Thursday, February 15, 2018

New York Open - February 13, 2018

After the New York Islanders left Nassau Coliseum for Brooklyn back in 2015, the venerable venue was extensively renovated by its owners, Forest City Enterprises, who also own the Barclays Center. For two years, the coliseum was closed and essentially gutted, with an entirely new facade the most obvious addition.

Compare it to the picture below, taken three years ago. Quite the difference.

The stadium has been rebranded as NYCB Live, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (NYCB is New York Community Bank), though is still referred to as the Nassau Coliseum by most fans. It has been hosting the Long Island Nets of the NBA's development league (now known as the G-League after Gatorade in another branding disaster) since November, but I have yet to get out for a game. This week, however, a new tennis tournament came to town, and fellow sports nut Andrew decided to drive up for the occasion. Dubbed the New York Open, this is an ATP 250 tournament, making it the lowest tier of the tour. It had been held in Memphis from 1975-2017, moving this year because a title sponsor could not be found down in Tennessee. It remains the only indoor hard court tournament in the country. For this tournament, 28 singles players and 16 doubles teams would contest the two titles.

Andrew, a Philly resident and bandwagon Eagles fan (note the hat), picked me up at Hempstead and we headed over to Uniondale. There were no scalpers so we picked up tickets for the day session at the box office for $22 and wandered in.

Few fans joined us for the day session of the first round of the tournament, not surprising given that there were no big names scheduled to play, unless you count Jeremy Chardy. We did a quick walk around the empty concourse, and I spotted a cool photo from the 1976 ABA championship, won by the Nets.

Of course, the building has a lot of history and those Nets banners are still hanging, while the Islanders ones have yet to return from Barclays Center. I suspect a new set will be created in time for next season, when the Isles will play 13 games here (as well as 48 total games in the two seasons following).

The entire seating bowl has been replaced and capacity has been reduced to 13,000 for hockey, likely a testament to how fans have gotten bigger over the past 50 years. The renovations are really quite nice and although the venue is still small when compared to newer stadiums, it will be a great experience when the Islanders play here, without a bad seat in the building.

For tennis, there are two courts dubbed stadium (above) and grandstand (below). Seats are only sold for the stadium area and ushers were there to protect their turf - mainly to prevent fans from going to their seats during play. At the grandstand, it was free seating, though few fans cared enough for these secondary matches. Andrew and I tried both, and I realized that I prefer to sit behind the court rather than beside it as you can see the movement of the shots so much better.

We saw three matches while we were there, with #7 seed Steve Johnson (USA, ranked 49th in the world) losing to qualifier Adrián Menéndez Maceiras (Spain, 128th) in the big upset. Johnson had at least 5 match points, including being up 6-3 in the third set tiebreak, only to lose. Menéndez Maceiras went on to defeat Chardy (France, 95th) in the next round. We also saw Radu Albot (Moldova, 91st) knock off Bjorn Fratangelo (USA, 109th) on the grandstand, and later Peter Gojowczyk (Germany, 63rd) beat Slovenian Blaž Kavčič (108th) in straight sets. We left midway through Chardy's match with Stefano Travaglia (Italy, 132nd), which Chardy won in 3 sets.

Unless you are a tennis nut, you have probably not heard of many of these players. To be fair, there are some big names in the draw, but the top four seeds (Kevin Anderson (11th ranked), Sam Querrey (12th), John Isner (18th), Adrian Mannaniro (25th)) had received byes to the second round on Wednesday, while 5th seed Kei Nishikori (who has fallen to 27th after injuries) played that night. Our day session ticket would have allowed us to remain in the venue for the night session, but it wasn't worth hanging around for 3 more hours.

Still, it is interesting how those outside the top names receive little respect. In team sports, being the 100th best in the world means a multi-million dollar contract and adulation. In tennis, it means you are sentenced to play on the smaller court in front of ten fans, and you can only hope for lifetime earnings of a million. What I enjoyed most about this experience was seeing how those players are incredibly talented and often make fantastic shots, but their inconsistency dooms them. The line between good and great in tennis is very thin, but also very hard to cross. If you have a chance to see a smaller tournament, do so as you will enjoy the sport without having to fight the crowds.


They did a good job seeding as Andersen won the tournament, defeating Querrey in the final in a third-set tiebreak.

