Wednesday, December 14

Basketball in Brooklyn

Last spring the largely unknown Long Island University men’s basketball team went an impressive 27-3 in league play to enter the NCAA tournament as the 15th seed.

Long Island University, spread over two primary campuses, is a private institution with approximately 10,000 undergraduate students. While the largest and administratively focused campus is in Brookville, on Long Island’s North Shore; their smaller, more diverse campus is located in the center of Downtown Brooklyn, at the corner of Dekalb and Flatbush.

Basketball at LIU has a long and mostly ignored history; the Blackbirds won the National Invitation Tournament in 1939 and 1941. In their 1935-6 season they accumulated 32 consecutive wins, making them the clear favorite to represent the United States in the 1936 Berlin Olympics – however the largely Jewish team chose to boycott the games.

Then following the CCNY Point Shaving Scandal, in which a total of seven teams were implicated, four were from the Greater New York City Area, including LIU, the Blackbirds suspended their athletic program from 1951 to 1957 – also involved was the University of Kentucky, the winningest team in the history of college basketball.

The surrounding New York Area is fairly saturated with quality college basketball. With teams such as Syracuse, Cornell, Hofstra and St. Johns all playing relatively close to New York City, LIU basketball goes largely unnoticed. Syracuse University basketball plays in their famous Carrier Dome, which houses the largest collegiate crowds of up to 33,000 people, and has even set national collegiate attendance record at 34,616 people. St. Johns University, fourth in college basketball attendance, consistently plays 8 games in the universally known Madison Square Garden (capacity 19,000), whose website declares them “New York’s Team”. Meanwhile, the LIU Blackbirds play in their recently completed Wellness, Recreation and Athletics Center, which can hold 2,500 people. Tickets to see St. Johns basketball as MSG stretch from $25-155, while at LIU’s WRAC ticket prices stretch from student tickets at $3 to $8 for General Admission and then $15 for reserved seating.

The 112,000 square foot Wellness, Recreation and Athletics Center stands as the largest building project in the 78 years LIU has occupied their Brooklyn Campus. Completed in January 2006, the WRAC cost LIU $45 million. On a side note, previously their home gym had been inside the Paramount Theater, established by Paramount Pictures in 1928 as the first theater specifically for Talking Pictures. LIU acquired the property in the ‘60’s, converting it to space for classrooms and a gym.

Under their coach, Jim Ferry and with WRAC as their home gym, the Blackbirds completed last years regular season with 14 home wins. Combined with a nation-high 13 road wins, the Blackbirds finished their regular season with a record of 27-3, solidifying a spot for themselves as the 15 seed in the tournament for the National Championship (where they were defeated in the first round by University of North Carolina).

This season they have started off strong, going 2-0 in league play so far and 5-5 overall, putting them in first place for the North East division. On December 1st the Blackbirds played Wagner for their home opener, they posted an unimpressive 78-73 victory over the Wagner Seahawks. Even following an injury to LIU’s close-second top-scorer and foul trouble for their two other leaders, Wagner still struggled to put points on the board. Though a close final score, Wagner never adjusted to a full-court press or intentional fouling, allowing LIU to coast to a marginal but definitive victory.

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