Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR| Seniors on the men’s basketball team being honored on their senior night.
Nothing competes with the joy and sorrow that comes with cheering on your high school and collegiate sports teams. It’s a special emotional attachment you create with the players throughout the years. You jump up for joy when your team excels, but you wipe away tears when heartbreaking defeat occurs. You know their life stories as if you have known them your entire life, yet you are star struck when you see them in street clothes. Over the past four years I have been a student at the University of Rhode Island, I can’t think of a better group that embodies that connection than the men’s basketball senior class of 2018.
This class was, simply put, the best in the history of Rhode Island basketball. They won a combined 91 games throughout their tenure, the most in program history. In addition, the group won an Atlantic 10 championship, became the first group to take home an A-10 regular season title, went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments while winning a game in each and don’t forget the numerous individual accolades and honors.
This senior class laid the foundation for what will be the standard for success in the years to come. Each was sold on the Dan Hurley vision and each found a way to contribute to and make it a reality.
“We felt like we could build a program in the Atlantic 10 that could compete every year for a championship, and could get very used to playing in the NCAA Tournament, and being a major factor in March,” Hurley said in his introductory press conference in 2012. That was the Hurley vision that every senior bought into.
If you want the underdog story, look no further than Andre Berry. Transfering from the junior college New Mexico Military Institute, Berry came into Rhode Island as a virtual unknown. Over the years the love for Berry grew as he accumulated more and more minutes and eventually started all 32 games this season. Perhaps he saved his best performance for one of his last, as he was a pivotal factor in the St. Joe’s game in the A-10 tournament this year when he scored 18 and grabbed nine rebounds. Watching Berry grow over the years proved that persistence and dedication to your passion will pay off in the end.
Transferring from Indiana, Stan Robinson was the prototypical Hurley player. Robinson was a team and defense first player. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take more charges or sacrifice their body for the ball more. He could have become a Rhode Island folk legend if the Rams could have beaten Oregon in the NCAA Tournament, as he finished with 21 points off of 10 of 12 shooting in what will be a performance that should not be forgotten. This year Robinson was my true A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and he always seemed to be the grittiest player on the court.
Perhaps no player embodied the roller coaster of ups and downs more than Jarvis Garrett. During his sophomore season Garrett suffered a broken jaw against St. Joe’s and missed a game due to it. That is when he donned a face mask and I remember all the “fear the mask” signs and articles that came out after that. It was a reassuring confidence booster and story line in a season marred by injury and doubt. However, Garrett went down his junior season with an illness that sidelined him for eight games and paved the way for the emergence of Jeff Dowtin, and was given a new role off the bench. Most players would take it negatively, but Garrett embraced his new role during that run and into this year too. Alongside being sixth all time in assists with 398, Garrett was a true team-first player.
Then there is Jared Terrell, the first ESPN Top 100 recruit URI was able to land. Terrell initially committed to Oklahoma State, but after being given a pitch from Hurley he ultimately packed his bags for Kingston and decommitted from the Cowboys. He will go down as arguably the most underrated player in Rhode Island history. He ranks seventh in all-time in career points with 1,754 points, fourth in three-pointers made with 192, fifth in steals with 170 and is tied for second with 134 games played, starting 133 of them. He was an impact player from day one. I will always remember Terrell for his style of play on the court, his two clutch threes in overtime against Nebraska my freshman year, his game-winner against Seton Hall this year and the fact that he was always smiling on the court.
I knew very little about Rhode Island basketball going into my freshman year. But, whenever I asked about the program, I heard about this player by the name of E.C Matthews, and how he was the star of the future. Watching him play the first time I visited the Ryan Center, I become a believer in this same prophecy. Third all-time in points with 1,899 and three-pointers made with 222, he was sold on Hurley’s vision and alongside Hassan Martin laid down the official beginning of the foundation Rhode Island basketball is built on.
The drama of Matthews’s career could fill a novel. The lows of going down 10 minutes into his junior year with a season ending right knee injury and the wrist injury this year. The highs of his first two years and last year’s A-10 tournament. Matthews scored 58 points in three contests, including his 19 and two clutch free-throws to ice the game against VCU in the championship, in route to being named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. As for whether the talk about him being clutch still remains, I believe his three-pointer with 31 seconds left in overtime against Oklahoma to ice the game and his 23 points in his career finale against Duke in the NCAA Tournament this year speak for themselves.
Over the years, I have watched as the seats begin to fill-up as more and more people flock to the Ryan Center. I have seen fans travel far and wide to Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C and cross-country to Sacramento and deck out the arenas in Keaney blue. I have seen the beginning of a transition from a fan base to a culture. None of this happens without the accomplishments and the legacy this senior class leaves behind.
Most importantly, this senior class completely changed Rhode Island basketball from a vision to a reality. It’s no longer about the promise of winning an A-10 championship or making an NCAA Tournament, it’s about the current banners they have hanging in the rafters and the ones that will soon come. It’s no longer “we can,” but now it’s “we will.”