By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from room 235 of the Marriott Courtyard in Charleston, S.C., where University of Dayton basketball fans have commandeered the Historic District, saving their mayhem for inside TD Arena during the Charleston Classic.
—UD SAVED THE TOURNAMENT: This is a story about how a basketball team’s fans saved a tournament from extinction. And it involves the University of Dayton’s Flyer Faithful and the Charleston Classic.
It happened back in the 2012 and ESPN was about to pull the plug on the Charleston Classic for lack of attendance.
Then, like Mighty Mouse, UD and its fans rode in to save the day.
Call it karma, but on Thursday night I sat next to Mark Epstein, an affable, friendly guy and former assistant tournament director. He told me the story and said emphatically over and over, “The Dayton Flyers saved this tournament.”
Said Epstein, “I wasv the assistant tournament director for the first six or seven years. We were having a hard time drawing fans. Even though we had South Carolina and Clemson in it, hometown teams, they were finishing their football seasons and their fans weren’t traveling.
“And we were in trouble,” he added. “ESPN literally told me and tournament director Bobby Cremins they were going to shut it. Bobby and I asked for one more year and ESPN said, ‘OK, one more year and that’s it.’ They didn’t really want to give us another year.”
Epstein said the tournament had a weak field that year. . .South Carolina Upstate, Coastal Carolina.
“We knew they weren’t going to draw,” said Epstein. “So the evening sessions comes along and the first game Dayton is playing and they had 3,500 people (in the 5,500-seat TD Arena. We knew right then and there we were home free. And I will say it until the day I die. . .Dayton saved the tournament. That’s why they keep getting invited back. Dayton saved the tournament.”
And Dayton keeps bringing The Flyer Faithful.
If you haven’t experienced The Flyer Faithful on the road, especially at tournaments, well, it’s like red ants invading a family re-union picnic.
It starts with pre-game. Hotels, bars, restaurants and the streets of Charleston are dominated by fans wearing red and blue.
At ‘Toast,’ a popular breakfast nook, Flyer fans gather and you hear, “Scrambled eggs, but hold the grits.” The grit is for the fans to show at the game.
On Thursday, the Flyers came from 15 down to LSU with nine minutes left to win, 70-67, on a Nate Santos three-point shot with :03.5 seconds left.
During a 19-2 run that got the Flyers back into the game, the Flyer Faithful went stark, raving bonkers. Big deal, they always do.
The uninitiated thought it was something special, so many fans making so much noise. Uh, no. Routine for UD fans.
When this one was over, the roof was gone, pipes were still rattling, windows were shattered and ear drums felt as if they had been beaten on by a ball peen hammer.
And that’s only a slight exaggeration. And it’s why Dayton keeps getting invited to in-season tournaments: “Have fans, will travel.”
—HERE’S THE PITCH: The free agent market for starting pitchers is overstocked and that gives the Cincinnati Reds, if they so desire, a chance to pluck one.
They probably won’t shop from the top shelf where Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and Yoshinora Yammamoto sit. Too pricey.
But on the middle shelf sits Jordan Montgomery, Marcus Stroman and Eduardo Rodriguez, able arms that might fit Cincinnati’s budget.
Trevor Bauer, once a Reds pitcher, albeit briefly, is job-hunting. He pitched gloriously in Japan for the Yokohama BayStars last season after exoneration of sexual assault charges while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Yokohama he was 10-4 with a 2.76 earned run average, two complete games, 31 walks and 136 strikeouts.
But is his excess baggage and idiosyncrasies too much for the Reds’ clubhouse?
—MORE QB WOES: Just when it appeared the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Deshaun Watson had turned a corner and saw broad daylight, Watson turned a corner this week and smacked into a brick wall.
An MRI this week revealed damage inqbn Watson’s shoulder that needs season-ending surgery. So that leaves the Browns back on QB withdrawal.
So does P.J. Walker start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nope, the Browns are going with rookie Dorian Thomas-Robinson. He isn’t certain of his last name and in a previous start wasn’t certain whether to pass, run or duck. Mostly he ducked. Now he must try to find the ways and means to victory.
Said Watson, with whom the Browns seemed to be under the influence of succees: “I’m still in disbelief. I’m still trying to process all the information. I felt like we were turning a corner to really make a run and still believe we still will with the guys in this locker room. I just wanted to physically be a part of it. It’s tough to try to wrap everything around my head right now.”
That’s OK, Deshaun. The Steelers probably will wrap everything around Thompson-Robinson’s head.
—NY MINUS TDs: Terrific line from NFL insider Adam Schefter on the offensive plights of the Jets and the Giants: “New York does pizza, New York does bagels, but New York doesn’t do touchdowns.”