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Mo Cassara, mo' media

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

A regular guy who landed an irregular job in unconventional fashion, Mo Cassara has thrived in his role as head coach of the Hofstra basketball program through the use of social media.
Cassara had been an assistant coach at Boston College before he was picked up by Hofstra to work as an assistant under newly appointed head coach Tim Welsh.  In just over a month, Welsh had to resign under unfortunate circumstances, and Cassara’s future in basketball was soon uncertain. “I was 24 hours from being out of the sport”, Cassara said.
He was soon hired as the new head coach of the Hofstra basketball program, despite living in the dorms as a 3rd or 4th assistant coach in just his fifth week with the team.

What makes Cassara so unique, other than his youth, is his ability to connect with young kids through social media outlets used everyday by students and players.  Mo is a regular Facebook and Twitter user, and carries a separate phone with him just to interact with his team and fan base.
When asked if he responds to fans and students that contact him through social media, Cassara replied, “Sure I do… when I respond back, it creates a good buzz on campus”.

He also discussed his approach towards recruiting and establishing relationships with his potential future players.  “I’ll wake up at 6AM and send them a Facebook message”, Mo said when referring to the players he was recruiting.  By communicating with players through the same social media outlets they use every day, he is putting himself on their level.

Cassara emphasizes the significance of connecting with people, an important characteristic for someone whose job description requires him to attract young talent, maximize the talent he’s given, and answer to the all mighty and demanding media.  “It’s all about building relationships”, he said.

Cassara’s relationship with the media and his philosophy towards facing it has also been a strength of the personable young coach, who had handled the firing of Welsh with grace and class.  “I have to be the same person all the time.  It gives you credibility with the media”.

Gaining the trust of his players, fans and the students seemed to be a major priority for the first year head coach, who exceeded expectations by finishing tied for second in the conference. He noted how important his relationship was with leading scorer Charles Jenkins. “Charles helped me get through my first year”, he said when referring to his help both on and off the court.

Mo Cassara is division one college basketball coach who understands the significance of technology in his particular business.  He was given an opportunity most people never see, and he’s ran with it with the help of the most up to date form of communication- social media.

 

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Mo Cassara: A skilled coach of the zeitgeist

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

 

When measuring popularity by today’s standards, Hofstra University’s head basketball coach Mo Cassara is awfully popular—He has 1, 740 Facebook friends and 1,423 twitter followers. These are numbers he garnered by using social media to create relationships with students, players and potential recruits for his team.

“The way the campus communities communicate, the way things happen­­, I think you have to be willing to change a little bit– You have to be willing to be a little different,” said Cassara.

Cassara learned quickly the velocity at which change can occur in the business. After working as an assistant under Tim Welch, Cassara was hired as Hofstra’s head basketball coach when Welch was ousted for a DUI in 2010. He came on as a virtually unknown name in the CAA.

“Nobody knew who I was at all, and that was part of my job from that day forward, to try and tell people,” he said.

His knack toward social media proved to be functional. By sending relevant tweets and updating his facebook page, people began to recognize Cassara on campus. Suddenly, seats at the stadium began to fill up and press conferences became standing room only.

“I am on twitter, and I carry one phone that I just do social media on,” he said.

Cassaea uses social media to court potential players and recruits in tandem with traditional phone calls and sit-downs.

“I would take the time and I would go through their profiles [potential recruits] and if they were doing something, then I would come back and comment about something they were doing. It might not even be about basketball,” he said

Cassara credits his use of social media for creating a personal familiarity with recruits that did not exist prior to this platform.

“I think the kids felt they could communicate with me,” he says. Not just the basketball program, but they could interact with me. I respond back to them, I think that goes a long way,” he said.

A typical day for Cassara starts with sending out messages on facebook, tweeting and re-tweeting, all before having his morning coffee at six o’clock in morning.

“There is no other coach that is sending a kid a facebook message at six o’clock in the morning, lets be honest,” he said.

Now apart of the Hofstra parlance, Cassara has to be careful what he sends out into the social media sphere. He was cited for a violation after he re-tweeted a tweet from an unsigned, but committed recruit.

“You can’t just say what you want to say all the time,” he said.

For now, however, Mo Cassara is saying all the right things. He may soon change the recruiting landscape for college athletes, but presently, he is the visionary behind the concept.

