As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. After months (years?) of fans begging JMU to provide some sort of communication about conference realignment and a potential FBS move, the school finally released a statement from President Alger this week. Said statement was met with a certain degree of frustration. And it was made public the very same day that Karl Benson, the Sun Belt Commissioner, spoke to reporters about JMU and said “it appears they made a decision to stay FCS.” Taken as a package, the two pieces of “news” sort of sent a vocal portion of the fan base over the edge. And I honestly have no idea why. read more…
Not entirely unexpected, but a little sad nonetheless, word came out today that last year’s QB1 Michael Birdsong, is transferring out of JMU. While this sounds shocking, it’s really not surprising at all given that last year’s Georgia Tech starter Vad Lee had transferred in and, according to reports, outplayed the Ginger Giant in last weekend’s Spring Game.
As we’ve said, Rob and I are a little tied up with life this week so we don’t have any extended thoughts, but we will offer the following:
1) We don’t want to hear a damned thing about Birdsong “being afraid of competition.” We played his ass off for the Dukes the last two years (and weren’t we all grateful when he took over for JT two years back!). He’s just being squeezed by the business end of small-time college football (darn tootin’ I meant to say “small time”). We thought of LeZotte the Elder too and while I’m sure he was glad to stick around for the title and his brother, I’ll also bet there’s a part of him that wished he’d been slinging it his whole career.
2) A HUGE thank you to Birdsong for his time at JMU. Seemed to be a good kid who enjoyed JMU, life, and the game.
3) We hope semi-heralded recruit and early enrollee Rob Nittolo, he of the “JMU’s going to CUSA” fame, is capable of backing up the team’s new leader in Lee.
4) And finally, we’ll really miss the hell out of this:
We know it’s not quite the offseason, and we know that softball, lacrosse and even men’s golf are going through strong spring seasons. But life, as it is wont to do, has intruded on our JMUSB schedule the last few weeks. Plus, we’ve been arguing with each other (in a civil, friendly way of course) over how to treat the eerie silence out of JMU on the conference realignment issue. Rob takes a rational approach – it’s out of our control so let it be, don’t worry, and Go Dukes. I’m losing my damned mind on this. I simply can’t believe that JMU has dithered and “monitored” and “perfectly positioned” themselves into a spot where conferences are sick to death of realignment and they seem entirely dependent on unlikely events (like Delaware making an actual decision or a conference other than the Sun Belt adding only one team this year). Oh yeah, and Go Dukes!
In any case, we’re going to leave it to Dukes Daily-New Record beat reporter Matthew Stoss to recap how things stand in his DukesofJMU blog. He’s more informed than we are for sure. And on the positive side, I’m glad he clarified that his “realignment fatigue” statement was mainly CUSA focused and probably unrelated to the MAC, the conference we still think JMU is headed for come the end of May. That said, the MAC clearly may decide to wait until a proper partner is ready, which doesn’t appear to be this year, and in the event that’s the BlueHens, you should never hold your breath as they can do the impossible (i.e. make JMU look downright nimble).
In any case, Rob’s right it’s out of our control, but if you want to join us in pointedly asking the questions no matter where you stand on this issue, we’re certainly looking forward to the Coaches Caravan events later this month.
JMU Football held it’s first ever Student Appreciation Day on Saturday and it was a rousing success by all accounts. Coach Withers brought this idea with him from Ohio State and JMU outdrew AAC member UConn’s similar event despite the fact we are #CAA4Lyfe! Students got a chance to watch practice, meet coaches, run routes and plays, and tour the locker room in the Plecker. One student even got to try field goals (in boat shoes) with a huge crowd around to put the pressure on. And the players themselves, running drills surrounded by their classmates in closer fashion than a PGA event, seemed to love the attention and really ramp up the enthusiasm by all accounts.
We are thrilled to hear Coach Withers initiated this event and it seems like the type of thing that might even lead to bigger events in other years, students actually getting to know the players, and maybe even a few students learning to care enough to stick around for the fourth quarter at BFS. All we know is we would have loved an event like this when we were students. Hell, we’d love an event like this now, but no word yet on when Alumni Appreciation Day will take off.
