Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few Of The Things We Can Be Thankful For

Another Thanksgiving is upon us, but the holiday is more than about a glutinous feast which is often extended in the form of luscious sandwiches.

But, the day is meant to be more than just eating turkey. Its roots trace back to the Pilgrims, more than 400 years ago, and is meant, like then, to give thanks and a blessing for their feast and harvest.

As fans of the MAAC, we have plenty to give thanks for. Over the past 31 years the conference has provided uncounted basketball occurrences that have excited and thrilled.

I'm certainly thankful to have been around the league, in some form or other, for its entirety. I'm thankful to be able to cover a league that doesn't have all the issues that often exist at the high-major level, a league that does things the right way; a league that truly emphasis the first part of the student-athlete equation.

I'm thankful for having this forum to share my thoughts, and for having a relatively large following. As always, thanks for reading.

I'm also thankful for ...

- Seeing a couple dozen games of the MAAC's first scoring champion, a pint-sized Army guard named Kevin Houston, who averaged 32.9 points per game in the 1985-86 season.

- Seeing, from afar, former MAAC coaches Paul Hewitt (Siena) and John Beilein (Canisius) take teams to the NCAA tournament's championship game (Hewitt with Georgia Tech, Beilein with Michigan).

- Seeing the league lose members and gain other quality programs, the latest being Quinnipiac and Monmouth. And, early results indicate both the men's and women's teams at those schools will immediately be competitive once league play begins.

- An annual western New York swing. Nothing like those chicken wings ... and, I favor the Anchor Bar over Duff's, but look forward to many more samplings of both.

- Being around to witness a plethora of mid-major greatness, watching among others Lionel Simmons, Keydren Clark, Luis Flores, Marc Brown and Doremus Bennerman, Jason Thompson, and Steve Burtt Sr. on the men's side and Rachel Fitz, Patty Stoffey and Melanie Halker on the women's side.

- A seeing that a very good friend, Gina Castelli, is back in the profession as the head coach at Division II Le Moyne and is off to a 4-1 start there, revitalizing a program that had six wins total last season.

- Witnessing at least five or six games annually during the Brian Giorgis era with the Marist women's program, having access to a couple of his practices and getting a bit of a glimpse of what goes into that team's unparalleled success in our conference.

- That the league is able to attract former major-league connections ... Jeff Bower at Marist, who was in the NBA in a variety of capacities for 15 years, and Pat Coyle at Saint Peter's, who was a WNBA head coach for five seasons ... back to our sidelines.

- For the lengthy NBA career of former Siena assistant Steve Clifford who became the first former MAAC men's coach to become an NBA head coach. Clifford is in his first season as the coach with the Charlotte Bobcats.

- For having a first-class facility in Albany in the form of the Times Union Center which has proven to be the best place to hold the conference's post-season tournament.

- For being able to have a professional relationship with so many quality individuals who serve as league coaches, among those (but, not all-inclusive) Mike Deane, Paul Hewitt, Jimmy Patsos, Beilein, Joe Mihalich, Tommy Dempsey, John Dunne, Dave Magarity, Jeff Ruland, Mitch Buonaguro, Sydney Johnson and Barry Rohrssen ... and not because of any particular level of success, but because they all understood the role of the media and were/are easy to deal with.

- The same for women's coaches ... Gina Castelli, Pat Coyle, Terry Zeh, Tony Bozzella, Joe Frager, Brian Giorgis, Joe Logan, Bill Agronin and Mike Granelli.

- For witnessing the rebounding success of O.D. Anosike, the league's first two-time national rebounding leader.

- For watching the excitement of up-tempo offensive attacks, particularly those of Paul Hewitt at Siena and Tim Cluess of Iona, whose teams' point-per-game averages have been among the national leaders.

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. The MAAC is a darned good place for mid-major level basketball and has created 31 years and counting of terrific memories.

In truth, though, what we see from sports is an entertain and a diversion.

More important are the things we have in real life, the same things the Pilgrims gave thanks for nearly 400 years ago.

As we approach this particular holiday, let's all be thankful for family members and good friends, those in our lives that we truly love, both those with us and those no longer.

Oh ... and, let's also be thankful for a good ol' turkey dinner with all the fixings.

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