The Project

My, how far we’ve come.

As I write this update, it’s middle August 2006. More than a year ago I started the journey that became Cinderella Season. Way back then, I had what I believed to be a credible idea: sports fans read every day about the minutiae of Kentucky, North Carolina, and Arizona basketball. But they never read about the unique struggles of mid major basketball programs. This fact revealed its own irony.

So off I set: I would chronicle the 2005 CAA tournament as an overlay to a discussion of the issues faced by mid major college basketball programs. At one point, I believe my tentative title was Four Days in March. I felt I was creative, as entire seasons for mid major conferences come down to the post season tournament.

But this wasn’t enough–I quickly realized I had a fascinating 73-page book on my hands. So I made the big decision: I would follow the CAA through its entire 2005-06 season.

Because I am a fan of the CAA, I admit to knowing that the CAA might have a banner season. Old Dominion was gaining national attention after its 28-win, CAA championship season. I figured there couldn’t be a happier ending than either an at large bid, or an NCAA victory for the conference.

I had no idea.

This blog was created to support my effort. I had no idea what I was doing when I began. I felt it was a good way to stay in touch with the swarms of mid major fans, as well as provide them with some level of detail comparable to what major schools receive. I have no idea if I have been successful or not, or if I have any more idea about what I’m doing. But I’m having a blast. Hopefully you are as well.

At its completion, Cinderella Season intertwines those same issues that beget the project within the 2005-06 CAA season. The snippet I provide below doesn’t deal with the issues, but introduces the two most critical weeks of the season, save a certain CAA semifinal game.

Please enjoy.

***

The statement released from Old Dominion University was terse, but it was also complete:

At approximately 10 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 25, Old Dominion University men’s basketball player Brandon Johnson (Orlando, FL) was shot as he exited his residence in the University Village Apartments. Brandon was treated at Norfolk General Hospital for a fractured right clavicle and released. He will miss action until he is re-evaluated in approximately five to six weeks.

Old Dominion University Police are assisting the Norfolk Police Department in the investigation, which is ongoing. The university has expanded its policing and security coverage of the entire campus.

On the night before Old Dominion was to take on the Drexel Dragons, in the middle of a season that saw the Monarchs battle injuries and transfers, sophomore guard Brandon Johnson had been shot in the upper body.

It would be a long night for the team as they gathered first at the hospital, and then in Isaiah Hunter’s apartment afterward, the apartment he shared with Brandon Johnson. There would be discussion, reflection, emotion, and even introspection. The night quickly became early morning.

“Let’s just say my alarm clock didn’t go off this morning,” said team co-captain Drew Williamson.

Blaine Taylor refused to let the situation paralyze his team. “I told them we need to bounce the ball around and go get some rest,” he said. Taylor wanted to ensure that his team had perspective of the moment.

“I’ve dealt with worse, and you are going to (deal with worse as well) in your lifetime,” he said. “The bottom line is your friend is okay and we have to move on to a better place. In this world there is violence and you have to be aware that you are vulnerable at all times.”

With that, there was a light practice and the team was released to do exactly what Taylor wanted: rest.

The Ted Constant Center filled up quickly in the early evening of Thursday, January 26. There was a nervous murmur, an almost restless feeling to the building as word spread as quickly as the rumor. Certainly Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and his talented swingman Dominick Mejia were not the topic of discussion.

The students were ready, complete with media guide blowups of Brandon Johnson’s picture, in the event that Johnson would be in attendance. Nobody really knew.

As the clock dipped below the 1:00 mark prior to the start of the game, an ovation slowly grew in the Ted Constant Center. Brandon Johnson, 20 hours after being shot in the shoulder, escorted the Old Dominion coaching staff to its home bench.

Johnson showed no emotion and a very quiet expression as he walked the straight line to the bench. He provided the home fans only a short wave of his hand. Wearing a turquoise sweater pulled over an untucked white shirt, he spoke to nobody; and nobody engaged him either as Johnson took at seat at the end of the bench, arm in a sling, with the team managers.

It makes one wonder just what you say to someone in that situation. Players on a basketball team become close and become very good, and lifelong, friends. But Johnson is just a sophomore, and that means there is only so much time beyond books and basketball to get to truly know someone. Frequently, because of differing backgrounds and geography, it is easy to fall back on stereotyping in order to communicate and get to know one another.

Unfortunately, the down side to this is that you don’t really know someone. So when a situation like this occurs, nobody is sure what the right thing to say is.

