The Blueprint for Fairleigh Dickinson’s Upset Came From an Even Smaller School

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The recipe for Fairleigh Dickinson’s decisive win in March Madness, as the 16th seed over Purdue, the top seed, was not written from the school’s compact New Jersey campus along the river. Hackensack, but at an even smaller location north of .

There, at the College of St. Thomas Aquinas Division II in Sparkill, NY, Tobin Anderson honed a brand of basketball that his assistant coaches affectionately called “bedlam,” to describe his roster of players. The little squire is fiercely defensive, tenacious and always ready to participate. – criminal movement. Anderson brought that blueprint to Fairleigh Dickinson this season, turning around a show that had only four wins last season.

“It’s a really unique style,” said Grant Singleton, a 5-foot-9 guard who played for Anderson at St. Thomas Aquinas and join him at Fairleigh Dickinson. “Really, really catchy, fast-paced.”

Anderson said quickly, during his first year in Teaneck, NJ, where FDU’s campus is located, effectively mapped the St. Thomas Aquinas enters Fairleigh Dickinson’s show, reversing its fortunes. The Knights won 21 games, including play-in wins and against Purdue, when it frustrated the team’s 7-foot-4 center, Zach Edey, primarily by knocking out teammates. by Eddy.

Anderson succeeded in his biggest sporting event with his own ideas on how to play at the highest level.

He said Saturday that he’s spent nine years trying to perfect his strategy at St. Thomas Aquinas, and he was amazed at how quickly it worked in Division I. “It usually takes longer,” he said.

Three of his players at Sparkill – Singleton, Demetre Roberts and Sean Moore – are currently starring for Fairleigh Dickinson. They combined to take 39 of the team’s 63 points against Purdue.

Like it happened to the 5-foot-8 Roberts, and Singleton, St. Thomas Aquinas has thrived with shorter players often considered too small for Division I top shows. Fairleigh Dickinson is currently the shortest team in Division I. “We’ve found worthy players. Division I scholarship recipient just fell through the cracks,” said Matt Capell, current St. Thomas Aquinas, a longtime assistant. coach under Anderson.

The school, referred to by the coaches by the acronym “STAC,” plays at Aquinas Hall, a very cramped gym which Capell says is nicknamed the “toll station”.

“Because on one side and the other side of the road, there is only about three to four feet of space,” says Capell. “It’s hot, uncomfortable, noisy, and I like it.”

“You can fit in the gym here,” Anderson, in an FDU cap and vest, said proudly Saturday, pointing to an area of ​​the lobby in the downtown hotel Columbus, where his team is recovering from Friday’s win.

The NCAA tournament can be a reminder of the glamor of power conference programs and the glitzy arenas in which they compete, where NBA prospects are pre-selected and sponsors affluent. flush from sports, and now the athletes themselvescash.

But Anderson and Fairleigh Dickinson represent the rest of the country in the rich fabric of college basketball competition across NCAA divisions. They’re ambassadors of the toll station-like exercise culture, where fans crowd the stands; about coaches who dream of being called in from bigger programs when they’re toiling for the average salary; of intrepid, incompetent players who turn the rejections of larger schools into motivational fodder.

“There’s no point in getting a 6-9 guy who can’t play instead of a 6-4 guy who can play,” Anderson said. “Everybody has a chip on their shoulder.”

Roberts and other FDU players said Saturday that they are adjusting to sports celebrity status. “It was life changing,” said Moore, a Columbus native who led his team by 19 points ahead of Purdue. “That whole game changed everyone on our team, the staff, the students, everyone who came to Fairleigh Dickinson.”

Like the rest of his group, his phone is flooded with text messages. “My phone exploded, caught fire, hundreds of notifications,” said Ansley Almonor, a sophomore transfer student. “I have never experienced anything like it.”

In their dressing room after Saturday’s training session, one could see the players excitedly scrolling through their phones to see the reaction.

A former Wesleyan guard of Division III, Anderson revived teams at Hamilton College and Clarkson University, also in that division. They share a feeling of being belittled, he said, like the players at Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Thomas Aquinas.

“We don’t beat people up because of those rookies,” Anderson said. “We got them because they didn’t have anything else going on.”

Singleton said three players from St. Thomas Aquinas on this tournament team worked as hard at Sparkill as he did at Teaneck. In a way, their success mimics the success of the previous school, which had five wins the season before Anderson arrived.

Capell estimates that St. Thomas Aquinas is about $65,000 annually. Coaches, including Anderson while he was there, take the team to games by truck, he said.

Bo Ryan, the former Wisconsin coach who led Division III Wisconsin-Platteville for 15 years, watched FDU’s victory Friday with immense pride in Anderson and his background, he said. . “These are five good, sly, tough players who played together for 40 minutes,” he said.

Ryan said the difference in level of competition may not be relevant as a coach. “You are a teacher. If you can teach, you can coach.”

On a snowy Saturday morning in Columbus, Fairleigh Dickinson employees wandered through the lobby of their downtown hotel still dazed. Anderson said he slept for about two hours. He recalls returning to his hotel after Friday’s game at around 2am with his wife, both still in shock from the win. He said: “We were like, ‘Gods – we couldn’t believe what was going on.

“We just had the most frustrating game in college basketball history,” he told his wife.

Work continues. He noted that his assistants stayed up until about 4:30 a.m. to watch the Florida Atlantic game film, whose opponents Sunday beat Memphis in a tense and gay final. needy. They woke up a few hours later to continue watching movies in the ballroom of the hotel they had converted into a “war room,” where the players gathered in the morning to research their next opponent with them. Now they have a CBS camera crew following them around, Anderson said with awe.

Anderson said his players on Saturday were back to being regular college students. They are making TikTok videos.

The financial and reputational rewards for their performance on Friday can be substantial. Already hinted at its marketing power: The team promoted T-shirt which BreakingT company is selling with attractive slogan: “Smallest group, biggest sadness”.

Steve Levy, deputy sports director at University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyThe first male 16th seed beat a 1, saying that FDU could see some of the same results as his school did.

UMBC, Levy said, received tens of millions of dollars worth of free advertising following its loss to top seed Virginia in 2018. The frustration has allowed the school to sell more tickets and merchandise, and at the same time. attract more fans to the school’s new basketball court. “Visiting school visits by prospective students have increased ‘significantly,” he said.

Levy said he found himself glued to Friday’s Fairleigh Dickinson-Purdue game, regretting his school’s distinction has lapsed but is proud of FDU “We know exactly how they feel, ” he say.

FDU still felt the same on Saturday. The team has a locker room at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus adjacent to one in Michigan State, a longtime college basketball powerhouse that shares the team name, Sparta, with St. Thomas Aquinas. Sparty, the MSU mascot, adorns the doors of the Michigan State locker room in Columbus.

On Saturday, returning to his FDU locker, Roberts glanced at the logo.

“We were right there with them,” he said.


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