Thursday, March 17, 2005

On being a GW basketball fan, Part II

Part II: 1994-98 (or, "Hey, Mike Jarvis really likes Ukrainian guys")

George Washington has a summer campus orientation and touring committee comprised mainly of rising sophomores and juniors who handle the various summer orientation sessions and create the image of peer-to-peer assistance and advice. I think they were called the Summer Stars, but I'm rather ashamed to admit that I can't recall exactly. Maybe this is just a selective memory, though; after I graduated, I managed a dorm that housed the "Summer Stars," and they truly did receive star treatment.

But who am I kidding? In 1994, the real star was Mike Jarvis.

As part of the summer orientation before my freshman year, they herded us into the Smith Center for a pep rally of sorts with Coach Jarvis. The Smith Center is one of those 5,000-seat college facilities that is part-arena and part-gym. It looks fairly innocuous when it's relatively empty during the day-time, but as I observed first-hand a few months later, fill it even 75% up at night, and it's a pretty rockin' place.

Jarvis spent a few moments reflecting on what an honor it was for us to attend GW and encouraged us all to support the men's and women's basketball teams, as well as the other sports teams. He took a few questions, including one from some chucklehead who asked if Jarvis accepted walk-ons---Jarvis flashed his signature smile and said he'd take the question privately---and then instructed the stars to teach us the fight song:

Hail to the Buff,
Hail to the Blue,
Hail to the Buff and Blue!
All our lives we'll be proud to say,
We hail from GW!Go Big Blue!
Oh, by George, we're happy we can say,
We're GW, here to show the way,
so Raise high the Buff!
Raise high the Blue!
Loyal to GW
You bet we're
Loyal to GW!
Fight!

For some reason, learning one's college fight song can really pump a guy up. Unfortunately, it was still late June. My first love, baseball, could sustain me, but even then not for long: 1994, of course, was the season of The Strike. The lights went out on August 12. It was football-or-bust until November. I managed, somehow.

This article from the GW Hatchet serves as nice factual background for the Colonials of my college years; the narrative ends in the summer of 1998, just a month or two after I graduated. If you just want to know how the Colonials played, generally, during 1994-98, read the linked article. I'll confess I picked up a detail or two in retrospect from the article myself. But who really cares about a straight history of the GW basketball program? If you're reading this, you're reading it because it's a personal account. So read on, if you want.

My GW basketball experience began with an exhibition romp over one of those pathetic preseason touring squads like "Athletes in Action." I think this one was comprised of Latvian Circus Freaks. It wasn't really a competitive atmosphere, concededly, but it sure was fun. I had been to plenty of college basketball games, at U-Hall in Charlottesville, at the Richmond Coliseum, at UR's Robins Center (which is basically a dead 70-80s NBA arena, except with half the seats); but I had never been in a student section. Man, was it fun.

A bunch of friends signed up and paid up to join "The Dog Pound"; membership provided the privilege of sitting (really, standing) really close to the court. I declined, though, deciding I didn't need to pop twenty bucks for the chance to wear a yellow tee-shirt and look like a fool on television. Besides, I found the name boring and derivative; if I had a vote, I would have advocated for something more Washingtonian ("The Wooden Teeth Gang") or old-timey political (like "The Whigs"; get it?---ooh, double entendre!). It was no matter, though, because soon there would be another, more inclusive fan club. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The '94-95 season started in a humiliating fashion.Duke beat the crunk out of GW (something like 100-64) in one of those annoying games at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the snotty Dukies are more concerned with properly coordinating the "whoa . . . SIT DOWN!" taunt when an opposing player fouls out than in even watching the game. Well, come to think of it, that's every Duke home game. (What is worse is that this was Duke's lost season; by January, Coach K had stepped down temporarily for health reasons, and the Blue Devils finished last in the ACC.)

Anyway, things improved tremendously rapidly thereafter. I could be mixing up the order of events, but I believe the next game was the upset of Syracuse (ranked No. 12; John Wallace, star; a year away from the title game) in the Preseason NIT. It was just an unreal game---high-scoring, overtime. The Colonials made their way to Madison Square Garden and won the consolation game after losing to Ohio, led by future NBA'er Gary Trent

To be honest, by this time, we had all forgotten about Yinka Dare. (It was easier to do so knowing that he was an instant NBA bust.) There was a new star big man, some big, lumbering dude from the Ukraine blessed with the pun-able name of Alexander Koul. The guy was big; no, he was huge. I missed Dare, but got someone at least 95% of his size in return, and this one was reasonably skilled---at least initially. Koul was probably 7-foot-1 and could, when he wanted, just push guys out of his way. He had a decent little jump hook and could sink maybe 70% of his free throws. When you're a college player, if you can do this stuff, you can get by, even if you don't improve one iota over the course of your career. (More on that below.)

