By Josh Svetz and Sean Lynch
Ryan Lazo – Former sports writer for the NY Post and currently a police officer in the NYPD
Mike Lindsley – Host of ML Sports Platter and owner/reporter for PinstripePassion.com
Mike Vaccaro – Lead sports columnist for the New York Post
When did you graduate from Bonas?
Lazo: “I graduated from St. Bonaventure in 2013 and had the opportunity to watch the rise of the program in its infancy stages under Mark Schmidt.”
Did you cover the team while in school?
Lazo: “Yes. I started to cover the team for The Intrepid during my junior year – which also coincided with the Bonnies’ last NCAA Tournament appearance. Pretty good fortune if you ask me. “
Lindsley: “Covered them sophomore-senior years mostly but was on staff my freshman year for radio doing sports shows. Was the WSBU sports director sophomore year. I did color for women’s basketball and was a reporter and was a staff guy. Then sports director. I freelanced for the BV senior year. Just an article here and there. A little SBU TV senior year as a sports reporter.”
Vaccaro: “My junior year, I was an editor for the paper so I didn’t get to cover. I should have said yes because I actually did cover the team my senior year. I had done my editor stuff as a junior so we were able to cover my senior year. I also spent two years with the Times Herald covering the team.”
Describe the experience of covering them?
Lazo: “It was a weird experience both personally and professionally. From a personal standpoint, I had to fight the inner urge to give the team a benefit of the doubt, hide my emotions on the sideline and allow myself to second-guess decisions made in the game instead of defending it as a fan would. Professionally, it was the best job I could have asked for.”
“Going into the 2011-2012 season, there was very high expectations for the Bona program. With Andrew Nicholson in his senior season, and a veteran team around him which included Demetrius Conger, Michael Davenport, Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof, there was certainly promise. It was the team that had the star in Nicholson, a shutdown defender in both Kloof and Jordan Gathers, an outside shooting presence in Wright and a do-everything player in Conger.”
“It was a slow rise to prominence, not like it has been the last few years. This was a group that learned how to win slowly. They went through the warts in the previous seasons and then with all the pressure, they folded early on. The big loss was to Arkansas State at home. It was mind-numbing. But I believe that was the turning point. The team knew they had the talent and they just had to prove it. Boy, was it fun to watch.”
Lindsley: “It was simply incredible. NCAA’s in 1999-2000. Loved it. Teams were good. RC was rocking. Almost beat Kentucky in the tourney. I think covering Division 1 sports really helped me for later in life. Every Bona hoops night was a holiday.”
Vaccaro: “As a student, the team wasn’t terrible my senior year. They were 13-15. Professionally it was a tremendous opportunity, but the coach got fired so Adrian (Wojnarowski) and I had gone to the local news stations and one of them had ended up picking up the story and crediting the BV. For learning how to break a news story; it was a great training ground.”
Who were the Jaylen Adams/Matt Mobley/Courtney Stockards of your team?
Lazo: “The Jaylen Adams from the 2012 tournament team is obviously Nicholson. The way he was able to take over any game and dominate any big was impressive. His footwork in the paint was second to none. He just made defenders look silly.”
“Courtney Stockard is very similar to Conger, which is what Schmidt said when he committed to Bonaventure. Stockard is probably a better defender, but Conger was better offensively. Both attacked the boards. Both could create for themselves and both just had the ability to do the dirty work.”
“The Matt Mobley of the group had to be Eric Mosley. This was the time where Mosley began to come off the bench as the scoring threat who could pile up points in a hurry. Mosley was a high-volume shooter, but nowhere near as efficient as Mobley has been.”
Lindsley: “Tim Winn. Caswell Cyrus. David Messiah Capers. All seniors. What a trio. Capers made three free throws against Kentucky to send it to double OT. I was losing my mind in Cleveland. 10 rows up center court. Also had a special sophomore J.R. Bremer. Hit a shot against Temple on January 15, 2000. From the corner. Loudest I’ve heard the RC.”
