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Knicks vs Celtics: Playoff Preview

April 17, 2011 10 comments

The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. As the sixth seeded team in the Eastern Conference the Knicks will face off against the Boston Celtics who earned the three seed with a 56-26 regular season record. The Knicks finished the regular season with a 42-40 record. It was their first winning season since 2000. Boston swept the regular season series winning all four contests.

The two teams each made a significant trade late in the season. The Knicks dealt Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Carmello Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Sheldon Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. Initially the team had a hard time gelling with the addition of a superstar player of Anthony’s caliber, but the Knicks finished the season strong going 7-3 in their last 10 games.

The Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Although Green is a promising young player, the trade was controversial because Perkins was very popular among his teammates. It can’t be good for team chemistry when players are crying and hugging each other in the locker room after hearing about a trade, which was the case in Boston when the Celtics learned that “Perk” had been dealt.

“It’s not even about a teammate. It felt like you lost a family member today,” Celtics veteran power forward Kevin Garnett said about the trade. “Tough day.”

Not only was Perkins an emotional leader off the court, he brought a lot of intangibles to the court. His pure size and bulk makes him tough for any team to deal with inside. His selfless role-player’s mentality was crucial to Boston’s success. And his toughness gave the Celtics a level of intimidation that seems to have dissipated, especially with their other centers, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, battling injuries.

Whether or not the trade had anything to do with it, the Celtics stumbled to the finish line going 5-5 in their last 10. They will need to regain their intensity if they hope to get back to the finals in what is becoming an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

THE STARS:

Each team has a core of proven veteran superstar players. For the Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony provide the one-two punch. Stoudemire averaged 25.2 points per game, and 8.2 rebounds per game and Anthony finished the year at 25.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG. The offense shouldn’t be a problem for the Knicks, if they are going to win this series though they are simply going to have to play better defense than they have the entire season. Amar’e can be a factor on the inside defensively with his freakish athleticism. He averaged nearly two blocks per game on the year. He will have to make sure to stay out of foul trouble because the Knicks really cannot afford to have him lose any playing time. Many have suggested that Anthony steps up his defense in big games; well it’s time to see if that is true.

The Celtics still have their ballyhooed “big three” of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The triumvirate led Boston to a championship in 2008 and they were back in the finals last year where they fell to their longtime arch rivals the Los Angeles Lakers. The most impressive aspect of “the big three” is how each of them was able to alter their games to fit what the team needed to be successful. Something that is not easy to do as was proved by the Miami heat and their “big three” this year.

KEY MATCHUP:

It is no secret that Chauncey Billups isn’t the player he was during his prime years playing for the Pistons. Billups is still smart and tough, and willing and able to hit a big shot, but he has certainly lost a step. That being said, he will have a hard time matching up with the Celtics lightning fast point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo set a career high with 24 assists against the Knicks in the teams’ first meeting of the season. He showed what he is capable of last year in the playoffs when he had two triple-doubles including a 29 PTS, 18 REB, 13 ASST and 2 STL performance against the Cavaliers.

Though he is not mentioned in among “the big three” for Boston, at this point in all their careers Rondo is certainly in the same tier as them. In fact, he is probably the single most important player for the Celtics because as the point guard he runs their entire offense.

Rondo has publicly stated that Perkins was his best friend on the team and he has not seemed to be the same player since the trade.

X-FACTOR:

The Knicks might consider starting Toney Douglass at point guard because he has the speed and defensive ability to better matchup with Rondo. Douglass has shown the ability to change games with his three point shooting ability; however, he will also go through long cold streaks. For the Knicks to be successful, Douglass needs to make smart decisions on when to shoot and when to pass. In addition, the rest of the Knicks are going to have to compensate for the energy that is lost from having Landry Fields get less playing time.

