Playing Hoops Underground

If you want to experience a bizarro version of college hoops, then division three NCAA Basketball in New York City may be for you.

On Tuesday night in the basement gym at Hunter College many fair skinned, non-tattooed young men ran up and down a court dominated by an imposing Jewish kid from Pennsylvania. (Well, okay there were some tattoos. One player on each team had one.)

Hunter College was hosting a double header against NYU. First the women’s teams played, and then the men’s teams.

Hunter cheerleaders did all they could to build the audience, which could hardly be called a crowd, into a frenzy. They didn’t succeed, but their commitment was admirable. For the women’s game they had six cheerleaders. By the time the men’s game began the squad had grown to nine.

There were also a few more bodies in the bleachers by the time the men’s game began. It was a mix of family, friends, and other athletes from Hunter, including a wrestler who shouted that his match was the next night before following up under his breath that no one would attend.

Hunter player Lorenzo Brown’s mother and father were at the game. According to the mother, they are at every game. Same for the family of NYU player Andy Stein, the imposing Jewish kid who looks like Tim Tebow and is finishing up his senior year.

Tuesday was special for the Steins with Andy scoring his 1000th point as an NYU player. His mother made a brief attempt at heckling the Hunter fans before seeming to realize too few people were paying attention for it to matter.

But it wasn’t boring. The teams showed up with as much spirit as you’d hope to see anywhere. During the announcement of the starting line ups the players bumped their coaches with as much gusto as the Miami Heat (minus the egos and over the top technological fanfare).

It’s just that the timing of everything felt a bit off. The cheerleaders weren’t in place when the line-ups were announced. The shot clock on one side was purposely turned off because it kept buzzing at the wrong time. When Hunter’s center, Panagiotis Koutsoloukas, missed a rebound and fell to the ground, he did so awkwardly, without the smooth manner in which many athletes can take a fall.

And even though NYU blew Hunter out – they won by 22 points – they didn’t feel completely cohesive either. Maybe it’s because it is division three. Stein, the clear star of the game, didn’t have any illusions of going into pro-basketball. If he didn’t, what could the others hope to do?

But they played hard. Really hard. It was clear that they cared. My favorite moment of the entire night was probably watching two of the women’s players celebrate a beautiful assist. If you want your athletes to care, and you like it at least a little bizarre, then yeah, maybe division three basketball in New York City is for you.

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