Preview: Long Island’s March Madness

February 22, 2010

We’re headed down the stretch of the most exciting and relevant college basketball season Long Island has ever seen. Jason Molinet and LI take a look at each Long Island men’s basketball team and its March outlook:

Stony Brook (20-7, 12-2; RRI: 142): The Seawolves, winners of nine straight, are enjoying their best season – by far – as a Division I program and have all but locked up their first trip to the postseason. The only question? NCAA Tournament bid or NIT. The game of the decade for the Seawolves is Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Stony Brook hosts second-place Vermont (21-8, 11-3). The game will be televised on MSG Plus. Stony Brook, which beat Vermont, 65-60, last month, can lock up the regular season conference title with a victory. The title also ensures an NIT bid and gives the Seawolves serious confidence heading into the America East Tournament March 4-7 in Hartford (with the title game on ESPN2 March 13 at noon at the higher seed). Give coach Steve Pikiell his due for bringing in young talent and leading them down the winning path. The lone senior in the lineup, Muhammad El-Amin, has been playing lights out basketball for a month now.
Best Case: Winning the America East Tournament gives Stony Brook an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: Seawolves go 25-8 and lose in the first round of the NCAAs.

Hofstra (16-13, 8-8; RPI: 157): After struggling through the first half of its Colonial Athletic Association schedule, Hofstra has rebounded in a big way, winning four in a row and seven of its last eight. The latest was a 92-89 overtime win over Rider on Sunday. Guard Charles Jenkins (profiled in LI Pulse magazine’s February issue ) led the way with 31 points and leads the conference in scoring at 20.1 ppg. And Hofstra coach Tom Pecora earned his 152nd career win, tying Paul Lynner (1962-72) for the second most in school history. The Pride closes out the regular season at home on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. against Georgia State. The CAA Tournament begins March 5 in Richmond. There is no shot at an NIT bid. The only way to extend the season is to win the CAA Tournament – and that’s not impossible with a prolific scorer in Jenkins.
Best Case: Hofstra is locked into the No. 7 seed and will play the No. 10 team in the first round of the CAA Tournament. The winner gets the No. 2 seed. Prediction: The Pride finishes 18-15 with second-round loss in CAA.

C.W. Post (20-5, 16-3): One year removed from a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament, C.W. Post has the look of a contender once again. Coach Tim Cluess has done it with an entirely retooled roster. The Pioneers’ 79-50 win over Molloy on Saturday locked up the program’s third-straight 20-win season and extended their home winning streak to a remarkable 41 games. C.W. Post is one game behind Bridgeport (20-7, 17-2) in the East Coast Conference. Aaron Hall (16.7 ppg) is third in the conference in scoring and 6-7 Serb Nemenja Jokic (7.7 rpg) is second in rebounding. The Pioneers close out the regular season at Queens College on Saturday, Feb. 27. Good news: The Pioneers host the ECC Tournament March 4-7. They’ve already locked up a first round bye. The only way to guarantee an NCAA Tournament bid is to win the ECC Tournament.
Best Case: Cluess-coached teams win the games they are supposed to. Prediction: C.W. Post wins the ECC Tournament and advances a round or two in the NCAA Division II Tournament to close out the season at 26-6.

Adelphi (18-10, 11-10): The Panthers are currently tied for eighth place in the 16-team Northeast-10 Conference. Adelphi opened the season 14-1 and ranked 25th in the Division II poll. And then? Eight losses in 10 games. Adelphi closes out the regular season Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. against New Haven. The Panthers do play great defense for longtime coach James Cosgrove. And Copiague’s do-it-all Richard Byrd has been impressive, leading the team at 19 ppg.
Best Case: Adelphi claims the No. 7 or 8 seed and a home game in the conference tournament, which begins Feb. 27 at the higher seed. The good news is the Panthers have proven they can play with top seeds Bentley and Stonehill, their likely quarterfinal draw. Prediction: 20-11.

