Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Senior Tribute 2017

Senior Days hurt. They give us four years of their lives (or fewer, or more, depending on circumstances) and we give them our hearts. And the funny thing is that we keep doing it. It’s insane. It’s illogical. It’s basketball. It’s love.

This year, the Senior Days are not all stacked up against each other like a flurry of punches to the heart. They’re spread out across the coldest, shortest month, pacing out the nostalgia and the bittersweetness- bitter because we’ve reached the end of the journey together, sweet because we’ve watched them grow up and because we know they’re coming out of this with a degree or two.

But I enjoyed writing the senior tributes so much last year, even with the unexpected turn one of them took after Chicago, that I decided that that’s how I’m going to roll with these going forward, instead of inserting them into the game notes. These kids (kids, said the thirty-something about the twenty-somethings) deserve their own place to shine.


Michigan is the most distant of my teams, and I don’t think I’ll ever see one of their Senior Days. But I can’t let a senior tribute go by without a nod to the three-point sharpshooter and floor leader Siera Thompson, or to the defensive leader who wormed her way into my heart on first look, Danielle Williams.

Someday the schedules will align and I’ll get to know these Wolverines I claim loyalty to better. I can only appreciate them from afar for now, and wish them all the best as they take on the world: victors valiant, leaders and best.


First up this year on the Senior Day schedule is Seton Hall, and for these seniors I’ve chosen to skip a St. John’s game. If y’all have read the ongoing saga of this rivalry and our place in it, you know what that means. But these three have missed so much and sacrificed so much and hurt so much, that a game is worth it. I promised them I’d be there. I’m keeping that promise.

Kathleen Egan’s not on the roster anymore. But Kat’s still a Pirate. ACLs are the worst, and she fought back through them again and again until she had to leave the fight. Sometimes the hardest fight is the one you choose not to keep taking up.

I remember her fondly for her hustle on the floor. Her team needed her to get stronger, so she built herself into a power forward. She scrapped for rebounds with the best of them, and she stood her ground on defense. I think Seton Hall’s still looking for someone to step into those shoes. They’re not as easy to fill as you might think.

Tara Inman is still on the roster, but she no longer plays. ACLs again, repeated and recurring. Those three letters have derailed more seasons and careers than I care to count. We’ll be seeing them again.

Seton Hall has a lot of fun, exciting guards who work their butts off and around whom no basketball is safe. This is not to take anything away from Quanny, or Kaela, or TT, or anyone else. But I miss watching Tara in that low stance on defense, hands out, watching the ball, ready to pounce.

She grew on me. I wasn’t impressed with her in her first couple of years, but like many a young guard before her, she blossomed. She figured out who she was and what her role was, and once she knew she was a ball-hawk and occasional shooter, she flourished.

There’s no doubt in my mind that she, and Kat, deserve Senior Day honors as much as anyone who still suits up on game day.

We see a lot more of Lubirdia Gordon than we do the other two Seton Hall seniors, and that’s not just because Bird’s the only one of that trio still active. Bird brushes with greatness on a regular basis in the summertime, rebounding for none other than Tina Charles on the Garden floor.

Country roads took her down to Morgantown, and country roads brought her back to the Tri-State. But while you can take the kid out of West Virginia, you can’t take the Mountaineer out of the kid. Bird hits hard and plays hard, like most posts who spend time in Mike Carey’s system.

She’s still a Pirate, though. She knows her role. Jump shooters miss shots. It’s inevitable. Someone’s got to be there to put those misses back. Someone’s got to be the person that everyone overlooks in the scouting report. Bird has been rock solid in the middle this year, holding the paint down for the Pirates on both ends of the floor.

It hasn’t been an easy year for her, in more ways than one, but she’s perservered and thrived. You can’t ask for anything better than that. College is supposed to be about growing up and learning to overcome obstacles, right?

These are my senior Pirates, and I love them, for all they are, and all they have been, and all they should have been.


Fordham is one of my more recent adoptions. That being said, it’s not so recent that I haven’t seen this class through all four of their years. We have a more distant relationship, your intrepid blogger and these Rams who play at Rose Hill. But when the time is right and the stars align, we go to the wall together against the best the A-10 dares to send to the Bronx.

