Colin Dunlap: Shorthanded RMU An Incredible Story
This might be the best story in college basketball.
Sure, there’s all that stuff Wichita State is doing. Neat, I guess.
There’s Duke — aren’t they always a story somehow?
There’s Florida and Arizona, Syracuse, Saint Louis and Creighton. Indeed, all stories more than worth relating; tales amply worth telling.
Go ahead and knock yourself out with those. They interest me — but not like this one.
This one here, man. This story going on at Robert Morris right now.
You see, the Colonials have just eight guys.
Think about that practically — not even enough to split up into two teams and scrimmage, and certainly not enough time to ever half-step it in the layup line because, well, your turn is coming around quickly again.
And it has been that way since mid-January, when this already-undermanned roster — since dubbed the “Crazy Eight” — were left as an octet after RMU suspended four players for a year following a violation of university policy.
Two freshman (Britton Lee and Jeremiah Worthem) and two walk-ons (Evan Grey and Shaire Tolson-Ford) were sent packing, quickly shifting from Robert Morris basketball players to former Robert Morris basketball players. Worthem was the most significant, as he was already twice named Northeast Conference Rookie of the Week and had a tremendous shot at being named NEC Rookie of the Year. A swift and sturdy bout with knuckleheadedness, however, did those four young gentlemen in, chopping the Colonials roster down a sizable chunk.
All this was after head coach Andrew Toole lost junior guard Desjuan Newton after the first two NEC games way back just after the New Year. Newton was a junior college transfer who decided to quit.
All this was after Toole and the Colonials lost senior forward Mike McFadden in mid-January. McFadden hung his sneakers up, too. He had chronic knee issues and said he just couldn’t go anymore, the pain too excruciating.
All this was after Toole and the Colonials had a setback before the season even began, as Lijah Thompson, a redshirt senior who missed all of 2012-13 with a knee injury, decided to transfer in August. He was never replaced on the roster.
So here they are as February winds down, the “Crazy Eight.”
And here they are, at 18-11 overall but, far more important in a one-bid league like the NEC, at 13-1 in conference play.
This group of eight players has also ripped through a six-game win streak and captured victories in nine of the 10 games it played since paring down to eight players.
With still two conference games left, Robert Morris has already won their second straight NEC regular season title, which assures the Colonials a spot in the NIT should they falter in the NEC Tournament; a bracket they will have homecourt advantage in throughout.
How can you find a better story in college basketball than the two remaining seniors on this team, Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, seeing everything they have worked for as it funneled into their final year crumble and separate around them but still conjuring up the motivation to get after it every day? So much so for Anderson that it isn’t a stretch to say he might be having one of the best offensive seasons in school history, as he’s averaging 19.4 points per game but has already made 95 3-pointers.
How can you find a better story in college basketball than what Toole is forced to do in practice each day? In a mish-mashing of paying attention to his gut and a script he goes by the best he can in practice, the 33-year-old coach has to carefully find equilibrium of pushing the shorthanded bunch enough to get the most out of them, but not too much so as to zap them — or, God forbid, force an injury.
There’s Myers-Pate and Anderson.
There’s David Appolon, Charles Oliver and Lucky Jones.
There’s Aaron Tate and Stephan Hawkins and Kavon Stewart.
Eight players who never thought when they set out on this 2013-14 season it would transform into this; it would end up meandering down a road filled with more bumps and holes than a Western Pennsylvania side street this time of year.
But it has. And they have absorbed every thud, bang and impact.
They are the ones left standing.
They are Robert Morris’ “Crazy Eight.”
And, really, how can you find a better story in college basketball?
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.