“I think it is about relationships and that’s the way I operate,” he said.

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@Coach_Cassara: A Different Approach for a Different Coach

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Hofstra University's head basketball coach Mo Cassara with senior guard Charles Jenkins

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Hofstra University’s head basketball coach, Mo Cassara, has brought new meaning to the phrase, “You’ve got mail.” By 6:00 a.m., he is responding to students’ questions and building relationships with players and potential recruits via Facebook and Twitter.

“Times have changed. I think you have to be willing to change a little bit,” said Cassara.

Change came relatively quickly for Cassara after being hired to be one of Tim Welsh’s assistants. Two days after Welsh resigned as head coach after receiving a DUI in May 2010, Cassara was offered the position.

“When they asked me if I wanted to be the head coach,” said Cassara, ”I said I’m going to do this a little differently than they’ve done it. I’m going to give this a little different flair.”

As a new head coach with a name that has become part of Pride’s vocabulary, Cassara utilizes the way the world communicates via social media networks. He has 1,741 friends on Facebook and 1,427 followers on Twitter.

“I’m on it all the time,” said Cassara.

Cassara reaches out to his players through social media platforms to embrace the coach-player relationship outside the typical sit-downs.

“I think kids felt they could communicate with me. Not just the basketball program, they could interact with me,” said Cassara. “And when I respond back to them, I think it goes a long way.”

Sending corresponding Facebook messages at 6:00 a.m. to Brooklyn Boys & Girls Malik Nichols did prove to go a long way during a recruitment process. He was better able to communicate with the player through messaging rather than verbally, due to Nichol’s speech impediment.

Social media does have its limitations when it comes to what is virtually being said. Cassara re-tweeted a tweet by an unsigned recruit on Twitter. It was found to be a minor NCA violation.

“You can’t say everything you want to say all the time,” cautioned Cassara. “People watch and evaluate what you do all the time.”

Cassara is a coach that utilizes any social media that offers him virtual communication to his players, recruits or any student with questions. Not many other coaches take advantage of these social networks and that puts Cassara’s foot in the door before the rest.

“It’s the way the world communicates now, and it’ll change again,” said Cassara.

For as long as these platforms are still active, Cassara will continue to pop up on Facebook’s news feed.

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Much appreciated bad luck

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Carrying the golf bags for well-heeled men might seem like laborious punishment for most kids, but for a 12-year-old Christopher Cocozza it was access into the club that he would one day rein as winner of the prestigious Presidents Cup, at 26 years old.

For any avid golfer this sounds like the Cinderella story of caddy to club celebrity but for Chris, the journey to seeing his name on the winner plaque at Salem Golf Club in Westchester, New York, doesn’t resemble a fairy tale at all.

One of the first things you notice about Chris, now 27, are his long arms and lanky body, the ideal build for a golfer. However, it was his body that impeded him from playing golf for four years of his career.

A promising golfer, who already had wins at amateur tournaments under his belt; faced adversity when the result of a football injury at 18 left Chris with chronic lower back pain, deemed untreatable by doctors.

“I was told by five different doctors that it was just inconclusive, I knew this couldn’t be true. I needed an answer so I could get back to playing golf,” he said.

It would be another three years until Chris saw a specialist at NYU Medical Center, who identified a spinal fracture in his L5 vertebrae, an injury often caused by high impact or trauma. Five hour spinal surgery was the only treatment.

A few months after his graduation from St. Joseph’s University, Chris underwent the surgery. Following a six month recovery, Chris was determined to get back to his golf game and finally stepped back onto the greens.

“It was such an awesome feeling to be hitting balls again, but I knew I had a long way to go before I could get to where I was and then improve from there,” he said.

Chris had his sights set on winning the Presidents Cup-the clubs premiere stroke play championship- at his home course at Salem Golf Club. An ambition he dreamed of since he was a kid working as a caddy at Salem Golf Club.

As a recent college graduate in 2006, Chris took a job at Wachovia Bank. Seven months later, he lost his job in the wake of the financial meltdown.

“I felt really sorry for him, after all he had been through, but I knew he would make the best out of a bad situation,” said Tony Cocozza, Chris’s father.

