Election Provides Awkward But Teachable Moment For Coaches

If you’ve been in a deep, dark cave for the last few months without a television or Wi-Fi connection, why didn’t you invite us?

In all seriousness, Tuesday night marks one of the most important and polarizing Election Days in America’s recent history, and it is also the first Presidential election most college students can vote in, three days before most of the basketball players among them begin the 2016-17 season.

Our primary focus here is on the court, and while we like to mock the NCAA when they’re asking us if there are any questions for the student-athletes at 1:15 a.m. after a tournament game in March, they do correctly point out to us that most of the players on the court will go pro in something other than basketball.

As it turned out, The New York College Basketball Media Day met three weeks ago in the same place when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in their first debate just a month before: Hofstra’s Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. Off-court subjects, especially as awkward as this one is, can be taboo. We don’t really talk enough about the reasons for the lack of African-American head coaches in Division I or other issues like sexual assault among college athletes.

But with everyone standing in the same place our next President was, we had a chance to ask the local coaches their thoughts on the election as a learning tool. We got some varied responses.

(NOTE: These interviews were done three weeks ago.)

Steve Masiello, Manhattan

“We talk about it. All I want my guys to be is educated. Who they vote for is their business and they should. I just want them to be educated and not be swayed. I want them to know the facts. Voting is a great thing and they all should do it. Some coaches are making their whole team vote and we’re not doing that, but we love our guys to get involved.”

Tim Cluess, Iona

“We talk about a lot of issues outside of basketball at appropriate times. We talk about a lot of things going on in the world. A lot of times it might be individual conversations. But it’s definitely something we’re going to talk about before Election Day. As far as I’m concerned, the country has to figure out how we all can come together and stop falling into pieces. I think basketball is a microcosm of the real world, so we can’t ignore the real world.”

Jack Perri, LIU Brooklyn

“I plan on having some conversations with our guys and the things that are in the media, whether it’s the Colin Kaepernick stuff, we need to discuss that stuff because it is important. I need to get their feedback and their views on what they believe and why they believe it. Those things are very important. We need to listen to what our student-athletes say.”

Jim Engles, Columbia

“We have not discussed much in the way of political stuff. I’m just trying to get them to make some shots and play a little defense. Hopefully, we can get to some political discourse because that means we’ve accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do in preseason. It’s a great thing about being at Columbia, the fact that you asked me that question, you think I’m intelligent, and I’m really probably the farthest thing from that. But I like the idea that people think I’m smart enough to answer those types of questions.”

Bashir Mason, Wagner (the only African-American head coach in attendance)

“I’ve only had one kid so far bring up the election with the team, and he didn’t inquire, his mom actually did about the voting stations and where he could vote. As far as the debate and the Presidential race, this is the second time I’ve been asked about it, I’m not really that much into politics although I’m following it, obviously. I haven’t really decided which way I’m going yet.”

Joe Mihalich, Hofstra (whose team was displaced for the first month of practice because of the debate)

“It’s amazing our facilities people got us back in here so quick. It’s an amazing thing for our university. All the sacrifices that everybody made, and ours were minimal compared to a lot of people, were certainly well worth it. It was an amazing thing to see and have here, well worth it. They built a whole new floor and then put a carpet on top of it. It was an experience all of our students, not just our basketball team, will never forget.”

Jeff Boals, Stony Brook

“We actually talk about social issues a lot, I believe in that. We talk about what’s happening throughout the country. That’s one of the neat things as a coach of young adults, you can broach those topics. I read a really interesting article on (Spurs coach) Gregg Popovich who basically quizzes his guys on current events in the world. It’s not just about basketball at this level. The ability to vote is one of the great things we have in this country. It’s certainly an interesting Presidential election to say the least.”

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