New Jersey Nets (1976-2012)

It was April 19, 1998. Nearly 14 years ago. Absolutely crazy that it was that long since my first NBA game ever. I was a seven year old, finally seeing the game I loved so much, the game I one day wanted to make my living playing, featuring real professional basketball players. Continental Airlines Arena. I’ve never been so connected to a corporate sponsored named facility, especially one that’s a dump. But that day, it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen in my nearly eight years on Earth.

New Jersey Nets vs. Detroit Pistons. Game 82 of 82. Nets win and they get the eight seed and the honor of being destroyed by the Chicago Bulls in round 1 on Michael’s last road to a title.

To be honest, I wasn’t even a Nets fan at the time. My dad, a Knicks fan who grew up in Queens, shared a love with me for all his teams. Yankees, Giants, and especially the Knickerbockers. Patrick Ewing is still my childhood idol.

I liked the Nets, but had never connected with them tremendously. Though the only poster up in my room at the time was a Keith Van Horn poster from a SLAM Magazine I had on my closet door. (That poster till it got destroyed about 10 years later after hundreds of times running into it playing on the mini basketball hoop I had above my door and trying to dunk. Also, the player on the other side of that poster was some guy a seven year old me had never heard of with a big afro. Julius Erving. I clearly was in need of a history lesson.)

But I remember a lot from that game. Not as much as I thought I did, as looking at the box score a little more than 14 years later, I though Sam Cassell had the game of his life that day. Had been telling people that for years. Turns out the guy was out with an injury and the one leading the offense was Sherman Douglas that day (His line was amazing though: 47 minutes, 8-12 shooting, 18 points, 11 assists).

But I do remember Kendall Gill putting up a season high 27 points. A rookie Van Horn and his high socks adding 25, while Kerry Kittles put in 22 as well. I remember buying a black Nets flag (which is to this day hanging on my bedroom mirror), with their (at the time) new and (at the time) awesome logo and waiving it like it was my dang job in the last few rows of the lower seating area (Nice of my Dad to try and get me good seats for my first game). I remember being one of the 20,049 people at Continental Airlines that day cheering as New Jersey came back from being down at the half with a great third quarter, outscoring Grant Hill and Detroit 36-23. And I remember saving the sports section of the paper the next day, looking at the picture of Gill on the front cover, his arms raised in victory.

That’s where my New Jersey Nets memories begin.

Tonight is being called a celebration of the New Jersey Nets 35 years in the Garden State. To be honest, it’s more a funeral.

That’s not to say that this will be a sad night in Newark as the Nets prepare to play in their $1 billion arena in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center. I mean, it will be sad, but it will be a happy night as well. Tonight, some of the Nets greatest players will be back in front of the fans they used to entertain to close the last chapter in Jersey professional basketball for now, and possibly forever.

For me, game #65 vs the Philadelphia 76ers will be that funeral for a beloved family member. A chance to say your goodbyes to something that’s meant so much to you. For something you’ve thought about and talked about for years and years. A chance to reminisce about the games you attended, the players you cheered for, and the moments you shared. Tonight, we pay our final respect to the NEW JERSEY NETS, and I’ll always cherish the memories.

The above video is my favorite thing on the Internet right now. It describes a golden age of basketball in my life that practically no one else feels the same way about. The 2001-02 and 2003-03 seasons are looked at by the global NBA world as a run of Western Conference dominance and overall poor basketball. I look at them like some of the happiest memories of my sports fandom. I was alive and aware to see the Knicks-Pacers rivalry, Jordan take his last couple titles… I saw Hakeem, Barkley, Robinson, Pippen, Malone and Stockton, Kemp and the Glove, Grant Hill before his knees hated him, Penny, Shaq, and plenty of other superstars BK… Before Kidd.

I have a great respect for basketball growing up. As I said earlier from my days as a Knicks fan growing up, Patrick Ewing is my basketball idol.

But if Ewing is my basketball idol, Jason Kidd is my basketball savior.

I switched from being primarily a Knicks fan to being a full-fledged Nets fan the day Patrick Ewing was traded to the Seattle Supersonics. I didn’t realize he had no more knees; I thought Ewing could do no wrong, so I was done with the Knicks… Who cares about rational thinking when you’re 9.

