A lot has happened since the last update following the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Pack returned to action against another tomato can, this time squaring off against William & Mary. The saving grace was that Bill and Mary committed to a style of defense all game long, in that they picked up full court and aggressively double teamed. But State simply had too much talent and they willingly passed and shared the ball. The end result was an 85-64 win.
Next up was the team’s first ACC game of the year, a home tilt against Pittsburgh. The Pack has had great success recently against the Panthers but it could not overcome a dreadful shooting night, one which saw two starters go a combined 0-20. Given that lousy performance, it’s a bit amazing that the score was as close as it was, as Pitt emerged with a 68-60 win.
Jarkel Joiner, who had played so well to start the year, somehow went 0-12. And Jack Clark, who the announcers consistently rave about his shooting form, chipped in with an 0-8 night. The best thing about this game was that D.J. Burns had a good night against a conference opponent. There’s been a tiny bit of concern how he would fare against quality competition but Burns had 13 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Then on Tuesday, the Pack returned to its non-conference slate, with the annual heritage game in Reynolds Coliseum. For 50 years, Reynolds was the on-campus arena that State called home. It was dirty, dark and dank and gave the Pack a great homecourt advantage. Now the team plays in PNC Arena, which holds many more people but is an off-campus site.
The women’s team still plays its home games in Reynolds and the building underwent a fantastic renovation several years back. It’s about half the size it used to be but it’s bright and there’s not a bad seat in the house. A group of us went to the game and my immediate reaction was – holy smokes, it’s loud in here!
The heritage game opponent was Coppin State and while they had a very good guard, they simply could not keep up with a more-talented team. The final was 94-72, with Terquavion Smith scoring 33 and Joiner bouncing back to shoot 11-17, including 5-7 from behind the arc, to finish with 29 points.
I’ve watched countless games in Reynolds and while it’s not the same as it used to be, it’s still a special place for me. And an unexpected treat was that the team wore throwback uniforms of the 1983 championship team. They gave out little flags to commemorate the Cardiac Pack and at halftime, a bunch of players from the team walked out on the court.
Lorenzo Charles is no longer with us and Thurl Bailey, Terry Gannon and Sidney Lowe did not attend. Hopefully those three will be back later in the year when the team holds its official reunion game. But it was fun to see all of those guys who did show up and it’s remarkable how many memories flood back 40 years later, even with guys who were primarily bench players.
There was Mike Warren, who barely played but was a ferocious and creative dunker, especially for a white guy, in the times I saw him in Carmichael Gym. There was 6’6 walk-on Tommy DiNardo, who I once tried to cover in a pick-up game in Carmichael. He graciously shook my hand after I didn’t foul him too much. There was George McClain, who was a buddy of my freshman roommate and who I had an eventful night or two with. And of course, there was Dereck Whittenburg, the star guard and the de-facto leader of preserving the team’s legacy. Whittenburg was an executive producer of the wonderful ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the team.
I had one encounter with Whittenburg. At the end of one night in Carmichael, I was shooting 3-pointers, as the gym had the lines marked. Whittenburg saw me alone and came to rebound for me. When he joined, I proceeded to go 6-10 behind the arc and I was feeling pretty good about myself. We switched places and he went 10-10 and left without saying a word.
It was just a great night. But unfortunately, it was not without some pain. Center Dusan Mahorcic, a grad transfer who has played better than anyone expected, came crashing to the floor and stayed down for a long time. They brought a wheelchair out for him but he eventually came off without it, instead heavily leaning on trainers. It was later disclosed that Marhorcic had a dislocated right patella, which would need surgery. He’s out indefinitely and may be gone for the year.
It’s a terrible loss for the basketball team. Burns, who’s not in the best shape, will have to play more minutes now. It should also give some playing time for Ernest Ross, who is an incredible athlete but not the most polished player around.
And the next day, State had a new player emerge who might see some time. Added to the roster was 7-footer Isaiah Miranda. He was a 4-star prospect, who was doing a prep year after graduating high school. He was supposed to be in next year’s class but he reclassified to this year and can join State for the second semester.
He just misses being a 5-star prospect and will be the highest-rated player that coach Kevin Keatts has brought to campus. Keatts did get commitments from two 5-star guys, who opted to go to the NBA. And he got another one, who decommitted. Miranda can block shots and shoot from distance but he’s just 200 pounds and it’s questionable how well he’ll do in the paint immediately.
State had a scholarship available as another 7-footer, Mady Traore, did not immediately qualify academically. The hope was that Traore would be eligible in the spring semester but apparently that didn’t work out. So, Miranda picks up the scholly set aside for Traore. The hope is that Traore will suit up for the Pack in the 2023-24 season.