Cuse Country

Home Away From Dome for Syracuse Orange Fans

A ghost from the (recent) past

Posted by Tom on June 24, 2007

Recently, work obligations brought me to the annual gala fundraising dinner for Rising Stars, a basketball-based youth program in New York. I came into the event excited to chew the fat with featured speaker Jason McElwain, the autistic high school team manager who became the feel-good story of 2006 when he got into a game and started draining sick threes every time down the court. The highlight still gives me chills even after seeing it at least ten times:

I remembered hearing in the blitz of media coverage that surrounded this that Jason (a Rochester native) was a big Syracuse fan, and that he went by J-Mac in honor of his hero Gerry McNamara. In talking to him, he turned out to be a pretty quiet kid who felt strongly about two things: that Syracuse totally got screwed by the selection committee this year, and that the new practice facility that Carmelo donated 3 million for would be completely awesome.

In any case, our chit chat was interrupted by a vaguely familiar-looking older gentleman who approached us with inexplicable glee. “I hear what you’re talking about!” and then to Jason, “do you want to tell him, or should I? Go on, you tell him!”

“He was the coach of Vermont when they beat us in the tournament,” Jason muttered, as Tom Brennan leaned in to shake my hand in introduction.

The effect of these words on my brain caused me to recoil instinctively, and say something like “woah! woah! noooo!” as I pulled my hand back from the impending handshake. Brennan was instantly consumed with side-splitting laughter, and it quickly became apparent that he lives for this kind of encounter. I ended up talking to him for a solid 15-20 minutes, in which several things became apparent:

  • If I felt 100% sure we were going to lose even when that game went to overtime, Brennan genuinely felt 101% sure that Vermont was going to lose.
  • He is an exceptionally nice guy.
  • He is still riding high off that win.


The whole conversation ended up being surprisingly cathartic. I was able to speak of the raw pain of seeing our second best team in the last 10 years eliminated in the first round – and to express the frustration of it being at the hands of a team that was such a feel-good story that the highlights would never go away. At the same time, I was presented with the yin to that yang. On the other side of that heartbreak was the palpable joy that game brought to this guy who was essentially the fun uncle that everyone wishes they had. I went so far as to congratulate him on a game well coached, particularly on containing Hakim. He beamed with pride. He left me later that night with a friendly “this will be the year for the Orange!” shout from across the room.

In hindsight, I wish I had gotten more into coaching talk with him. I’m really curious what other coaches look for and work on when they prepare to play Syracuse – how they defend and attack Boeheim’s system. Coulda shoulda woulda, but now that I’m prepared for the next impromptu social encounter with a D-1 basketball coach, I should be able to come out of it with a few more juicy items for the blog.


One Response to “A ghost from the (recent) past”

  1. syracusan said

    Just catching up after getting back in the country. Well written dude, glad you got this up. We should shout people back to this post in the fall when traffic picks back up.

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