Getting ready for The Garden


The Appalachian Online

Lee Sanderlin

Appalachian State men’s basketball head coach Jim Fox wanted to do something special for his team, something they would never forget. He decided a game against Hofstra at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of the basketball world, would do the trick.

“The experience of playing in Madison Square Garden is incredible, especially for a program like ours,” Fox said. “People just don’t understand how special it is to play in The Garden.”

Fox, a New York native, is excited not only to go home, but for his team to get to experience New York City.

“Not many of them have been to New York City. We’re going to get up there and give them some time to explore,” he said.

Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks and now defunct Big East Conference Championship, represents the pinnacle of the basketball world. It’s long been known as the game’s greatest stage, seeing the likes of Bernard King, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant put on some of their greatest career performances.

For senior guards Frank Eaves and Chris Burgess, the opportunity to play in the same arena that some of their childhood idols have is a special one.

“My favorite Garden memory would be Stephen Curry’s 54 point game there. I probably watch those highlights once a week,” Eaves said.

For Burgess, it’s an opportunity to kick start the season with a win against a quality opponent in Hofstra.

“Its a special place to be and a special opportunity, but it’s a business trip,” Burgess said. “We’re there to get a win, and when the time comes to take care of business that’s what we’re going to do.”

Fox wasn’t reluctant with his praise of Hofstra, lumping them and Stephen F Austin, one of App’s opponent in last weekend’s Music City challenge, with the likes of North Carolina.

Fox knows that a win against Hofstra would be a big accomplishment for a team that has struggled so far this season.

Perhaps the Mountaineers will be able to rise to the occasion when they play on one of the biggest stages in the game.

What’s most important for these Mountaineers is not the experience itself but what they learn from it. If they’re able to turn their season around and rally for a potential NCAA Tournament bid, this game would be crucial experience for a team that’s never experienced postseason play.

The game also sets the tone for what will be a tough December stretch for the Apps, where they will play a lone home game against UNC Charlotte. Teams on tap for December include a storied NCAA basketball program in Texas, and North Carolina, who is ranked inside the top 10 and is the most experienced and talented team Appalachian will play all year.

Chris Burgess is not fearful of UNC and is planning on using the Hofstra game at Madison Square Garden as the teams springboard into their tough December, specifically for the UNC game.

Burgess said he was looking forward to more than just playing when the team squares off against Hofsta in Madison Square Garden, and then against the Tarheels weeks later  — even making a bold declaration.

“I’m looking forward to getting a win in both games,” he said.

If App State is to have any chance further along in December, a win on basketball’s biggest stage is the ideal starting point. Whatever the outcome of the game, the team’s experience is sure to be one none of them will ever forget.

Story by: Lee Sanderlin, Associate Sports Editor