At Fordham, Doing It the Right Way Still Means Something

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At Fordham, Doing It the Right Way Still Means Something
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There are a multitude of reasons one can point to when trying to explain why Fordham has had such a difficult time building a winning basketball program since making the move from the Patriot League to the Atlantic 10 prior to the 1995 season.

But over the four years that Tom Pecora has been the head coach, one stands out more than any other: talent.

Simply put, you can't win without talent. That's why Pecora and his staff have been out recruiting, trying to bring in players who can help lead the rebirth of Fordham basketball.

"We have to get that much better through player development and recruiting," Pecora told me during an interview in his office on Mar. 27. 

Of course, the player development can't happen until the players get here. The Rams have to get guys who can play at a high level. This is the Atlantic 10, after all, a conference that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament this year.

So how do you convince young men to choose a school that hasn't won consistently in a long time, one that has only 39 victories in the last six seasons?

Pecora has embraced the challenge. He knows this is going nowhere unless Fordham adds talent.

"You have to get really fine players," Pecora said. "Recruiting is a pyramid. The higher up that pyramid you go, it gets narrower. The best players are at the top of that pyramid. We can't take players in the middle of that pyramid and win in this league. If you do, you have to take those players and make sure you can develop them. That's the challenge."

There's another challenge. Nobody ever said that the recruiting process is a clean one. And we all know the trouble that some programs have gotten themselves into over the years.

So is Fordham at a disadvantage because it goes about its business the right way? While no one at the university would ever use that as an excuse, it's pretty apparent that having high standards—which today means going to class, learning something, being a good citizen and graduating—makes the task of building a winning program that much more difficult.

Recruiting, alone, poses enough challenges.

"There are ups and downs to the recruiting concept," Pecora told me. "College recruiting is a cesspool. The things grown men will say to get young men to go to a college, either about their school or negatively about other schools...There are a lot of men with no honor.

"But that's the nature of this business, especially when you're recruiting at the highest level. And we are. We're recruiting not only against the A-10 but the Big East and the ACC. Those are the things you have to work through."

While Fordham hasn't come close to matching the success of a UConn or a Kentucky, the two teams that will play in Monday's championship game, it does have one advantage over so many other programs across the country. The hard part is convincing young men to buy into what Fordham has to offer.

"We graduate everyone," Pecora said. "You're going to get a degree from one of the best universities in the world. Your decision has got to be a mature one. We always say it's not four years, it's a 40-year decision.

"If getting a degree form one of the best universities in the world is not appealing to a young guy we stop recruiting him. We walk away because that is what we're selling and that's what we feel comfortable selling. We can sleep at night because of that."

A couple big names have recently bought in.

Last year, Fordham welcomed Jon Severe, Mr. New York Basketball in 2013, to Rose Hill. Severe finished second on the team in scoring (17.3 points per game) in his first year with the Rams. Though he struggled with his shot and with shot selection, he was only a freshman and he has plenty of talent. There's no reason to believe he won't get better.

And then there's Eric Paschall, this past season's prep player of the year in New England. Everyone seems to agree that Fordham hit it big with Paschall. At 6'6", he'll start next season, and he should have an immediate impact.

A lot of people were surprised when Paschall chose Fordham over better programs in bigger conferences. But Paschall's father, Juan, made it clear why he chose the school.

"Eric could've signed with a school in any of those conferences," he told ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor. "But he established a great relationship with the Fordham coaches, it's close to where we live and, after the air comes out of the ball, a Fordham degree carries a lot of weight in the New York area."

He also told the New York Post's Zach Braziller that he knows the coaching staff will “take care of my son. I can’t say that about anybody else.”

The word "degree" is uttered a lot at Fordham these days. It's one advantage the school has. It may not have the wins, the facilities or the aura, but Fordham has academic standards that still mean something to a lot of people.

"The challenge is getting 17- or 18-year-old young men to make very mature decisions," Pecora said. "Their parents want them here. Ninety percent of the parents want them here because they understand the education you're going to get and the coaching you're going to get and the support from the university you're going to get."

Branden Frazier, who just concluded a stellar four-year career at Rose Hill, is one of the guys Pecora is talking about.

"Coming here and getting my degree, and just being around a bunch of people that supported me, made me who I am," he said after playing his final home game last month. "Basketball isn't everything. Fordham made me a man."

None of this, of course, will eliminate the pain of fans and alumni, who have been waiting a long time for a winner.

While Pecora understands the fans' frustrations, he's also proud of the fact that Fordham is doing it the right way.

"I'm a New York guy," he said. "We are the most sophisticated basketball fans in the world.

"When very bright people, Fordham alums, don't grasp the concept of what we're tying to do here—and doing it the right way...They wouldn't want us to do it any other way I don't believe. The people that matter I know don't. I know we're doing it the right way."

I'd like to think that still means something. It means something to the university. The fanbase? Well, that might be another story.

"I believe everyone here wants to win," Pecora said. "But it's my job to be creative in the way that we go about day-to-day business to find a way to do that."

If there's one certainty in all of this, it's that Fordham will do it the right way. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this article were obtained firsthand. 

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