PREDICTION – CELTICS IN 6

Honestly, the Knicks will be lucky to gut out two wins in this series. The Celtics are a championship caliber team. Don’t read anything into their late season swoon. Many teams that are successful year after year lose interest in the weeks leading up to the playoffs when their fate is pretty much written. Boston will flip the switch back on they will be at the top of their game right out of the gate.

The Knicks are starting to put the pieces in place. They have the superstars, which is the hard part. In the coming years they will have to surround Stoudemire and Anthony with some better role players, particularly big men. The biggest hole on the Knicks roster is their lack of a true center.

Expect all the games to be close. The Knicks can score with anyone and they realize they have an incredible opportunity in front of them. Their energy should be unbelievable and as long as they can stay focused they should be in every game. In the end the depth and experience of the Celtics will be enough for them pull through.

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Mo Cassara tweets by in first year as Hofstra Coach

March 30, 2011 2 comments

If full scale revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were not enough to convince you that social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are more than just a great way to stay in touch with old friends, maybe you need to talk to Hofstra men’s basketball coach Mo Cassara. Better yet, just tweet @Coach_Cassara and expect quick response.

After a morning jog with his dogs, Cassara is usually signed in to Facebook by six.

In his first year coaching Division I hoops, the Hofstra coach has used social media go from being a relative unknown upon landing the job to a virtual rock star on campus.

“One of the things I set out to do when they asked me to be the head coach, I said ‘I’m going to do this a little differently than they’ve done it in the past and I’m going to give this a little different flare’ and the social media has been a great vehicle for that,” Cassara recounted.

Feel free to friend Coach on Facebook, even though you will be one of over 1,700, you can still expect a message to appear on your wall within a few hours. While you are browsing his profile, be sure to check out the iconic picture of Cassara in stands celebrating with fans who are holding him up by the legs.

Mo Cassara

Mo Cassara courtesy of Hofstra Sports Fan Connection

“Kids felt they could communicate with me, not just the basketball program, they could actually interact with me,” Cassara said referring to how he has used social media to create a buzz among students. “When I respond back to them, I think that goes a long way”

Cassara goes so far as to carry two separate cellular phones. One he uses to make calls and the other he uses for social networking.

“I like the iPhone better to do Twitter and do Facebook” the energetic Coach said with a chuckle.

After using social media to introduce himself to the community, then to build up his fan base, Coach Cassara proved for a third time what a fecund tool Facebook could be — this time on the recruiting trail. Cassara described how a speech impediment made one of his most highly sought after players tough to communicate with.

“He just wasn’t good on the phone,” Cassara said. “I sent that kid a Facebook message every morning.”

Cassara’s persistence and ingenuity paid off in the end when he landed his recruit. The coach was even able to joke about a minor recruiting violation he accidently committed when he re-tweeted a high school player’s tweet about signing with Hofstra the night before the player actually signed.

While he admits that using social media comes naturally to him, the degree to which he uses these sites as tools to facilitate his success is outstanding. It will be interesting to see how Cassara’s digital social skills translate into wins and losses going forward into the post Charles Jenkins era.

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Hofstra baseball drops rubber game to Delaware

March 20, 2011 1 comment

The University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens beat the Hofstra Pride 7-2 in the final game of a three game weekend series at University Field in Hempstead, NY. With the win Delaware improves to 5-1 in Colonial Athletic Association play while Hofstra falls to 2-4.

Chad Kuhl held the Pride scoreless over 7 innings

Chad Kuhl held the Pride scoreless over 7 innings

Freshman starting pitcher Chad Kuhl was outstanding for the Blue Hens, scattering four hits over seven shutout innings. He fanned seven Hofstra hitters en route to his first career victory. Kuhl showed off a hard fastball, and he kept hitters off balance by throwing his breaking pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate.

“He established his zone down,” Hofstra head coach Patrick Anderson said of Kuhl. “He did a good job and he was aggressive in the zone.”

The game was scoreless into the fourth inning when Delaware centerfielder Hank Yates turned on an inside pitch and muscled it over the left field fence for a solo homerun.

