The fan who dares to miss their team's first home game of the season must pay a heavy price to the gods of sport. It does not matter the reason. Family obligations are nothing to the gods of sport. A toll must be paid.
My penance was two hours and forty-five miles of squeaking and creaking along the length of Long Island, past heaps and piles of industrial filth on a leaf-strewn track lined by trees whose stark branches reached for the cloudy sky, in order to see the first game of the Red Storm's season, with the unpalatable choice of arriving an hour before the gate opened or arriving five minutes before the game tipped off. Fortunately, Stony Brook has a seating area within the building.
What was strangely fascinating was the number of St. John's supporters in the building. There are advantages to recruiting locally. For the first time in a while, it felt like I was part of something big. I wonder if that's what it feels like to be a fan of one of the bigger teams, traveling somewhere to a smaller arena and overwhelming it. The numbers were about even, which is disconcerting. I think the only time I've been around that many Red Storm supporters was at a men's game, and they were not the most charming of people.
The bright lights and fresh paint of Pritchard Gymnasium felt like an omen: here comes the spotlight, let it shine on everything sparkling and new. St. John's lost one of its best scorers in recent years, saw two reserves transfer during the offseason, and brings in five freshmen. I wasn't sure what I was going to see.
What I saw were glimpses of a ferocious pressing defense, of a backcourt trap that chewed up and spat out Stony Brook's ballhandlers, of crisp and clean ball movement, of players moving without the ball. I watched my team draw a five-second call on its way to forcing 32 turnovers. I saw something that could truly be beautiful. The potential of these young players is refreshing after the disappointments of last season. Nadirah McKenith's ability to run the offense, Shenneika Smith's quick hands on both ends of the floor, and Eugeneia McPherson's in-your-face defense are all promising.
I also saw 20 turnovers and a team that missed more than half its free throws, so I know there's still work to be done. Free throws can be practiced, and so can ballhandling. What matters more is putting the pieces together, getting to know each other, and having an opportunity to run our offense; Stony Brook's defense was so out of whack that shots were coming almost at will.
The gods of sport may ask penance of their followers... but they are also benevolent gods who reward their most loyal followers. The sweetness of this victory will have to last until December for this loyal fan.