Plus, I had this team, in my home state, WHO ACTUALLY WAS PROUD TO PUT THE NAME “NEW JERSEY” on their uniforms. My Nets love had been building and was slowly passing over the Knicks, much to my Dad’s dismay, and the Ewing trade broke the camel’s back.

This Nets team was pretty awful. They hadn’t made the playoffs since ’98, had a “star” player in Stephon Marbury (who they traded Sam Cassell for, which I hated), who famously put “All Alone” and “33” (which was Starbury’s number) on his shoes (Great team player, right). But then GM Rod Thorn made the greatest trade in franchise history, and what I could easily potentially argue is the greatest trade in the last 20 years in the NBA.

I could honestly write about 1000 words easy right here about what Jason Kidd meant to the New Jersey Nets. But I’ll try to keep it a quicker and while showing proper appreciation for what he did to change the culture of a losing factory of basketball. He brought life to a lifeless place, team, and fan base. He made New Jerseyans care about this team. He made careers out of teammates that had no business playing for NBA finals. He brought what the Nets are still looking for ever since his knees got bad and was traded to Dallas… relevance.

I could write a page about what a joy it was to watch Kenyon Martin play for the New Jersey Nets. K-Mart is looked at around the league now as a joke, a bit of a loose cannon, and a player on the Clippers bench who doesn’t matter anymore. But I will always remember #6 soaring for J-Kidd ally oops. Battling for rebounds under the boards. That Sports Illustrated cover, and most importantly leading the crowd, DEMANDING that they get loud. Refusing to even walk to the circle before the game till he was satisfied with the noise level in the arena. Kidd was the leader, but K-Mart was the heart of the team. The day he was traded to Denver, was the day I knew everything was over and the Nets would never be back in the finals picture again with that nucleus (Kidd also hated this move more than anyone will ever know and it became his ammunition for his eventual departure when his disgust for owner Bruce Ratner continued to build from that move on. But Ratner will be the focus of another blog. I can’t bare to talk about him here).

I’ll always remember my disbelief the Suns would give up Kidd for Marbury (not realizing at the time Kidd’s legal troubles were a big part), wondering if they were watching the same NBA I was. I’ll always remember the fast breaks lead by J-Kidd, with K-Mart, Richard Jefferson, and Kerry Kittles exchanging running the lanes. It felt like an automatic two points every time. I’ll always remember Keith Van Horn’s high socks, his three point shooting, and of course, that poster in my room. I’ll always remember the role and bench guys; players like Lucious Harris and his mask, Aaron Williams, Jason Collins, Todd MacCulloch, Anthony Johnson, Tamar Slay (who knows why, I’ll just always remember Slay as the 2nd round pick from Marshall that never played). I’ll always remember how awesome it was to have Brian Scalabrine on our team before it was cool to have Brian Scalabrine on your team.

I’ll always remember the magazine covers. Like this. And this. And this. I’ll always remember the optimism people held for the Nets. Thinking they were so close to putting a championship team together. I’ll always remember them actually doing so.
I’ll always remember sitting at my beach club, watching New Jersey blow a huge lead in the 4th quarter of the ’02 Conference finals and Boston scoring 41 points in the last 12 minutes to take a 2-1 series lead. I’ll always remember the fight the team then showed winning the next three, as I celebrated going to the NBA Finals at my hometown Applebee’s, when the restaurant erupted as Van Horn hit the series clinching three with 50 seconds left in Boston. I’ll always remember actually realizing they’re were other fans than me of this team right then and there. I’ll always remember trying to think how MacCulloch, Collins, and Williams would all try to guard Shaq and then watch them not be able to do it. I’ll always remember getting swept.

I’ll always remember coming back in 2002-03 and winning 10 straight playoff games, including sweeping the Pistons and thinking we had a chance against the Spurs in the finals. I’ll always remember listening the radio call in the car, deciding whether to complain, plead for a comeback, or stay quiet as they lost control of Game 6 and saw their season end again with no trophy. I’ll always remember worrying that Kidd was going to sign with San Antonio, only loving him for staying in Jersey. I’ll always remember wondering if we’d ever get another shot.