The homerun seemed to unnerve Hofstra starting pitcher Jared Rogers who was in control of the game up until that point. After the long ball, Rogers hit the next batter. He then threw a wild pitch letting the runner advance to second before giving up a run scoring double by Delaware’s Alex Mottle.

Coach Anderson removed Rogers from the game after Mottle’s double, but Mottle would come around to score on a sacrifice fly leaving Rogers with a final line of 3.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB and 4 K. He was charged with the loss making his record 0-3.

The already nightmarish top of the fourth inning, and it ended on a scary note for the Pride. With Delaware’s Logan Gallagher on first base, leadoff hitter DJ Long smashed a double into the right centerfield gap. Gallagher tried to score on the play, but when a strong relay throw from second basemen Bobby Gazzola beat him to the plate, Gallagher collided with Hofstra catcher Matt Reistetter.

“He said he saw him slide feet first, I didn’t see it that way,” Coach Anderson said of his discussion with umpires after the play. “All I know is I saw the shoulder go into him and that’s what I saw. I’m looking to protect my player; someone’s going to get hurt here.”

Even though the umps deemed it a clean play, and did not eject Gallagher, it was a moot point because Gallagher injured his leg on the play and was removed from the game by Delaware’s Coach Jim Sherman. Two innings later, Gallagher left the field on a stretcher with his right leg in a protective brace. Reistetter was not hurt and he remained in the game.

The Hens cushioned their lead by adding two runs in the fifth and two more in the seventh. Designated hitter Nick Ferdinand drove in three runs for U.D.

Hofstra got on the board in the bottom of the eighth when centerfielder Danny Poma pushed an opposite field homerun over the fence in right. They added a run in the ninth on an RBI double by T.J. Thomas which plated pinch hitter Kenny Jackson. In limited playing time, the freshman outfielder, Jackson, has shown promise hitting .500 in 12 at bats.

“When we stay on balls and we’re disciplined at the plate and we have that approach we have a chance, we just didn’t show that today,” Anderson said of his team’s lackluster performance at the plate.

Hofstra is 17-58 all-time against Delaware. About 130 fans filled the bleachers at University Field for the game Sunday. After ending Delaware’s five game streak Friday afternoon in the opening game of the series by winning 4-2, Hofstra lost 5-6 on Saturday.

“We wanted two out of three, we expect it every single time,” said a disappointed Anderson after Sunday’s loss. “We need to have that mentality every single time going into a weekend. We saw the games, they were close enough to where there is a sweep, or there is a two out of three expected from us.”

The Pride will try to enact Anderson’s winning mentality Wednesday as they travel to the Bronx to take on Manhattan College at 3 p.m. Hofstra will be back at home next weekend for a three game series with CAA rival Towson. The games will take place Friday at 3 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

 

Box Score

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The steroid era revisited: Collateral damage

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

On August 7, 2007 an accused cheater, Barry Bonds, dubiously robbed Hank Aaron of the most prestigious record in professional sports.  While Aaron’s legacy was forever altered by performance enhancing drugs, perhaps there was a more rueful victim of the steroid era in baseball. Young men across the country were robbed of opportunity, something that is perhaps more valuable than even the highest honors and the richest rewards.

Sean Brown played baseball for Dominican College in Orangeburg, NY, a small school few have ever heard of, in a small town near the banks of the Hudson River.

During his senior year, Brown started every game in right field for the Chargers. Along with being a team captain and emotional leader, he led his team in most statistical categories, hitting .344 with a .461 on-base percentage, and 39 stolen bases in 43 attempts.

“I definitely felt like I had a chance to make it to another level,” Brown admitted. “Why shouldn’t I get a chance at playing at a higher level? If you’re successful every year in college, you should be able to get a chance to move on professionally, that’s how I felt.”

During his four year tenure at Dominican, which ended in 2008, Brown saw six of his teammates get drafted by MLB teams.

