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Rhode To Nowhere

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


As another season passes without a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team, the promise of brighter days ahead is the only thing keeping Rhody faithful from hanging themselves in the coat closet with their Tyson Wheeler jerseys.

They keep urging us to be patient.

The best is yet to come.

This, too, shall pass. 

Anymore patience on our part and we’ll soon be mental patients, banging our heads against the padded walls drooling from the corner of our mouths and mumbling to our relatives about the night Sly Williams almost single-handedly led the Rams past Duke in the 1978 Tournament. 

It’s been 15 years since Rhode Island qualified for the Big Dance, 15 years since Lamar Odom’s buzzer-beater sank the hearts of the Temple Owls in the Atlantic-10 Tournament to punch Rhody’s ticket to the Field of 64, long before the backyard barbecues with Kris Jenner and Scott Disick in Calabasas. In the era of greasy palms and promiscuous recruiting tactics, that kind of drought is indefensible and downright unacceptable for a school with more than 12,000 undergrads and a state-of-the-art basketball facility in its backyard.

And it’s not as if they haven’t come close. In Jim Baron’s 11 seasons with the Rams in the post-Jerry DeGregorio era, Rhode Island won 20 or more games five times and earned five trips to the NIT, including a spirited run to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in 2010 in which it lost to North Carolina by a single point. Baron’s 2008 team even cracked the Associated Press Top 25 after starting the season 15-2, but wound up falling out favor quickly by losing 10 of its final 16 games.

The ’08 meltdown and subsequent inability to get over the hump and off the NCAA bubble was symbolic of Baron’s tenure at URI. Despite the same promises of bright futures and green pastures being shoved down our throats by current head coach Dan Hurley, Baron’s teams routinely suffered monumental collapses in February and March, right around the time good teams usually begin their final tournament push.

Hurley seems a like a great guy and a tremendous go-getter, the kind of coach who brings passion and hunger, which is awesome if you’re teaching Introduction to International Politics, but not nearly as important as Xs and Os – or recruiting – when your sole objective is to revive a program that’s been on life support for more than a decade. Hurley’s only in his second season, so it’s too early to put him on the hot seat just yet, but it’s also incredibly difficult to preach patience when the program hasn’t been relevant since scrunchies and bucket hats were in style. If Hurley doesn’t start winning as early as next year, he might ultimately pay the price for both DeGregorio and Baron’s sins. 

With the 7,000-seat Ryan Center located on campus, along with the prospect of playing in the new, seemingly stronger, A-10, the Rams have no excuse to be this bad for this long. Even URI’s baseball program, which has nothing more than an on-campus facility as its prime recruiting tool and limited scholarships – not to mention lousy weather in comparison to the major baseball schools – has qualified for more tournament appearances in the past 15 years than the basketball team, advancing to the NCAA Regionals in 2005.

Though it’s hard to imagine now, there was a time when Providence and Rhode Island were No. 1 and 1A in local basketball, even if the Rams have always been the bastard stepchild. With Bryant in the Division I mix, there are now four schools vying for the state’s affection, and URI is the least relevant of them all. Even Bryant is in still in the tournament picture, despite its long odds, and it’s doing it with former Rhody coaches Tim O’Shea and Al Skinner at the helm, another kick in the groin for URI’s floundering program, as if the Friars winning with a six-man team isn’t enough of an insult. Meanwhile in Kingston, the Rams avoided a possible 20-loss season for the second time in three seasons by rallying to beat Saint Bonaventure this past weekend, snapping an embarrassing six-game losing streak dating back to the beginning of February. Think Big. We Do. 

With Hurley’s top recruiting target, Jarvis Garrett, verbally committing to attend URI beginning next fall, there’s hope on the horizon, but the Rams have dragged us down this road before. Three of Rhode Island’s Top 20 all-time scorers played under Baron, so it’s not as if supreme talent hasn’t walked these corridors over the last 15 years. The problem is they all wasted away playing for teams incapable of getting over the hump.

Garrett might be the next Tommy Garrick, but it won’t mean much unless Hurley – or whoever else carries the burden of getting this team back to the Big Dance – ends the drought and gives Rhode Island something else to root for other than legalized marijuana, which is fitting because you’re probably higher than the Superman building if you still think patience is Hurley’s greatest virtue.  