After those finals runs, the Nets really didn’t have any more “bright” moments. Vince Carter was a Net for a while. Nothing happened really, two playoff series wins, that’s it. The team made the Conference Semi’s three times, but ran into much better competition in Detroit, Miami, and Cleveland.

Then Kidd wanted out and the rebuilding process began (Also, seeing Jason get the ring he deserved last year was a special moment for me and other Nets fans. No one deserved that more than him, along with Dirk). Devin Harris was well hyped, but any reasonable fan knew the team would do nothing with him. They haven’t made the playoffs since ’06, yet besides for their 12 win season in 2009-10, they’ve been middle of the pack and out of top lottery contention, stuck in basketball mediocrity.

The Deron Williams trade brought hope, but could be taking it away in a matter of months if the All Star point guard goes to play for his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

But those moments are not the ones I want to focus on. I want to focus on the best times ever in New Jersey Nets basketball history. Times I got to personally experience. Times I’ll tell my kids about when they wonder how silly it was to have the Nets be called anything but “Brooklyn”.

I vented a lot here in this blog. If for some reason you’re still reading, then you obviously know what it means to care about a sports team, and you know it must hurt a lot to have them taken away. I loved the time I had with the New Jersey Nets and I’ll never forget all the amazing memories I had. From that first game to those Kidd years… I’ll always cherish those moments. So with that, I bid farewell to the New Jersey Nets. Your time as a team may be over, but you will always live on in our memories.

Elon Baseball vs. Towson

Be sure to listen in today as Ryan Balick and Curt Lestan bring you the call of Elon Phoenix baseball versus the Towson Tigers. Elon won the first game of the series 17-9 and will look to continue their winning ways today. First pitch is slated for 6:30 pm and you can listen live on WSOE 89.3 FM. And for an added game experience, follow along with Jake Sotir as he writes a live blog of the game. You can see that below.

Elon Baseball vs. Towson

Elon Baseball vs. UNC

Be sure to listen in at 4 PM as Christian Binder and Sean Dolan bring you the call of #44 Elon Phoenix vs. #6 UNC. Ryan Balick will also be live blogging the game, so be sure to check that out here

Elon Women’s Basketball vs. College of Charleston

Listen in today at 2 PM as Brian Dudiak and Christian Binder bring you the call of the Elon Women’s Basketball team against the College of Charleston Cougars! Also follow Ben Naughton as he blogs live from the game.

Ben Naughton’s live blog: Elon Women’s Basketball vs. College of Charletson

NBA Draft Fan Zone

Apologies on not having my post draft write up finished yet but in the meantime, here is my detailed breakdown of the pre-draft festivities held by the NBA.

Before the NBA Draft began Thursday night, the NBA ran it’s first ever NBA Fan Zone event for all fans, including those who did not have a ticket for the night’s festivities. “Go Newark Hoops Fest” featured a ton of interactive games and competitions for all ages including a basketball court, a five foot hoop for younger fans, trivia contests, giveaways, special guests, and more. From 12-7 PM, fans competed in shooting competitions such as Around the World and Knockout to win prizes such as DVD’s, shirts, and free tickets to the Draft later that night. Kia Motors was also on hand asking trivia questions to which if fans answered correctly, they’d be inserted into a lottery to win tickets inside “The Rock” later that evening as well. The winner of the tickets was selected by Milwaukee Bucks PG Brandon Jennings, who also signed autographs for fans afterwards. Sports talk radio legend Mike Francesa was also on hand, airing his show on the YES Network live, where he conducted interviews with many guests, including Newark Mayor, Cory Booker. I just wanted to make note of this event here because it really was a nice gesture by the NBA to all fans and the city of Newark to make it a free event where people could just have fun and enjoy the great game of basketball.

NBA Mock Draft Lottery

The NBA Draft is personally one of my favorite nights of the year in the sporting world. While it does not posses the same hype and buildup of its NFL counterpart and while Chad Ford and Jonathan Givony don’t have the same notability as Mel Kiper Jr and Mike Mayock, The Association’s draft day is as exciting. A new crop of players welcomed into the league, franchise’s histories changing for better or worse, and some suits from the Craig Sager and Walt Frazier collections. What could be better!