“I consider myself on the bubble,” Brown said, meaning he feels like his talent and play merited at least a look from MLB teams. Asked if he feels like he was just as good as any of those six teammates who were afforded that prestigious opportunity he immediately responded, “Absolutely.”

The million dollar question would then be:  How many players drafted instead of Sean Brown achieved their success with the help of performance enhancing drugs?

“I know specific players,” Brown said, without revealing any names. After a short calculation in his head, he estimated that if you extrapolate from his experience in college baseball, anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of players used PEDs. Not exactly scientific research, but Brown’s rudimentary calculation provides a rare glimpse into the metaphorical “Game of Shadows” which has taken place in baseball locker rooms for the past three decades.

“I never used them; I’m totally against it.” Brown lamented, “I felt pissed off when I saw other people use them. If they’re at the same level as me, and they got higher because of it, that’s pretty frustrating.”

Apparently there were testing policies in place by the NCAA, but they were so lenient that Brown seemed unsure of the protocol. He said that in his four years he was never tested. Only once was anyone on his team ever tested, and they were “redshirt” players, or players not even on the active roster.

Though he admitted “there were times when [he] wanted to take [them],” Brown pointed to a multitude of reasons why he avoided the temptation. Everything from an innate sense of morality to respect for the game itself came up.

In the end, Brown displayed foresight in knowing that he would not be able to bear to look back on a life where his integrity was compromised.

“If I make it to a major league level, I would think it was because of that and not on my own merit.”

Would his own merit have been enough to get him to the big leagues?  Even the self-confident Brown would not dare to suggest such an unlikely feat.

“It’s a grind going from rookie ball, to A-ball, to Double-A, to Triple-A, and then to the show.”

Regardless of what the result might have been, it is an opportunity he and others like him deserved. If he got his chance and came up short, Brown truly believed that he could, “be satisfied by failing.”

Talking about when he was finally forced to give up pursuit of his dream to be a professional baseball player, Brown sounded a bit like a recovering addict.

“I put in at least eight hours a day training for baseball, if it’s working out, hitting, fielding, looking up videos on pitchers; I did that all day, every day,” he said. “It was a lifestyle that I had since high school, so it’s not easy to just stop cold turkey.”

How hard was it for Brown to give up?

“It was crazy how hard it was; there are still days where I get offered to play in tournaments and I have to say no.”

Despite his plight, Brown says that he is still a baseball fan and that he enjoys watching the games on TV. In addition, he says he is grateful for the experiences he had barnstorming the country with his teammates and the people he got to meet along the way.

“I met my fiancée through baseball,” a suddenly blithe Brown gushed. “That’s pretty awesome. If that’s my fate as far as baseball, great, I’ll accept that…hopefully it was.”

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Hofstra’s late surge not enough to beat Rider

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Hofstra baseball team lost their home opener 9-8 against the Rider Broncs on Tuesday. The Pride trailed 9-0 late into the game. After rallying for three runs in the seventh and four in the eighth, Hofstra got one more in the bottom of the ninth, but left the winning run stranded on second base.

It was poor pitching and sloppy defense that doomed the Pride early in the contest.  A combination of four errors along with two walks and two hit batsmen in the first three innings allowed the Broncs to take a 6-0 lead. Rider added a run in the fifth when yet another hit batsmen came around to score.

Rider's A.J. Albee hit a long homerun in the 6th inning

The Broncs then turned to the long ball to pad their lead. In the top of the sixth, Rider second basemen A.J. Albee crushed the first pitch he saw from Hofstra’s Gregg Lettini over the left centerfield fence. Rider made it 9-0 in the seventh when shortstop John Ralston squeezed one inside the leftfield foul pole.

Freshman Kyle Kennett was able to hold the Hofstra bats in check for most of the game. He breezed through the first six innings allowing no runs on only three hits.