And oh yeah, not a bad spring recruiting event. And one of those recruits even mentioned something about realignment. Wait, what’s that? You don’t want to hear that “R” word? Neither does JMU and neither do we. But if you’re anything like me (as opposed to rational Rob) and you’re going to really lose it if news breaks soon that Liberty, effing Jerry Falwell’s open enrollment, non-selective admission, hate-filled Liberty, is taking the last available ticket out of the joke that is FCS while the Dukes brain trust continues monitoring the situation, than just know you’re not alone. Guess there’s always a silver lining – if Liberty honors the last game of their series with JMU, at least we’ll finally host an FBS team in Bridgeforth! Now excuse me while I go stab myself with a spork.
We had such a nice little plan for this week. First Rob would post the ThrowbackThursday video of JMU beating UVA in ancient times and then I’d tout the new Student Appreciation Day that the football team is putting on this weekend. We were gonna be happy and not even visit the message boards and stay in our happy place at least through the Final Four next week.
And then this. Men’s hoops stud Charles Cooke has been granted his release and is transferring out. Rumors had been simmering on this one, but we had hoped they were just that, rumors. Now we know that Cooke will be following Bessick and Rivard in an apparent exodus from Matt Brady’s program. Along with Bessick, the Dukes have now lost half of that fearsome foursome of freshmen that helped lead JMU back to the NCAA tourney last year and had given so many of us such high hopes for the two years remaining as a group. Now only Ron Curry, who thankfully has probably demonstrated the most growth on the court of that group, and Andre Nation, whose talent we all gape at but whose ability to maintain eligibility is about as reliable as the insanely schizophrenic tweets of @NEWERAJMUFB, remain. Talk about a buzzkill.
Look, these are college kids and they seem to have tried hard for JMU the last two years. We wish them well. And we certainly don’t know Cooke’s reasons – maybe he thinks he’s the next Luke Hancock (except he can’t shoot), maybe he’s tired of hearing Nation Nation Nation even though Andre was on the court less than half the year and may not take things as seriously as his teammates, or maybe he even thinks JMU is headed for a lameduck year anyways after some last-minute conference change in the next 60 days. But what’s sad is it seems entirely more likely the kids either a) don’t believe in Brady and the staff and/or b) are getting really poor advice. Probably a combination of the two, but the one thing we know is that this group could have been special and had a legit shot at back-to-back (and thereby 3/4 years) NCAA runs and maybe even to develop into a Stephen F. Austin type senior-laden team capable of anything and now they’re either going to some other similarly mediocre mid-major or going to be a role-player at a perceived better program.
Needless to say, Rob, our resident hoophead didn’t take the news very well today, and I think it’s fair to say this news actually drags us down about everything related to JMU Sports, including the realignment mess. It just sucks we never get a chance to enjoy things like the afterglow of a great women’s hoops run, a creative new event like Student Appreciation Day, or the red-hot run the softball team is on because Athletic’s two prize bellcows (football and men’s hoops) and the administration always seem ready to drop the other shoe on us like a cartoon anvil.
Today we’re going to look back, way back, to 1982. It was the year that the JMU Dukes defeated the University of Virginia 21-17. UVA was of course a member of the ACC. JMU on the other hand was in only its third season of 1-AA. It was a big win for that reason, but the truth is UVA was terrible. And we’re not talking Mike London terrible, we’re talking 2 winning seasons in a span of almost 3 decades terrible. The win came in George Welsh’s first year at the helm of the Cavalier program and avenged a 70 point loss JMU had against UVA in 1979, when the Dukes were in their first year of scholarship football and playing at the D-II level. And it grew more impressive with age when Welsh built UVA into a respectable program in the 80s and 90s.
JMU was an upstart in 1982, but the team was no joke. They went on to finish 8-3 and reached as high as 9th in the polls. One of the highlights in the win over UVA, was when QB John Roddy connected with the Duke’s Gary Clark for an 80 yard touchdown. Also on the field for the Dukes that day was freshmen Charles Haley. Both Clark and Haley of core went on to play in the NFL, win SuperBowls, and eventually earn induction into the JMU Hall of Fame.
