Oct. 27, 2009
After almost exactly seven months, fans of Old Dominion basketball are apparently starved for a little action.
More than 1,000 students and local Monarchs fans turned up at the Ted on Friday night for the annual Blue-White scrimmage.
The team was split into two sides and played 16-minute mini-games, with referees, cheerleaders, television timeouts and the band.
Tonight's game was less about the final score and more about getting the players a run in simulated game conditions. And also about giving fans a chance to see their team in action.
Gerald Lee showed off his dazzling array of low post moves, shooting seven for 10 from the field for 14 points.
But the players could have done the Harlem Globetrotters' confetti-bucket trick and these basketball fans would have eaten it up.
"I love it," said Chontell Woolaridge, a freshman in pre-nursing from Suffolk. "I think we can win the conference championship if we play like we can."
Chris Koclanes, a junior in finance from New York City, agreed with the assessment.
Donte Pitt and Darius Jordan, two 25-year-olds from Suffolk, made their way down to the Ted to watch the action as well. The two friends have known redshirt freshman forward Nick Wright since he was playing high school ball in Suffolk.
"I was eager for the season to get started. They look pretty good," Pitt said.
I asked Jordan what he'd like to see out of the team this year.
"I'd like to see them get in the tournament, and do some damage. Final Four, like (George) Mason did (in 2005)," he said.
Pitt looked at him, wide-eyed. "No pressure there," he said.
"What?" Jordan said. "They've got the talent. Look at them out there."
The play "out there" was athletic, but predictably, lacked polish. It was the first time the team has played under game conditions this fall.
Cal Bowdler knows that these games can be difficult. The former Monarchs center played in four Blue-White scrimmages back in the 1990s. He brought his two-year-old daughter Siena to enjoy the game.
"It's tough. The guys you're playing against know what you're trying to do out there. They know all the plays," he said.
"There's a lot of kinks to work out."
Bowdler likes the look of the team this year.
"They're big and athletic, and they're a group of guys that play well together. The sky's the limit for this team."
I asked him who he liked on the roster.
"I love, LOVE Kent Bazemore," Bowdler said.
A few minutes later, the lanky small forward validated Bowdler's faith, catching an alley-oop pass from Marsharee Neely for a dunk. That earned the second-loudest applause of the night.
The loudest came about a minute later, when Bazemore finished a fast break with a thunderous jam over forward Frank Hassell.
This summed up the competitive, yet laid-back atmosphere of the scrimmage tonight: Coach Blaine Taylor sat at the table between the two benches, overseeing the action.
He scowled visibly during one turnover-turnover-turnover sequence, but then turned, spotted a friend in the crowd and joked: "Hey, check his ticket stub. There's no way he's sitting there."
Right after the final horn, the players shook hands then went up into the crowd to slap hands with fans.
"I think one of the appealing things about this setting is that people get to know one another," Taylor said.
"We've got, really, a freshman based program. The kids are here for a number of years. I think it's important to get to know the fans, but I think the fans really like to get to know the kids."
Overall, Taylor was happy with what he saw in the games.
"All in all, good effort out there. The kids tried to share the ball. Both sessions were closer than the final score," he said. "I'm generally pleased that we're making progress. But we certainly haven't arrived anywhere yet."
He's the associate head coach, so of course the first thing Jim Corrigan wanted to talk about after the game was all the things the team needs to work on in practice.
But Corrigan said the progression in Bazemore's game between his redshirt year, his freshman year, and this year has been impressive.
I asked Bazemore about the work he's put in on his game.
"It's always good to see yourself grow," he said. "Watching on tapes in high school, and film last year, to know, I can feel myself getting better."
Then I asked him if he was going to pay at practice for dunking on Hassell.
"Frank's my boy. We always get into it. I just so happened that I got him tonight. He's going to be on my back for the next two weeks."
A few feet away, starting swingman Finney was standing by his locker, with a sour look on his face. Finney happened to be on both losing teams tonight.
I've watched him in workouts and practice for almost two months. He has one gear - full speed. Even if it's a game of H-O-R-S-E with one of the team managers after practice, Finney goes all out.
"You don't like losing at anything, do you?" I asked him.
"Nope" was all he said.
The battle resumes in practice this week.
Brendan O'Hallarn is an employee in the office of University Relations at ODU.
Brendan's Blog 46