We got our first look at Danielle Padovano her freshman year when we were keeping an eye on the former Johnnie Mary Nwachukwu, who had taken her graduate year at Fordham. And what we first noticed was that this tall, rebound-happy, freshman was taking the minutes we had expected to go to the tournament-seasoned grad student.

This Danielle is a matchup problem beyond the arc and fierce on the boards. As she’s gotten older, and as the team has changed around her, she’s become more of a situational player, her minutes fluctuating as the opponent’s style dictates. It takes a special kind of personality to adapt to that and to accept your minutes declining to a part-time role.

We got our first look at Danielle Burns her freshman year when we were keeping an eye on the former Johnnie Mary Nwachukwu, who had taken her graduate year at Fordham. And what we first noticed was that she was a shooter and she wasn’t afraid to shoot.

(As a matter of fact, I do tend to refer to Ms. Burns and Ms. Padovano collectively as the Danielles, or as las Danielle.)

Danielle has really grown into a role as a top-notch scorer for the Rams. Her game is well-rounded, and she's stepped up. It's been a pleasure to see her develop, intermittent as my involvement with Fordham has been. I've said it before, and I'll enjoy saying it again and again: part of the joy and the thrill of college basketball is watching the development of young people and seeing who they become.

Hannah Missry comes pre-equipped with a nickname. When she's raining threes upon the enemy, she becomes "Miss Misery" to them.

Sometimes, a player gets really good at a single thing. There are a lot of bad things to be said about crippling overspecialization. I've said a lot of them about Hannah in the past. And there are times when it's abundantly clear that her priority is getting open for three and sinking it. I've called her out about her defense in the past. To her credit, she's made some strides this year towards diversifying her game. But this isn't the place for that.

This is the place for celebrating three-pointers from all over the court, from any distance, at any time. This is the place and time to talk about Hannah Missry as the game changer she can be when that sweet, sweet three is dropping and she brings it back down the court with her swagger. When she lights it up, she electrifies the entire team and fires up Rose Hill.

Bring it on home, Miss Misery.

These are my senior Rams, and I love them for everything they are, and everything they’ve become.


We’ve been on-again, off-again with LIU, our love for city teams sometimes conflicting with the simple exigencies of mundane life. With Coach Oliver on board, and one of my favorite Rutgers alumnae beside her on the bench, we’ve taken the Blackbirds to heart. They are not the best of our teams, but they are certainly the feistiest when they set their hearts to it, and this senior class is one of the biggest reasons why.

Dionne Coe’s only been in Brooklyn for this single season, her graduate transfer season. In a way, a player being a graduate transfer says a lot about her. It says that she’s prioritized her academics. It says that she’s taken advantage of her scholarship to get a degree. It says that she wants more than just a bachelor’s, that she sees the opportunity she’s been given and she’s going to take it.

I’ve said a lot of unkind things about Dionne in the GNoD, and I will defend them. But this isn’t the place for them. Welcome home, Dionne. I’m sorry we didn’t get to know you better and see more of you.

I don’t think any player on this LIU squad personifies the grit they can bring on defense and on loose balls than Brianna Farris. She’s hard-nosed and tough, one of the best defenders we have to offer.

I remember the first time I saw her, back when she was a freshman, in LIU’s Thanksgiving tournament. She scared me a little back then, with that stone game face; even her short black hair seemed to bristle with “don’t f- with me”. She’s grown her hair out, so it doesn’t bristle as much, but the game face is still as tough as it ever was.

She was almost the hero against St. Francis this year. She would have deserved it, of that I have no doubt. Her threes from the corner are streaky, but when she’s on, she’s on. And she always brings the tough, physical defense. I don’t think it’s been easy for her to accept playing fewer minutes this year, but she’s done it, and she’s spearheaded comebacks from that position.