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"Hurley’s only in his second season, so it’s too early to put him on the hot seat just yet."
Not in my opinion. The guy hook winked everyone into giving him the job after his "success" at Wagner, which was solely the result of his brother Bobby, and a handpicked lineup because of his "name" with the St. Benedict Gray Bees. A glorified high school coach who made out good but is in over his head. As for 15 years, well that speaks for itself. Time for Danny Boy to hit the road. Thanks but see you later.

Comment #1 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 26

Fair enough, Joe. I was being diplomatic at the risk of sounding too overzealous, but I wouldn't lose sleep either if the guy got canned. The fact is they lost 20 games in his first year, improved marginally last season and have regressed dramatically this year.

Comment #2 by Michael Parente on 2014 02 26

Joe is a straight up troll. Just a pathetic person who just hates and hates.

Honestly though, it is the second year of a team that was absolutely left a mess by Baron. The leader of this team is a freshman. 12 wins is better than the 8 last year and better than the 7 the year before that. Learn to have a little patience. He is growing a team from the ground up. If there is only mediocre improvement next year then it's time to have a discussion on where this team is going. This stuff doesn't happen over night.

The biggest problem in Rhode Island, whether it's sports, politics, or community is the negativity and cynicism of some of you people. Relax, take it easy, and wait a little before your condemn.

Comment #3 by Kendrick Jones on 2014 02 26

What a pile of steaming dog crap this article is!
We have two future NBA players recruited to URI by Hurley and company, in EC Matthews and Preston Murphy,
We have had injuries, defections and baby mamma drama hurt this team.
They start two freshmen, and a transfer.
Only a moron would say patience isn't required after the nuclear winter brought on by Jim Baron's thugs and classroom train wrecks.
The APR is hurting recruiting, because URI can't take chances on anyone coming in, because they're on the cusp of academic sanctions left over from Baron's stay.
As for Joe Adumbowits, he's a low IQ troll from Ipswich, MA, who on his Facebook page, does nothing but slam UConn, UConn's women, and is a PC follower. Agenda, anyone?
As for Joe Parente, who the hell are YOU? The classless Kardashian references, couple with an even worse Ray Rice reference tells us all we need to know about you.
Just a hack piece of garbage article. Period.

Comment #4 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 26

I meant Hassan Martin. I have Preston on my mind, due to the great job he does at URI.

Comment #5 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 26


I understand your frustration and that of all Rhody fans. A 15-year NCAA Tournament drought is far too long. However, this can not all be placed at the feet of Dan Hurley. If Baron got 10 years to try to reach the promised land, why are you only giving Hurley two? Year 3 should be the first year you see significant progress because it gives a coach time to bring in a couple of recruiting classes. We shall see what happens next year. In all, I give a college coach 5 years before I make a definitive judgement on him. As for Cooley and PC winning with 6 guys, his two biggest stars are Keno Davis recruits in Cotton and Batts. Hurley walked into a situation with far less talent than was left at PC. Just my opinion.

Comment #6 by Scott Cordischi on 2014 02 26

I agree with Scott on this. He sums it up nicely.

@Rod, I agree, Preston is great! Another great recruit yesterday and they are closing in on a big man from what I heard.

Comment #7 by Kendrick Jones on 2014 02 26

2 Things That are Apparent about Hurley's 2 year tenure

1. The program was in much worse shape than even Hurley thought it was when he took the job- due to APR, disciplinary issues (Mr. Holton), etc.

2. Hurley's 2013 recruiting class of Matthews and Martin has a chance to be a rich man's version of the Keith Cothran/Lamonte Ulmer class for the program. 2 major hits in recruiting there.

The administration has gone all in with the program, and Hurley and his staff have solid recruiting pipelines set up in the NY/NJ, Philly, and Detroit areas thanks to the staff they've assembled. They have access to players like Jarvis Garrett and that's encouraging. I've covered the team all year, and there's no panic button being pressed by the Athletic Department. Hurley isn't going anywhere. Next year is the first year it's really "his team" in my book.

All that's missing is fan/student interest and wins. Usually those 2 things go hand in hand. I can understand Michael's frustrations, but URI is not an A-level program that can rebuild in 1 or 2 years with All-American recruits and billion dollar boosters. They can't even get their students to fill up their on campus arena yet.

Baby steps are needed. If next year's team has 8 available players in February and is at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 again, then the cynics are going to have some merit.

Comment #8 by John Andrade on 2014 02 26

What a snide article. Parente writes like he was brought up in a home where English was the second language. OK, the prose is bad, but what about the analysis - pedestrian, trite and lacking insight come to mind. There is never an excuse for not using original language and thinking and sadly this article demonstrates this point.