Next Up

I'm taking a day trip to Philadelphia next weekend for a college hoops doubleheader as Drexel and Penn, two schools within minutes of each other, host games just 3 hours apart. Check back after that for a recap.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Brown Bears 102 at Princeton Tigers 100 (OT, NCAA Basketball, Ivy League) - February 3, 2018

Over the past couple of years, I'd been to Princeton University for football, hockey, and even soccer, but had yet to add basketball to the list. I really wanted a doubleheader with another sport to make the 90-minute trip worthwhile, but the schedule maker did not cooperate, so I finally bit the bullet and went last Saturday to see the Tigers host the Brown Bears in Ivy League action.

Princeton's hoops home is Jadwin Gymnasium, named for Leander Stockwell Jadiwn, a track athlete who died in an automobile accident in 1929, a year after graduation. His mother left a gift to the university upon her death in 1965, and some of this money was used to build the gym, which opened in 1969. It is located on the east side of campus, just south of the football stadium and a short walk from the train terminus. Pick up your tickets at the box office to the left of the main doors, with all seats going for $15. You can save a couple of bucks if you buy online in advance.

Once you enter, you might be surprised by the amount of trophies and awards on display here. Princeton has a long and storied athletics history, including Dick Kazmaier, a Heisman winner back in 1951, whose trophy is on display just inside the main entrance.

Kazmaier wore #42, as did basketballer (and future Senator) Bill Bradley and that number has been retired across all sports, with an informative display describing the achievements of both athletes.

There is quite a lot of history on display here from all sports, including rowing, which is an activity you rarely hear about at the college level.

Make sure to check out the stairwells to get to the upper balcony, as there are more photos and displays to see there.

As you walk up, you can stop at the mezzanine level and look over the side into the main lobby below. Note the banners celebrating all the sports above the doors.

The building itself is quite large and has a long curved roof, which consists of three interlocking shells. It is the middle shell that is visible in the photos above and below.

There are three seating areas, with the benches closest to the court known as North, South, East, and West. Above the north side is a grandstand area with balcony and above upper balcony seats. Note that the upper balcony, shown above, is not sold for most games. Below is a shot of the south side, with the east side to the left, taken from the walkway between the balcony and upper balcony. Beyond the south stands is a large running track along with space for other field events. The large open space does make it difficult to generate a lot of noise here, particularly when compared to other, much smaller gyms.

Each seating area starts from section 1, so you have to specify what side you want to sit in when at the box office. I ended up with a seat in South 8, but found it much more roomier in the balcony and stayed there.

There are several banners highlighting the Tigers impressive accomplishments over the years, which includes over 200 national titles, though mostly in sports that get no coverage. Basketball did reach the Final Four in 1965, losing to Michigan, while Bradley was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Bradley has his own separate banner, as does Pete Carril, who coached here for 30 seasons. You can see the third part of the roof in the photo below.

Overall, Jadwin Gymnasium is an impressive venue with a lot to see for those who enjoy reading about the program's history. It is true that atmosphere suffers a bit as the court is such a small part of the facility, but that hasn't hurt the team who performs quite well at home. If you enjoy mid-major hoops, a trip to Princeton is well worth your while.

The Game

Both the Bears and Tigers had played overtime games the night before, with Brown losing to Penn while Princeton had defeated Yale. Neither team seemed tired however, and they played each other evenly for the first half, with 12 lead changes and no lead larger than 6 points as the half ended 49-49. The second stanza saw Princeton take several small leads, but Brown continued to tie the game, though they never regained the lead. Down 4 with 36 seconds left, Desmond Cambridge (why is he not at Harvard?) hit a 3 for Brown, and when Amir Bell missed one of two free throws for Princeton, the Bears had a chance to tie. Princeton fouled for some unknown reason, and Cambridge sank both stripe shots to send us to overtime.

The teams remained close throughout the extra period, and with 15 seconds left, Princeton's Myles Stephens drained two free throws to give the Tigers a 100-98 lead and the Tiger defense looked stout as the Bears brought the ball down. That didn't stop Cambridge from launching a desperate three that surprised everyone by going in, and the Tigers were suddenly down a point with just 5 seconds to go. After a timeout to build excitement, they turned the ball over immediately and had to foul with 2 seconds on the clock. Brown's Brandon Anderson made one FT and Princeton failed to do anything, falling 102-100 in a highly entertaining affair.

As you can tell by the high score, this was an excellent shooting game by both teams. Brown shot 58% (62% from three-point land) while Princeton was no slouch at 55% (but "only" 50% from distance). Cambridge led all scorers with 32 points and 9 rebounds.


This was the 68th meeting between the two schools at Princeton and only the 6th time that Brown has won.

Princeton is the first U.S.-based school at which I have seen four venues and four sports and I could still return to see baseball and complete the five main college sports.