By Chris McManes
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – When Catholic University Men's Basketball Coach Steve Howes looked down the long table where his players and staff were gathered for dinner Friday night, he wanted to tell them how special they were and how much he's enjoyed working with them. But the noise level made it such that he wouldn't be heard as clearly as he wanted.
So he waited for a more opportune time to address his ninth-ranked, 25-3 team.
"When we got back to the hotel, I really got emotional talking to 'em" Howes said. "It has been such a unique group because of the way they've carried themselves, the way they've played for each other, the way they've handled any adversity that's come our way. It's just an incredibly fun group to be around – staff and players.
"It's been an amazingly rewarding experience."
Playing for Each Other
With his team preparing to play Williams College tonight in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Howes said the three things the Cardinals need to do to win is not turn the ball over, play a Top 10-level defense and play for each other. He told a story about watching a Los Angeles Lakers - San Antonio Spurs game and picking something up from former NBA Coach Jeff Van Gundy.
"Jeff was disgusted with the way the Lakers were playing, and he said, 'these guys need to do one thing,'" Howes recalled. "They need to decide whether they're going to play with each other, or they're going to play for each other."
Howes relayed the insight to his team the next day prior to a game.
"I said gentlemen, 'we've really sold out and sacrificed this year, and I heard Jeff Van Gundy summarize it well last night: it's playing for each other, not with,'" Howes said. "I said as long as we continue to play for each other, we're fine. And since that time, we've mentioned playing for each other almost every single game."
The reminder was part of Howes' final words to his team today after its morning shootaround.
As far as a Top-10 defensive effort, CUA ranks eighth in the nation in scoring defense (57.6 ppg) and 13th in field goal percentage defense (38.3). The Cardinals are even better taking care of the ball, ranking second in fewest turnovers per game (9.4) and No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.68).
Duty, Honor, Country
Thanks to Howes' friendship with one of his former players, the Cards had the opportunity to visit and practice at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on Thursday.
Kevin App, in his third year as an Army assistant, played at Good Counsel High School in 2000-01 when Howes was an assistant coach at the school, now located in Olney, Md. App graduated in 2003 with Scott Fumai and Stephen Wheeler, two of the key players on CUA's 2007 Capital Athletic Conference championship team.
App, who played at Cornell, assisted Williams Coach Mike Maker for one year (2008-09) and then was at Cornell under Boston College Coach Steve Donohue. When Army defeated American University in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament on Wednesday at home, App said numerous generals were in attendance, including Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Ray Ordierno. The win guaranteed the Cadets their first winning season in 28 years.
Army, whose most famous basketball alumnus is Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, plays at Bucknell tonight. Bucknell assistant Aaron Kelly played for the Cards under George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan and Howes. While recruiting in the Washington, D.C., area on Feb. 16, Kelly attended the Cardinals' 86-70 victory over Moravian College.
App, a player and junior Cadet Zach Marciano, who went to Poly Prep in Brooklyn, N.Y., with CUA student assistant coach T.J. Hyland, gave the players and staff a tour of the history-laden campus. West Point counts among its graduates former President and five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, John Pershing and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who was recently buried there.
"As a history major, but more importantly as a proud American, it was an awesome privilege to take in the history of West Point," Howes said. "To imagine the great leaders – coaches like Coach K and the players who have competed there – hopefully it reinforced the ideas of duty and sacrifice in our young men."
App and Marciano rode with the team over to the famous area on campus that gives West Point its name. Unfortunately, the million-dollar view of the mountains and the big bend of the Hudson River were largely obstructed by fog and a driving, horizontal snowstorm.
The snow reminded Howes of his team's visit two years ago to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish and Army were the nation's top football powers in the 1940s, combining to win numerous national championships and Heisman Trophies. The Cardinals' tour included the museum outside the Cadets' football offices at Michie Stadium, which is considered one of the three most scenic stadiums to watch a football game.
The team ate dinner at Schade's Restaurant in West Point and admired a photo of Krzyzewski and one of his Army teams. One of Krzyzewski's assistants was Bob Dwyer, whose son, Patrick, was a star player for Lonergan and Howes before graduating in 2007.
Through Troy and Back
After a great dinner at Schade's – the fresh bread was superb – the Cardinals boarded their bus for what should have been about a three-hour drive to North Adams, Mass.
Things were going well on Route 2 East until the bus was heading uphill about 21 miles from Williamstown, Mass. With ice on the road under a few inches of snow and more snow falling, the bus was chugging along at a very slow pace, when it was moving at all. After about 40 minutes of trying to climb the hill, CUA Assistant Coach Ryan Hyland called 911 to ask for help.
Two New York State Highway Patrol officers showed up and, with a mountain ahead, recommended that the bus turn around and head back to Troy. A snow plough also appeared and helped clear a spot where the bus driver, Alex, could make a three-point turn. "It'll take you all night if you keep going this way," one officer said. "Where are we?" someone asked. "Grafton, New York."
Before heading back to Troy, Cardinal Assistant Ryan Eskow informed the Holiday Inn in North Adams that the team was unable to make it. He also made arrangements for the traveling party of 22, including the driver, to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy. The weary Cardinals finally pulled in at 11:26 p.m., more than four-and-a-half hours after departing West Point.
A Special Team Visits West Point and Fights through Snow for Today’s Game
By Chris McManes