USMMA (21-4, 12-2): Kings Point claimed the regular-season title in the Landmark Conference. The Mariners play a conference tournament semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. against No. 4 Susquehanna. Coach John Krikorian’s team has the highest scoring margin in the conference (14.5 points) and is second in rebound margin at 5.7. Former Holy Trinity star Jon Snead is the leading scorer.
Best Case: The Mariners have dominated the Landmark Conference. Two more wins and they earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament (a first for the three-year-old Landmark Conference). Prediction: 23-5.

Old Westbury (19-6, 17-3): Ranked 36th in the latest NCAA Division III poll, the Panthers clinched the Skyline Conference regular season title and are 11-0 at home. Not bad for a 12-15 team a year ago. Veteran coach Bernard Tomlin has a lineup featuring four players in double figures, led by Hakiem George and Mepham’s Lester Prosper (second in the Skyline with 8.7 rpg). Shane DeNully leads the conference in assists (6.09). The Panthers earned a first round bye in the Skyline Conference Tournament, which begins Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Best Case: Old Westbury will host a Skyline semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., facing the winner of No. 5 Farmingdale State at No. 4 Maritime. Two wins and the Panthers are in the NCAA D-III Tourney. After that, who knows? Prediction: 21-7

St. Joseph’s (17-8, 16-4): St. Joe’s of Patchogue clinched second place in the Skyline Conference and has won six in a row, including a 49-48 win over Old Westbury. Coach John Mateyko won 24 games a year ago and 21 in 2008, so the Eagles know how to get it done. In fact, the team actually won 20 games this season. But St. Joe’s was forced to forfeit three early-season wins due to an ineligible player. Former St. Anthony’s teammates Chris Jimenez and Shahab Syed lead the way.
Best Case: The Eagles await the winner of Purchase-Yeshiva in the semifinals of the Skyline Conference Tournament on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. And then, a likely title-game showdown with Old Westbury. The teams are 1-1 this season. Prediction: 18-9.

Farmingdale State (13-12, 13-7): The Rams are treading water in fifth place in the Skyline Conference. Farmingdale State went 110-35 (.759 win percentage) from 2005-09, including a magical 27-4 run a year ago. That pretty much sums up coach Erik Smiles’ wildly successful tenure. But the program’s streak of three trips in four seasons to the NCAA D-III Tournament is in doubt. West Hempstead’s Shehee Martin leads the team.
Best Case: This season is a disappointment for the Rams. No. 5 Farmingdale State travels to No. 4 Maritime for a Skyline Conference Tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Prediction: 14-13.

Molloy (11-15, 9-9): The Lions, in a tight race for fourth place in the East Coast Conference, close the regular season with three straight games at home, culminating Saturday, Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. against Dowling. Coach Charles Marquardt has a weapon in Elmont’s Brian Hutchinson. He’s an inside force, fifth in the ECC in scoring and tops in rebounding.
Best Case: A first round win in the ECC Tournament is realistic. Not much else. Prediction: 15-16.

NYIT (12-14. 9-10): The Bears are currently fifth in the ECC, with a shot at fourth place. They play their final home game Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:15 p.m. against Dowling. California JUCO transfer Jerrell Walker leads the team in scoring.
Best Case: It’s been an up and down season for coach Sal Lagano. Better luck next year. Prediction: 14-15.

Dowling (8-19, 6-13): Losers of six of its last eight in the ECC, Dowling is fighting just to qualify for the conference tournament. Games against NYIT and Molloy remain. Senior David Seagers has carried the load.
Best Case: Coach Steve Hayn’s team has lost eight games by four points or less. Dowling needs to learn how to close out games, but that’s a lesson for next season. Prediction: 8-22.

Blog originally posted at LI

Lighthouse Project Key For Economy

February 17, 2010

Here are the latest notes and thoughts from LI

Call To Action: Much has been written about the stalled Lighthouse project in recent weeks, from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sniping at Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray to the very real prospect being floated of a New York Islanders move to Queens or Brooklyn – or Kansas City.

