It happened in a New York minute. Honest. One night I walked into Ann Arbor’s Pioneer gym, sat in the wrong section on the wrong side and watched Rex, the coach of my 15 year old grandson Landon, (Drew to the rest of the world) put him in his first varsity game during the first quarter as a high school freshman. Not a terribly exciting game but Landon played about half of each of the 4 quarters. When the final buzzer sounded, he had 7 points, Pioneer had it’s first victory of the season and Landon had just started his prolific high school basketball career of scoring well over 1,000 points as their point guard. I swear it was last night.
The realization of just how good and how much potential Landon had came a few weeks later when Pioneer was playing their inner city rival, Skyline at home. Landon was still playing about the same amount of minutes, 18-20 per game, but was really starting to make an impact and getting noticed. He swished a long 3-pointer in front of the student section and the kids went nuts, screaming over and over, “he’s a freshman, he’s a freshman.” That’s when I knew. And wanted to make it last as long as I could. But no. His basketball career simply shifted to warp speed and this slow grandma was left with a dumbfounded look on my face thinking, what just happened? It can’t possibly be over. He just started high school. But it was.
This is the same kid, who as a 3 year old gave me a friendly swat on the butt and some encouraging words (Landon was included in this strange sports phenomenon during high school basketball practice where his dad was coach. He actually assumed he was on the team when he was 3). After I finally sunk a shot while getting my ass kicked by him in a game of H.O.R.S.E. this little boy (in my eyes) was suddenly choosing which full ride college basketball scholarship to accept. How in the world did it go that fast?
Landon chose Holy Cross college in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Pronounced “Wooster” which makes no sense, but hey, tell that to Brett Favre, pronounced Farv when it looks like it should be Favor). His first few months as a committed freshman hasn’t been without some drama. The head coach who recruited him retired without warning this summer, plunging the team in dire straights and coach less for a bit. A couple of the upper class players chose to transfer elsewhere (their option when a head coach leaves) so there were relationships, goals, unity, camaraderie that needed to be started all over. (It wasn’t all bad. The dude who wore # 3 left giving Landon the chance to keep the number he’s used during a decade of basketball).
The first non conference game for Holy Cross happened to be against a Big 10 team, Maryland, who’s ranked 7th in the nation. Oh boy. I wondered how Landon would play initially. Would he be hesitant about shooting or go full throttle? He’s always played with and against older, more experienced players and has never been intimidated. Not to worry, he was the same experienced, aggressive player I had grown accustomed to watching. Confident, assured, calm with that unique ability to see the whole floor unlike a lot of players. Holy Cross lost but Landon played fantastic, scoring 24 points. Second game Landon put up 14 points in their second loss and was named Rookie of the week for the Patriot League. First week as a freshman in collegiate ball and he nailed it. Dude. Really. Dude.
The season isn’t getting any easier for the Crusaders. Two more games, both resulting in losses. Holy Cross is essentially starting their basketball program from scratch. New coach with basically a new team of very young players. It’s gonna take some time to mesh. (However, my favorite player is chugging along like a well oiled machine).
The Hubs and I were chomping at the bit to see a game in person. (He’s about 750 miles away-sob-sob). We can get most of his games on our iPads-and a few on TV, but seriously it’s not the same. I’m trying to keep stats while watching on my mini and it kinda sucks. Still better than not watching at all, but during the last several years I’ve only missed a handful of his games and believe with all my heart, he does better when I’m there. I know I do.
We thought the week before Thanksgiving would be great because Landon doesn’t get to come home for the holiday. The Crusaders are playing in a tournament in Florida. A least the weather should be awesome. (And I’ve promised him his favorite meal of turkey and all the fixings when he’s home for 3 days at Christmas time).
We flew in (direct flight from Detroit Metro to Worcester-only about 2 hours) on Thursday, issuing an invitation to take him out for supper after he was through with practice. Man it was good to see him again. He’s acquired some muscle mass in the weight room since we saw him in August and is in fine form. John and Landon wanted seafood so we went to Sole Proprietor and had lobster (I’ve never ordered lobster in a restaurant before because I’m such a mess when we eat it at home. I can barely see out of my glasses when I’m finished). Well neatness be damned, we all ordered different size lobsters, and it was very good!
