Section E’s B-league basketball team secured the top overall seed in the HBS intramural tournament today by defeating OJ 64-33 in the last game of the regular season. The E-Dawgs finished the regular season with a record of 8-0, despite gaining almost no respect from sportswriters in the pre-season rankings. One simple phrase that would sum up the E-Dawgs season: Any Given Night.
That would capture it all.
It would explain how different players have led the E-Dawgs in scoring throughout the season. It would explain how they beat six second-year teams that had had the luxury of playing together last year. It would explain how a bunch of 5’9″ guys (plus or minus an inch or two) could run the table. It would also explain how they overcame the loss of several key players to injury and somehow still find themselves heading into the tournament with an 8-0 record.
But best of all, it would encapsulate the unselfishness that each member of the team has bought into, creating an environment where anonymity has transformed into weaponry.
“It could be anybody,” oft-maligned point guard Chuck Edwards said.
“The beginning of the season was tough, and my actual performance
wasn’t at the level of my potential. But I knew after the pizza debacle that I had to turn my life around. I knew the team was counting on me.
Fortunately I had guys like Schlatka to pick me up. You never know – it could be me, Ryan [Perry], Nihar [Shah], Damaune [Journey], or Ben [Schlatka]. We lean on each other. On any given night, you never know who’s going to score. You never know where the explosion is going to come from.”
Tuesday night in the regular season finale it came from Journey, who despite missing several games due to his presidential duties, poured in 20 first-half points against OJ as NE raced out to a 23-1 lead. Shah, voted defensive MVP by his teammates, sparked the offense with several steals.
He racked up 10 assists in the first half alone, finding DJ several times in the open court for fast-break baskets.
“They deserve the credit,” Coach Sampson said. “Coaches all across the country are trying to get their guys to be unselfish. I just have guys who are coachable, guys who have bought into our system and understand what it is we’re trying to do.”
At the center of that is ferocious, in-your-face, man-to-man defense. Sampson was an offensive-minded manager back on his GE intramural team, but when he came to HBS last year he completely changed.
Offense, you see, comes and goes. Shooters are like cash flows – sometimes just way too volatile. Execution can fall apart faster than a TOM team building circuit boards. Referees (externalities) can get in the way. But if a team is conditioned and disciplined, tenacious defense never disappears. Regardless of how well you’re shooting, regardless of whether you’re playing in Cameroon Indoor Stadium or Madison Square Garden or Shad Hall, good defense rarely goes away. Sampson likes to preach that, night in and night out, they control their own destiny. Play defense the way they’re capable of and they have a chance to beat anybody. Slack off at the less glorious end of the floor and they don’t.
It’s all in their hands.
“And that’s a comfortable feeling,” Sampson said. “We always have guys with a lot of energy, hands in everybody’s faces – and that’s what makes
And, as an added bonus, it often translates to easy buckets at the other end of the floor. “That’s the fun part,” Perry said. “Getting out in transition, getting some easy baskets, that’s when we get it going.
Sometimes I know Bonetti has had a little too much Velveeta the night before, maybe a little too much Jell-O, but if I get him involved early I know he’ll have a good game.”
Bonetti declined requests to be interviewed for this article, but did make the following statement: “I never really wanted to be a role model anyway. What I do off the court is nobody’s business. If I want to eat Velveeta, I’ll eat Velveeta. I just want to play basketball. That’s what I do.”
When the season started, HBS media experts picked NE to finish no better than eighth in the league. Though nobody else believed, what with the injuries to Mani (sprained ankle) and Ephraim (sprained hair follicle on his right leg), Sampson said he sensed this team was special after the first three weeks. “The way we came back in a couple of those games and really showed a lot of poise down the stretch, I knew we had a chance to be very good.”
Big Country Jay Klug said he first felt it coming last summer when the team started playing pick-up games in Shad. PG Albert Kim said, “That’s just Klug being Klug. Klug doesn’t like to lose at anything. I played him once in PONG back when we did the Atari case, and he was just so competitive. I beat him one day and he came back to my room at 2:00 that night, banging on the door, wanting to play another match of PONG. I couldn’t believe it.”
“There were countless times after we’d play pick-up, that me, Eli, and Ben would talk about being a really good basketball team if everybody stayed within themselves and just knew their role,” Albert said. “When Mani and ‘The Worm’ Ephraim first went down, I was worried. But then we signed that Canadian from York University to a ten-day contract and he proved to be the role-player we needed to make a run for the championship. I’ve always been critical of Canadian basketball players, but Eli was different.
Despite the lack of NBA seasoning, you could tell he was more than just a Pub Pup.”
Still, it will probably be commonplace to write the E-Dawgs off in the tournament. They’re too inexperienced, with an inexperienced coach, and various ailments nagging key players. They don’t have Shaquille O’Neal.
They don’t have Coach K.
All they have is their anonymity. They’re unselfishness. And some hard-nosed good defense.
There is one other thing. They’ve never lost a game.
“With what we’ve accomplished this far, (writing us off) would be a mistake,” Sampson said. “On any given night, this group of guys can play with anybody.”
Any Given Night.