His father proved to be clairvoyant. Finding it impossible to get a job in the financial industry, Chris sought out work in what he loved most- golf- and took a job in the bag room at Glen Arbor Golf Club in Bedford New York.

“It was during this year that my game really started to take-off,” said Cocozza. “Before my surgery, I was a five handicap, today I am a scratch golfer,” he said.

This opportunity enabled him to receive free instruction and play time. Chris was casually hitting balls one day at Glen Arbor, when he caught the eye of professional golfer and instructor Rob Labritz.

“He approached me and said I was a great golfer, who needed to work on my swing,” said Cocozza.

“From that day on he took me under his wing and began to mentor me,” he said.

Chris went on to start winning tournaments again, including the Danbury Amateur Cup (80-76-156).

“Losing my job was the best thing that could have ever happened to my golf game,” he said.

In the summer of 2010, Chris registered to compete in the Presidents Cup at Salem Golf Club.

“I was back to where I was pre-surgery times ten,” he said.

By the final round of the tournament the possibility of winning was surreal.

“I stayed focused but also wanted to have a good time,” said Cocozza.

Chris was tied at the 13th hole with three other players. After a few clutch pars, he built up a three shot lead by the 18th hole, where he made par to win by three shots.

“Winning that championship was such a great feeling,” said Cocozza.

Chris’s golf career isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He can not wait for the golf season to start up once again, so he can continue to work on his craft.

“Of course golf is a game where you know you can always improve, and you feel defeated more times than not. But for now, I feel pretty good,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Lacrosse Player Caught Up in the Netting of Drug Addiction

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

This story’s main subject will be called “Tyler” to protect his identity

It is 5 p.m. on April 14, 2007 and Tyler pops his twenty-sixth Oxycontin pill of the day. The room is dimly light and his body lies numb against the whitewashed walls. His college lacrosse jersey is hanging inside a dusty glass case on his wall displaying a bolded #1. The starting goalie that made Division II Final Four for his college lacrosse team was in a downward spiral of drug addiction.

Throughout his four years at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, Tyler marked his territory in the realm of lacrosse. As a freshman, he made the varsity team and transitioned into a starting goalie as a sophomore where his team won the All-Conference. The team made the playoffs during his junior and senior years and Tyler received All-County honors.

“That was the first time our high school made the playoffs in years. I was a stand-out player,” Tyler said confidently. “We made the Final Four when I was a senior and we lost to Garden City. The score was 8-4.”

In 2003, Tyler was offered a lacrosse scholarship to Long Island University. His freshman year he was redshirted, delaying his participation in order to lengthen his eligibility. He played as a starting goalie as a sophomore and his team made Division II Final Four against New York Institute of Technology. Tyler’s team was defeated.

“After the semi-finals against NY Tech, my junior year in college followed. I hurt my back playing lacrosse that year. I got hit hard after going for a ground ball. I had two herniated discs and had slipped discs. That’s when I got prescribed pain medications–Percocet and Oxycontin.”

The doctors urged Tyler to get surgery but he resisted and turned to physical therapy in hopes of saving his athletic career. When the therapy did not become his refuge, the ex-lacrosse player sank into depression.

“My whole life was sports and I realized right then, my career in athletics was over. I had more time so that’s when I began drinking and taking more pills than the doctors were prescribing me.”

Drugs started taking over Tyler’s life in 2007 and he lacked any sense of control. In an instant, he got a DWI, had his car repossessed, lost his license, dropped out of college during his senior year, and lost his lacrosse scholarship. All that became important were the pills.

“I was numbing myself to the world because I couldn’t do what I wanted. I was buying drugs from three different doctors and self-medicating myself. I was in a deep hole of drug addiction and I couldn’t stop, I didn’t want to live anymore. I hated my life.”

In the months that followed, Tyler began to get very sick from withdrawals whenever his prescription would run out. He was caught in the middle of a full-blown addiction and was incapable of getting out of it alone.

“I was taking between twenty to thirty pills a day. I had a rough last night of using. I didn’t want to wake up, I prayed to God I wouldn’t wake up. But I did. In that moment, I found clarity. I asked for help. I was desperate.”

Tyler went to a rehabilitation center for ninety days and has been sober since April 2007.

A year later, he began coaching lacrosse and wrestling at a middle school. Tyler also received his personal training certification and is currently finishing his degree at LI University for physical education. He wants to play lacrosse next year and eventually become a professional coach.

