Had a wonderful opportunity to attend the annual CIAA basketball tournament which was held in Charlotte North Carolina last week with the championship being held on Saturday evening. This might not be of interest to some folks but to others it might be something to see in the future.
The CIAA is a conference of historical Black colleges and universities stretching from the Carolinas to Maryland. Though it is a division 2 league, fans from all over the country and world attend yearly. Over 250,000 people visited Charlotte for this event even though the majority could not attend or did not have an interest in the actual games being held. This was a college reunion weekend for people who had attended schools in the CIAA in the past, families of former students, ex players, ex coaches, and people such as me who was just interested in seeing this gala first hand after hearing about it for years. And for those folks who will say it is only a Black thing, they are so wrong. The 2007 player of the year was a White player. The teams have White players and the best team has a White legendary coach. After attending I walked away with tremendous respect.
Years ago this conference was one of the best in America regardless of D1, D2, or D3, affiliation. Unfortunately a large number of former teams opted out over the years to compete in the MEAC and other leagues in order to win the right to get blown out in the first round of the NCAA division 1 championship. Schools such as Hampton, Norfolk State, Delaware State, Morgan State, Winston Salem, Howard, and other I can not think of have left to seek greener pastures. Oddly, alumni from those schools who left STILL RETURN for the CIAA tournament. I asked a few why and they responded that it is more about networking and having fun than anything else.
The actual week had workshops for HS students, sports clinics, vendors, Party's, Party's and did I say Parties? There were also live concerts and workshops with very famous people. College tuition scholarships were awarded, cars were won from Ford, and the Bands Did There Thing! Did I mention there was also a few basketball games?
The games included a HS tilt between Oak Hill Academy and Montrose Christian. Did not catch that because I was at a huge All Men Fish Fry given by former LIU head coach Ray Haskins who is a CIAA alumnus. A chance to discuss college basketball while eating great food!! A lot was said about RU, SHU, and SJU. And remember most of the 60 people at the event were NYC and NJ connected basketball people. And speaking about Ray Haskins, how in the world is he un-employed after leading LIU to an NCAA and NIT birth in back to back years. I can think of at least three local teams who could use him as a bench X and O coach. Remember he is the guy who taught John Thompson Sr. the full court press that made Georgetown the team they were. John spent days with Ray after watching his than legendary Alexander Hamilton HS team play while recruiting one of the many D1 players Ray produced as they competed in uniforms made by hand from a few parents because the school, now known as Paul Roberson, had no money for uniforms. He also is the same guy who sent his star player Andre Erving home when he arrived for a tournament game without shoes and a neck tie which was required for all players when they traveled.
The college games were sold out all week in the fabulous Bobcat Arena, home of the Charlotte Bobcats. Very similar to the Pru Center but the Pru to me is nicer and not as tight. I loved the all glass practice facility where you can watch the Bobcats practice from the street on occasion. It was not too long ago that this tournament had Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Bobby Dandridge, Rik Mahorn, Mike Davis, Ben Wallace, Charles Oakley, Pee Wee Kirkland, Sam Jones, and many others playing to sold out arenas. This was the conference that took all the good southern players when schools in the ACC were not interested in Black players. Thanks to Charlie Scott when he attended North Carolina out of NYC via Laurenburg Institute, this changed. But the conference remained strong for many, many years.
As I stood in the lobby between games just enjoying the atmosphere I ran into former Fordham University Assistant Coach and current Sports Editor of The NY Amsterdam News Howie Evans. He was shocked to see me to say the least. He gave me some history but left me saying this event is the greatest basketball event in America. I know he and I have been to NCAA final 4's, McDonald All American Classics, NBA championships, The NBA All Star Game (this really might be number 1), and other basketball events so we both can do intelligent comparisons.
After watching an entire city embrace over 250,000 fans and visitors, I have to say it is definitely in the top 2 basketball events in this country! I know I will be a regular at future CIAA tournaments.
I still think SHU can do a good job in the BE Tournament and surprise people. The guard play is key but we all know the guards are tough kids who will compete hard. Up front they might not more seasoning but the bigs on SHU will compete. Anything can happen but regardless of the outcome SHU is moving in the correct direction. The RU season finale will be a hard fought game with RU leaving everything on the court.
I told folks Norm Roberts was turning the corner. I always felt SJU would bring him back because they have always been a loyal school to loyal people who are gentlemen . I felt this could happen but remain somewhat surprised because I felt SJU Fans would be all over this at the seasons conclusion. But Norm has to put up or shut up next season.
The game against SHU could be a war because it is the Big game for RU. There is no BE Tournament for Rutgers so this is the actual season finale. It also is an audition for all the RU players. it give FHJ a last chance to see his players in a game situation. It has been a hard year for RU and now it is coming to an end. But I truly believe the off season will be interesting. One thing for sure, I hope that barn League is discontinued. I also hope Inman, Farmer, and Griffin, are allowed to compete where they wish. For Inman it would be the NYC Pro AM. For farmer the Sonny Hill league or EO Summer Pro League which is where Griffin should play. These three kids have to go back to having fun and just playing without thinking RU basketball. Right now 2 of the 3 are in dire need of therapy from what I see. These kids are necessary for RU success next season regardless of what people might think and say.