven't seemed to change much. Another stellar non-conference schedule put together by head basketball coach Will Brown has me blogging from downtown Seattle as the UA men play at the reigning Pac-12 champions, Washington Huskies, on Tuesday (11/13/12). This is the second stop after we first traveled to Columbus, Ohio to play another reigning conference champion from the Big-10, Ohio State. What an experience. Just being in the Value City Arena, the home of OSU basketball was eye-popping. The sheer size of the $100+million dollar complex that seats around 18,000 fans will dwarf just about anyone not used to the 'big time', but add in the history of players like John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas whose jerseys hang from the rafters and you're talking about one of the most unique and valuable experiences I've ever had. The game itself between the #4 ranked Buckeyes and Great Danes was actually a pleasure in itself as well. Although the final score said OSU had won by 22 points (82-60), the game was probably more competitive than some folks imagined. You have to remember, we're talking about a top-5 team nationally in Ohio State that had just hung a 2012 Final Four banner before tipoff, playing against a UAlbany team that was picked fourth in the preseason America East poll. The objective is always to win every time you take the floor, but anyone who actively uses their brain knows that the task of beating the Bucks on their home floor isn't at the top of the category labeled 'winnable'. That being said, the Great Danes fought like hell and actually lead at some points late in the first half of a game that featured five different lead changes. I thought UAlbany's senior guard, Mike Black, was the brightest spot for the Danes as he really took that first half by the horns. The one thing I told Black during the pregame warm-ups was that this was his stage too, as if I needed to remind the all-conference guard. Black went out and had 14 points in the first half alone and several times beat the reigning Big-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Craft, off the dribble and finished at the tin. I was genuinely impressed. Black finished with a game high 20-points along with instilling a lasting memory for himself, the time he gave buckets to the Buckeyes. Another pleasure coming from my trip to 'Theee' Ohio State University was a chance to watch another future NBA lottery pick, DeShaun Thomas, up close. Last year I had the opportunity, through calling games for UAlbany, to watch future NBA'ers like Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, and Alex Len. But Thomas was a bit different. Not only is he more highly touted than any of the previous names, but dude also has one of the most unique and multi-faceted games I can remember. The junior forward can drive to the hoop like a guard, bang low with other frontcourts, come off screens, and knock down treys. Think of a human Swiss Army Knife of the hardwood. When OSU was trailing the Danes down the stretch of the first half, it was Thomas who showed out in a big way. He finished with 19 points, 12 of which came off his four 3-pointers. All in all it has been a great trip so far and further reminds me that I have an amazing job. Simply hanging an Ohio State press pass around my neck brings me great joy, and I'm looking forward to calling all the other upcoming games on the UAlbany schedule including Washington, Navy, Siena, Vermont, and South Carolina State, among others. Stay tuned for thoughts and reactions throught the season. Lastly, I rarely do a shout out on Byesline, but I have to make an exception for the UAlbany coaching staff who really make me feel apart and welcome on these road trips that last several days. Head coach Will Brown, assistants Jon Iati, Jeremy Friel, and of course, Associate head coach Chad O'Donnell. Thanks fellas. Go Danes.
Hello out there! Yes I'm still alive, but I must admit that this blog did come to a screeching halt a few weeks ago. Why? Truthfully I wasn't sure if I'd be blogging on this site anymore as I'm in the process of becoming a contributor for another sports specific website. I'll obviously let you know when and where that happens when it does. That aside I've decided to keep this byesline ball rolling and attempt to juggle the two contributions, along with keeping up my broadcasting for UAlbany's football and basketball programs. Next week I'll be hoping back on this horse and regularly writing for Albany.com again. Look for more video blogs in the coming weeks featuring NBA and NFL analysis and of course UAlbany coverage. Thanks for reading and I'll see you soon!
Zach graduated from St Rose in 2010 with a degree in
communications. After graduating he covered the same program in which
he played, the st rose mens basketball team for one season before
being hired as an analyst for UAlbany's division 1 football and