Stepping up to the podium after losing 94-80 to Ohio State in the final four of the National Club Basketball Association National Championships, senior captain Brendan Crowley and the rest of the Georgetown club basketball team had made it.
Despite the tough loss, the team had arrived at a point no one ever thought it would when Crowley and senior Brody Garrity joined the club team in 2012.
“It was a great group of guys running it here,” Crowley said of the club basketball team his freshman year. “But they just didn’t have the support. I made it my goal [to improve the team’s organization]; Brody Garrity also made it his goal. We weren’t just going to let it fade away.”
Even then, sports junkies perceive club basketball as a far cry from varsity-level sports, nothing more than slightly organized pickup games.
However, the NCBBA National Championships were anything but that. Played at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Pa., the tournament was extremely organized and ran, at the very least, like a prestigious AAU tournament.
“They arranged for us to be in a hotel; they had a big staff there. It was just really well-organized,” Crowley said. “When you walked in, they had the trophy there waiting. They had a big bracket printed out, they had shirts for everyone. Also it was really cool because it was just eight of the best teams for club in the country.”
Moreover, the tournament had sponsors, including big names like Wilson and Enterprise. For those questioning club basketball as a legitimate and competitive outlet, look no further than the effort and pomp and circumstance put into the tournament.
“They had guys doing radio interviews at halftime,” Crowley said of the lengths the NCBBA went to put on an organized tournament. There were also live webcasts of in-game statistics, as well as radio broadcasts available for streaming.
In the quarterfinal round, No. 3 Georgetown started off slow against No. 6 Iowa State but clawed back in the second half.
The Blue and Gray ended up winning 67-66.
Next up was No. 2 Ohio State. Though the Hoyas fell in what looked to be nothing more than a 14-point blowout, they came back in the second half and cut the lead to one before the Buckeyes pulled away for good.
Despite the loss, this team is now a program. It is now a program because of the effort of Crowley, Garrity and the other seniors who came before them.
But, like some other star high school athletes, Crowley was not always set on Georgetown and had the option to continue his basketball career at the intercollegiate level.
“I could have played at some small-time Division III programs,” Crowley said. “I basically had two lists: DIII schools I could play at and academic institutions I wanted to go to. And when Georgetown fell into place, it had always been above everything else. So my parents and I talked, and I said, ‘I think I can find a basketball experience there that could work for me.’”
Other members of the club basketball team had intercollegiate athletic opportunities elsewhere as well. Sophomores Michael Martinez and Ryan Wall had baseball and basketball looks, respectively. However, they both chose to come to Georgetown on the basis of academics and have both found homes on club sports teams, with Martinez also playing for club baseball.
Martinez, in recognizing Crowley’s leadership, did whisper his doubts about sustaining the program’s level of organization.
“I’m nervous for [Crowley leaving] because he was indisputably the leader on this team in every way, whether it was getting stuff done behind the scenes or getting us a bucket whenever we needed it,” Martinez said. “It’s going to be tough to replace him. So I’m nervous for what the future is, if we’ll continue on this path or if we’ll kind of stray away from it because our leader’s gone.”
Regardless of what happens after Crowley’s departure, the program is undoubtedly in a better place than it was three years ago, in part thanks to all those who came before the Class of 2016.
“This was the perfect culmination of four years of hard work by a lot of different people. There’s a lot of people, seniors, juniors, graduated. … The officers this year took on so much this year, our finances, helping me get rest,” Crowley said. “As much as it was about the team getting better, it was also a lot of hard work off the court.”
After years of toiling away and working to a join league — the team joined the NCBBA in the 2014-15 school year — the team finally had a plan. Despite qualifying as an at-large team last season, the Hoyas could not travel to nationals. But this year was different.
“I can remember sending out a GroupMe message, in probably August, saying, ‘Circle April 17 on your calendars. That’s the date of nationals. Make sure you’re free,’” Crowley said. “It was really awesome both for the team and me personally to be able to get there.”
The other seniors who might not have been able to participate more fully in years’ prior stepped up as well.
“[Senior] Malik Williams texted me over [last] summer and said, ‘Senior year, I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to make this work. And I know you share that feeling; let’s drive this home,’” Crowley said.
And the team did drive it home. In reaching nationals and playing more games than ever before, it created an experience that was as close to varsity basketball as it would ever see on the Hilltop. However, beyond just the actual level and frequency of competition, the close-knit nature of the team was perhaps the most unforgettable part about this whole experience for the Hoyas’ captain and all his other senior teammates.
“This was the college basketball experience I really never thought I’d have coming here. … Even though we didn’t win the national championship, we had so much fun. That’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Crowley said. “I’m going to miss the camaraderie and hanging out with these guys because they’re the best part of it all.”
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