Either way, the project clearly would have a tremendous impact on the Long Island economy. Whether you are a small fish or big player, we all have a vested interest in seeing this development get green lit in some form. From new business opportunities to the cultural implications, Long Islanders cannot afford to see this initiative fail.

That’s because more than jobs are at stake. The New York Jets abandoned Hempstead for New Jersey in 2008. The Islanders could be next. The fate of the NHL franchise is closely tied to the Lighthouse project.

Imagine an empty Nassau Coliseum as a black hole in the heart of Nassau County versus a revitalized economic zone filled with businesses and social centers. It’s a no brainer.

So LI encourages you to reach out to Kate Murray to weigh in – one way or another. This is potentially the biggest economic development project the Island has seen since the days of Robert Moses. 
To contact your town board representative, call (516) 489-5000, ext. 3200 or write to: Hempstead Town Hall, One Washington Street, Hempstead, New York 11550.

Money Mag: Attention home-based business owners. Newsday profiled a local publisher who has defied the odds with Long Island Parent magazine. Liza N. Burby was editor of Parents & Children magazine, owned by Newsday, until it was shuttered in 2008. She’s since launched Long Island Parent magazine from her Huntington Station home with $50,000 seed money from family and friends. Burby said the magazine is already profitable. Bold move. Good move. Newsday link:

Part Time: Have free time or need extra cash? The U.S. Census is still screening census takers for Nassau and Suffolk counties, with a start date some time after April 1. Pay: $18 / hour. Sign up to take a test today with the office nearest you. Veterans are given preference. Check out the web site:

Networking Pulse:  I’m a regular contributor to Long Island Pulse magazine, and a fixture at the publication’s cover parties. The latest was Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Marriott in Uniondale. I mention this because the event offers a great networking opportunity each month, and the publication is gaining traction in the community. Check out the web site for the next cover party in March. And pick up the magazine at your local bookstore.

Find Young Talent: If you’ve been part of this site for a while, you’ll know I love to promote LI Works. It’s about networking and unearthing young talent. This is from their latest newsletter: How can I help my business to grow in these challenging times?  How can I help my kids find their future on Long Island? Search for an intern, or post your internship opportunity on our Internship Connection. Join a School Business Advisory Board in your home or work area. Ask us about a Career Academy for your school district. Join our Speakers Bureau.

Biz Quiz: Should you start your own biz? Here’s an entrepreneur checklist from courtesy the Tweets of @HarvardBiz

NYC Trending: Speaking of Twitter, we are getting ever closer to a connected consciousness. Twitter recently added local trending topics – what people are tweeting about real-time. One of the regions is New York City. Very cool stuff. And if you don’t at least have a Twitter account for your business – what are you waiting for?

Blog originally posted at LI

Shante Evans: Hofstra’s Game Changer

February 15, 2010

Shante Evans may be the most heralded recruit in the history of Hofstra University. And midway through her freshman season, she’s playing like it.

The 6-foot forward from West Chester, Penn., has transformed the Pride women’s basketball team into a must-see attraction and lifted the program into the thick of the Colonial Athletic Association standings.

The high point came Thursday when Hofstra (14-11 overall, 7-6 CAA) downed then-first place Virginia Commonwealth, 74-66. The Pride has won six of its last nine, dating back to an overtime win over UNC-Wilmington on Jan. 17.

Evans is a rare game changer as a freshman, leading the team, averaging 13.4 points and 8.9 rebounds. She’s shooting 50 percent from the field and has collected more rebounds (223) and double-doubles (10) than anyone else in the CAA.

“I keep hearing from folks who have been around here a lot longer than I have –
folks who have been around 30 years – she could be the best player who ever put on a Hofstra uniform,’’ Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey said. “That’s really exciting.”