Well, now that I mention it, it would be nice if this draft class could be more talented… much more talented. In this class, scouts and GM’s see only two potential All Stars, some quality players, and then role guys/benchwarmers. And that’s just the first round. You know this draft’s bad when analyst say the 2000 one that had too many awful prospects for me to even list them here without taking up half a page. Let us all give a quick Darius Miles Head Bump in remembrance…

Thank you.

Ok, so on to this draft. While overall it features not a lot of superstar mold players, there is still good value in these picks and these kids will have a large impact on the present and future of this league. Like with all drafts, we will not be able to tell definitively who were the winners and losers until a couple years have passed. Finding this year’s diamond in the rough may be tougher than in past years, but GM’s will do whatever they think it takes to get their guy.

That’s why I see a lot of trades going down on Thursday night. With this group of prospects and their limited skills, certain players who maybe are worthy of being drafted at a certain spot, just don’t fit in with the team selecting there. Trust me, deals are going to happen frequently, even for the NBA Draft, which saw nine trades go down just that day. I’m confident in saying there will be more this year with how many teams seem interested in moving up or down.

With all these trade possibilities, it seems slightly pointless to even try a mock draft. But, in acting as if the selection order would go unaffected, here is my predictions on where the new wave of NBA players will be suiting up for the 2011-12 NBA season… if this looming lockout doesn’t destroy it. But we will save that maddening and depressing possibility for another day. Now on to some mock draft, you know, right after I smash my head into the keyboard thinking of a year of no basketball after this amazing season.

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2011 NBA Mock Draft 1st Round

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Clippers)

Kyrie Irving

PG, Duke, Freshman

19 years old, 6’3”, 190 lbs


Earlier this week, people debated whether it should be Derrick Williams of Arizona going first overall to the Cavs, with Dan Gilbert and his organization making it very unclear with who he would select. Even Enes Kanter of Turkey was brought in on numerous occasions to work out and meet with Cleveland. But all in all, the Cavs are going to take the most talented prospect in this class in my opinion with their first selection, a very safe and smart choice.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

Derrick Williams

PF, Arizona, Sophomore

20 years old, 6’9”, 250 lbs


If Minnesota finds themselves on the clock this Thursday with the #2 pick still, this pick should be Enes Kanter. But we are dealing with the T-Wolves and team president David Kahn, who’s made incompetent decision after incompetent decision since taking over the job in 2009. It’s not that I’m saying Williams is a bad player; he’s top two talent without a doubt in this draft. But tell me where he could fit in with this Wolves roster. Minny has a cluster of forwards, none of which Williams pairs up well with, and taking the sophomore from Arizona would be a poor fit. Putting him at power forward forces Kevin Love to get mismatched at Center on the defensive side of the ball every night with no big man to compliment him. And he and Michael Beasley are, well, Michael Beasley may honestly not match up well with a single player in the NBA. The Timberwolves have wanted to trade this pick for a much needed package of a veteran difference maker that can bring leadership to a locker room that hasn’t had any since Kevin Garnett left. If they can’t trade the pick, they’ll select the player nearly everyone would select there anyway and try to get a deal done post selection. Kahn has little leverage when GM’s (and Kahn himself) know his job’s in jeopardy and he needs to deal this pick to get past stage one of his rebuilding process with the Wolves. He’s already fired Coach Kurt Rambis, who lead Minnesota to a 32-132 record in two seasons and butted heads with players. But with K-Love’s breakout last year and Ricky Rubio finally joining the club, things could get better for the T-Wolves. Notice I said could.

