If you are politically astute, you probably think “slam-dunk” refers to the undeniable evidence the Bush administration and the Central Intelligence Agency thought they had for invading Iraq. But, that’s a debate to have on another court. The only slam-dunks on our minds are the ones our men’s basketball players have been making, bringing Rider to a first-round bye in the MAAC tournament this weekend in Albany, N.Y. The team has had a momentous season giving us all a reason to stand in the bleachers and be proud — cranberry-bleeding proud — Rider Broncs.
Some would say that victory is only as sweet as the journey there, and this year’s team has certainly enjoyed its record-setting path to the championship. It has racked up an impressive 21-9 record that matches the 1993-1994 season. Fans young and old have donned their sixth man jerseys and filled Alumni Gym to standing-room capacity for the last two home games when the team clinched its status as co-regular season champion.
As we all know, success often brings the spotlight. The media have been hot on the trail of the men’s victories all season long, putting Rider back into the news for something besides a handful of students acting immaturely at off-campus parties. Tickets that are normally free for students were scalped for upwards of $100, serving as a testament to how much fanfare the men’s team has forged.
Senior Kevin Hickman, one of the team’s captains who is judged by many as the heart and soul of the bench, describes the task this 12-member group had for the 2007-2008 odyssey.
“We knew coming into the season we would have an opportunity and responsibility with the talent we had to bring some better attention to Rider,” said Hickman.
Nonetheless, the triumphant year on the court has meant more to the University than all the 3-pointers that have brought us to our feet. It comes at a time when the University and the community are still healing from last year’s endless cycle of bad news that played out in front of television cameras and in the pages of major newspapers. The team’s success helped us turn the page on a dark period in the University’s 142-year history.
Ups and downs are nothing new to these players. Seniors on the team have had to contend with multiple transitions, from getting to the final game in the MAAC tournament but being defeated in 2005, to losing seasoned veterans who were graduating, to having a new coach at the helm. Rather than dwell on the past, the players laced up their sneakers and put their best feet forward. They knew what was on the line and what the community was hoping for this season.
“It’s been a wild ride,” said Hickman looking back on his career with the team. “I’ve enjoyed the ups and downs. The down years make the up years that much better. Being one game away from the NCAA tournament as a freshman, I didn’t realize how close we were to the championship. You had two down years, which made you realize how hard it is to get to that point, which makes you work that much harder to get there.”
The men have certainly not let us down this year. In the midst of the season, the team gave us a 10-game winning streak and overcame three subsequent loses. Some victories came down to the sound of the buzzer, but the team pulled out all stops to win.
A fair number of students, faculty and staff gathered to honor the men’s and women’s team’s hard work this past Tuesday as the teams prepared to hit the road. If you can spare the time this weekend, you should board the bus and head to Albany to cheer on our Broncs.
“Turnout makes all the difference in the world,” said Hickman. “Turnout helps you play with energy.”
The pressure and expectations are high for the men. We all want them to bring home the gold. But no matter what the outcome is this weekend, we should all be proud of what our basketball team has accomplished and done to lift the spirits of the University community.
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros