American at Howard Blog (Poll Voters, Pay Attention)
(Local poll update: I think we might have gained two more Washington Times voters. Pretty soon this will be an entirely Washington Times production. We also added Scott Jackson from SportsTalk 980. We also received a request-for-voting-privileges from CBSSportsline's Clay Travis, whose 8,300-mile rip-roaring rip-roar through SEC country this fall was highly entertaining reading. What I didn't know was that Clay is a former student manager at GW, which easily makes him one of our most qualified voters. He promises to be objective.)
Anyhow, because of a few personal gaffes I had to skip Coppin State-Morgan State last night in favor of American-Howard, where I learned that at least one local coaching staff is well aware of its ranking in the Area Top 11. So all you voters need to take this voting very seriously. Here are the other things I learned.
1) Howard keeps the ambient room temperature in Burr Gymnasium at approximately human-skin-begins-to-blister-within-15-seconds levels. It was warm. A serious estimate would be high 70s. The heat made the odor of hot dogs coming from the hallways particularly pleasant. The Bison Meal Deal (large hot dog, chips, soda for $5), though, is still a great bargain, one which colleague Steve Goff took advantage of.
As for the heat, "Well, my personal [feeling] is that it's great," AU Coach Jeff Jones said. "We're going back to the dark ages, but I can still remember in 1978 going to Carmichael Arena down in Chapel Hill, when Dean Smith would turn up the heat in the visitors' locker room, and you didn't have to warm up because you were pouring sweat just sitting there. But I think it's great....I mean, that's the way a gym's supposed to be. A gym's supposed to be hot and loud and smelly."
2) And actually, Burr succeeded on all counts last night, although the noise took a while to get going and the place was far from full. Fifteen minutes before tip-off, there were about 75 people there, but the crowd did grow throughout the first half. And this will sound like a bad, taken-from-the-sports-writers-handbook-of-what-to-say-at-a-MEAC-game cliche, but the Howard band was tremendous. I don't think they stopped once during halftime.
"The best band in the area, no question about it, if you're doing a poll about that," AU assistant Kieran Donohue said.
3) And since some people I talked to weren't quite sure, for the record the Howard band, like a lot of HBCU bands, plays "Lift Every Voice and Sing" after the National Anthem, while all the players and cheerleaders and a lot of fans raise their right fists. If you don't know the tune, here's the Bowie State Gospel Choir singing it, but I'll go get video of a pep band performing it one of these days. The Bowie State band also does a nice rendition.
4) Next to the band, behind one basket, were some female students wearing t-shirts that said "Ooh La La!" in sparkly letters. They danced every time the band played anything, and they said "Ooh La La!" a lot. They were very friendly, but they didn't want to be quoted unless the band director said it was ok, and he said it was not ok. In keeping with Howard's longstanding desire to avoid good publicity, I'll honor his wishes.
5) And instead, I'll talk about the Mecca Mob. The Mecca Mob is Howard's current take on the Cameron Crazies, replacing the Section 8 Mob, which used to sit in Section 8 of Burr, but has sort of disbanded.
"It's an antagonistic mob of Howard students," Nuru West, one of the Mecca Mob leaders explained. "We see ourselves as more of a mob than a pep squad."
What happened was, West, who used to be a team manager, was getting frustrated by fans who didn't pay attention to the games. Last year the Bison were tied late in a home game against South Carolina State, and some fans began to leave.
"We realized this was ridiculous," Nuru said. "They've had a losing record for the past few years and the crowd didn't support them, but even when we were winning the crowd didn't support them."
So she helped start the Mecca Mob. But to me, the most noteworthy feature of the Mob last night was its gender breakdown: about 25 fans, 24 of whom were female. Of the 35-or-so students who have come out to Mob meetings this year, only five have been guys. Last year there was only one guy in the Mob. I suggested that this was unusual.
"Is it?" Nuru said. "We need more. We're actively recruiting males....Guys here might look at it as cheerleading, but we're not like that, that's a misperception. That's why we're called a Mob, not a pep squad."
And I can verify that some of their chants are worthy of, say, Maryland students. Plus they have giant cut-out BISON letters that they can also manipulate to spell BOO. Anyhow, my absolute favorite part of the Mob is their t-shirts: blue, featuring some confused-looking dude's face.
"We tried to find a picture of any angry mob but we couldn't, so we just found an angry face," Nuru told me. "That seemed to work."
I think it worked great.
6) Nuru also told me that they had been hounding AU point guard Derrick Mercer with a chant of "Papa Smurf" all night. Mercer is the sophomore point guard from St. Anthony's in New Jersey who is the key to so much of what AU does on both ends; last night, for example, he played 40 minutes and had 9 points and 8
rebounds assists. He's also listed at 5-foot-9, which might be off by an inch or two.
Hence the heckling. Papa Smurf, people told me, is way mild for him. He's gotten "Lil' Bow Wow" from opposing fans. He's gotten "Mini Me." He's gotten a lot of "Gary Coleman."
"I hear the little "Gary Coleman" chants and all that stuff, but it really goes over my head," he said. (I swear, he did. I have many witnesses.) "If they're saying something. that means I'm doing something good. If they're not saying nothing, then I know I ain't doing anything."
Interestingly, American's Sports Information Dept. claims that its basketball team has both the tallest frontcourt (13 feet 9 inches) and the shortest backcourt (12 total feet) in the Patriot League. Jones said that his bigs have sometimes played smaller than they are, and that Mercer often plays bigger than he is. Jones also guessed that Mercer might actually be 5-7, but Mercer said he was sticking by 5-9 and that it didn't matter anyhow.
"I just think it's based on heart, that's basically what the game of basketball is," Mercer said. "As I was growing up I knew I wasn't going to be as tall as everybody, so I just told myself that I'd go out there and play with heart no matter how big my opponent is."
"He's not worried about size or anything like that, not worried about matchups or anything like that," fellow guard Andre Ingram said of Mercer. " He just goes at each opponent, whether they're his height or 8 feet tall, he just goes after them."
After I finished talking with Mercer, he started to walk away from the locker room.
"Grab a bag," Jones said, gesturing to a massive equipment sack. "Forty minutes or not, grab a bag."
"Trav, 40 minutes baby," Mercer pleaded to teammate Travis Lay, who kept on walking. Mercer sadly dragged the sack away from the locker room.
"Ask him which weighs more, him or the bag," someone said.
7) Anyhow, if you haven't yet read Goff's game story, American thoroughly dominated a Howard team that had just taken Navy to double overtime on the road. And the 7-2 Eagles are off to their best start in 17 years.
"Can we get a little love in the Top 11 poll now?" American SID Anthony Wilson asked.
I no longer have a vote, in the interest of administrative neutrality, but I'm hereby forwarding Anthony's request to the appropriate parties.
December 7, 2006; 1:51 PM ET
Categories: College Basketball
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