Almost to a fault, Shanovia Dove has been the offensive catalyst for the Blackbirds. It hasn’t mattered whether she started or came off the bench- Novi will get her points and she will force you to respect her. Whether it’s from deep or in the lane, she can score and does so often. Part of Senior Day included the milestone ball from her 1000th point.

She’s tough, too, though she’s more of a determinator than someone who will get in your face. But when she starts, she doesn’t stop until she’s finished. If something’s in her way, she’ll get it out of her way. I don’t know where she’s been, or what she’s gone through, but whatever it is, it’s made her very goal-oriented.

As bad as LIU’s been this year- and let’s face it, we’ve been pretty bad- I don’t even want to think about how bad we’d be without Shanovia this season. I wish her all the best, and I know she, and her classmates, will make their way in the world, whether the world likes it or not.

These are my senior Blackbirds, and I love them for everything they are, and everything that they strive to be.


Iona was the team we thought we were going to cut out of our ever-expanding circle. We lost all our connections there, after all, and we didn’t exactly get off on the right foot with the current regime. But we stayed for the players we knew, and then we got attached to the new class coming in, and we rebuilt that relationship. I’d say that Iona is now only behind my Big East teams, and I don’t want to find out how I’d feel if Iona ever played Seton Hall or my most distant Michigan. Iona’s seniors took the long road to New Rochelle, through Milwaukee and Madrid, Philadelphia and Lubbock.

It took the better part of three years, but at long last Karynda DuPree has come into her own, and it is glorious.

The first couple of years we saw her at Iona, she was the most frustrating player on the floor. Here was this center with a fantastic low-post build- a 6’4” solid body that probably half of the post players I’ve ever watched would have killed to have- and she was on the outside chucking threes while the guards and Joy Adams did the rebounding. Long-time readers of the GNoD know exactly how I feel about post players taking perimeter shots- you need to be good at it or you need to stop, and you still need to rebound and do work on the inside.

Sometime in the second half of her junior year, the pieces came together. She’s not perfect, but she stopped taking the threes and started taking the ball inside. She discovered her strength as a center both on offense and defense (though I will say she’s always been a shot-blocker, even when she was being a shrinking violet on offense). Now she’s going up with authority. Now she’s tearing down rebounds. She has blossomed, and it is wonderful to watch.

This version of Karynda has been an absolute joy to watch, and I’m sorry that we didn’t get to see more of this side of her sooner. But I’m still thrilled that we got to see this part of her journey.

Of all my seniors, the only one I’ve ever seen before she was one of my players is Marina Lizarazu. She made an impression when she was a Red Raider and Texas Tech came to Brooklyn for a tournament. I didn’t say it was a good impression- she was a risk-taker, in over her head, with questionable judgment. I don’t know how she would have developed if she had stayed at Texas Tech.

I do know who she is now, and in some ways she’s still the same. She takes risks, she makes mistakes. But her command of the floor has improved dramatically. She’s matured into a true point guard, one who commands the offense and owns the court as soon as she steps on it. She’s a slick passer, a capable facilitator, willing and able to take over the offensive load if and when her team needs her. She’s fearless.

That’s the thing that sticks with me most with Marina- she’s fearless. She drives the lane without fear. She takes the big shot without fear. She’s not afraid of the clock. She makes the clock roll over and beg. That’s huge for a point guard.

I think we’ll be hearing more out of Marina in the next few years. Maybe it’ll be in the W. Maybe it’ll be on the international stage. But something tells me we’re going to be hearing her name again after she graduates.

These are my senior Gaels, and I love them for all that they are, and all the places that have made them.


Last, but never, ever least: my Johnnies. This is the team that owns my heart, the team that I will go to the wall for, the team that trumps all other teams, the team I have the deepest connection to. This is the Senior Day that always breaks my heart (even though sometimes it’s because they get the shortest shrift from their school).

I’m sorry we haven’t gotten to see more of Kendyl Nunn, both in minutes and in years. I’d heard so much about her shot that I wanted to see it in action in a St. John’s jersey. I know she’s taken the long way around to get here.

