A Real Basketball Player Previews the College Hoops Season
Longtime readers of this blog have been anxiously anticipating the return of the Atlantic 11, our weekly, pithy look at the top 11 Division I men's basketball teams in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Last year's runaway Atlantic 11 champion was Georgetown, as expected, but what followed was not: George Mason, Virginia Tech and UMBC? Maryland languishing at seventh? Mount St. Mary's ahead of Virginia? The drama never ceased. And tomorrow, it begins again.
As expected, we had some turnover in the voting ranks. Twenty-eight voters lost their zest for life and departed. More importantly, 39 new suckers volunteered for a year of comparing SOS between Morgan and Coppin States.
It's a bizarrely qualified group. One new voter is Facebook friends with Pops Mensah-Bonsu, one once stood on David Robinson's shoulders to dunk a basketball and played grade school hoop with Wojo, and one asked his parents for a Yinka Dare jersey in 1994. One recently went to Ukraine and asked "young and old, male and female" and no one had heard of Oleksiy Pecherov, one runs the popular Storming the Floor college basketball blog, and one blogs on Yahoo Sports's The Dagger. One has attended both Mount St. Mary's and Maryland, one is a student at American (after he was rejected by Georgetown), and one works for the William & Mary SID office. One works for The Motley Fool and promises poorly performing stock tips, one is a member of the Barra Brava, and one doesn't root for any local team and is in fact a Notre Dame fan. One blogs about Virginia sports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, another blogs about Baltimore sports and a third blogs about D.C. sports. One sent an application that included something about "the harvesting of south migrating blue crabs," one is a high school basketball coach, one is a Wizards employee, one is a Nationals employee, and, most wondrously, one is named Chris Stratton.
You might remember Chris, insofar as he actually played for William & Mary last season. No, Boom Osby hasn't volunteered yet. And no, I can't promise that Gary Williams isn't already voting under an assumed name. "Markus Videnieks," perhaps.
Anyhow, with local games about 48 hours away, here's a Q&A with Chris about local gyms, local fans, the Tribe's breakout year, and the cosmic importance of the Atlantic 11.
How much attention would you guys pay to preseason polls and media previews and all that?
We never really paid much attention to preseason polls at W&M -- sadly, not even one as prestigious as the Atlantic 11. But this was mostly because we knew nobody would ever pick us to win anything or even be remotely competitive. We were picked to finish 10th in the CAA preseason poll last year, and that was the highest we had been picked since the league expanded to 12 teams in '05-'06.
Our coaches would normally use the fact that we had been picked so low in one or two pre-game speeches per year, but that was about the only purpose they served for us.
How important was W&M's standing in the Atlantic 11 poll?
As last season went on and we started winning a little bit, a few people started to take notice of us. But what really got our confidence going was when we started showing up in the Atlantic 11. Sure, we were playing good defense and taking care of the ball, but our swagger really came from seeing our name in the 'Others Receiving Votes.' That's really what I was in it for. And coming from a walk-on who averaged 1.7 ppg, I'm sure that means a lot.
What's the best way to keep up with hot league-wide CAA news? Did you try to keep up while you were playing? Will you this year?
I tried to catch any CAA game that was ever on TV so I could get a look at the teams we'd be playing and see what they do well, but that's a little tough when there's only a couple of CAA games on Comcast [SportsyNet] a week. There are the CaaZone.com message boards also. Some players read them, but most probably don't. There was normally pretty good incentive to not read them when playing at William & Mary because most people weren't saying very nice things about us.
My normal rule was to read them in the preseason and postseason, but not during the season, because I would just get mad. VCU, ODU and Mason fans are always posting on there, but normally the worst stuff we read came from our own fans. Last season, once we started winning, I allowed myself to take a look at the boards 'cause I figured people would be saying better things, which was mostly true. Now that I'm not playing, I definitely keep up with the CAA by reading the message boards and other CAA - related sites. I also talk to our coaching staff pretty frequently to keep up-to-date with how the team is looking.
Exactly how does a former Tribe player root on his team during his first year in the real world?
I'm not sure how a former Tribe player roots on his team during his first year in the real world, but it starts with taking a half-day of work on Friday and forcing his wife to do the same, and dragging her up to State College to watch the Tribe open up against Penn State, then drive back home. It's exactly how any new wife would want to spend her Friday after a long week at the office. Once the schedule for the season came out, I wrote down about seven or eight games that I definitely wanted to get to this season, so hopefully I'll be able to make it (i.e. she'll let me go) to most of those.
I imagine you played in most of the DI gyms in Virginia over the years. Which is the best venue? Who has the best fans?
I played in the majority of D-I gyms in Virginia, and the nicest ones were the Constant Convocation Center at ODU and the Siegel Center at VCU. They are both pretty modern and they always have good fan turnout. Mason has the best band in the CAA, and they play right next to the end of our bench, making it pretty tough to hear anything coaches say during a timeout. Fortunately for me, I was hardly ever in the game, so I never missed anything important that I couldn't hear.
I actually think that JMU has really good fans, all 58 of them. Their fans are really good hecklers, and if they get their program turned around a little bit, I imagine that it would be a tough place to play. After one of our wins there a couple years ago, Coach Shaver almost got into it with a few of their fans right at the end of the game. They were saying some not-so-nice things about his mustache. I should note that we didn't play at UVA's new arena, which I hear is pretty nice.
How much cred does being a former walk-on at William & Mary bring you in the workplace?
So far, being a walk-on at William & Mary hasn't done much for me. I work with several W&M grads, and oftentimes when somebody first learns I was on the team, they either don't know how the team is because they've never been to a game, or they say something to the effect of, "Isn't our team not very good?" Which, ironically, is about the same reaction you'd get from about half of the current students.
People who know sports definitely think it's cool, and several of my co-workers said that they saw me on TV last year during the CAA Tournament, which is pretty cool. The W&M basketball program is definitely on the rise and I think that in the coming years, being a former player might carry a little more weight. But at least for now, when people ask when the last time we made the NCAA Tournament was, I get to inform them that we're one of I think five original teams from when it started to have never made the NCAA Tournament. Come on, Tribe.
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