3. Utah Jazz (From New Jersey)

Brandon Knight

PG, Kentucky, Freshman

19 years old, 6’3”, 180 lbs


Talent wise Kanter should fall here at three no problem but I can’t see why Utah would need him. Starters Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and the young project Derrick Favors (who’s still not even 20 years old) all need their minutes. Kanter doesn’t fit in Utah when the club has no need for players at his position. If they pick at the #3 spot, they pick Knight, who becomes the point guard of the future to replace the traded Deron Williams, as Devin Harris, who was acquired in the same D-Will trade, fills a stop gap as Knight better learns how to play the one in the NBA. If they swap the pick to a team who wants Kanter bad enough, they trade back into the first round to maybe the cultural rock star of the Mormon community, Jimmer Fredette.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

Enes Kanter

C, Turkey/Kentucky, Freshman

19 years old, 6’11”, 260


Kanter would join Irving in Cleveland and provide for a strong nucleus to join J.J. Hickson and the rebuilding effort since the departure of LeBron James last summer. The knock on the guy has been that because he had to sit out the entire season in Kentucky, he has very little game tape for anyone to go off of on how to judge how he should play as a pro. John Calipari says if he had played at UK, Kanter would be the number one pick in the draft. The prospect agreed, and he definitely has top pick skills. Great touch and a jumper for a big man, not an overly athletic big man, but a guy who moves quick for his height and weight and uses his strength well. But again, teams really can only look at his performances at the 2009 U-18 European Championship and Nike Hoop Summit (where he wiped the floor with Ohio St.’s Jared Sullinger) last year as evidence to his pro potential. That still may be enough to make Cleveland very happy with their first two selections.

5. Toronto Raptors

Bismack Biyombo

PF/C, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada (Spain)

18 years old, 6’9”, 240 lbs


The first surprise pick of the draft is the young big man originally from the Congo who goes to Toronto 5th overall. Scouts have reported this spot as Biyombo’s ceiling in the draft and the Raptors have held great interest in him throughout the draft process. He had an excellent workout with the club and GM Bryan Colangelo  has always had a tendency to take international players, due to him and his staffs strong scouting practices of overseas players. New Head Coach and former Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey is defensive minded and a guy like Biyombo fits in with his ability to block shots and grab rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas could also go here, but issues with reaching a buyout with Lietuvos Rytus and wanting to stay in Lithuania for one more season before coming to play in America have his stock falling. Early mock drafts had Toronto going PG here with Kemba Walker, but in the last 24 hours, reports have the UConn guard falling out of the top 10 and the Raptors looking elsewhere. If Knight falls to five though, believe he will be a Raptor no doubt.

6. Washington Wizards

Jan Vesely

SF, KK Partican Belgrade (Serbia)

21 years old, 6’11”, 240

Vesely breaks the traditional Euro-player mold. He’s not a shooter (shot 30% from three, 49% FT ). He’s an explosive swingman. He may be 6’11”, but he sees himself as, and will be used in the league as a small forward. He throws down monstrous, powerful, Sports Center Top 10 dunks. He blocks shots with power. He runs the fast break tremendously. Hence, Washington makes tons of sense for him to land here and fills a team need. While his slasher-like, attacking game will work well with John Wall, he does need to develop his jumper and better his ball handling skills. The Wizards would love to see Kanter fall to them here, with management and Wall wanting to play with the Turkish prospect, but if they don’t land him, expect Vesely as the pick.

7. Sacramento Kings

Jimmer Fredette

PG, BYU, Senior

22 years old, 6’2”, 195


This pick could be moved as well as Sacramento has been talking trades with many teams about possibly moving both up or down. If they select at #7, Jazz fans be worried. The Maloof brothers who own the franchise like Jimmer and want to pair him up in a backcourt with 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans. People know Jimmer can shoot, but scouts are talking about his passing skills as well and how he was a pass first distributor when he first came to Provo. He also becomes a draw for the franchise to help their financially troubled owners maybe make some revenue. Kemba could go here by need, but all reports signal that he is falling out of the top 10 from scouts in the last 24 hours.

8. Detroit Pistons

Jonas Valuencias

C, Lietuvos Rytus

19 years old, 6’11”, 240 lbs


Valuencias is the best foreign player in this draft but due to a problem with his contract buyout, there is no chance he could play for the team that selects him this year. The fact that a team will not have their lottery pick this year will hurt and that’s why Jonas’ stock is falling out of the top 5. If he falls at eight to the Pistons though, Detroit should be very happy. They are going to be rebuilding next season anyway and while this means the Pistons will be awful next year, acquiring a player of Valuencias status would be very helpful in getting them a potential franchise center. Also, a team could trade up to take him if he falls this far. Texas power forward could also be the pick here, same with Biyombo if he’s on the board.

