I sit down to write this week’s entry following some well deserved time off spent with family for the Thanksgiving holiday. I am truly fortunate to have a place to call home during the holidays. My life seems to change on a daily basis and it is so nice to have such a loving family who cares as much as they do. By the way, my stomach is still full from the wonderful meals I had, which included my mother’s famous graham cracker pie (a Maine tradition).

During my time away, when I wasn’t eating, I watched much of the nation’s top teams battle each other in holiday tournaments all around the country. I know it has become cliché to proclaim the upcoming tournament one of the best ever viewed, but I dare anyone to predict who will cut the nets down in April without changing their minds several times. I watched top ranked teams get knocked off by unranked opponents, and fearless freshmen display their limitless talents as if they were auditioning for starring roles in the NBA. I even found time to catch some women’s games. While watching the hotly contested match-up between Rutgers and LSU, I saw something that disturbed me. Sylvia Fowles, the highly talented center from LSU missed a breakaway dunk attempt as Rutgers rebounded the miss. The ESPN announcers could not stop singing the praises of such of an attempt. One announcer went was far as to say: “It was good for the women’s game.” I completely disagree. LSU eventually lost the game by two points. If Fowles had made the appropriate basketball play and laid the ball in for the higher percentage shot, her team may have been in position to win the game in the final possession. It is this kind of pandering to the late-night highlight shows that we are trying to stop our young players from doing. Regardless of the gender, this is not good for the game and I can only hope the young woman learned from that play and next time she will take the higher percentage shot.

Currently, our team is still winless in three games. Following our trip to Vermont, we took on local foe Nyack College across the Hudson River from our campus and lost by four points. Our kids left everything they had on that floor and I couldn’t ask from them anymore than they gave. In fact, I told my team I took responsibility for the loss. I failed in two areas. The first was a substitution error. I should have made a substitution on our own foul shot attempt to put a stronger defensive player in the game on the ensuing possession. Sure enough, Nyack scored the game clinching basket against the player I meant to take out of the game. The second mistake I made was not using my last timeout on our final possession down by two points. I decided to allow our kids to play out of transition and we did not get a good look at the basket. These are the type of things that keep coaches awake at night. Much like a player, I will use this as a learning experience and in the future be prepared to make better decisions down the stretch.

This week we open conference play on Wednesday. Although every game at our level is important, it is the conference record that ultimately decides whether you go dancing in March or stay at home thinking about next season. One of the first goals I set for our program was to make the post season conference tournament in March. Our program has not qualified for the post season tournament in several years and with a win this week we can put ourselves in great position to accomplish this goal. I plan to emphasize to our players that we may be 0-3 right now, but we could still be undefeated in the conference with a win on Wednesday.

Well, I have to run, the second half of the final game of the week has already started and fabulous freshman OJ Mayo is leading his USC team to yet another upset of a top-ranked team!

-Tony Staffiere