|Basketball coaches spend off time with troops|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 12 September 2008 10:00|
Recruiting is on hold, students don't return to campus for a month and another season is still on the horizon.
Several coaches, however, have given up some of their down time to visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq. They are doing it through the USO's ``Operation Hardwood,'' and it's become a big morale boost for one side - the guys with the whistles.
The most recent group - seven coaches and ESPN's Fran Fraschilla - went to Kuwait and Iraq for a week in early August. The coaches run teams of soldiers during a tournament, and learn a little bit of what life is about for those in uniform.
``You can't imagine what the trip is like,'' Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said. ``And I'm not talking about things like having to wear body armor or being on an active military base or that it was 110 degrees all the time. I mean getting to spend time with the soldiers is incredible.
ional skills. And they all volunteered to be there and that tells you all you need to know.''
There was a personal moment right away for Pecora, who is starting his eighth season with Hofstra after serving as Jay Wright's assistant there for seven years.
``A Marine came up to me the first day and said, 'I went to your summer camp at Hofstra.' It was great. We talked Long Island. Sgt. John Parry. He played for Lindenhurst High School. That was great.''
DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said the trip will help his current players.
``No matter how bad you think your job or situation is, trips like that kind of keeps everything in perspective, too,'' Wainwright said. ``We can share those things with our teams. They need to keep perspective in their lives as well and see how fortunate they are to be playing college basketball.
``It is very humbling to see the discipline and dedication of these young people, their sense of commitment and togetherness. They are the ultimate team. They kept thanking us, but we should have been thanking them.''
Rick Kell, a Maryland businessman with college basketball connections, helped found Operation Hardwood in 2005. There has been at least one trip to the region every year and future ones are in the works.
ere,'' Kell said. ``The recruiting now isn't convincing as much as just getting on guy's calendars. For the coaches the trip has become more about the handshake tour than the tournament.''
This summer's group included Pecora, Wainwright, Fraschilla, Dayton's Brian Gregory, Manhattan's Barry Rohrssen, American's Jeff Jones, Texas-Pan American's Tom Schuberth and former Air Force coach Reggie Minton.
When in Baghdad, the group stayed in one large room in a lodge near a manmade lake on one of the former hunting preserves of deposed leader Saddam Hussein.
``It was the world's oldest sleepaway camp,'' Pecora said, noting that as one of the youngest coaches he was on the top bunk.
The coaches were told to keep a flashlight handy for any middle-of-the-night bathroom excursions.
``Just give me one of the miner's hats,'' Wainwright said, ``I'm good for three, four trips a night.''
The teams held a draft for the coaches. And with shoes and uniforms provided by Nike, the games were on - far from a normal setting for hoops.
``These players have jobs and these aren't jobs you can call in sick to to go play some ball,'' Pecora said. ``I had two of my players run in a few minutes before tip for one game. They put their rifles in the rack behind the bench, got changed and headed for the layup line.''
ed gym on a nice campus,'' he added. ``There's no way you can ever forget those men and women over there. It was worth any vacation we had to give up.''