“I feel like my addiction never happened. But it’s not something that’s curable. I’m not cured. I’m just not numb to the world anymore.”

 


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One Day Later, Still Deciphering this Year’s NCAA Tournament…

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

It takes time to look at every aspect of the Men’s College Basketball NCAA tournament selections that were announced yesterday, just one credence of what is called March Madness. From the matchups, top seeds, the placement of powerhouse teams within each region; down to the selections themselves, some breathing room is needed in order to take it all in.

A day later, I am still unsure about a lot of things when it comes to the tournament. This year, possibly more than ever before, we can call out the NCAA Selection Committee on some bad decisions that they made.

Some teams have an easy road to the Final Four, while others who have earned higher seeds will have a tough task in making it out of the second round. We can question the selection of 11 Big East teams, the seeding of some teams and the exclusion of others, but there are definitely issues at hand that need to be discussed.

Florida given a #2 seed: I would love it if someone from the committee could give me a call and give me three good reasons on how the Gators scored a number two seed. Just hours before, I watched them get crushed by the Kentucky Wildcats (who were given a four seed) in the SEC Championship game, losing by more than 15 points. (Their 2nd loss of the season against UK) I wouldn’t call the SEC a powerhouse conference like the Big East or the ACC, so going 13-3 really isn’t something that should be a HUGE accomplishment for the Gators, along with a weak strength of schedule. Naming five other teams to claim the second seed in the Southeast region would be easier than finding reasons in why Florida should be there.

Eleven Big East teams? Fine with me: Much scrutiny hit the fan yesterday after 11 out of 22 teams in the Big East were granted access into the tournament. From top teams like Pittsburgh down to the sleepers in Marquette, there is no denying that the Big East is the most powerful conference in all of college basketball. The Connecticut Huskies were ranked 9th in the conference and went on to win five games in five nights and in the end, would hoist the conference trophy at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Any team with a .500 record should be guaranteed a spot in the bracket and the committee felt the same way. The Villanova Wildcats were considered a “bubble team” at the end of the season losing their last five games, including a first round upset to the University of Southern Florida, but even they were able to squeeze in as the 9th seed in the East region. The Golden Eagles from Marquette, the last team with a .500 record of 9-9 in the Big East would follow suit, named the 11th seed.Yes, there is a possibility that we COULD have an all Big East Final Four and the championship game COULD be just another rematch of a game that many had seen earlier in the season, but it is not likely. (Not to mention the 4 Big East teams that sit in the East region: Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia and Marquette)

Ohio State wishing they weren’t that #1 seed anymore: I always was under the assumption that busting your behind during the season, posting a 32-2 record, winning your conference championship and being named the top overall seed in the tournament would actually reward a team with something. Not so much for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Yes, they do go up against one of the “play-in” teams in the second round, a game that will be a walk in the park for them. But I look at the rest of the East region on their probable journey to the Final Four. What lies ahead of them is no easy feat, not even for a team with the best record in college basketball and possibly one of the best players in Jared Sullinger. If all goes according to the plan, the Buckeyes would have to play George Mason, who is ALWAYS a sleeper come March, Kentucky and either Syracuse or North Carolina. That is a rough road to cutting down the nets if you ask me, the committee wasn’t doing Ohio State any favors in naming them the top overall seed yesterday.

Notre Dame guaranteed a Final Four spot already? I wouldn’t say you should go and run to your nearest bookie and bet your life savings on the Fighting Irish, but if any team has a cake-walk to be one of the last eight standing, it’s them. The 2nd in the Southwest region starts off against the Akron Zips and will make quick disposal of them behind the shooting of Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough. But look at the teams that have a possibility of stepping in front of them. Texas A&M, Purdue, Florida State, Southern California or Virginia Commonwealth. I don’t think any of these teams pose a threat the Fighting Irish with the smallest exception to the Boilmakers of Purdue. Notre Dame’s real test will come if they end up playing the top seed in the Elite Eight, the Kansas Jayhawks. They have won their last 10 of 12 games and even though they came up short in the Big East tournament, the most important matchups are the ones that are ahead of them.

Did the Selection Committee pick the names out of a hat? Like ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who wondered if the committee knew that the ball was round, I question some of their decisions.