Comment #9 by Otto Benson on 2014 02 26

If your issue is with "prose," then read Hamlet!

This is an op-ed piece and clearly one that hasn't been written before judging by the reactions.

Comment #10 by Michael Parente on 2014 02 26

Yes,it's total hog swill. This belongs in the bottom of a bird cage.
Just because it hasn't been written before, simply means, most people wouldn't be uninformed enough to put this on paper.
You act as if this is some epiphany that you've brought to Rhody followers, instead of a poorly written, and even more poorly thought out "op ed" piece.

Comment #11 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 26

A well written piece, Michael. The truth is this "program" is in the toilet and Hurley has made Kingston the hinterland of hilarity. Look at what Baron has done in his two years at Canisius, 20 wins. Hurley by contrast needs to take his high school notebook and head back to NJ, where his heart is in the first place, and stick with the small fry. The truth is comments like "he is growing the program from the ground up" and "8 wins is better than 7" from those who have their are head in the sand. A huge Keno Davis on steroids mistake was made in hiring Hurley but followers are afraid to admit it. And how in the world can anyone blame Billy for bolting; he saw the handwriting on the wall. As a much better than your average fan when it comes to basketball acumen (I've been told this by many, including experts on the game, I say it is time to cut the losses. Oh Danny boy, the Garden State is calling. Please go home.

Comment #12 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 26

The Ipswich Village Idiot speaks!
What a classic troll! Go back into your basement on your
mommy's computer an go on Facebook and tell everyone how terrible
the UConn women are.
Yeah, going to the MAAC and playing Rider and Fairfield are just like being in the A-10 and playing in a league with five NCAA bids. DUH!
Yes, 20 wins in 34 games, and having to pay $35,000 to play in whatever unknown tournament Canisius was in. Some things never change.
Baron is having his annual late season collapse.
Any more asinine comments IVI?

Comment #13 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 26

In Jim Baron’s 11 seasons with the Rams, Rhode Island won 20 or more games five times and earned five trips to the NIT, including a spirited run to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in 2010 in which it lost to North Carolina by a single point. Baron’s 2008 team even cracked the Associated Press Top 25.
I think we'd all take this instead of losing to Fordham, wouldn't you agree? There may have been some problems with Baron, but patience was needed. It's all paying dividends for Canisius now as Baron and his all-star son, Billy, have more than an excellent chance to make the Big Dance, something, as Michael pointed out,is unacceptable for a state school with more than 12,000 undergrads. And as he points out, Hurley has passion, and he sure screams a lot, but lacks what we need: X-and-O ability and recruiting prowess. Great "op ed" piece. And one that needed to be written a long, long time ago.

Comment #14 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 26

'More importantly this year marks 15, yes 15, years of not attaining an NCAA tournament.'

-- Joe Adamowicz, Feb. 23

Let's try this again, Joe. Jim Baron was responsible for 11 of those years. To advocate for his return while citing an extended period of failure for which he was chiefly responsible is to exhibit a complete and total lack of cognitive reasoning. Try a different line of reasoning -- if oyu are capable of such a thing -- and get back to us.

Comment #15 by Carver Hawkeye on 2014 02 27

Of course Adumbasswitless fails to mention Baron's 3 20 loss seasons,
most losses by any coach in URI's 100 years of basketball. Never beating a top 255 team in 11 years. Longest tenured URI coach to not take URI to an NCAA.
Go back to the crawlspace under the stairs at mommy's house, trollboy.

Comment #16 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 27

Sorry to have to correct you, Mr. Parente, you don't read Hamlet for good prose, since Shakespeare wrote in a standard poetic form of blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter which means it was unrhymed. You shouldn't make metaphors that strengthen the opinion that you do not know what you are talking about.

You can get good sports prose and, more importantly, sports insight from a huge number of sources, unfortunately not from your pen. I think the only person who thinks your article had merit was Mr. Adamowicz and his support speaks volumes about the accuracy, objectivity, and fairness of what you wrote

Comment #17 by Otto Benson on 2014 02 27

Are you suggesting I'm a terrible writer who can't form complete sentences or string together coherent thoughts or are you just pissed off because you disagree with my opinion on the state of URI basketball?

If you disagree with my opinion, that's perfectly acceptable, but attacking my grammar, writing style and prose just seems like a reach on your part.

In any event, I'll gladly challenge you -- or anyone -- to debate the facts in the story.

