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Monarch Insider No. 22- ODU Seniors

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: February 27, 2011
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Feb. 27, 2011

Monarch Insider #22 - Senior Day Sellout crowd sends ODU's seniors off in style. They'll be missed

By Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider

I tweeted Saturday morning that I would probably be crying during the Senior Day sendoff for Darius James, Ben Finney, Keyon Carter and Frank Hassell before the team's final home game.

Don't laugh. This is the guy who burst into tears when Ben Finney hit the clinching three-pointer in overtime during the CAA Tournament semifinals last season. By the time I was in New Orleans for the NCAA Tournament, the ODU Pep Band fight song brought tears to my eyes.

But this year's Senior Day, which preceded ODU's 77-58 win over William and Mary, didn't make me sniffly. I realized why. I get the sense this year's season is far from over.

The CAA Tournament is this coming weekend, and I like our chances. And the good work the Monarchs have done all season - a 24-6 record, with a handful of stellar wins - means ODU is likely going to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in Richmond.

Speaking of Richmond, watch for more frequent posts, tweets, video and pictures by me at the CAA Championship this weekend. Look for a link on the www.odu.edu homepage, starting later in the week.

I'll also provide daily updates here during the CAA Tournament. I do want to pay tribute to the four young men who've represented the blue and white with passion for four seasons (plus redshirt years for Hassell and Carter). Postgame, coach Blaine Taylor eloquently summed up Senior Day, and the experience of coaching these four players:

"I thought the kids compartmentalized (playing on Senior Day) pretty well. I actually think it's going to hit them after the season. When they're sitting there this spring and thinking `Wow, that was my last chance to play in the Ted,'" he said. "You don't sign with me for four years, you sign with me for life. I'm going to be on their butt. Keyon, I'm going to call him when he's in an adult city league when he's like 45, and I'm going to say `Did you take a charge today, Keyon?' I'm being glib about it, but it is hard. It's hard for me, just like it is for them. But it's kind of a rite of passage, kind of like a parent when your kid goes off to college.

"The thing about these guys is they're going to be really successful doing a lot of different things as time goes on. They're a product of this school and our program and their own hard work and charismatic personalities, and qualities that they bring. They're going to do a lot of good things. We're going to be talking about them in five or 10 years, and proudly."

William and Mary coach Tony Shaver, who will no doubt be happy NOT to see these players next season, paid tribute to the quartet in his postgame remarks. "They're great players. They seem to be great kids. I walked out for the Senior Day presentation. I wanted to applaud for those guys. They've been a great group for four years. They've won a lot of basketball games. Old Dominion's got a great tradition in basketball. But Old Dominion may be taking it to a new level."

I've gotten to know Finney, James, Carter and Hassell pretty well in two seasons as the team's shadow. I'm going to miss them as people much more than I'll miss them as players. And as players, I'll miss them a lot.

Ben Finney on Senior Day: "I'm excited, sad, but I've enjoyed my time here. But we're looking forward to playing in the NCAA, being in the Tournament."

My Ben Finney memories: As you just read, Ben Finney isn't glib in interviews. He's never been anything but great with me, but he's a difficult "quote." The tough local kid conveys messages his own way, whether it's diving on the floor for a loose ball, dancing on the spot during warmups, or pointing into the student section after making a big shot.

But this season, I wrote an appreciation piece about Finney, how he does all the little things to help his team win. The week the profile appeared on website, the team was down in Greenville, N.C., playing a scrappy East Carolina team. We'd just won and I was in the press conference with ECU coach Jeff Lebo when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Finney, who wanted to thank me and shake my hand for the profile I'd written. What a gentleman.

Darius James on Senior Day: "It's bittersweet. I've had fun. We've gotten better and better every year, and the atmosphere wasn't like that my freshman year, so I can see how much the program has grown, the school has grown.

"No matter what I do, if I move away, or if I do anything, I can always come back here. Or I can always go see Coach Taylor, no matter where he's coaching. We've built a bond. Ben, Kent (Bazemore), Frank all my teammates, they're like my brothers. It's all good things."