Alexander Koul was a sensation. Faster than you could say Ambesol, the guy had inspired his own fan-club, "Koul and the Gang." Everyone on campus that cared about basketball knew who he was. Admittedly, that isn't hard when you're looking at a gigantic Russian guy, but you also knew him by his posse. There was the other Ukrainian guy, supposedly signed up by Jarvis as part of a package deal to get Koul on scholarship. (Consequently, lots of us called the other guy "The Butt Buddy.") Then there was Koul's girlfriend, who was approximately four feet tall. It was an odd-looking threesome, but hey---I'm sure they weren't as odd as Pete Rose's confederates.

Not to dwell on this season, my first on campus, but . . . it was my first on campus. This was all new. The Atlantic Ten in the mid-90s was BIG-TIME college basketball. Allen ("9-for-27") Iverson was a freshman at Georgetown this season, John Thompson was still John Thompson (in other words, he was still five years away from stepping down and lowering himself to the status of ill-prepared afternoon talk host on a pathetic, low-rated AM sports talker), Joe Smith was an all-everything freshman at Maryland---and the coverage of GW's team was pretty much on an equal footing.

Or sometimes much more than equal. I speak, of course, to a game that inspired this Hatchet headline:

THE GREATEST GAME OF ALL TIME

Here's how the Hatchet retrospective described it:

On GW’s Homecoming, after thousands of students waited overnight in the snow, and in front of surprise visitor President Bill Clinton, the Colonials beat No. 1 Massachusetts 78-75. . . . “That was unreal,” said loyal GW fan Arthur Kirsch (of the game, not Christopher). “GW has the incredible ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and they didn’t do it.”

Well, I don't remember waiting overnight in the snow, but everything else is accurate:

1) President Clinton was there, and it was a surprise to most people I knew. Security was pretty tight, and there you go---there's Clinton sitting in one of the boxes next to GW President Steven Joel Trachtenberg, who is a dead-on match for Teddy Roosevelt, by the way. Chelsea, then probably 15 or 16, was sitting next to SJT's son of about the same age; the rumors were they were dating, or whatever 15 or 16 year-olds do. At half-time, they had a big VIP food spread. It was roped off, but---I swear this is true!---I got close enough to see Clinton walk by with a plate stacked a foot high with slices of pizza. Clinton and daughter were gone well before the end, though.

2) UMass was No. 1. This was a really, really good team. Marcus Camby wasn't even the big star yet; in fact, I don't even think he played, due to injury.

3) GW did nearly blow the game. I just remember my roommate and I mirroring the same dour expression with about two minutes left. I can't remember if the Colonials lost the lead or merely blew a seemingly insurmountable lead. I don't remember much, in fact, except for flashing recollections of exhilaration and desperation---alternating, almost, with each rapid heart beat. If I had been an objective observer, I would have deemed the game "exciting," I'm sure. But then, I wouldn't have known the half of it.

4) It was unreal. The celebration on the court was madness. I'm not a touchy guy, especially for a person of Greek descent; a head-nod or a handshake is enough for me. But that January Saturday afternoon, man, I hugged everyone in existence. What a thrill.

Well, that win---and then another win against UMass, still a top-five team, soon thereafter---sustained us until March, which was a disaster. As I recall, the Colonials---remember, sporting three victories over top teams---were on the bubble going into the last regular season game, at Rutgers. We watched it over some sort of spartan closed-circuit connection in a residence hall. Rutgers won. That dropped us to like 17-10. We had a rematch against Rutgers in the A-10 tourney. We lost; that made us 17-11. Hello, NIT. Rematch against Ohio U.; one and gone in the NIT. Such a shame---between Koul, pure scorer Kwame Evans, senior swingman Nimbo Hammonds, and junior forward Vaughn Jones, this team had talent.

It came together more fluidly the next year. I spent my sophomore year studying in Richmond, but I came up on a lot of weekends to watch the team, and it was a much better unit. For one, Pitt transfer/millstone Omo Moses had graduated, freeing up the point guard spot for little Shawnta Rogers, who became academically eligible in January 1996. (I think it's fairly common knowledge that Shawnta had a learning disability of some sort; at any rate, a friend was in the same geology class and claimed that Shawnta spelled it with a "j"; anyway.) Yegor (meister) Mescheriakov, yet another Ukrainian guy, emerged as a front-line complement to Koul, who really needed one, because he would only regress from this point on.

The Colonials did it again to No. 1 UMass---this time on the road and this time directly against Camby, who---I'll never forget---taunted Koul tremendously after making a strong move to the hole in the first half but didn't have much to say afterward. The Colonials, establishing what would be a serpentine shape in my college years, spent some of the season ranked and made the NCAA tourney.

