PHILADELPHIA – Mike Sheridan has been the director of media relations for Villanova basketball since 2000, but for 10 years prior he was the editor of Eastern Basketball magazine. For a few of those years I worked with him.
Eastern Basketball folded this month, ending a 28-year publishing run as a unique, in-depth and passionately read monthly newspaper print tabloid. In its heyday, EB was an influential media entity among the peculiar basketball culture of the Northeast corridor.
"It was the bible," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "Every coach in the East read it. When I became an assistant at UNLV under Rollie (Massimino) we subscribed to it out there and the whole staff would pour through it looking for all the gossip."
Basketball in the Northeast is unlike any other place. Throughout the region there are a bunch of schools playing Division I basketball – six in the city limits of Philadelphia alone – and many have a history of some success.
Because the sports coverage of big cities skews heavily to the pro ranks, it is almost impossible for a Northeastern, an Iona or a La Salle, to get any coverage in Boston, New York or Philadelphia. That is even the case for Boston College, St. John's and Temple.
So there were a lot of schools, a lot of old-time passion and little coverage. EB kind of filled the void, a chance for the hoop nut of the area to get all the information on his or her favorite team.
Although the circulation of the publication never exceeded 8,000, the people who read it represented a who's who of the basketball power set in the region. From conference commissioners to head college coaches to all the high school coaches and players, each month the magazine was devoured.
To get on the cover of EB, in its own way, was as big as almost anything, a sure sign to impressionable recruits that a program was big time.
Part of the charm was that for such a small, simple publication, the roster of writers was incredible. John Feinstein, Charles Pierce, Mike DeCourcy, Mike Vaccaro, Dick "Hoops" Weiss, Dick Vitale, Adrian Wojnarowski, Doris Burke and many, many others penned monthly columns at one stage or another.
Eventually the Internet came along and gave each little school a Web site to share information. Longtime publisher Larry Donald passed away. Sheridan left for Villanova. Circulation petered out. Times changed. It happens.
"For a publication like that, that never had large, organized ownership to have the impact it did and last as long as it did is impressive," said Sheridan. "It was a great magazine."
- On the journey from West Virginia, we stopped in Cumberland, Md., which has done a nice job of trying to restore its downtown area. This is a working man's town, so the planning is impressive. We got a nice cup of coffee at Mike's Daily Grind and read the morning Cumberland Times News.
- Because we had nothing better to do, we took the long, Amish way to Philadelphia, which meant we saw numerous horse-drawn buggies and passed the time quoting "King Pin." You've got to do something.
We did stop for lunch in Coatesville, Pa., at The Stage. It is pretty hardcore down in Coatesville, an old factory town about an hour outside of Philadelphia. As for The Stage, judging by the looks we got going in, we may have been the first white guy to visit the place in a few years.
This didn't stop us from having a beer and playing a couple of games of pool with two guys – T.L. and Thomas. Neither are big college hoops fans, especially now that Coatesville natives John Allen (Seton Hall) and Richard Hamilton (UConn, Detroit Pistons) aren't playing anymore.
"I guess I like Temple," said J.T.
"You've got to reach out to the man," said J.T. "Donovan wouldn't do that."
"We'll see where he is now without T.O.," said Thomas. "Donovan has been bad this year."
"The Eagles suck anyway," J.T. concluded.
I made sure I got out of the bar before anyone confused me with Drew Rosenhaus. Naturally, when I got back in the car I tuned into Philly's wild sports talk station, WIP, where all the callers were blasting Owens and talking about how, after the New York Giants' loss to Minnesota, the Eagles still had a chance to win the NFC East.
What's not to love about Philly sports?
- In Philly right now it isn't about male or female, black or white, Republican or Democrat. It is pro-T.O. or anti-T.O. That's it and that's all.
- After Villanova's exhibition game victory over West Chester, Jay Wright took us out to Kelly's, a somewhat historic Villanova-type establishment that has been nicely renovated. SID Mike Sheridan, his new bride Kristin, and New York Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss joined in for the good time.
- Email of the day winner:
Why does every sportswriter who writes a book have to pimp his "masterpiece" in every damn article he writes. If the book is worthy of recognition, this is not necessary. It is exposed enough to get a fair shot without your constant reminder that you wrote a book.
I have always enjoyed your articles and your insight, but I am sick of hearing about your book about a true American piece of (crap).
Congratulations, Rudy, you just won a copy of the masterpiece, "Runnin' Rebel: Shark Tales of Extra Benefits,' Frank Sinatra and Winning it All" by Jerry Tarkanian and myself, a book so outrageous you'd have to be an NCAA investigator not to enjoy it.
- Now, onto further Runnin' Rebel news – Tark has two book signings set up this week in the New York area. Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. he will be at Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., and Thursday at 12:30 p.m. he (and I) will be at the Borders at 100 Broadway near Wall Street.
I am also going to try to get him to come to New York Times sportswriter Pete Thamel's birthday party Wednesday night at Jameson's (52nd and 2nd), which easily passes my four Irish bar criteria. Of course, when Thamel and his horse racing buddy get together the night usually ends late, or early, or never, so maybe not. I need Tark to make the Cold Pizza taping.
- You know, I can't let this go. How the heck can I get ripped for plugging my book in my column when I already plug every single assistant coach, newspaper writer, radio guy, waitress, bartender, gas station attendant, toll booth worker and potentially lame birthday party I come across? Come on Rudy, I've got a family to feed.
Besides, just be glad we haven't started promoting "Glory Road" the book, yet.
- Speaking of assistant coaches, Bucknell coach Pat Flannery has a high-major staff. There is Nathan Davis, who managed to convince a recruit to come all the way from Encino, Calif., Mark Prosser, son of the incomparable Skip Prosser, who we will see Thursday, and the mackdaddy (to-be) Bryan Goodman.
We aren't kidding about Goodman, either. He and his wife Amy are expecting quadruplets in March. We repeat, quadruplets.
March Madness, indeed.
"My wife calls it the Final Four," Goodman said. "If you think about it, you'll go nuts. I am taking donations. (Tell people to) send money to the Bryan Goodman Foundation."
Meanwhile, Davis' wife, Miki, is expecting their first. "I tell (Bryan) his four are going to be setting screens for my one," said Davis.
Maybe Flannery needs to keep these guys at the office later.
- Out in Western Maryland (bet you never thought Maryland had a Western) a very ambitious church is building a giant Noah's Ark on the side of Interstate 68. The steel beams are already in place. No word on the animals. Maybe it is in preparation for Category 7. Or global warming.
- Big win for our Drexel Dragons, who grabbed a 54-41 victory at Princeton in the opening round of the Preseason NIT. To make the night even better for Bruiser Flint's team, Sam Houston State upset Missouri 70-67, which doesn't bode well for Quin, er, Coach Snyder's team. So now SHS visits the Dragon Dome Thursday for an ESPN2 game that may make ratings-conscious execs wonder if they can dub over more poker.
- Maybe it was the perfect weather, maybe it was the surprise to find such a picturesque town after too many miles on I-80, maybe it was the leaves blowing through the quad or the sun glistening off the Susquehanna, but Bucknell is one nice place. The small liberal arts college even built a new 4,000-seat gym and modern student center. We didn't want to leave.
- Total mileage thus far: 1,489.4 miles
- Campaign stop tomorrow: Storrs, Conn.
- Mike Sheridan