The numbers don't lie:

1. Fifteen consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth

2. Five 20-loss seasons during that same stretch

It's indefensible. That's it.

Feel free to disagree, but at least tell me why.

Comment #18 by Michael Parente on 2014 02 27

Indeed, Michael. I think fifteen consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth says it all. The program is an afterthought and high school Hurley is not going to stop that streak. This piece was way overdue.

Comment #19 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 28

I think it's a safe bet that Buffalo's Bobby Hurley makes the NCAAS before his brother.This guy is having a fantastic year with the Bulls. Same for Old friend Jimmy Baron at Canisius. These guys can flat out coach, baby!!

Comment #20 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 28

Joe Assclowowitless the Ipswich Village Idiot speaks!
What you know about UB basketball would echo in a thimble,
Yeah, Jim Baron can really coach. Two NCAAs in a 25 year coaching career, with ZERO wins!
Tell us how the undefeated UConn women suck.

Comment #21 by Rod Carri on 2014 02 28

'More importantly this year marks 15, yes 15, years of not attaining an NCAA tournament.'

-- Joe Adamowicz, Feb. 23

Reading comprehension isn't your strength, is it Joe? I guess that applies even to your own quotes. Jim Baron was responsible for 11 of those years. To advocate for his return while citing an extended period of failure for which he was chiefly responsible is to exhibit a complete and total lack of cognitive reasoning.

Comment #22 by Carver Hawkeye on 2014 02 28

What’s worse than bad prose, Mr. Parente, is that you make snarky comments – very immature and unprofessional. Also, I am not fond of wild exaggerations as Mr. Adamowicz so ably demonstrates and let me give you just one of yours: “With Bryant in the Division I mix, there are now four schools vying for the state’s affection, and URI is the least relevant of them all.” Wow. Have you ever been to the Chace Center or Pizzitola. Last week I had a chance to see Bryant play Fairleigh Dickinson, not an impressive outing for the Bulldogs. BTW, the crowd at Bryant barely reached 1000 fans, so I assume that URI draws even less considering they are the least relevant to RIers. Have I quoted you correctly?

As for URI, if your sole measure of success is reaching the NCAA, then you may have a point. But I prefer to look at basketball programs in a broader light that balances expectations with the resource commitment at many levels, the size and generosity of the fan base, institutional support, etc., etc. Many top flight schools do not make the NCAA for long periods. I don’t believe Northwestern has ever made it, SMU only rarely, and UMass hasn’t been for quite some time. You should know that.

Comment #23 by Otto Benson on 2014 02 28

I guess the bottom line is that URI will be on the sidelines again for the Big Dance,so make that 15 years in a row. That's something everyone can agree on.

Comment #24 by joe adamowicz on 2014 02 28

"As for URI, if your sole measure of success is reaching the NCAA, then you may have a point."

What else are they playing for?

Playing meaningful games in late-February and early-March qualifies as relevant.

URI has been playing out the string since January.

Attendance at Bryant or Brown is irrelevant. The Tampa Rays can't draw flies in St. Petersburg, but they're 100 percent relevant in the American League playoff picture and have been relevant for a number of years. The Yankees more than doubled the Rays in attendance last year but failed to make the playoffs while the Rays qualified as a Wild Card participant and I don't think anyone would consider last year's Yankee team more relevant than Tampa.

The entire point of this piece, which has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle, is that URI has been selling us on the promise of a brighter, better future for the basketball program for quite some time now (more than a decade, to be exact) and it becomes harder and harder to buy into that rhetoric without any production on the court.

That's it.

Comment #25 by Michael Parente on 2014 02 28

Thanks for your response, Mr. Parente, but we differ on what relevant means. I certainly don't dismiss as you do that attendance is relevant not when your the one making reference like "vying for the state's affection". Your dismissal of the Tampa bay attendance woes also does not square with their behind scenes thinking on moving the franchise, but let me not further add to your changing of the subject.

Finally, I know a young man who had the intensity and interest in basketball maybe the same as yours. When he graduated about 10 years ago from a large midwestern university (as I did), he made a commitment to support his school’s basketball program and gave a $100 from his first year salary to show his commitment. He has done that every year since and increasing the gifts according to his means. I don’t know your background, Mr. Parente or where you went to school, but if it was URI, then I would expect you put your money where their mouth is. That's the substance of a true fan, not ones like you who get into a hissy fit because things don't go the way you want.

Comment #26 by Otto Benson on 2014 02 28

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