April 12, 2020
1989 WAS the year everything that PJ Carlesimo had worked so diligently. His blood, sweat and tears paid off as his Seton Hall Pirates basketball team won 25 regular season games , added another in their conference tournament then ripped off five straight in the NCAA tournament including a beatdown of ACC powerhouse Duke by erasing a 19 point deficit at halftime to win 95-78 to set up a championship game against the quintessential symbol of all things college sports, the University of Michigan.
Reaching the mecca of college hoops, “The Final Four” was incomprehensible for the catholic school located in the hamlet of South Orange NJ seven years prior when Carlesimo was hired. The Pirates had been a moribund program despite being a fifties power. Point shaving scandals hurt the program in the sixties and although Bill Raftery, hired in the early 70’s brought a modicum of respectability, the program was not where it once was: an east coast power and 1953 NIT champs when that winning that tourney was arguably more impressive than what the NCAA committee assembled.
Still “past is prologue”
Carlesimo struggled in his early years trying to cobble together a winner in the newly formed Big East Conference , a league long overdue in the mind of its founder Dave Gavitt who had brought Providence College success as its coach in the seventies leading the Friars to a Final Four in 1973. The first Big East Commissioner saw potential in the east coast market for college basketball and Seton Hall which along with St John’s represented the densely packed New York metropolitan market gleefully accepted an invite to the league after Rutgers University rebuked Gavitt.
Still, Carlesimo forged ahead despite some tremendous hurdles to jump. A small, antiquated depilated gym which served not just the University athletics but the prep school’s teams as well. The “Olympic” pool housed in the bowels of the was more a cesspool and rumor had it where Dr. Alec Holland aka the Swamp Thing lurked.
When he finally put all the pieces together the 1988-89 team was tough without being thuggish, smart without being narcistic and charismatic becoming Jersey’s team and a Cinderella story for the Garden State to admire.
The game with Michigan was a classic, one for the ages, one of the few title games that went to OT. It was athletes versus basketball players and the Wolverines wore the Pirates down compiling a double digit lead.
Undaunted and indefatigable the Hall rallied and tied the game in regulation.
In overtime Seton Hall had a tenuous one point lead with under a minute to play and were at the foul line to extend their advantage. The shot, however, was missed and Michigan rebounded with guard Rumeal Robinson handling the ball and dribbling down the court.
This part of the story becomes a little fragmented. To Seton Hall partisans, Robinson drifted from the basket not ready to send the ball to the glass perhaps waiting for a teammate to appear open on the wing to receive a pass and shoot a game winning jumper. Michigan fans saw Robinson detoured from his path to the basket off the glass layup and victory.
To official John Clougherty, a veteran, experienced Big East referee Robinson was fouled.
Nickel -dime at best but still a foul.
Robinson, on the line for a one and one, with the game in the balance and a Pirate throng behind the basket attempting to distract, dissuade, disrupt and deter him, calmly sank two free throws to give the Michigan squad the lead and eventual championship.
Seton Hall for all the sports historians did have one last shot that bounded off the basket.
But, they lost. 80-79 on a “controversial call”.
Carlesimo’s Cinderella season ended shoeless.
Yet, he and his team never, never , ever, ever complained about “The Call”. In fact, Carlesimo lauded Clougherty in the aftermath of the game. Never did he blame the “bad” call on the team losing the game. He took the high road.
Carlesimo and his squad acted with grace, class and dignity.
Actually, the irony is had Seton Hall won they would have gone into the annals of college basketball as the tournament winner beating a big time team in the championship game. The game was exciting and exhilarating but nevertheless it would have been just another chapter in the NCAA almanac.
The loss brought a different kind of victory for Seton Hall. The team’s display of class and sportsmanship was a reflection of the Catholic university’s mission. People, alumni, faculty, students and fans were proud of the dignity the team displayed.
Even in retrospect the team has never felt cheated, slighted or victimized by the “call” or the loss.
For Carlesimo his next best chance to return to NCAA Nirvana was a being eliminated in the Regional Semifinals , one step away from the Final Four. He would stay at Seton Hall until 1994 and would leave for the NBA and have success not as a head coach (his stay in Golden State was dreadful) but as a brilliant assistant not just on NBA title teams in San Antonio, but the Olympic ones as well, being a part of the 1992 Dream Team that smoked every team it faced.
Fast forward to last Tuesday’s State of the Union Address by President Donald J. Trump.
The behavior of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Her behavior was anything but dignified. Her lack of class and respect for the moment was so opposite what was displayed by a coach who had his moment to shine seized from him.
Had Carlesimo acted in the same manner where would his career be today? AND as representative of the college, how would Pelosi -like behavior reflected on the university?
Pelosi’s faceplant she committed on Tuesday will have ramifications beyond the SOTU moment and this November. Her rude actions will be exploited by the GOP in elections to come.
And if she feels Trump will always have the IMPEACHED label next to his name, what will historians place next to hers?
Never did Carlesimo whine, cry, moan or groan about his loss in a national championship game.
The same cannot be stated about Pelosi or her fellow Democrats. They cannot or cease to reconcile with the 2016 loss. They were in their minds cheated by a nickel-dime foul.
Her behavior has been described as petulant but it displays more than that. Her actions before, during and after the speech demonstrated her true nature. It revealed her real person- if she can’t get her way she moans, groans, whines, and cries.
Her makeup cannot disguise her true make up.
Indeed, the nation saw a deeply angry, irate, irrational disturbed woman in the throes Trump Derangement.
Hopefully, come November, America will be rid of her.