By Eli Ruiz
It was all about the sophomores on February 23 at SUNY-Sullivan’s Paul Gerry Fieldhouse – a/k/a “The Pit” – as both the women’s and men’s basketball teams celebrated the talent, and the many contributions, of the respective squads’ departing athletes to the storied NJCAA basketball program’s legacy. And the games weren’t bad either.
SUNY-Sullivan Athletic Director Chris DePew called it the saddest day of the year, as the school bid farewell to a contingent of players—both men and women—which has shined on and off the court.
“We are so proud of their accomplishments both in the classroom and on the court, and I feel good knowing that my amazing coaching staff has laid a solid foundation for them to be successful in the future and whatever they choose to do,” Mr. DePew said. We will certainly miss them, and will always remember the time, effort, and dedication they put in to their respective teams.”
Following the “Sophomore Day” mid-court ceremony, presided over by Generals’ announcer, the Honorable Mike McGuire, the Lady Generals took to the floor to face off against the Caimans of Hostos Community College for the finale to the 2016-2017 regular season.
With the Region XV tournament looming, Coach Danny Lang’s Sullivan squad came into the game ranked as the #5 NJCAA women’s program in the nation. A near lock for a postseason number one seed, a sloppy first half, coupled with a disaster of a 3rd quarter by the Lady Generals (22-5), conspired to relegate the team to the Region XV tournament’s 2-seed, and with a fourth loss in its last five contests – an 85-80 double overtime thriller, Lang has to be asking himself what’s the problem, right?
“There is no problem,” Mr. Lang said confidently after the game, adding, “We have dealt with some injuries to key players, we had a tough schedule, as we played a Division 2 and Division 1 school back to back while we were shorthanded, too.
“If we grab a rebound or two, and make a couple more free throws, we would have put ourselves in a better position to win. We ended the regular season 22-5 despite everything, which I’m sure there are a ton of programs who wouldn’t mind having our record. We will be fine.”
Similarly, if you thought Mr. Lang was wallowing in disappointment about the Lady Generals’ Region tournament seeding, you’d be wrong again.
“Everyone would love to be the #1 seed,” he said. “But at the end of the day, when you start the playoffs, everyone’s record is 0-0. The semifinals and finals are held at a neutral site. It comes down to execution, being poised, and doing all of the little things that will help your team win, we’re gonna be just fine.”
Not one for excuses, Lang reflected on his team’s lackluster performance through most of its final regular season matchup, explaining that “sometimes the kids get caught up in the moment of a big game with a crazy atmosphere… it tends to take us out of our element and performing how we usually would. I feel players on both teams had that date circled for quite some time, and it resulted in everyone trying to do a little too much, too fast at the onset.
“We also have some players who haven’t played in that type of atmosphere before,” he said. “The importance of such a significant game… along with the tournament looming, it can really overwhelm some younger players.”
The evening, though, belonged to the departing sophomores, and Mr. Lang has high hopes for each of them.
“I will miss them all,” he said. “Every last one of these young ladies means so much to me in their own way, and what they have done for the team, it just goes without saying.
“Kyla Given, who is an All-American, is obviously a tremendous player, but also a great teammate, leader, and young lady. She represents everything you want in a student athlete for your program. Ashley McDonald has done more than she has been asked to do, time and time again, giving everything she has every second she is on the floor, and is an extension of me on the court, which you want in your point-guard, while guarding the other teams’ best player. Amal Mahmoud is another kid who leaves it all out on the floor, for being undersized and underrated, she goes above and beyond to help us be successful. Jennifer Bronson and Shadae Jordan are 2 kids who so many players can learn from, they always come prepared to work, never give up, and ready when their number is called. Both have stepped up and played major minutes as changes have been made to our team (Shadae starting). I will miss them all because of they are unique in their own way and have all impacted our program for the better.”
Clearly a “players coach,” Mr. Lang now must navigate his team, a team that has been struggling of late, through the Region XV tournament, and beyond.
Following the disappoiunting Lady Generals’ loss, Coach Brent Wilson’s men’s team took to the court against Hostos. Ranked #10 among Division III schools nationally and #2 in Region XV behind Nassau Community College, the Generals got 21 points and 12 assists from Romero Collier and 19 points and 12 rebounds from Scott Artis enroute to an 88-71 victory.
The game wasn’t as close as the score might indicate, as the Generals enjoyed a 51-24 halftime lead, and Mr. Wilson pulled his starters with 10 minutes left.
Mr. Collier and Mr. Artis were both playing their final games at Sullivan, as were teammates Nysir Williams, Michael Robinson and Nasheed Dixon. The group, responsible for more than 45 victories over the two seasons they played, took part in the ceremony prior to the games.
The Generals will start the Region XV tournament as the #2 seed.
Honored for Sophomore Night before the contest were the following:
#24: Amal Mahmoud, Guard
#10: Ashley McDonald, Guard
# 3: Kyla Givens, Guard/Forward
#4: Shadae Jordan, Guard
#1: Jennifer Bronson, Guard
#3: Jordan Riullano, Guard
#4: Romero Collier, Guard
#5: Nasheed Dixon, Forward
#14: Nysir Williams, Guard/Forward
#42: Scott Artis, Forward