How does the team you saw then compare to now?
Lazo: “The team I see now versus then is one that is better. Don’t get me wrong, both teams had flaws, but this current team is in better shape to do more damage. Guards win games in college basketball. With both Adams and Mobley, the Bonnies can compete with just about anyone in the country. A dominant big man like Nicholson could be contained in the paint by halting delivery and forcing him outside. Teams can’t do that with Adams or Mobley.”
Lindsley: “Equally exciting but lots of basketball left this year to see if they can lap them. 1999-2000 team had guys more ready quicker. Patricio Prato was a really good freshman. Bremer was basically a starter but just a Sophomore. They were better from an IQ standpoint. And better defensively. Their win at home was Temple. This year Rhode Island. Pretty darn close. But legacies at Bona are built by making the tournament because it’s so rare and so hard for this school.
“What’s crazy is the X-factors are so similar. Courtney Stockard now. Vidal Messiah then. Amazing role players. Inside and outside. Can shoot it. Defense supreme.”
Vaccaro: “There is no comparison. Not just because they’re more successful, but this is a professional operation now. The Reilly Center is a division one facility now. When it’s game day and it’s on TV, it looks first rate. It’s not a glorified high school gym anymore. The game day operations are state of the art. It’s not even close to when I was a student. It was much simpler. The difference between what the culture has become under Schmidt compared to now, I don’t know if it’s fully understood. For 30 years we charmed the world with this small school on a shoestring budget and we were able to do that in the past until the ESPNs and big TV networks came along. Then, it was impossible to compete.”
If you would have asked me in 1991 if the Bonnies could stay competitive in division one basketball, I would have said there was no chance. And this was a time where the Atlantic-10 was just starting to send teams to the tournament. Temple was good, West Virginia was good. St. Joes was good, George Washington was a sleeping giant and then Calipari came later with UMass, but still, if you would have told me St. Bonaventure would be competitive ever again, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have believed you more if you said it was going to be a division two program. But what Schmidt has done blows me away.”
“Any coach can get lucky and stumble into a great player once and make a run, like with Andrew Nicholson. For him to have done that and then created something better, it’s mind-blowing. As great as that run was six years ago, this team is better. What he’s done the last four years staggers me. Who knows when it’ll ever be this fun again. We have to savor the ride. It’s just two entirely different realities. I was covering a sputtering division one program that had no idea how to succeed and now you’re talking about a division one team that has a lot of success and culture. I’m excited to see what the team looks like in two years. There’s an administration in place that gets it.”
How would you compare the RC’s energy from then to now? Have some of the recent changes taken away from the experience?
Lazo: “The RC’s energy is certainly coming back, but that also comes with playing winning basketball. While students come and go, the Olean community has stayed with the team. They’ve had to sit through some dormant periods of basketball, but they are excited now and rightfully so. They’ve helped make the RC a tough place to play once again. Watching on National TV this season, the RC has shown itself to be a tough place to play with chants being heard clearly through the TV feed.”
Lindsley: “The RC is still epic. I think one thing that has helped is the big video boards. Lots of reaction from the locals. It makes THEM louder. You never worry about the students. The seats don’t change it much. We were louder though, kids. “
“All kidding aside. The RC is so special. I’ve been down twice this year. Last year I went down. The year before I saw them beat VCU. My eyes water when I walk-in. After HUGE wins as a student, I went back hours after the game and sat in the red seats up top at the RC by myself and stared at the court and just thought about what I saw. “
“I know that place is old. And I know it’s cramped, but man I mean it when I say they can’t ever get rid of it. I’m joking. The RC is as loud as its ever been. Security is ridiculous by the way. You can quote me on that one. I think if the locals stepped-up for the games like they did for the Davidson game. It could be unreal. “
Vaccaro: “I was apart of the last gasp of the “old RC”, back when everyone was drunk, rowdy and could say whatever they want with no penalty. There were two home games against Temple where you couldn’t talk to the guy next to you. It was deafening. I still remember the 1991 game against Penn State. I thought the roof was going to come off. Even when the team wasn’t good, the students were still loud and so were the townies. The whole venue rocked. I get why people were upset about the seats, but it’s a business. It’s a school looking to make money and stay in business. If it diminishes the game experience by 1%, I think we have to live with that.”
