I write this week through heavy eye lids in the early hours of the morning upon returning from our opening weekend road trip to Vermont. I must admit, a six-hour bus ride with college kids is truly an education!

We return slightly battered and bruised with an 0-2 record. Our kids fought for most of the 80 minutes, and if not for some foul trouble and tired legs, we may have gained a split of the two games. We competed in the first contest with just eight players dressed out and nine in the second. We had three players log over 60 minutes of basketball in a span of 16 hours. I can already see this becoming a problem as the season wears on. I feel caught between a rock and a hard place because I need to physically condition them to be in top shape for 40 minutes of basketball each night, but at the same time, I need to preserve their energy and leg strength during this 27-game grind we have over the next three months. Such is life in small college basketball…

While on the subject of small college basketball, I want to pay homage to all those student-athletes around the country who compete at the Division II and III levels, and put in so much time and energy knowing full well they may only receive a wealth of personal satisfaction at the end of their four years. And, of course, many more years worth of student-loan payments! The phrase, for the love of the game, does not do justice the passion and determination these student-athletes display everyday in average sized gymnasiums filled only with family and friends; void of million dollar television contracts or the allure of one day inking a six-figure signing bonus to merely play a game. For those who have never attended a Division II or III men’s and women’s basketball game, I encourage you to watch one this winter. You will be astounded at the athleticism and skill level these student-athletes display. It is my firm belief, the basketball being played at the small college level may be the only pure form of the game we have left.

The upcoming week is a short one for us. We have our third game in five days on Tuesday evening and then a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday. This time of year is great preparation for the end of the season. At our level, post season tournaments are played over a two-week period and spread out amongst a host of geographic locations according to seeding. It is not uncommon for teams to travel several hours to play two or three games in as many nights for the right to claim a spot in the coveted Final Four. Coaches are truly tested, having to prepare their teams for an upcoming opponent in a short amount of time. Upset victories are prevalent in these types of situations, thus Cinderella stories are almost always written as the calendar turns to March. Just ask SLAM Assistant Editor Matt Caputo, as he watched his brother Chris, an assistant coach at George Mason University (also a player I have coached), help author one of college basketball’s greatest underdog stories of all time in 2006.

Well, that’s it for this week’s diary entry. Gotta get some well deserved sleep and then back to the court later this afternoon to prepare for our next game!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. May your time spent together with family and friends be memorable and fulfilling.

-Tony Staffiere