By Paul Szaniawski
Forget about getting on the men’s basketball team’s bandwagon. Now that the Broncs have won the MAAC regular season championship, it’s time to get on the bus — the bus to the conference championship finals.
Led by the possibly NBA-bound forward Jason Thompson, the bucking Broncs have won a piece of the season title after tying for first place with Siena with a conference record of 13-5. With high spirits after three straight victories and a championship in its sights, the team is headed to Albany, N.Y. for the conference tournament, which begin today. Buses will be provided to shuttle students to the Times-Union Center starting tomorrow for Rider’s first game, slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.
With a win at home to close out the season over Fairfield, 87-59, on Sunday the Broncs will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament because of some complicated tiebreaker circumstances.
“We want to get out on the court and do what we set out to do this season: Win the MAAC Championships,” senior guard Kevin Hickman said.
The team captain and three other seniors, Thompson, Kamron Warner and Joel Green, were honored for their years of shooting, swishing and picking and rolling for the basketball Broncs at Sunday’s game, and then again at the Rider Rally on Tuesday.
Held in the Student Recreation Center, the pep rally saw colorful balloons, cookies, autographs and cheering fans send off the men’s and women’s basketball teams before their trips to Albany.
Senior Jeff Barron was one of the fans who wanted to wish the teams good luck. But he would like to wish good luck to Thompson as well, who local media analysts believe will be picked up by an NBA team in June’s upcoming draft.
“Not many people know this, but if you get drafted in the first round you’re guaranteed money for at least three years,” Barron said. “If you get drafted in the second round, you’re not guaranteed anything and could get cut by the team.”
Barron will travel to the tournament for the games, because of his job with Rider Athletics’ Sports Information.
The University will be supplying tickets to the games, which come with a round-trip bus ride to the Times-Union Center and back, for only five dollars. Tickets for each day trip are still available and can be purchased for $5 at the BLC ticket booth today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday’s bus will leave at 3 p.m., from the BLC’s front steps. If the teams are victorious they move on to Sunday’s games and possibly to Monday’s championship game.
“It’s a rare chance to cheer for a team who has played that well and is on the verge of being in the national tournament,” Dave Keenan, head of residence life, said.
Students can buy tickets for all three days and get their money back if Rider’s teams get knocked out of the tournament and have to go home early.
“Hopefully we’ll be playing after the weekend,” Barron said.
After the buzzer sounds to signal the end of each men’s game, students will be ushered back on the bus and driven back to campus.
Junior Jake Catanese, a self-proclaimed fan of the Athletics’ Department who can be seen donning face paint, a sixth man shirt and carrying a Rider flag at home games, thinks there should be another way to see the games besides the daily round-trips.
“It’s a three-hour trip there, then you wait two hours for the game to start, and then after the game it’s another three-hour trip back,” Catanese said.
The junior feels there should be options where students can buy a hotel room through the University instead of taking the same bus multiple days in a row.
“Being in a vehicle for six hours is not fun, especially when you’re doing it everyday,” Catanese said. “You’re going to be exhausted when you get back to class. You can get more stuff done, like homework, in a hotel room than a moving bus.”
Rider could also supply a shuttle to local malls, Catanese added.
“I think more people would go to it if it wasn’t like a day trip,” he said. “It would make more sense if it was a weekend.
“We’re going to play Siena on almost their home court [if both teams make it to Monday’s final game]. We need all the people we can get up there.”