And, in the first round against Iowa, they committed an all-time choke job. Thanks to terribly sloppy play and horrid free throw shooting down the stretch---much of it, strangely, by Vaughn Jones, who had clinched the epic UMass game a year earlier with clutch late foul shooting---surrended a 17-point lead in the final seven or eight minutes. Incredibly, they lost.

I was back on campus full-time for my junior year, and aside from one incredible vignette, this was the most dismal season I can recall the Colonials suffering---more dismal, even, than the 1999-2002 lost years. Maybe I feel this way because I was so much closer to the program then; maybe it was because the team seemed an incredible underachievement.

Whatever the reason, 1996-97 marked the beginning of the end for the Jarvis era. Ask anyone who attended during this era and who still cares, and that person will invariably roll eyes at the mention of this season. It was an ugly, inconsistent team. It couldn't figure out how it wanted to score. It played a little sloppy on offense; it played a step slow on defense. Koul's salad days had long passed. By late January, we all knew it was NIT-city, baby.

Still, the most remarkable story I can relate from my college years, basketball-wise, comes from this season---not The UMass Game.

It occurred at the Red Auerbach Classic. You might know that Auerbach went to GW; yeah, that was awhile ago. As the program got better in the early 90s, Auerbach's profile at the Smith Center grew again, and the Colonials established an early season tournament (read: let's beat the heck out of the South Carolina States and Dartmouths of the world) in his name. It was half-time of GW's "semi-final" game against Buttcrack U. Auerbach was sitting directly across the court, just sort of relaxing, talking to someone. Maybe it was CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who also attends the games regularly.

Spontaneously, my buddy Chris Balding turned to another friend, who was a sports editor for the Hatchet, and said, "Give me your press pass." The friend didn't really know what to say; he just sort of limply handed the pass over.

Now, there's something you need to know about Balding: he considers himself a sophisticated guy. (I'll reserve comment as to the objective truth, if you know what I mean.) He likes fine wines and enjoys cooking nice dinners and prefers to sip---not mix---vodka. And he loves quality . . .

. . . CIGARS.

The cigar is Auerbach's trademark, of course. So, there's Balding sprinting over to Auerbach's side of the court. He stops about twenty feet short of Red, takes a breath, walks over, taps the other guy on the shoulder, asks to speak to Red, sits down, and puts his arm around Auerbach's shoulder. They start chatting. Balding flashes his usual toothy grin; Auerbach chuckles at something.

And, before you know it, Balding is running right past us, toward the exit of the Smith Center. Upon our request, he stopped briefly to explain what he was doing. Guess. He was running back to his dorm room, because HE WAS GOING TO EXCHANGE CIGARS WITH RED AUERBACH.

In retrospect, I don't know if it seems like that big a deal, but at the time, it really was. Just consider the spontaneous nerve it took to decide, at that instant, that "Hey, I'm going to chat up Red Auerbach. Better yet, I'll give him a cigar." I prefer to remember that Auerbach got a kick out of the whole thing, though it's possible he was just trying to please Balding in order to get the kid out of his way. Although I was across the court and could see the conversation, I'll never really know.

Anyway, in the aforementioned serpentine fashion (reminiscient of late-90s Big Bad Baseball Annual theories of player development), the '97-98 team bounced back; it was a nice pre-graduation gift for the Class of '98. Koul was pretty much a non-factor by then; if he didn't pick up two fouls quicker than a Shawnta Rogers swipe at the ball, then he'd just sort of sit around, pick up a garbage rebound, get fouled, and miss two free throws. But Rogers had really developed, Meschiarakov was a stud, and a couple of swingmen provided some slashing-scoring.

The thugs from Xavier had joined the A-10 by now, and they quickly emerged as a West Division power. And when I say "thugs," I really mean it; Skip Prosser, Thad Motta, whoever coaches them now, it doesn't matter: these guys have always played dirty. We, the Colonial fans, hated those guys immediately. It brought us great satisfaction when freshman Mike King sank two free throws with 0:00.00 on the clock to force OT during a January 1998 game against the Muskateers, a game which GW eventually won. By mid-February, the Colonials were like 20-5 and ranked again. And then things fell apart again.

The nadir of my college years fandom was a late-February home game against Temple. That was another annoying team, by the way. Their best player probably was a young point guard named Pepe Sanchez. (The student section, aided by lots of maturity, called him "Pee Pee.") Sanchez ate us alive with defense and timely shooting. As I walked back to my dorm---I was a resident assistant in the big freshman dorm, Thurston Hall, my last two years---I confessed my despression to one of my residents. She didn't understand the misery; well, I probably was over-reacting, anyway. The Colonials made the NCAAs as a No. 9 need, its highest ever.

And that was it for my college years; I was in Europe on spring break for the opening weekend. By then, GW was out. Roughly about the time some friends and I were feeding beer to a cat in an Antwerp tavern, the Colonials were bowing out innocently to Oklahoma State, by about 15 points. And that was that.

