Of course, at the time I didn’t know who Frank Martin was – then again, nobody else did either.
It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in 2002. My older brother was home, on break from college in Pennsylvania – and as was tradition, we were going to take in some college basketball with Dad.
Dad had been a college player in his day and remained an avid pick-up baller into his 40s. On Sunday night’s when were little, he’d take us with him to the local run in a middle school gym. Once he busted his eye open bad enough that we spent the night in the E.R. with him while he got stitched. Another time it was busted fingers.
I don’t remember ever going to an NBA game with him – in fact I only remember watching one NBA game with him ever: a Knicks game. The pomp and frill rubbed him the wrong way – though I also remember he had a soft spot in his heart for both Rik Smits and Detlef Schrempf. By the ‘96 Finals, Mom had divorced Dad, but I remember him talking about wanting the Sonics to win – so I suppose he must have been watching without us.
At any rate, he loved ball and what he deemed the purity of the college game.
We all but grew up at the Mullins Center, living and breathing UMass basketball (my dads’ alma matter). When UMass was playing in Providence or at URI, we’d make the short drive from Boston – even then Lamar Odom was a lost soul.
Marcus Camby was my first basketball hero – though Dad and my brother were more entrenched in the Lou Roe camp. Dad also had a thing for undersized Puerto Rican guards, which made the ‘96 UMass team all the more appealing to him with Edgar and Giddiel Padilla and Carmelo Travieso.
This brings us to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 2002. After the lean Bruiser Flint years at UMass, Dad grew fed up with the program and we started following Boston University basketball and the local America East conference.
Northeastern, then in the conference, had a 5’9” freshman guard from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, by way of Miami.
Jose Juan Barea, like Martin, who played a vital role in recruiting him, was also a relative unknown. At the time, nobody expected him to have a decade plus in the league. Though he was stubborn as a mule and could put up points in volume, he was also so small and often shot his team out of games (not to mention by the end of his college career, he had been involved in a handful of slapping/punching incidents, including at least one to an opposing players sack).
As soon as he started putting up numbers, Dad had to see the Puerto Rican scrapper for himself.
Northeastern was hosting Fordham, and unlike Dad, I was more excited to watch the visiting Rams’ Glenn Batemon. The season before I had seen Batemon play at UMass, and it was just about the damndest thing I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. A 6’10” center north of 400 pounds, Batemon had to stay at halfcourt when his team was shooting freethrows because he couldn’t run up and down the court, but if he got the ball near the basket he was essentially unstoppable.
Dad said he felt bad for Batemon – at the time I didn’t understand.
So anyway, Northeastern was hosting Fordham, game time was at noon on Saturday – or so we thought. We got to Cabot Gym around 11.
No fans in sight; nobody taking tickets; no cheerleaders or tuba players.
Is this going to be like a private show; just for us?
We got to the gym, Dad pushed the door open and we stroll in ready to watch a 5’9” point-god take on a 400-pound blue whale.
You could have heard a pin drop or a record scratch. Nobody was in the gym except for Northeastern doing its pregame walk-through.
As a kid I embarrassed easy, and suffered from bouts of red-face. Having the eyes of the entire team on me damn near sent me into septic shock.
The tickets said noon, its almost noon, where the hell is everybody?
The walkthrough stopped and the blank, incredulous stares of fifteen 19-year-old basketball players burned a hole though us.
Dad, who always had a no-bullshit approach extended his index finger and curled it three times, indicating come here, at the closest adult. That adult happened to be the now Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin.
Martin, who clearly shared Dad’s no-bullshit approach, came charging over like a fucking badger.
Keep in mind this isn’t 50-year-old Frank Martin either. This is late 30’s, I was a bouncer in Miami who took gunfire while on the job not too long ago Frank Martin.
What the fuck are you doing? This is a closed practice.
Martin didn’t so much say the words as snarl them – a vain pulsating out of the side of his neck.
I don’t think so!
Dad shot back with the same intensity, taking out our tickets.
They both postured and graveled a few more words at each other.
The game had been postponed to 7 that night, and of course at the time the Internet was not the source of information that it is today.
I wonder how many other people stumbled into the walkthrough that morning.
Either way, Frank Martin will also be the guy that swore at my dad and his two sons – one of who was 14 at the time. I’m pretty sure my dad would be a big fan of Frank Martin’s today.
Ironically, Dad and I didn’t even end up going to the game that night.
The next time I saw Barea play, a middle-school buddy of mine heckled him the whole time calling him a genital wart.
For the longest time afterwards, every time I thought about J.J. Barea I thought about genital warts.