It’s no surprise. Evans, a 2,000-point scorer and shot put champion at Henderson High School, was the 54th rated prospect in the nation by ESPN, and on Kilburn-Steveskey’s radar since her sophomore year. That long courtship paid off when Evans chose the Pride over Seton Hall, West Virginia, Temple, Drexel, UMass and Penn State.

“Hofstra had everything I was looking for in a school. I was close to home, I loved the team and coaching staff and I would get a good education,’’ said Evans, who is majoring in physical therapy.

And she’s just what the fourth-year coach needed to help take the Pride to the next level. Hofstra, two seasons removed from a 20-loss campaign, went 16-14 a year ago and was upset in the first round of the CAA Tournament.

“Her actions speak more than anything I can say about her,’’ Kilburn-Steveskey said. “She’s the most coachable kid I’ve ever coached. Her eagerness to learn is one of her biggest attributes. She’ll review something on film and you’ll see her work on it that next day in practice or in a game. We haven’t even touched what her ability is going to be by the time she gets out of here.”

The Pride reached the WNIT in 2007, its first Division I postseason appearance. And with Evens already owning the low post and getting better by the day, Hofstra has the foundation laid for another postseason run.

“We are playing good basketball,’’ Evans said. “And on defense [we’re] causing problems for our opponents. I can say we are headed in right direction and we’re only going to get better.”

With five games remaining in the regular season, including a home date Thursday, Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. against George Mason, there’s still room for improvement. The Pride has already proven it can run with the pack. How long will it be before Hofstra leads from the front?

Blog originally posted at LI

Long Island’s Super Connection

February 8, 2010

When a first quarter pass zipped in and bounced off his chest on Sunday night, you wondered what the game had in store for Marques Colston. The entire world watched as the New Orleans Saints receiver killed a promising drive with this drop.

Long Island’s lone connection to Super Bowl XLIV, Colston thrived in the spotlight all season as one of the NFL’s elite pass catchers. Now the former Hofstra University star had the look of a goat.

But Drew Brees went right back to Colston on the next drive as the Saints began to claw their way out of a 10-0 hole. The wideout ended up setting up the go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown and finished with seven catches for 83 yards.

“This is what I have dreamed about since I was four years old,’’ Colston said afterward. “It’s incredible.”

There were no shortage of New York storylines for Super Bowl XLIV, and each played a key role as the New Orleans Saints rallied past the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17.

They mostly revolved around former Jets and Giants castoffs Sean Payton, Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma finding redemption as Saints. Payton was the one-time Giants offensive coordinator who lost his groove and was fired. Vilma was once the heart of the Jets defense who the brass traded away because of a bum knee. And Shockey, well, he had simply proved impossible to tame and was shipped to the exile of New Orleans.

Each found new life with the Saints. And each had Super moments against the Colts.

But Long Island’s Colston probably had the longest odds of reaching the grand stage of the Super Bowl. That’s because the Harrisburg, Penn. native saw his father die at 14 and played Division I-AA football in college at overlooked and unheralded Hofstra.

“Coming out of high school, I was 175 or 180 pounds,’’ Colston recalled in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “I wasn’t very polished as a receiver or a player. Hofstra ended up offering me a scholarship and gave me an opportunity to grow at a rate that I needed to grow. I just continued to work to get better as a player. Hopefully I’ve shown you guys what I am capable of doing.”

He played all four seasons for the Pride, starting 37 games and catching 182 passes for a school-record 2,834 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Saints drafted him in the seventh round in 2006. In just his fourth pro season, Colston is already fourth in franchise history in receptions and receiving yards and touchdowns.

Colston, now 6-4, 225 pounds, led the Saints in receiving this season with 70 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. And in Super Bowl XLIV, he turned in a workmanlike performance. Forgotten was the early miscue. What people will remember about Marques Colston is his championship mettle.

“We knew coming in this was going to be a hard Super Bowl,” Colston said. “But we believed in one another and we got it done today.”