Probably the highlight of the weekend was the added bonus of Shannon, Ari and Jovi flying in Friday morning for the game. Jovi loves her uncle Drewy, (they Skype each other) and they belong to a mutual admiration society. We met them (not Landon, he was already with the team) at the Hogan Center, which is home to a huge store filled with memorabilia, gifts, clothing and souvenirs. Everyone found some Holy Cross duds we couldn’t live without (Ari and Jovi got matching purple stocking hats).
After we were done shopping, John and I each got a pop (soda-they’re so weird. Soda is what we use in baking) and sat down for a bit. On our table was the Holy Cross school newspaper (which looks a lot like a shopper or the old Doon Press). I’m perusing collegiate life when I spot the sports section (The State of Hoops on the Hill) written by staff writer, class of 2020, Jack Milko. Here is his take on the young season thus far.
The Men’s Basketball Team
At the 11:11 mark of the first half, Holy Cross held a 22 to 21 lead over the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins. From that point on, however, Maryland outscored Holy Cross 74-49, ultimately winning by a score of 95-71. Although the Crusaders lost its season opener by 24 points, there are some positives to take away from it. Holy Cross managed to hang tough with a national title contender for the first ten minutes of the game. The freshman tandem of guard Drew Lowder and forward Joe Pridgen were certainly thrown into the fire, playing in front of a hostile crowd of 13,633. Nonetheless, they exceeded expectations by combining for 36 points on 16-28 shooting from the floor.
Four days later, the Crusaders played in a high-scoring affair at New Hampshire, a game in which UNH won 87-83. Lowder and Pridgen combined for 27 points, but the star of the game was freshman guard Ryan Wade, who came off the bench to score a team-high 24. Then, last week, in a tough overtime loss against Fairfield, four Crusaders managed to score nine or more. Lowder again played well as he had 16 points, which included four huge three-pointers in the second half. Pridgen also had a solid game with nine. Junior forwards Austin Butler and Connor Niego also provided some offense, combining for 26 points. Ultimately, the Crusaders will have to continue to lean on their youth movement as they are now the only team in the Patriot League without a victory so far this season. If they keep to their up-tempo style, and continue to play hard, then their first victory will come soon.
We arrive at the gym about 45 minutes before game time. We find the table with our tickets that Landon has reserved for us and start walking around their incredible new facility called the Hart Center. A few feet away I spot a table with assorted paraphernalia about tonight’s basketball and hockey games. Oh Lord have mercy, Landon’s on the front cover of the program. I. Kid. You. Not. I ran (ha-ha) gimped my way over, gushing to the young men sitting at the table. “That’s my grandson Landon on the front cover!” (I’m sure they thought I was a complete wack job since I didn’t even use the name he uses and everyone else knows him by, but they smiled and said, “that’s cool.” Damn straight).
Jovi is fascinated with everything during the game. A baton twirler in her glittery costume was practicing her routine near where we were sitting. Jovi could not pull her eyes away from her and finally convinced mommy to ask to have their picture taken together. As if that weren’t enough, they’re was a dance troupe routine and some holy Cheerleaders. By the end of the game, Jovi ran out to center court, did some pirouettes, holding up her hand to stop mommy from getting too close. The Holy Cross cheerleaders saw the cutie, ran out to her, gave her some Pom Poms, a big white bow like they had in their hair, which then piqued the interest of the team photographer who snapped some shots, asking permission to use them on the website. (And then Jovi told them about her favorite Uncle Drewy).
The Harvard game was a tough one to lose. We kept the lead well into the second half. That’s 2 games the Crusaders should have gotten the W. It sucks for the team and coaches (yet it’s hard for me to feel awfully bad because Landon’s doing great. Much like I felt years ago when I was an avid bowler. If we lost but I bowled at or above my average, I just didn’t feel too bad for the night. Wasn’t my fault and I did my best).
Just read on Holy Cross’ website: For the second week out of 3 during the early basketball season, Landon (Drew Lowder) # 3 was named Rookie of the week for the Patriot League. What a great start for this fabulous young man. “He’s a freshman, he’s a freshman!” Indeed. Go Landon, go…