Bad luck overshadows Bruiser Flint's achievements at Drexel

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Bad luck overshadows Bruiser Flint's achievements at Drexel

Heading into the 2013-14 season, Bruiser Flint believed he had assembled his strongest team ever at Drexel. And in the first month of campaign, the Dragons backed it up, taking two nationally ranked teams in UCLA and Arizona right down to the wire.

But in what became a familiar theme for Flint and the Dragons, those good vibes were quickly dashed when, late in their game against then-No. 4 Arizona, standout guard Damion Lee came down funny on the Madison Square Garden court and tore his ACL.

Later that season, another starter, Kazembe Abif, missed almost all of conference play with an injury. The season before that, star shooter Chris Fouch was lost for the year in the third game. The season after, it was about half of the team, including Abif and Lee, that went down.

Suddenly, a talented core that included Lee, Abif, Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Dartaye Ruffin, among others, seemed like a distant memory as, at times, Flint struggled with simple things like finding enough healthy players to even practice.

“You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Yo, I’m gonna have it like this for a couple of years,’” Flint said last week before leading this year’s less-talented Drexel team into the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. “Then Chris goes down, Damion goes down, Kaz goes down. We haven’t been the same since.”

In the end, all of the bad luck caught up to Flint, who was fired after the Dragons lost in the quarterfinals of the CAA tourney, ending a dismal 6-25 campaign — the coach’s worst in 15 years running the program.

And it’s hard not to think about what might have been.

Flint’s detractors will immediately point out he never got to the NCAA Tournament and thus had to go, especially after sputtering through his first-ever back-to-back losing seasons. And they’re probably right. Fifteen years is a really long time for any coach to stay with the same school, and when you become the longest-tenured Division I coach to never go to the NCAA tourney — a distinction Flint earned when Yale, under his friend James Jones, punched its dance ticket over the weekend — well, that’s not a good thing.

But Flint’s accomplishments, in the face of seemingly endless adversity and bad luck, are still quite good. He won more games than any other Drexel coach (245) and was named the CAA Coach of the Year a very impressive four times — in 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2012. And yes, the fact that the Dragons didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in any of those years largely boils down to bad luck, too.

For starters, until recently, the conference tournament was held in Virginia where the local teams like VCU, George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion and UNC Wilmington dominated. Should Drexel have won at least one CAA Tournament in Flint’s tenure? Of course. But it’s still fair to say that the deck was always stacked against the Dragons and the other Northern schools in the league.

Because of those conference tourney struggles, the Dragons were often left hoping for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. And again, that simply led to more bad luck and frustration. The Dragons were snubbed in 2012, despite winning the regular-season league title, amassing 27 victories before Selection Sunday and, at one point, reeling off 19 straight wins. The problem, perhaps, was a weak non-conference schedule. But that just makes another snub — five years earlier — tougher to swallow. That season (2006-07), Flint purposely scheduled some tough road games and then proceeded to win most of them, beating Syracuse, Creighton, Temple, Villanova and Vermont away from home. But those wins — and 18 others — somehow weren’t enough for Drexel to get in either.

Perhaps in 15 years, Flint should have more to show than two almost NCAA Tournament berths.

But it’s important to remember that he still produced mostly winning campaigns and lured high-level mid-major recruits to a school that plays in a small gym and competes for players and headlines with five other, arguably higher-profile, D-1 programs.

The best recruit of all may have been Lee, who also serves as a perfect microcosm for Flint’s misfortune.

It was during Lee’s freshman year, when he was named the CAA Rookie of the Year, that Drexel won 29 total games but didn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Two seasons later, Lee tore his ACL at the Garden. The following season, he got hurt before the conference tournament, preventing the Dragons from possibly going on a late run. And then, between last season and this one, he told Flint he’d be using his extra year of eligibility (gained from the ACL injury) at the University of Louisville, setting the table for the Dragons’ disastrous six-win campaign. (Lee’s bad luck continued at Louisville when the school imposed its own postseason ban, preventing him from ever competing in the NCAA Tournament).

What would have happened if Lee hadn’t come down awkwardly on his knee at Madison Square Garden? Or if Fouch didn’t break his ankle after falling on a photographer at the Palestra? Or if there had been different people on the NCAA Selection Committee looking at different things?

Maybe Flint still has a job today. Maybe he doesn’t. But as one of the most colorful and demonstrative coaches in Philly looks for a new place to work and Drexel a new coach, all we can do is wonder what if?

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.