We thought it was a fun little video to share. There’s a lot to like if you’re a child of the 80′s. The old school astro turf. The mesh jerseys. The high school-esque scoreboards. The complete lack of production quality. If you listen closely I think you can even hear Hall & Oates tunes playing in the stadium. OK, that’s not true. But it could be.
It’s official. Taylor Bessick is leaving JMU . He just received his realease papers and he’s able to talk to all schools except CAA
— Rise Academy (@RiseAcademy) March 28, 2014
Taylor Bessick is leaving JMU. The news first broke on Twitter courtesy of Rise Academy, the prep school Bessick played at prior to coming to JMU. The DNR’s Nick Sunderland was able to confirm the story later and get some additional details. According to Sunderland, Bessick has indeed been granted his release from JMU. He is now free to talk to any school except those in the CAA. Matt Brady however, wants him to stay and is leaving the door open for the 6’9″ sophomore to return. Reports are that Bessick’s mind is made up and he’s leaving JMU though.
Bessick displayed promise in limited minutes as a freshmen, but didn’t show the improvement some fans were expecting from him this past season. He even lost his starting spot to freshman Yohanny Dalembert down the stretch. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He had decent athleticism and somehow managed to shoot over 50% from the field, but seemed to struggle putting the ball in the hoop consistently.
Bessick’s coach at Rise Academy, Brahiim Williams, told Sunderland that Bessick is leaving because “he wanted more touches.” Fair enough. Everyone wants the basketball. Unfortunately, Bessick didn’t show the offensive game to really justify more touches. Williams went on to tell Sunderland that Bessick wants to end up a a D 1 program where they won’t make him a back to the basket player. Alright then. We hope that works out for him and sincerely wish him well wherever he ends up.
Of most interest to Dukes fans, was Bessick’s response to Sunderland’s questions about his roommates, Ron Curry, Andre Nation, and Charles Cooke. Bessick said he doesn’t think any of them will be transferring. That would be good news if true, and might do something to squash some of the rumors out there.
After the Bessick news broke, JMU freshman Tom Rivard’s name popped up on this list of 2014 transfers. There has been no comment of any sort by anyone connected with JMU basketball on Rivard thus far though.
Today we learned that UMass and the MAC are parting ways after 2015. UMass has played FBS football in the MAC for the past two years. In that time, the Minutemen compiled a record of 2-22, while playing home games 90 miles away in Foxborough. The school remained a member of the A-10 for all other sports. UMass’ decision came after the MAC issued an ultimatum, either join the league for all sports or exit in two years. UMass chose the latter. read more…
The JMU Dukes women’s hoops team fell to #3 Texas A&M 85-69 in a game that was much closer and more competitive than the final score would indicate. We could complain forever about the officiating in this game (and how much we’d rather watch players play than refs act the fool), but really we should begin by paying tribute to an incredible team that made us all proud to be Dukes and represented all the great things about JMU. And of course give a huge shout-out to the Pep Band, that sounded amazing on the four-letter and got lots of love from TAMU fans all night.
So thanks ladies and thanks Kenny Brooks for a fantastic season! Round of 32 after the ninth straight year of 24+ wins is nothing at all to hang your head about! In particular, a huge thanks to the Valley’s own and JMU seniors Nikki Newman and Kirby Burkholder for your outstanding careers. Also, in looking ahead, the cupboard is far from bare, in fact it’s bursting with talent and JMU should be in great shape moving forward. Jaz Gwathmey really was the revelation of the postseason after being an unheralded offensive player all year. Between, her, Giggetts, Mickens, and Hall, there will be no shortage of talent and excitement back in the ‘Burg next year.
