The James J. McCann Recreation Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is regarded as the toughest venue in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for teams to play at.
Most recently, Loyola (MD) head coach Jimmy Pastos and Manhattan head coach Barry Rohrssen have used their postgame press conferences to praise Marist's home court while stressing how fortunate it was to escape with wins, even considering the Red Foxes' rebuilding year.
After a brief history lesson, Pastos revealed where he was going with his opening statement.
"To come out of this building which is, I think, the toughest place in the league to play...the loudness, the packed—the people, the fans and the students and the band, combined with everything else, I think this is the hardest place to play," he said on Jan. 25.
Rohrssen issued the same sentiment in fewer words Feb. 2 when the Jaspers came to town.
The Red Foxes are currently in a freefall to the tune of a six-game losing streak, stemming from a monumental collapse when arch-rival Siena visited Jan. 15, coming back from a 15-point second half deficit to force overtime and eventually win, but for the team picked to finish last in the MAAC to even have such a lead was unthinkable.
The game prior, they defeated current second place Niagara handily by 20 points. It was the Purple Eagles' first conference loss.
McCann's capacity is 3,200, with the most recent expansion coming in January 2006. Bleachers were installed behind each basket, and the seating behind the south basket (pictured in front above) serves as the student section where the band, cheerleaders, and dance team all sit as well.
Coming into the 2008-2009 season, Marist's in-conference record the last three years was better than any other team in the MAAC. At 31-7, the next most successful team was Siena, which was 30-11 in-conference at home.
The Marist women have only lost three times at home in the last four seasons.
The following are memorable moments the McCann Center has witnessed over the years:
- A near upset of eventual champion Villanova in 1984. The Red Foxes led for most of the game, but ultimately lost 57-51.
- A 64-55 win over Farleigh Dickinson to win the ECAC Metro Conference on March 7, 1987, sending Marist to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
- Rik Smits' final game, March 3, 1988, where he scored a then-school record 45 points, matching his uniform number.
- February 27, 2000, Sean Kennedy hit a half-court buzzer beater to give Marist a 70-67 win over Siena on the final day of the regular season.
- A 98-88 overtime win against Siena on Feb. 24, 2007. The game was televised on ESPN2 and Marist's sellout crowd participated in a "whiteout." The win clinched the Red Foxes' first outright MAAC regular-season championship.
The local supporters always come out to support the basketball teams, but the student section is crucial to the Red Foxes' success. The drunken supporters stop at nothing to help their team to victory.
The devoted students always do their "homework," with my personal favorite coming a few seasons back. Two Niagara players were arrested and charged with assault and battery several months before the seasons, but were allowed to stay on the team. When they visited McCann, any foul committed prompted a "That's A-SSAULT!" chant.
Current crowd "favorites" include Canisius' Frank Turner, Fairfield's Jon Han, and Poughkeepsie native/Siena star Edwin Ubiles, not to mention the always lovable Jimmy Pastos.
Win or lose (and valid or not), the demoralizing "SAFETY SCHOOL" chant can be heard at every conference game, with the obligatory "Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye" alongside "Start the buses!" as time expires in Marist victories.
Quite possibly the most outrageous aspect of attending a Marist game is band director Art Himmelberger. Among adjectives to describe him, "insane" pretty much sums it up quite nice.
As the fight song plays just before the game starts, he sings along quite emphatically as he parades around the court, doing everything he can to get people in the crowd to rise to their feet. He even shakes the hand of the opposing head coach (when they welcome it), and of all three referees (their reactions are priceless).
Himmelberger eats up the attention, so when games are televised, he brings his A-plus game. Most recently against Manhattan (on MSG-plus), he stole the announcer's microphone to sing the fight song at center court.
His most notorious (alleged) infraction came at the 2007 Sweet 16 when media members supposedly filed official complaints to Marist because he was so rambunctious. Not too hard to believe.
Several notable players have roamed the McCann court for the Red Foxes over past years. The list includes:
- Rik Smits - 7'4" center, 1984-1988. Jersey No. 45 is retired. Second all-time leading scorer (1,945 points), second in career scoring average (18.2 ppg), first in career FG percentage (60.9), blocked shots (345), and field goals (756). He holds the school single-game record in free throws made (22), and single-season record in field goal percentage (62.3).
- Drafton Davis - 6'0" guard, 1984-1988. Jersey No. 3 is retired. Holds single-season (88) and career (301) record for steals. Held every school assist record until Jared Jordan hit the scene. Recorded three consecutive 200-assist seasons and finished with 804 for his career.
- Steve Smith - 6'5" guard, 1979-1983. Jersey No. 12 is retired. Holds school scoring record with 2,077 points and is first in career scoring average (20.7 ppg).
- Jared Jordan - 6'2" guard, 2003-2007. Holds single-season (286) and career (813) records for assists, and games played (tied with 117). Led NCAA in assists two years in a row.
- Rachele Fitz - 6'0" forward, 2006-present. Reigning MAAC Player of the Year, 2006 MAAC Rookie of the Year and MAAC Tournament MVP, 2007 First Team All-Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association. Just broke women's school scoring record as a junior, eclipsing 1,600 career points. Holds single-season records in points scored (649), field goals made (224), free throws made (201), and free throw percentage (86.6). Holds career records for scoring (16.7 ppg), field goal percentage (56.2), free throw percentage (84.6), and free throws made (434), and probably about 30 other things, but I think you get the point. Again, she's only a junior.
Ladies and gentlemen, Marist's home court advantage: James J. McCann Recreation Center.
(Photo courtesy of Sean T. McMann, not to be confused with James J. McCann.)