My Darius James memories: I like every Monarch very much, but Darius is my favorite player. I don't know if I've ever watched a smarter basketball player than him. He's also my dad's favorite. My dad watches our games online at Monarch TV from his home in North Bay, Ont. He loves how fearlessly Darius plays.

Anyway, after ODU beat Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament last season, I called North Bay and handed Darius the phone. He and my dad had a nice chat. Fast-forward five months. I interviewed Darius in August, as he got ready for his senior season. At the end of the conversation, un-prompted, Darius said: "Say hi to your dad for me." THAT is the kind of guy Darius James is.

Keyon Carter on Senior Day: "I don't think it's hit me yet. A lot of emotions. We've got a lot of season yet. It just feels good right now, just enjoying the win." My Keyon Carter memories: I was walking along Hampton Boulevard last summer, one of those steamy August days, and I heard a car horn from across the street. Keyon had his window down, yelled a hello and pulled around the corner beside me. I hadn't seen Keyon since March, and had a good 10 minute chat. He asked me if I'd been home to Canada in the summer. He had no reason to remember that information about me, but he did.

I chuckled every time I was over in the Jim Jarrett Athletic Administration Building last summer. Keyon, finishing his sport management degree, was doing an internship with CBS Sports Properties, and the provisional desk they had him working at, sitting on a high stool, made him look like even more of a giant this his six-foot-eight frame. I also thought Keyon was perfect for a role like that. He's always struck me as an individual whose interests and talents far transcend the basketball court.

Frank Hassell on Senior Day: "It didn't really hit me until I was in the tunnel with all the parents. We got the win, so it was good. As long as we win, I'm fine with it. We have a lot more games to play this year. It was kind of emotional, but once you get all that out of the way, it's time to play basketball.

My Frank Hassell memories: Frank was the first guy on the team to start having conversations with the tall, skinny dude who was showing up at 7 in the morning to watch the team run during last season's conditioning work. That's not surprising. Frank talks to everyone. It's easy to see why he's such a fan favorite, aside from his on-court skills. In New Orleans, I stood in the tunnel as the team huddled before taking the court against Notre Dame. Stone faces, the players were ready for the biggest moment of the year. Suddenly, a giant fist extended my way. I hesitated a second, not wanting to affect his focus. Frank motioned with his fist, as if to say "Come on! Gimme a fist bump!"

One more Hassell memory from this season. I met him over at the Athletic Administration building to interview him in January for a profile. When I arrived in the gym, he and junior guard Trian Iliadis were seated in chairs, watching the team's managers play a spirited game of three-on-three. The team's managers are great: All the basketball passion of the Monarch team members, but with far less size and talent. Hassell watched the grudge match unfold with a huge smile on his face. We got up to go do the interview, and he said: "I love those guys." Speaking of the managers, it was their Senior Day too.

Head manager Mike Boothe has been with the team for three and a half years. From Woodbridge, Boothe will graduate in May with a degree in sport management. "It's been a crazy experience, just being part of it," Boothe said. "Being around these players, we've built a brotherhood. Yeah, I do work for them, but we're all friends. I'm going to miss everybody, to be honest."

Corey Evans came to ODU from Xavier University, specifically because he wanted to be a basketball coach. From Pittsburgh, he surveyed the basketball programs on the East Coast and chose ODU because of the growing basketball tradition here. He'll also graduate with a degree in sport management. "Coming here, the opportunity that Coach Taylor and the other coaches have given me, to be able to come down here, with the talent they have here, is a pretty unbelievable experience." Chris Kovensky is the basketball team's intern, completing his course requirement for ODU's master of sport management program. From Holidaysburg, Penn., Kovensky will walk in May's commencement exercises

"It's just an absolute blessing to be around these four seniors, and the rest of the team," he said. "It was the best choice to do the final requirement for my master's, and we're going to look forward to finishing strong, right through March Madness." Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at brendanwork@hotmail.com.

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