This week Gannon extended its winning streak to eight games with a rugged 57-54 win Wednesday over Slippery Rock but came crashing back down to earth Saturday when they fell to #6 Indiana (Pa.), 72-62. Unless some cataclysmic event takes place, IUP will win the PSAC West going away (they're three full games ahead of our Knights).
Gannon’s postseason hopes are strong as well; they hold a three-game lead over Pitt-Johnstown for second place and a six-game lead over Seton Hill and Cal for sixth place, the final playoff spot in the West. The scenario for Gannon to fall to seventh place isn’t worth detailing here; we’d all have jumped off the Hammermill Center roof by that point.
With Gannon still in good shape and no overtime games to discuss, I'd like us to look beyond basketball for a bit. The late, great Dean Smith describes the purpose of an athletic program this way: "Athletics is to the university like the front porch is to a home. It is the most visible part, yet certainly not the most important."
I've written before about how John Reilly has done a stellar job maintaining his “porch” -- no embarrassments, arrests, academic chicanery, misbehaving coaches, or preening players. I’m going to talk about another team here, and maybe I don't have the right to say what I'm about to because I only see them once or twice a year. But here’s how I see it.
Slippery Rock's men’s basketball “porch” is a regrettable representation of their university.
Before I share details behind that statement, let me explain why a Gannon grad like me cares about The Rock. SRU is where my parents met and both graduated with teaching degrees, and they were proud of their experiences there. I grew up before kids had phones and everyone had cable TV, so I spent many rainy days poring over the black-and-white photos in Slippery Rock yearbooks. Soccer photos from the 1960s, when the game was foreign to most Western Pennsylvanians, were particularly entertaining to me.
My mom would laugh while telling stories about her quirky roommates, overbearing residence hall monitors, and her time in class with soon-to-be rock legend Donny Iris. I don't know much about music, but I know his real last name is Ierace and that teachers would scold him by saying "Mr. I-ROTCH-EE!" because of my mom's fond college memories. I don't want to overstate it and say the place seemed magical to me, but it certainly was admirable.
Today, when I see how men's basketball coach Kevin Reynolds represents Slippery Rock, I have a much different opinion of the school. I sit by the opposing bench most every Gannon game in part to observe the coaches (I'm a student of leadership and try to use every situation to learn), and here's some of what I recall from Wednesday:
- You know how when a fan says the coach complained about every call or whined the whole game, they don't literally mean every call and the whole game. But I'm being literal here when I say Reynolds barked at the officials -- or sometimes just shouted at the wind -- for essentially all 40 minutes Wednesday.
- He received a warning for being outside the coaching box early in the game and was unapologetic about committing the infraction. In fact, it seemed like for the rest of the game he was baiting the officials by regularly wandering to half court or stomping three steps onto the floor during a dead ball.
- After coach Reilly vociferously (but briefly) argued a block foul call against Evan Phoenix, Reynolds made sure to harangue each referee one-by-one on the ensuing possessions. "Why didn't he get a box warning? Why didn't he get one? How come I got one and he doesn't?" he yelled at each official. Then he started shouting to nobody in particular, "Isn't it sportsmanship week? I thought this was sportsmanship week," to the bewilderment of the folks sitting around me. (P.S. Happy belated unofficial sportsmanship week, everybody!)
- The capper for me came with 11 seconds left in regulation when -- I'll spare you all the technical details -- Reynolds was denied inserting a player back into the game because time hadn't run off the clock since the player subbed out. Gannon official scorer Rick "Stats" Klapthor caught it, and then one of the officials informed Reynolds. "The clock moved," stated Reynolds, who clearly embraces the concept of alternative facts. When informed that wasn't the case, he continued to state his false claim: "The clock moved. The clock moved." When the official walked away from him, he started shouting at him, "You're crazy! This is crazy! You're absolutely crazy!"
The thing is, I've seen a version of this all before. The only new part was the bald-faced lying. This wasn't just a "bad day" for Reynolds or him justifiably standing up for his kids because his team was getting manhandled. I recall in 2009 at Slippery Rock when the officials stopped the game because an SRU student fan grabbed Tyler Stoczynski’s jersey during a sideline inbounds play. When the officials asked Reynolds to address the kids, he promptly walked across the court … and started slapping hands with them!
I’ll admit I don't know Kevin Reynolds. John Reilly said in his postgame radio interview that the two of them are friends, so maybe off the court he’s the Mother Teresa of Division II basketball. And there’s no doubt Reynolds can assemble, coach, and motivate a tough, defensive-minded team every year. If you pay attention to his kids and not him, you’d think that Slippery Rock was a school for blue-collar, hard-working, nose-to-the grindstone kids. Who doesn’t love that?
But the fans I talked with after Wednesday’s game didn’t mention anything about SRU players because Reynolds’ hysterics were so distracting. If Reynolds doesn’t change his in-game behavior and Slippery Rock officials continue to ignore how he represents their school, to me that says a lot about the university well beyond their front porch.