Colston is the fifth player from Hofstra to participate in the Super Bowl, joining Ricky Bryant (Patriots, 2004 season), Willie Colon (Pittsburgh, 2008), Mike D’Amato (Jets, 1968) and John Schmitt (Jets, 1968). And considering that Hofstra shuttered its football program in December, Colston will likely be the last.

Colston represented Long Island well. And on a night when the Super Bowl couldn’t have been further away from New Yorkers in body and spirit, he gave us all someone to root for.

Blog originally posted at LI

D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s Signing Day Decision

February 2, 2010

As D’Brickashaw Ferguson blew open holes at the Pro Bowl on Sunday night in Miami, my thoughts drifted back to National Signing Day in 2002. I sat with him that day at the Freeport High School library as he signed a national letter of intent.

It was a modest affair. Freeport teammate Jerry Mackey Jr., their parents, school administrators and coach Russ Cellan looked on as the dynamic duo made a fateful college decision. Mackey, a gifted linebacker, headed to Syracuse University.

Months earlier Ferguson became the first lineman in 22 years to win the Thorp Award as Nassau County’s best high school football player. He was also considered one of the nation’s elite offensive line prospects. So he could have gone anywhere. Ferguson chose the University of Virginia, an ACC school, as much because of its academic reputation as its football status.

And he never looked back. Ferguson started four seasons at Virginia and the New York Jets made him the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

For one reason or another, many of Long Island’s most talented high school stars never quite pan out in college. Jason Gwaltney (North Babylon) and Nicole Kaczmarski (Sachem) are the poster children of failed expectations.

Mostly, these prep stars are emotionally or academically unprepared for the next level. I knew Ferguson would be different. I had a chance to see and talk to Ferguson up close for three years in high school. And as dominant as he proved to be on the football field, I was even more impressed with his mind.

He was bright and had a wide range of interests beyond sports. So as I watched the oversized tackle start for the AFC squad in the Pro Bowl, I couldn’t help but smile. D’Brickashaw Ferguson finally realized his potential and reached the pinnacle of the game.

Ferguson generated a lot of attention in the months leading up to signing day. If he wanted to go to Miami or Michigan or Florida State – powerhouses of the time – he could have. But instead of reaching for the stars, he made a decision based on more than prestige.

His signing day decision is worth mentioning because Wednesday, Feb. 3, marks yet another National Signing Day. Long Island is not a football hotbed. More than 120 high schools collectively produce no more than four to 10 Division I prospects in a given year.

I write this in hopes that the hot prospect of the moment thinks about the path Ferguson blazed. The Cavaliers just completed a 5-6 season when he signed, so playing in the national title game wasn’t on the horizon. No, he chose Virginia for academic reasons. He carried a 3.8 GPA and a scored 1000-plus on the SAT in high school.

His college choice was calculated. It was sensible. And look at where it got him? D’Brickashaw Ferguson has developed into an elite NFL player, and he did it on his terms.

Blog originally posted at LI

LI Pulse: Hofstra basketball’s Charles Jenkins

February 1, 2010

February 2010 issue of LI Pulse magazine featuring Hofstra basketball star Charles Jenkins.

February 2010 issue of LI Pulse magazine featuring Hofstra basketball star Charles Jenkins.

Title: Pride And Passion: Charles Jenkins carries the Hofstra basketball program—and a weighty past—on his shoulders
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: February 2010
Start Page: 48
Word Count: 907

Charles Jenkins literally carries a burden on his back. And it has nothing to do with basketball.

The junior guard on the Hofstra University men’s basketball team wears No. 22 in honor of his brother, Kareem Albritton, who in 2001 was shot and killed in Brooklyn at the too-young age of 22.

The violent death of a family member is something you never really get past. Just ask his coach, who understands better than most because he endures the weight of his own loss.