From a game standpoint, the ladies actually played pretty darn well tonight. Shot well in the first half and played relatively smart considering the “overzealous” zebras. But TAMU just shot lights out, including bank threes and ridiculous off-balance shots and proved too big for the Dukes once the fouls mounted up on our post players. The real shame in the insanity of the officiating (which appeared to treat women the way the International Olympic Committee does) was that this was such a high-quality women’s game when the teams were allowed to play the game. Full credit to the Aggies though, who played great and whose fans seemed legitimately kindhearted and seemed to be in love with JMU’s team, fans, and especially the band. The tweets from Aggie fans thrilled and blown away with the PepBand’s way-too-risky-for-Texas repertoire were fun all night.
As always, you can get much better in depth coverage from a much more knowledgeable source over at the JMU Women’s Basketball Fan Blog once he returns home from College Station.
Now we’re signing off for the winter season. We’d root fer Softball this spring, but the truth is we’d rather have a conference move announcement between now and the Coaches Caravan April 23. Not that we’re holding our breath or much hope at this point.
The 11th seeded JMU Women’s team beat 6th seeded Gonzaga 72-63 tonight to earn the program’s first win in the Big Dance since 1991. Needless to say, we couldn’t be happier for a program that has been a consistent winner and one of the best representations of everything we all love about JMU since former Dukes men’s star Kenny Brooks took over. The team and its dedicated supporters (including of course the Pep Band) have developed a bit of an indie/hipster/cult cache the last half-decade or so with their consistent challenging of big programs, epic battles between the Dawn Evans-led JMU squads and the DelleDonne-led Delaware squads, and of course a couple of deep runs in the WNIT. In case you haven’t been in on this, Start Wearing Purple didn’t start in football or men’s hoops, but rather during the WNIT run a few years back. But we’re guessing those in the know both inside and outside the program won’t mind needing to find a bunch more seats on the bandwagon as they get ready for Tuesday’s matchup with #3 seed (and hosting team) Texas A&M. We also loved seeing all the Twitter shoutouts to the program from former Dukes greats all over the place including but not limited to Arthur Moats, Akeem Jordan, Dawn Evans, Tamera Young, Pierre Curtis, Steve Buckhantz, and Devon Moore.
On the game, here’s the story through our eyes (though you can certainly find a much more knowledgeable account over at the JMU WBB Fan Blog). The Dukes played a solid, smart first half in which they overcome a slow shooting start from CAA POY Kirby Burkholder to lead by three at the half. Then they played basically 10-14 minutes of some of their worst, most inconsistent, sloppy ball of the season to start the second half. They seemed to turn the ball over every other possession and at one point were in a 3-28 shooting slump. Then, out of nowhere, they just turned back into the dominant team we’ve seen all season! Part of it was definitely Coach Brooks’ decision to risk putting some foul-laden players back in the game a little earlier than he would’ve liked. At the time, the Dukes were really struggling with Gonzaga’s pressure and he just couldn’t wait. The gamble paid off as JMU went on a huge run to turn a small deficit into a relatively comfortable final minute.
Burkholder – what can we even say?! If you have a kid and you want them to understand how to be a truly great player, have them watch this game. Even conference players of the year have terrible shooting nights occasionally (4-17 probably qualifies). But you know what they do, or at least what Kirby did? She found every other way imaginable to take over a basketball game even without knocking down shots. Outside shot not falling? Get to the line and knock ‘em down (17-18). Forget that you’re just a guard and hit the boards (18(!) rebounds). Get steals in crunchtime, set up teammates for easy buckets, and smile the whole time! Just a virtuoso performance.
Lastly, we’d like to point out the truly fantastic work from the ESPN announcing team of Carter Blackburn (@CarterBlackburn) and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude (@ROSGO21). After so much ratchet CAA coverage, it was incredibly refreshing to have a team that had clearly taken the job seriously, embedded themselves with both teams for a couple days, and seemed to truly enjoy the opportunity to cover the game. Shoutouts to past greats from both programs (including Tamera Young and Dawn Evans from JMU), explanations of “Nicki said No!” and “You. Got. Kirby’d!,” and a reference to the closeness of the team and the pep band. Sure hope we get that team again Tuesday. Let’s Go Dukes!