“One difference I’ve seen is the student body. When I was in school, no one missed games. We had bigger numbers, but even if it was a game against Concordia tickets would be sold out. It’s not a bad thing. It speaks to the change in culture. St. Bonaventure used to be a school of all suburban white kids and of course we were going to see the game. Now, it’s more diverse, there’s more students with different interest. 1,800 students don’t have to care about the basketball team and I think it speaks to the influx of diversity. The enthusiasm is still there. It comes out even through the TV. Every student at the game is rocking. The reputation is still there. No one wants to come to Allegany, New York and play St. Bonaventure at the RC.”
Since you’re an alum, you’ve seen what happens when Bonas has successful teams, in terms of producing school funds, increased enrollment, athletic prestige, etc. What does a potential NCAA tournament berth do for Bonas?
Lazo: “As an alum, a tournament berth does help in certain aspects. Let’s be real, a tournament berth means more stories, more eyeballs and free publicity on St. Bonaventure. The more of that the institution has, the better. People want to go to places that look like students and alumni have a good time and have a closeness. When a high school student sees St. Bonaventure play in the tournament and they glance in the stands to see people of all ages gathered for this tiny school in Western New York, it means more than any commercial.”
Lindsley: “It’s everything. It puts the little engine that could on the map again. It changes the game. At Bonas, usually, there is a year here and there every 10-15 years where all your eggs are in one basket JUST to make the Big Dance. 17-18 is exactly that.
“Some people say ‘wow look what we do for a small school,’ when Bona wins. Others say ‘Well, we are small and do our best,’ when SBU loses. Doesn’t matter which way you look at it. This program making the tournament is like a power program making a Final Four because of the circumstances. And Adams and Mobley and this group can create a serious legacy by making the Big Dance. The 1999-2000 team did it. Nicholson and his group did it. Those are the amount Rushmore teams in SBU history. Yes. That Lanier guy counts too. “
Vaccaro: “More than most of the schools that will get those bids. It’s an opportunity we don’t get most years. It will be helpful. There’s a reason why Bona’s has maintained a high-profile basketball team even when times were tough. Basketball is a marketing tool. It draws kids to the school. When someone like Woj is talking about Bonaventure on ESPN, it can only help. When I mention the Bonnies once or twice in the Post, that’s gotta help. Even when the alumni not in the media, like the CEO of Delta tweets “Go Bonnies,” it all helps. It gets our name out there.”
“I wouldn’t have even known about St. Bonaventure if it wasn’t for basketball. I was a big St. John’s fan as a kid, growing up watching Chris Mullin. Bona’s played them and almost won. At the time I was thinking “What the hell’s a St. Bonaventure.” It’s funny because after that game I started looking into it and then I was looking at schools and almost went to Dayton, of all places. But, Bonaventure offered me a journalism scholarship and I liked it. It fit me. But it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that game. Count me in as one of the kids that was introduced to St. Bonaventure because of basketball. So any exposure is beneficial. Tom Crean talking about Jaylen Adams has to help. It just does.”
“The success of the basketball team in some small way determines the success of the school. We’re a feisty little school, but being feisty won’t determine if we succeed. We have to take on the mindset that we can compete with the best. I think the students take on that mindset too and part of that comes from the basketball team. We don’t have to be the underdog all the time. We can just be successful on our own merit. I think that’s the best thing about the basketball team’s success. People can identify that as a possibility now.”