Hofstra finally broke through in the seventh when freshman Brian Verbitsky laced a triple into the right centerfield gap scoring two runs. Verbitsky crossed the plate one batter later on fellow freshman Kenny Jackson’s opposite field single.

It was more of Verbitsky and Jackson in the eighth for the Pride. With the bases loaded Verbitsky picked up two more RBI with a single. Jackson followed by again going opposite field, this time smashing a line drive over the centerfielders head into the gap in left-center. Two runners scored on Jackson’s double pulling the Pride to within two.

It seemed auspicious for Hofstra when it was none other than Verbitsky who came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run on third and the winning run on second. There was no joy in Hempstead, however, as Verbitsky did his best “Casey at the Bat” watching the first two pitches, before swinging and missing at the third, ending the Pride’s comeback hopes.

Hofstra’s freshman pitcher Everett Keller got his first career start, but he was chased after only 1.1 innings and was charged with his first loss of the year. Conversely, Kennett got his first career win for the Broncs. Chris Taylor earned his first save of the season.

About 50 fans braved the chilly, cloudy weather to watch the game on an afternoon where Rider red was just as common as Hofstra blue in the bleachers. With the win, the Broncs improve their record to 6-7. Hofstra falls to 1-11.

Hofstra will play host to the University of Delaware in a three game series at University Field this weekend. The game times are as follows: Friday at 3 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 pm.

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Sledge leads Hills West past Elmont in Long Island finals

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Word on the street is Tavon Sledge doesn’t like to lose.  The senior point guard from Half Hallow Hills West set a Long Island Championship record scoring 46 points.  The preeminent Sledge virtually carried his Colt’s past the Elmont Spartans by a final score of 79-75 in double overtime of the Long Island Class AA finals for boys basketball.

“He refuses to lose; Tavon Sledge is a winner, end of story,” Coach Bill Mitaritonna said of his star. As if they had discussed it beforehand, minutes later on the other side of the gym, Sledge backed up his coach by telling reporters plainly and simply, “I refuse to lose.”

As it turns out, however, they had discussed it beforehand.  “He told me during the game, he said coach I’m not losing this game,” a proud Mitaritonna recounted.

Hills West celebrates their second straight L.I. championship

Hills West celebrates their second straight L.I. championship

Sledge scored early and often. He was 12-for-18 on foul shots and 16-for-33 from the field, but no shot was bigger than his 3 pointer that tied the game with seconds left in the first overtime period.

“I’m never afraid to take the big shots, make or miss,” Sledge said after the game. “I just do whatever they need from me to let my team win the game.”

The keys to Sledge’s game are incredible quickness and leaping ability mixed with a high basketball IQ. At times it looked like the 5’8’’ Sledge was on a pogo stick as he out jumped guys that were nearly a foot taller than him. To open the scoring in overtime, Sledge burst past one defender with a lightning first step, then used a head fake and hesitation dribble to beat a second defender before simply rising above a third defender for a lefty layup.

Though it would be easy to go on and on about Sledge’s dominance, Coach Mitaritonna eventually gave up:  “I don’t know what else to say, the kid is just unbelievable.”

For their part, the Spartans played a brilliant game. They had six players score in double figures, and they controlled the glass grabbing 34 rebounds compared to only 19 for Hills West. Anthony Elechi led Elmont with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Greg Senat added 12 points and seven rebounds. Senat was efficient going 6-for-8 from the field, and he seemed to be in the middle of every big play for the Spartans.

Devin Guerre scored 11 points off the bench for the Spartans including a game saving buzzer beater at the end of regulation. Down by two with 5 seconds on the clock, off a purposefully missed foul shot by Elechi, Guerre swooped in grabbed the offensive rebound and sent the game into overtime with a righty layup from the left side of the basket.

The game took place in front of a raucous crowd at the Stony Brook University Sports Complex. Elmont fans spent most of the game jeering the referees, and perhaps rightfully so. Sledge’s 18 foul shots alone were five more than the entire Elmont roster.  Three key Spartans, Senat, Guerre and point guard Dillon Williams fouled out of the game.