Blaine Taylor, however, knew exactly what to say after Drexel’s Mejia hit four consecutive three point shots to break open a nip and tuck basketball game. The words weren’t nice but they were pointed. ODU responded with a spirited 7-0 run of its own to retake the lead at 25-24.

Brandon Johnson sat motionless during both barrages, his head in his left hand, contemplating. His body was in the Ted Constant Center, but his head was nowhere near.

Drexel settled into a rhythm and took a 32-27 lead into the locker room. ODU had played 20 minutes of listless but focused basketball. It was not spirited. It was determined.

Coming out for the second half, the hallway just outside the ODU locker room was quiet. The ODU players congregated, waiting their turn to take the floor for warm-ups. Not a word was spoken and they stood, in eerie silence, just waiting, as if they were in line at the grocery store. It was not until freshman Jonathan Adams, who had played only three first half minutes spoke up and chided the team that there was a hint of emotion.

“It’s quiet back here,” Adams said. “I don’t hear anything. You guys are quiet. It’s too quiet back here.” But Adams was greeted with only a smattering of applause and little emotion. What display was shown was forced. Blaine Taylor followed the team out the door, steely-eyed.

Old Dominion’s first possession of the second half turned into a Drew Williamson prayer that was an air ball and a shot clock violation. Drexel promptly went down the court and Frank Elegar scored and was fouled by Loughton, sending the deficit to 34-27.

As Elegar ambled to the line—he had been hit pretty hard on the play—you could sense the feeling in the building had turned from a hopeful urging to a dispirited pleading. It would be very understandable for the home team to fold its tents and call it a night.

Arnaud Dahi heard the pleas and came to the rescue. Dahi hit two short jumpers to close the gap. He then made a steal that led to free throws and converted a dunk on an inbounds play, the latter trimming the margin to 36-35. Dahi hit another layup then drew a charging foul on Mejia.

A minute later, after Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was whistled for a technical foul, Valdus Vasylius hit a free throw to finish off an old-fashioned three-point play. The hoop and shot closed a 13-2 Old Dominion run and the Monarchs had a four-point bulge at 40-36. The crowd was back in the corner of the home team, making as much noise at it had all night.

Brandon Johnson, meanwhile, busied himself opening a bag of Skittles.

Old Dominion would slowly pull away in the second half and eventually win, 74-67. The Monarchs were now 8-2 (15-5 overall) and tied for first in the conference with George Mason. Feint echoes of an at large bid remained.

After the game, Blaine Taylor had never looked so tired. He simply appeared out of gas. Taylor, who is always gregarious and straightforward with the media, also proved himself a poor liar.

Rumpled and downtrodden, even after a big victory, Taylor muttered “I’m half spent, to tell you the truth.” Blaine Taylor was clearly completely spent.

Interestingly, Taylor had been more expressive than usual during the game, even at the previous season’s CAA tournament final, leaping from his seat to call plays and barking at officials. It was only after the game that he allowed the past 18 hours to slouch his demeanor.

“I’m proud of our maturity,” Taylor continued. “Our kids did a good job of compartmentalizing (the situation).”

Drexel’s Flint, perhaps, summed up the past 18 hours in the life of Blaine Taylor better than Taylor himself. “What do you do when you have to call a kid’s parents (with news like that),” Flint said, shaking his head and staring at the floor. “It’s not a sprained ankle. It’s tough, man.”

Resolve. It was a concept Taylor knew his team had learned and would take to heart when he challenged them after the Drexel game.

“How much better are we going to be?” was the simple statement.

The Monarchs’ opponent on Saturday, less than 40 hours after the Drexel victory and less than 60 hours after Brandon Johnson had been shot? The George Mason Patriots.

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~ by mglitos on November 8, 2005.

5 Responses to “The Project”

  1. So what happens when GMU or Wilmington wins the tournament? You going to change the title?

  2. Hello Friend! I just came across your blog and wanted to
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  3. Nice

  4. Hey brother. Nice work with the info. I’ll try to remain a little more optimistic.

    Good to see you’re doing so well these days. I hope to be coming back to Richmond this time next year.

    You know where to find me on the net, it’s the same place I was before.

    Don’t you hate when you have some salad for lunch and the dressing kicks everything else’s ass to the point you’re still burping it at 11pm? Argh.

    Drop me a line…

  5. I read the book over the weekend and posted a little review on my blog, if you’d like to read it. Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    The link is: http://extrapolater.com/s-cinderella.html

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