“I’ve talked to him intimately about it,” Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said. “I lost my first wife in a car accident. His brother was killed in a shooting. The point is, it’s how you live your life after that. It’s all about the dash. When somebody dies, the gravestone shows the day they were born and the day they died. It’s all about the dash. What did you do in between that? And I’ve asked Charles, ‘What kind of mark are you going to leave?’”

Jenkins can’t escape his past. He knows this. His coach knows it. All the Hofstra star can do is acknowledge and honor it.

So Jenkins, 20, embraces this fact, melding the tragic with the remarkable. When he became the first sophomore since Chris Mullin of St. John’s University in 1983 to win the Haggerty Award as the New York Metropolitan area’s best basketball player, he used the opportunity to speak about his fallen brother.

“I try to keep it in mind every day I step onto the floor,” Jenkins said. “That’s why I wear the number 22. He died when he was 22. He’s a major influence in my life. I play for him.”

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 220-pound Jenkins plays with a drive that’s transformed him into one of the nation’s top guards and turned Hofstra into a contender. The Pride will challenge for the Colonial Athletic Association title and berth in the NCAA Tournament after going 21-11 a year ago.

It began on the road in November against No. 1 Kansas, the first top-ranked team Hofstra had ever faced. Kansas routed the Pride, 101-65, but the experience proved invaluable.

“There are a lot of tough places to play in the CAA,” Hofstra center Greg Washington said. “But none of them will be like the crowd at Kansas. Drexel and UNC Wilmington—those are hostile environments. But Kansas is a different world. You step on the court and it’s like, ‘This is where Danny Manning played. This where Paul Pierce played.’

[Charles Jenkins] handled it like a man. He kept his head up and was always looking to make a play. 23 points is pretty hard to come by playing the No. 1 team in the country. He earned it.”

Then came a loss to perennial Big East power and 12th-ranked Connecticut, a game that the Pride actually led with 4:15 left.

“I thought that we had them,” said Jenkins, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “I thought we were going to win.”

No one has played a tougher early-season schedule. And facing the likes of Kansas guard Sherron Collins and UConn guard Jerome Dyson, each seasoned seniors with national reputations, Jenkins proved he belonged on the same stage. If Hofstra earns its fifth 20-win season over the last six years, it will be because of lessons learned facing these heavyweights in November.

“We will never play in a tougher environment,” Pecora said. “So for the rest of the year I can use that as a point of reference. ‘We’ve been to Allen Field House. The reason we went there is to be prepared for tonight.’”

Pecora has a disciple in Jenkins. The guard was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Rosedale near Green Acres mall and starred at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens. St. John’s showed interest, but the Hofstra coaching staff found Jenkins early and developed a relationship that bloomed.

Mining for guards is a Pecora specialty. Coaches fell in love with Jenkins’ physical presence and work ethic. And at a mid-major program like Hofstra, outhustling and outmuscling the big boys is how you win. Jenkins is a hard-driving, physical guard who is a magnet to the basket.

“It makes it easy for you as a coach when your best player is your hardest worker,” Pecora said. “On the court. Off the court as a leader. In the weight room. With everything he does, he’s not only vocal, he leads by example. The guys have no choice but to fall in line.”

Jenkins, an All-CAA player as a sophomore, is the only returning player in the country who averaged at least 19 points, four rebounds and four assists per game last year. And he’s put up similar numbers for the Pride this season.

He became just the second player in program history to crack 1,000 career points as a sophomore and is on pace to finish his career as Hofstra’s all-time leading scorer. But the only statistics Jenkins cares about are wins and losses.

“We’re young and athletic and like to get after it,” Jenkins said. “We can have another 20-win season. It just depends on us.”

As the leader of the Pride, it’s a responsibility on Jenkins’ shoulders. When you consider his weighty past, you realize there’s nothing he can’t handle. Jenkins stares down bigger demons each time he slips on his No. 22 jersey, a reminder that every day is precious.