9. Charlotte Bobcats

Chris Singleton

SF, Florida State, Junior

21 years old, 6’9”, 230 lbs


Singleton is the best defensive player in this draft and apparently is the top forward on the Bobcats board. He definitely would help fill the role left by the departure of Gerald Wallace on the defensive end and can contribute on the offensive side of the ball as well. Team President Michael Jordan could also trade this pick as the Bobcats have taken any calls when hearing what they could get for this selection

10. Milwaukee Bucks

Klay Thompson

SG/SF, Washington St., Junior

21 years old, 6’7”, 205


This pick is another one being talked about in numerous trade possibilities, but I think Thompson is a great fit with Milwaukee. The Bucks need scoring, and that’s what the Cougar Junior brings to the table (21.6 ppg, 39.8% from three). Plus, he showed in workouts he can regularly hit the NBA three and has a high basketball IQ. He fits that Michael Redd type, maybe not as good a shooter, but that was worked out well for the Bucks before, and should again.


11. Golden State Warriors

Tristan Thompson

PF, Texas, Freshman

20 years old, 6’9”, 230 lbs


The Warriors need size and a strong defensive player, especially with new coach Mark Jackson, who will try to teach Golden State there’s more to basketball than offense. Thompson may be young, but the kid is smart. In his lone year at Texas, he finished with a 4.0 GPA and the coaching staff said he was one of their favorite players they ever had at the program. Kemba Walker, who is falling and falling at this pace, could be scooped up here to be used as a trade asset as well.

12. Utah Jazz

Kawhi Leonard

SF, San Diego St., Sophomore

19 years old, 6’7”, 225


The direction the Jazz go with here depends a lot on whether they take Knight or Kanter with their first pick and if they find themselves in a situation where they can land Jimmer. With this set up, I see Leonard going to Utah where he could make a great impact, especially with the likely departure of Andrei Kirilenko. Leonard possesses a strong overall game and gigantic hands and he would be a strong pick for Utah, considering he very easily could’ve been a top 10 pick in this draft class.

13. Phoenix Suns

Marcus Morris

PF/SF, Kansas, Junior

21 years old, 6’9”, 230

Morris provides size and scoring to a Phoenix team that needs both. The Suns plan to replace Amar’e Stoudemire with Hakiem Warrick, Josh Childress, and resigning Channing Frye worked out terribly last season and the Suns frontcourt needs a boost. Morris is the best big man left at this spot and posses an athletic skill set that matches up well with PG Steve Nash, that is, if Nash is still with the team and not traded to a contender.

14. Houston Rockets

Nikola Vucevic

PF/C, USC, Junior

20 years old, 7’0”, 260


The Rockets need size and Vucevic gives them a presence at center, where Yao Ming will never play a injury free season the rest of his career and 6’6” Chuck Hayes isn’t getting the job done against bigger players. Vucevic provides the size and strength Houston needs, but if a forward like a Kawhi Leonard or a Tristan Thompson, Marcus Morris fall here, the Rockets would be happy to take them too.

I will be in attendance at the draft Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ so I will be sure to wrap up the entire first round, highlights from draft day, and much more shortly after. Enjoy the draft.

A Sendoff for Coach Barefoot

Of all the memories I have of calling Elon Women’s Basketball games this year, the one that will standout the most in my mind will be a long road trip in January to Alabama and Tennessee. The Elon Phoenix were 7-5 and after losing their first two conference games, a 110-67 decimating from Appalachian State and a 74-64 loss to Western Carolina, they were starting to make noise in Southern Conference play, winning three straight. The team was preparing for maybe it’s toughest two game stretch of the year, facing the eventual SoCon tournament champions, the Samford Bulldogs, and the Chattanooga Lady Mocs, who have won 8 of the last 11 conference tournaments. The Phoenix historically wasn’t a team that could hang with the big guns in SoCon play. They were at least a manageable 1-4 lifetime vs. Samford, but a 1-14 overall record vs. Chat shows how tough it’s been for the Phoenix to come by wins against top-notch teams since moving to the Southern Conference in 2003. It was simple. The Phoenix just weren’t supposed to win games like these.