The loss snaps a 17 game winning streak for Elmont which dated back to December 17.

Hills West has now won back to back Long Island Class AA titles. They will head up to Glens Falls to face Mount Vernon this Saturday in the New York State semi-finals; they hope they can earn a return trip to the New York State Championship, where they lost a year ago.

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Elmont basketball wins first ever Nassau County championship

March 7, 2011 3 comments

Audio:Elmont Coach George Holub discusses winning the Nassau County Championship

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F11522611

 

The Elmont Spartans boys basketball team earned its first county championship in school history, outlasting the top-seeded Bruins of Baldwin 32-29 in the Nassau Class AA finals. The Spartans did not have a field goal the entire 4th quarter, but they went 8-for-9 on foul shots and managed to escape with the victory.

“We’ve been preaching free-throws since the beginning. If you look at us back in December we were shooting terrible from the free throw line,” Elmont head coach George Holub told reporters after the game, “We just make it a concerted effort every day in practice to shoot a large number of free-throws.”

Defense was the true theme of the day.  Both teams struggled to find ways to score as Baldwin finished the game with a field goal percentage just above 20%, and Elmont was not much better at 29%.

Baldwin Coach Darius Burton unleashed an aggressive pressure defensive set early. The Bruins stymied a 9-0 Elmont run to start the game by switching to a 1-2-1-1 full court trap defense.

It was Elmont’s Coach Holub, however, who had the final ace in the hole. After having reclaimed the lead with :43 to go, Elmont sprung a full court  trap after not having pressed all game. Baldwin was caught off guard and turned the ball over on an errant pass.

“Once we got the lead, we knew the clock was down and we knew if we could get the ball out of [Brandon] Williams’ hands, get it into one of the other kids hands, they’re not the best ball handlers and they’re not used to making decisions,” Holub said of the tactic, “that’s why we amped the pressure up after the time out, and you know what, it worked.”

Elmont held Baldwin to only 29 PTS in the Nassau County finals at Hofstra University

Baldwin, who averages about nine 3-point field goals per game and had 12 threes in their quarterfinal blowout of Bellmore JFK, only managed two against the Spartans.  “We played great defense, we closed out well on their shooters,” Holub explained.

Much of Baldwin’s success this season has hinged on their dominant rebounding. The Bruins feature three of the top 15 rebounders in Nassau County. When asked before the game how he planned on keeping Baldwin off the glass, Coach Holub expressed confidence in his team: “I got pretty good rebounders too, I got some big kids.”

As it turns out, Holubs claims were not mere hubris. Everyone pitched in on the glass for Elmont, from the big men to the guards. Senior Anthony Elechi led the way with 13 boards. Junior center Greg Senat added 11, forward Tyler Dechalus had 7, and starting guards Dillon Williams and Robert “Rocky” Chambers had 5 and 3 respectively.

Other than it being their first county title in school history, the win was especially significant for Coach Holub and the Spartans because of the obstacles they faced along the way. There have only been three schools to win the Class AA title since 1992, which for reference, is the year before any of the current crop of Spartan ballers were born. Uniondale has won seven titles since 1992; Elmont beat them 59-52 in the quarter finals. Hempstead has won 10 out of the last 18; Elmont beat them 66-42 in the quarter finals. Baldwin, who has been to the finals each of the last five years, won the crown in 2008.

“Our road to the championship this year we had to go through each of the champions to become a champion” Holub gushed after the game. When asked how it felt to be a champion, he was only able to conjure one word, “unbelievable.”

With the win, the Spartans extend their winning streak to 17 games. Their last loss came on December 17 against Bellmore JFK in their third game of the season. They will take on Suffolk county champion Half Hallow Hills West next Sunday at Stony Brook University in the Long Island Championship.

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