Mike Jarvis, having recovered a bit from a disappointing '96-97 season, jumped at the St. Johns job opening. Jarvis's smile welcomed me to GW, and he left right when I left.
Tomorrow: Graduation, separation, apathy, conflict of interest.

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One of the many advantages of growing perennials is the ability of these beautiful flowers to return to full bloom season after season. While this ability to bloom repeatedly is one of the things that makes perennials so special, it also introduces a number of important factors into your gardening plan. One of the most important of these is a proper pest control regimen.

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Pest control in the perennial garden
http://home-gardening.blogspot.com/
If you have any good tips please post trhem on my blog

One of the many advantages of growing perennials is the ability of these beautiful flowers to return to full bloom season after season. While this ability to bloom repeatedly is one of the things that makes perennials so special, it also introduces a number of important factors into your gardening plan. One of the most important of these is a proper pest control regimen.

While a garden full of annuals starts each season as a blank slate, the perennial garden is essentially a work in progress. The fact that the plants stay in the ground through winter makes things like proper pruning, disease management and pest control very important. If the garden bed is not prepared properly after the current growing season, chances are the quality of the blooms will suffer when the next season rolls around.

One of the most important factors to a successful perennial pest control regimen is the attention and vigilance of the gardener. As the gardener, you are in the best position to notice any changes in the garden, such as spots on the leaves, holes in the leaves, or damage to the stems. Any one of these could indicate a problem such as pest infestation or a disease outbreak.

It is important to nip any such problem in the bud, since a disease outbreak or pest infestation can easily spread to take over an entire garden. Fortunately for the gardener, there are a number of effective methods for controlling both common pests and frequently seen plant diseases.

Some of these methods are chemical in nature, such as insecticides and fungicides, while others are more natural, like using beneficial insects to control harmful ones. While both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, many gardeners prefer to try the natural approach first, both for the health of the garden and the environment.

There is an additional benefit of the natural approach that many gardeners are unaware of. These days, it is very popular to combine a koi pond with a garden, for a soothing, relaxing environment. If you do plan to incorporate some type of fish pond into your garden landscape, it is critical to avoid using any type of insecticide or fungicide near the pond, since it could seep into the water and poison the fish. Fish are extremely sensitive to chemicals in the environment, especially with a closed environment like a pond.

As with any health issue, for people or plants, prevention is the best strategy to disease control and pest control alike. The best defense for the gardener is to grow a garden full of the healthiest, most vigorous plants possible. Whenever possible, varieties of plants bred to be disease or pest resistant should be used. There are a number of perennials that, through selective breeding, are quite resistant to the most common plant diseases, so it is a good idea to seek them out.

Happy gardening,
Stan
http://yourebooksuperstore.com/vegetable/
 
Pest control in the perennial garden
http://home-gardening.blogspot.com/
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One of the many advantages of growing perennials is the ability of these beautiful flowers to return to full bloom season after season. While this ability to bloom repeatedly is one of the things that makes perennials so special, it also introduces a number of important factors into your gardening plan. One of the most important of these is a proper pest control regimen.

While a garden full of annuals starts each season as a blank slate, the perennial garden is essentially a work in progress. The fact that the plants stay in the ground through winter makes things like proper pruning, disease management and pest control very important. If the garden bed is not prepared properly after the current growing season, chances are the quality of the blooms will suffer when the next season rolls around.

One of the most important factors to a successful perennial pest control regimen is the attention and vigilance of the gardener. As the gardener, you are in the best position to notice any changes in the garden, such as spots on the leaves, holes in the leaves, or damage to the stems. Any one of these could indicate a problem such as pest infestation or a disease outbreak.

It is important to nip any such problem in the bud, since a disease outbreak or pest infestation can easily spread to take over an entire garden. Fortunately for the gardener, there are a number of effective methods for controlling both common pests and frequently seen plant diseases.

Some of these methods are chemical in nature, such as insecticides and fungicides, while others are more natural, like using beneficial insects to control harmful ones. While both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, many gardeners prefer to try the natural approach first, both for the health of the garden and the environment.

There is an additional benefit of the natural approach that many gardeners are unaware of. These days, it is very popular to combine a koi pond with a garden, for a soothing, relaxing environment. If you do plan to incorporate some type of fish pond into your garden landscape, it is critical to avoid using any type of insecticide or fungicide near the pond, since it could seep into the water and poison the fish. Fish are extremely sensitive to chemicals in the environment, especially with a closed environment like a pond.

As with any health issue, for people or plants, prevention is the best strategy to disease control and pest control alike. The best defense for the gardener is to grow a garden full of the healthiest, most vigorous plants possible. Whenever possible, varieties of plants bred to be disease or pest resistant should be used. There are a number of perennials that, through selective breeding, are quite resistant to the most common plant diseases, so it is a good idea to seek them out.

Happy gardening,
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