My AP story about the St. Peter’s Peacocks
It ran on the national Associated Press wire tonight. It’s pretty big stuff for a simple stringer
The first team that John Dunne coached at St. Peter’s College in 2006 won all of five games.
A year later, the Peacocks were vastly improved. They won six times.
“It was very frustrating,” Dunne said, referring to those first two seasons. “Of course, you question yourself when you go through seasons like that, but it was never a question of whether you were playing the game the right way. You just wanted to win so badly, but when you’re losing, you start to micromanage everything. You wonder about the day-to-day routines, whether you’re practicing long enough.”
The 2007-08 team, Dunne’s first true recruiting class, featured kids like Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins, a group of kids who managed to defeat Rutgers at the Jersey City Armory early in the season and not much else. In fact, during one stretch of that season, the Peacocks lost an ungodly 18 straight games.
“It was definitely tough,” Bacon said. “We knew that we had the talent that could turn this program around. But after our freshman year, we all could have left, transferred, gone somewhere else.”
Jenkins, a former All-State player at Bloomfield Tech, did have some pressure to leave after that 6-24 campaign.
“After my freshman year, everyone was in my ear about transferring,” Jenkins said. “But I’m a loyal guy and I don’t quit. I was going to stay no matter what. I came from a winning program. I never lost 18 straight games. But it would have been too easy for me to walk away. I’d have to sit out a year and not play, sit behind someone else for a while. I came to St. Peter’s to play. I didn’t want to leave. I figured you had to lose before you could win.”
So instead of bailing on the program, Jenkins, Bacon and Leon all stayed at St. Peter’s. They had faith in Dunne and faith in the program.
“The main reason why we stayed was our togetherness,” Bacon said. “We stuck together and stuck it out.”
The Peacocks showed improvement, winning 11 games the following season and 16 a year ago.
With the core of the team based around their senior leadership, there were high hopes entering the 2010-11 season. However, those feelings were dampened considerably when leading scorer Jenkins suffered what first appeared to be a devastating knee injury.
It looked as if the Peacocks’ season was over before it actually starting, losing the team’s leading scorer for the last three seasons and the school’s No. 7 all-time leading scorer.
“A whole lot was going through my mind,” Jenkins said. “When the doctor told me that my ACL was torn, I didn’t know what to think. I called my mother and cried. I just wanted to be by myself.”
Jenkins saw another doctor who recommended that he would not require season-ending reconstructive surgery; that he could get by with just a rigorous rehabilitation.
“I actually felt blessed to hear that news,” Jenkins said. “I just had to keep rehabbing the knee to get it stronger.”
When the season officially began in November, Jenkins was on the sidelines and missed the first four games, three of which were losses. Jenkins returned to action in December, only to face adversity once again.
Right before the Peacocks were slated to face Rutgers in Piscataway. Jenkins re-injured the same knee.
“The second time, I definitely thought it was over,” Jenkins said. “The whole team thought it as well.”
However, Jenkins only suffered a hyperextension of the knee, which put him to the sidelines for a second time, this time for three games.
“I dodged two bullets,” Jenkins said. “I’m just blessed to still be playing.”
During the course of the regular season, the Peacocks were defeated twice by Fairfield (once by a lopsided 70-43 score) and twice handily by Iona, but managed to somehow defeat both teams at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament last week in Bridgeport, Ct.
It clinched the program’s first MAAC title since 1995 and gave the Peacocks their first berth in the NCAA Tournament since that year.
The transformation was complete. The Peacocks were a six-win team as freshman to NCAA Tournament participants as seniors. St. Peter’s will face Purdue in the opening round of the Southwest Region at the United Center in Chicago Friday night.
“I’m not focused on how we match up with Purdue,” Leon said. “They should be focused on how they match up with us.”
“I don’t know much about Purdue, because my wife doesn’t let me watch too much basketball at home,” Dunne said. “But you can be rest assured that we’ll know a lot before Friday.”
For the kid who thought his season ended twice, there was no greater feeling.
“You have to have a story in your life,” Jenkins said. “Everyone has to have a story. This is my story. We have one. The whole four years, the losing, getting hurt, it was all worth it. Everything happens for a reason. The bottom line is, we won.”
And for the young coach, in his first head coaching job, who thought he might have done the wrong thing in taking the SPC job five years ago, there were no words to describe the emotions.
“It was surreal, like was it really happening?” Dunne said. “It was euphoria. I was so happy for these guys, so happy for St. Peter’s College, the fans, the alumni. No question, I’m a happy man.”
That story will appear in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal. There will be no byline, but trust me, it’s mine.
You have to love the new Bobby Hurley commercials that are appearing during the NCAA Tournament. If you haven’t seen them, you can see them online on http://www.dovemencare.com…
Speaking of Hurley, how low class was the documentary “The Fab Five” the other night on ESPN? I wanted to jump through the TV and beat the crap out of Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson for calling the Duke basketball team a bunch of “bitches” and “Uncle Toms.”
Did anyone else find it funny that the best player among the group, namely Chris Webber, had nothing to do with the crap?
One last thing. Duke might have been filled with bitches and Uncle Toms as they say, but the Blue Devils also did some bitch slapping on those blowhards, winning all three games. Bitch that!!!
I went to the Red Bulls media day today at Red Bull Arena in Harrison and it was astounding and shocking to see the number of media people that were in attendance. There had to be about 300 credentialed media people there to do interviews. Thierry Henry certainly draws a crowd. I remember covering that event when there were about seven writers in attendance, guys like Paul Gardner, Frank Giase, Michael Lewis, Jack Bell, Alex Yannis, Ike Kuhns and me. Things have definitely changed. Maybe it was the free lunch that drew the media types to Harrison today.