Most of all, I’d have liked to see more of the sheer joy she brings to the floor. She always looks happy to be out there and playing. She scraps for loose balls and takes her opportunities when she gets them. You can’t ask for more than that from a deep reserve, especially the positive attitude. I’m going to miss that smile.

There’s a Big East commercial that runs ad infinitum et ad nauseaum during the digital broadcasts, and it talks about how big isn’t just visible on the court. That’s where the conference uses the image of Aaliyah Lewis. But I think that’s the wrong spot. Because it goes on to talk about how big lives in our attitude, and I can think of no player (except perhaps one) who exemplifies the big-city, big-conference, big-game attitude like Aaliyah does.

We used to have a recurring gag that Aaliyah- slightly-built, 5’5” in media guides and high heels Aaliyah- was everyone’s mother’s favorite player because she was so goshdarn cute. I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore, but if it’s not, she’s picked up more than enough fans to make up the difference. Odds are, she’s going to make a no-look pass, or break someone’s ankles with a wicked crossover, or cut through the paint with a burst of speed like a sports car for two and the foul- one way or another, she’s going to be the first favorite player a new fan has.

Aaliyah came into our program with huge shoes to fill. What’s that? You want to be the point guard after Nadirah McKenith, the one Johnnie to make it in the W? Have fun. She took on the challenge, and the role, and answered the call. She adopted the swagger, internalized the city attitude, and took charge.

She’s a little crazy, and a little reckless, but that’s part of why we love her. She’s our point guard.

And despite her size, she’s going to leave some pretty big shoes to fill.

So you know how I said above that maybe one other player might be more appropriate for the “big lives in our attitude” line? That player would, of course, be Jade Walker.

With Jade, big is very visible on the court, and from all over the court. The Red Storm’s intro video talks about her as a match-up nightmare, and they’re not lying. She has a sweet jumper that she’s not afraid to use from the midrange or from beyond the arc. But when she puts her mind to it, her strength inside is even more impressive. She combines power and finesse on the floor, and when she’s on, no one is stopping her.

She’s developed that jumper and lengthened its range while at St. John’s, but in the last year and change, she’s also improved as a defender. It takes a good amount of maturity- or at least an eye on one’s future- for an offensive powerhouse to develop their defense. She’s still got some ways to go in terms of maturity, but I’m pretty sure most 22-year-olds do. I’m pretty sure I did. She plays with emotion and passion, leaves her heart on her sleeve- and sometimes that costs her. She gets into her own head, and with time she’ll learn to get out of it.

But we love her for her unabashed emotion. When Jade emotes, the whole world knows it. There’s never any doubt she’s giving it her all.

Maybe someday I’ll even find out if she let her teammates have a turn with the trophy, or if trophy is still bae to her. :D

I had written the conclusion to this and then realized I forgot Sandie. That is a terrible oversight. I choose to believe that some subconscious part of my mind refuses to admit that Sandra Udobi is a senior and will be leaving us after this season.

Knee injuries robbed Sandie of her mobility and her playing time. When she was on the floor she was a solid defender and a solid teammate, bringing the occasional elbow jumper or strong post move to diversify her game. But torn ACLs are even crueler to posts than they are to guards. She’s seen the writing on the wall.

But of all my seniors, Sandie is the one I will miss most as a human being. She’s brilliant. I truly believe that she’s going to make a big positive change in the world once she graduates with her degrees in hand. Others will have success in basketball, whether it’s on the court or beside it. I think Sandie dreams bigger; if she makes her mark through basketball, it’s because she’s at the grass-roots level, changing the world by affecting culture. She’s on the macro level.

And how often are you blessed to know someone you’re absolutely certain is going to make the world a better place?

These are my senior Johnnies, and I love them for everything that they are, and everything that they choose to be.


These are my 2017 seniors- from New Jersey, and New York, and Tennessee, and Florida, and Wisconsin, and Illinois, and Arizona, and California, and Spain, and Nigeria. I love them despite their flaws; I love them because of their flaws. I love them for all that they’ve done, for all that they should have done, for all that they want to do. I love them for everything they are, and everything they have been, and everything that they will be.

Thank you for one, or two, or four, or five, years. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

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