But they did win.

Samford entered the game third in the entire nation in three-point field goals per game (8.6) but the Phoenix defensive game plan forced the Bulldogs to shoot an awful 5-29 (17.2%) from beyond the arc. Elon won 47-42.

Two days later, down 30-26 with seconds to go before halftime, Shon Redmond made a quick steal, ran all the way up the court, and got off a last second layup to give the Phoenix what myself and play-by-play broadcaster that day Brian Dudiak called a “momentum builder” to go into the locker room. The Phoenix came out in the second half and scored 46 points, led by 16 from Aiesha Harper in her breakout game of the season, outrebounded the Mocs 48-26, and upset Chattanooga 74-61.

That night coming back from Tennessee, we got caught in a dangerous snowstorm and had to stop in Knoxville. Brian and I used this time to talk about the amazing trip and what we would later refer to now as the turning point in quite possibly Elon Women’s Basketball history. These two road wins ushered in not only a confidence about the team, but a wake up call to the rest of the Southern Conference that Elon was no longer going to be pushed around. They would not give in to any opponent without a fight for 40 minutes. They would leave everything on the floor no matter whom they were playing. And they would no longer settle for less than what they wanted.

The old way of looking at Elon Women’s Basketball was long gone. Their demeanor, their drive, their attitude, and their heart matched that of their coach. The Phoenix was now Coach Karen Barefoot’s team.

That’s why the news was so tough to hear for the Elon University athletic community on June 8th, but it was a day that many people new would eventually come. Old Dominion University announced Karen Barefoot was the new head coach of the Lady Monarchs, the 6th coach in school history, and the first new hire of the program since 1987.

Barefoot now takes over a program that is rich in history but is down on their luck recently. When the former Elon coach was at ODU as an assistant from 2005-06 to 2007-08, the team went 77-23 and was consistently in the top 25, getting as high as 11th in the country. She helped lead the Monarchs to three-straight Colonial Athletic Association titles resulting in trips to the NCAA Tournament every single year, including a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2007-08.

But since Barefoot’s departure, Old Dominion has missed the tourney all three seasons. For a team that has won three National Championships (1979, 1980 AIAW, 1985 NCAA, also lost in the ’97 NCAA title game), won 17 straight Conference Titles from 1992-2008 and expects to be competitive every season, that simply cannot do. Wendy Larry, who Barefoot was an assistant under with the Lady Monarchs, was out after 24 years as head coach and the Phoenix coach has been selected to get the program back on its feet.

Coach Barefoot has always been a winner. If you need proof, look at her resume. As a player at Christopher Newport, she was a three-time Kodiak/WBCA All American. She led the entire nation in assists all four years at school. She is a member of the Christopher Newport Hall of Fame and has her jersey retired at the school. And if you need further proof, she was the only player in men’s or women’s college basketball to ever record more than 2000 points and 1000 assists in a college career until Gonzaga’s Courtney Vandersloot joined her this past season.

Her coaching career is just as impressive. Not only did she help start the first female athletic program in the 75-year history of the Apprentice School, but put together a 102-43 record, was named NSCAA National Coach of the Year twice (1999, 2001), and won the 2001 NSCAA National Championship. In four seasons at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, she put together a 70-44 record, won the school’s first South Atlantic Conference tournament title in 2002-03, won the first ever SAC regular season championship in 2003-04, and was also named the Conference’s Coach of the Year in 03-04. The next three seasons, she helped landed her first Division I coaching job as an assistant at Old Dominion.

Then came her masterpiece. When she became the fifth coach in Elon Women’s Basketball history before the 2008-09 season, she inherited a program that had yet to encounter any real success since making the jump to Division I athletics in 1999-00. Yet in three seasons, Barefoot took a team that in her first year went 5-26 and increased the Phoenix win total by 15 in just two seasons. She won an Elon Division I record 20 games, the first time that the team had ever eclipsed the 20 win mark, and finished 4th in the Southern Conference standings. Their 4 seed heading into to this year’s SoCon Tournament in Chattanooga was the highest ever for Elon and was the first year they ever received a first round bye in tournament play.

