Jan. 10, 2009
Blog #22: Watching the Monarchs with people who help put them on the court
By Brendan O'Hallarn
There was a subtle hint that the week that just passed might have been a long one for assistant coach Rob Wilkes.
Wilkes, who's in his eighth year with the Monarchs, was responsible for scouting and helping draft the defensive game plan for two straight games this week. So it was his job to figure out how to limit Julius Wells and Denzel Bowles of James Madison University, and then how to try and stop future pro player Charles Jenkins of the Pride of Hofstra.
What kind of week was it for Wilkes? Every day until Saturday, he wore his glasses instead of his contacts.
"It's a long week, when you've got back to back assignments like that, you're certainly putting in a lot of time watching film. Those contacts tend to dry out a little bit," Wilkes said, with a laugh.
The shooting frenzy that Wells had on Wednesday (seven three-pointers in a 29-point virtuoso performance, a game the Monarchs narrowly won 74-72) was enough to make any coach toss and turn in bed.
But on Saturday, the ODU gameplan limited Jenkins to four points in the first half, as the Monarchs won a slug-fest, 57-46. He finished with 18. Jenkins' coach Tom Pecora said his star "sleepwalked" through the game, in part because he was handled so effectively by the Monarchs.
"Obviously we're very pleased with the defensive effort. We mixed defenses on him. That certainly helped. Our length certainly bothered him a little bit," Wilkes said. "We started out guarding him man-to-man, and we did a good job there. And then we went zone on him, and our length affected him tremendously."
For Saturday's win, I sat with Jerry and Barbara Brown in their seats at center court. The Browns endow a scholarship for the men's basketball team, which is currently being used by junior forward Frank Hassell. I met them during the ODU Athletics Endowed Scholarship Luncheon in the fall, and I've run into Jerry courtside at just about every game since.
During our game at Richmond in December, I ended up sitting beside Jerry. I thought he was going to pass out when the Spiders roared back to win in the second half. "So did I. I check on him during the close games," Barbara said.
Retirees from DuPont in Delaware, the Browns relocated to Hampton Roads (Jerry is a 1965 graduate of ODU) in part because of Monarchs basketball.
The Browns purchase 14 season tickets, attending the games with various family members who live in the area. And Barbara said the people they've met through the team -- other fans, school officials and even the players -- start to feel like family too.
"It's a pleasure to provide support for a team like this," Jerry said. "The philosophy of the coaching staff is to promote true student-athletes."
Barbara added: "I don't think people outside of university sports understand the level of academic effort that is put in by these players. If you look at this team's graduation rates, there truly is a commitment there."
Oh, they're die-hards, too. From the opening tap, they were dialed in on the game, cheering for the whole team, but cheering for Frank just a tiny bit louder. "Yaay! That's his third assist, I think," Barbara said as Hassell fed forward Gerald Lee for a layup.
We chatted throughout the game, a little more when ODU went up by 10 in the first half, a little less when Hofstra pulled within one in the second half, helped by comically bad free throw shooting from the home team. "This is scary. I don't like the look of this," Jerry said. Their guy Hassell ended a team-wide, Sahara-like drought with two free throws ("He'll make 'em," Jerry predicted before) and the Monarchs pulled away for the win.
The Browns went home happy, but Barbara said the action on the court is almost secondary to her. "For me, the best part is watching these young men grow as individuals. They're such nice young men, and you just see them blossom in this program."
Following his player of the game interview on radio (career high 14 rebounds) I asked Big Frank about the Browns.
"I look at Mrs. Brown like a second or third momma, next to Ms. Annette (Manley, the team administrator) and my own momma. I call them, we talk, even over the summer. They're real cool people," Hassell said.
Hassell and Jerry even have a pregame ritual where they bump fists and chat a little before ODU starts its team warm-up.
Concerned that Hassell seemed to be in a bit of a funk before Christmas, Jerry called Hassell and offered to give him a little space before and after games. Hassell would have none of that.
"Mr. Brown, that's my boy. That's my road dog, that's my good luck charm," he said. "He called and asked me "Is he a distraction to me?' I told him no way, he's my good luck charm. I kinda need him to talk to me a little bit, it actually gives me a little confidence. I just like having him around."
With a rigorous, four-game week in the books, I asked Wilkes what he was planning for the rest of the weekend.
"When you work as hard as we do as a staff, and we all work hard on everything we do, you just enjoy the wins," Wilkes said.
"My dad's in town, he's 81 years old, I'm going to just spend some time with him. We've got a day off (Sunday) we're just going to enjoy it."
Brendan O'Hallarn works in Public Relations for Old Dominion University
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