How can you give the Michigan Wolverines an eight seed when they have zero wins against the top 25, post just a 9-9 record in the Big Ten conference with them losing to Ohio State three times and having one of the weakest schedules in all of the field? It does not make any sense to me, but I guess they had to go somewhere.

I honestly feel bad for the Colorado Buffaloes who were left out of the tournament, for reasons that I cannot understand. They beat Kansas State three times this year who was given a number five seed and although they did not have the strongest schedule throughout the year, they also beat Texas, Missouri and Colorado State. The UAB Blazers on the other hand, were given the 12th seed IN THE TOURNAMENT and did not beat a single team ranked higher than the ones that Colorado defeated. With 5 seniors on the team who will never experience the thrill of the tourney, your heart has to go out to a team like Colorado. A group of players that deserved to get in, but was overlooked by the committee.

(There were a number of additional teams that had disputes to be included, mainly Virginia Tech who defeated Duke in the regular season. For condolences over the past five years, the NIT tourney should just be re-named the Hokie Invitational Tournament. Alabama and St.Mary’s were others to be omitted that had a valid argument.

I really cannot think of another way to choose the teams that participate in the NCAA tournament, it is a shame, but this is the best possible way to do it. There is a definitely going to be some kind of human error when it comes to choosing the teams that will compete for college hoops’ greatest prize.Year after year there will be complaints about seeding, inclusions and omissions, but this year I feel like is one of the worst. You sometimes have to question the decisions that the Selection Committee makes and the motives behind their actions, but that may be something that is impossible to find.

Have a Twitter? Check me out @ nyUddo87

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Marquette breezes past Providence after hot start

March 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Marquette opened the game with 17 straight points, digging Providence too deep of a hole for them to climb out of.  The Golden Eagles lead never fell below seven, as they defeated the lowly Friars 87-66 in Madison Square Garden.

Marquette began the game with back to back three pointers by Jimmy Butler and Darius- Johnson Odom, who scored 19 points and 23 points respectively in dominant fashion.  Providence had no answer for the more physical Golden Eagles, who found themselves out-rebounded 49-31. They were also torched in transition, as Johnson-Odom and Butler got to the rim at will on fast break opportunities and in their half court sets.

Big East leading scorer Marshon Brooks just couldn’t get anything to fall in the first half, missing shots he normally knocks down.  His teammates weren’t any better, making only 1 of their first 14 shot attempts from the floor.

Without any incentive in terms of reaching the NCAA tournament, Providence looked sluggish and disinterested, and at one point found themselves down 42-19.

As the first half was winding down, Friars guard Vince Council started to heat up.  He drilled three consecutive three pointers, pulling coach Keno Davis’ team within 13 points by half time.

Providence freshman Gerard Coleman opened up the second half with two three pointers in the first 3 minutes, cutting Marquette’s lead down to 7.  However this was as close as they would get, as Marquette would reel of 8 straight points and see their lead balloon back to 15.

Chris Otule was a force under the boards for Marquette, keeping balls alive and scoring on second chance opportunities. Darius Johnson-Odom continued having his way with Providence’s lackluster interior defense, scoring on easy drives through the lane without any disruptions on his path.

Brooks answered midway through the second half with 8 points in two minutes, but Providence just couldn’t keep Marquette out of the paint.  Jae Crowder answered with a three point play under the hoop, who finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.

With just over three minutes to play, Johnson-Odom nailed a three pointer from the corner, putting the game out of reach by giving his team a 20- point cushion.  Marquette shot 57% from the field for the game, as compared to Providence’s dreadful 30%.

It was the end of an extraordinary senior season for standout guard Marshon Brooks, who finished second in the nation in scoring at 24.8 points per game.  A likely first round pick in June’s NBA Draft, Brooks increased his scoring average over 10 points from his junior to senior year.

Marquette’s win most likely locked them up a bid to join the “Madness in March”, as they avoided what would have been their worst loss of the year. With four quality wins against Connecticut, Syracuse, Notre Dame and West Virginia, the Golden Eagles will likely be the 11th team from the Big East to be selected to play in the NCAA tournament, a record that was previously held by the Big East at eight teams.

Marquette will face West Virginia in the second round tomorrow at Madison Square Garden.

 

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