Barefoot also won at least one game every year at the Southern Conference tournament, posting a 3-3 mark in the leagues postseason. Coach also recorded another important first for the program this season when she lead Elon to their first ever postseason tournament, the Women’s Basketball Invitational, where the Phoenix creamed USC Upstate 103-72 before losing to the eventual champs, UAB.

One of Barefoot’s strengths as well was her ability to recruit. After her first season at the helm, she brought in 2010-11 second team All SoCon members Ali Ford (who was also named SoCon Freshman of the Year) and Kelsey Evans who were the leading scorer and rebounder respectively on the team. Barefoot added to the roster with plenty of young talent, also bringing in starter Lei Lei Hairston and Lisa Archie. This year Barefoot added freshmen Kelsey Harris and Candice Silas, who both played large roles on the team in their first seasons, and added Junior College transfer Shon Redmond, who brought leadership and experience to the roster until she was shut down with a season ending knee injury. This season was Coach’s biggest crop yet. She added five players to the Phoenix squad in the 71st ranked recruiting class in the nation, second highest ranked class in the SoCon, and the highest ranked class in Elon history.

Not only was Barefoot able to create excitement within her team and staff, but she also built up a strong following with the fan base and community at Elon. Since Coach Barefoot took over, average attendance at Alumni Gym rose every single season. This year marked the highest average attendance in school history (527 fans per game) and also the highest ever attended single game for the women’s team (1,071 fans vs. Samford). Barefoot got people in the seats not only because of how well the Phoenix performed at home (11 home wins this season matches the school’s D-I record), but also because of how appreciative she was of the fan base. After every single game, she would mention how the support of the fans that came out to watch the team play in their newly renovated home, on the road, or tuned in to the radio broadcasts were such a boost for the team and gave them the extra push when they needed it.

I’ll remember so much from this past season of calling Elon Women’s Basketball. I’ll remember Coach Barefoot and her staff making us feel a part of the team on road trips. I’ll remember the countless interviews I had with her after games and the Elon Phoenix Weekly, and what amazing sound bites and insight she gave with her answers. I’ll remember her 200th career victory at Wofford and how she underplayed it to the point that all she would talk about was her team’s performance and how proud of them she was. And how could I ever forget her cheering from the sidelines, especially when she screamed to the fans that traveled the half hour to UNCG to get loud right before Ali Ford hit her buzzer beater to win the game.

I’ll remember her fighting back tears when discussing how proud she was of her team after they were eliminated in the SoCon Tournament and truly seeing how much these girls meant to her.

Karen Barefoot is one heck of a coach and Old Dominion is getting a tremendous basketball mind to lead their program in the right direction. While she has left Elon, her spirit and goals will remain with this team. Her players have been infected by Barefoot’s winning attitude and drive for success. The lesions she taught this squad will remain with them long after their Elon careers are over, hopefully with some hardware to show for their work.

I cannot be happier for Coach and this opportunity she has been presented with, but I am thankful of what she did to change the culture here at Elon University. I also know that throughout this entire season and for years to come, she will always keep this school in her thoughts.

Because while the search has begun for the new figure to lead the Phoenix on the sidelines, Coach Barefoot presence will be felt on Elon Women’s Basketball until the ideals of winning, teamwork, and character are no longer believed to be important. After all, this team still goes to that same one heartbeat.

Elon Phoenix vs Davidson Wildcats

Listen in at 1:30 when the Elon Phoenix take on the Davidson Wildcats in WSOE SPorts final broadcast of the 2011 baseball season. Christian Binder and Sean Dolan are on the call as the Phoenix look to continue their strong play and sweep their North Carolina rival. Tune in on 89.3 FM or by clicking the “Listen live” link above.

Elon Phoenix vs UNC-G Spartans

Listen in to WSOE sports coverage of the Elon Phoenix baseball game as they take on the UNC-G Spartans at 1:00. Greg Brzozowski, Tom Waterman, and Joe DiRienzo will be on the call bringing you live play by play action. Also follow our live blog of the game by clicking the link below:

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