CUA leaves Notre Dame with Golden Memories

CUA leaves Notre Dame with Golden Memories

WASHINGTON – As he addressed his team before practice at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion last week, CUA Men’s Basketball Coach Steve Howes told the players to soak in the moment and enjoy their surroundings. Few Division III programs receive the opportunity to play at one of the most prestigious Catholic universities in the world.

Howes agreed that playing the Fighting Irish was arguably one of the top 5 events in CUA’s glorious basketball history.

“It was an amazing experience for me, our players, coaches, fans, administrators and alumni,” Howes said. “I’m incredibly appreciative of [Notre Dame] Coach [Mike] Brey and the university for giving us this opportunity to kick off our 100th season of basketball in such a special and unique way.”

The Cardinals departed for Notre Dame on Nov. 3 and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next morning. Hall of Fame member Larry Csonka, who helped lead the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the only unbeaten championship season in NFL history, was there that day.

The Cards pulled into their hotel near campus in late afternoon and practiced the next two nights on the Irish home court, Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. A tour of campus, including the fabled football field, golden dome-adorned Main Building and a view of “touchdown Jesus” on the side of the library, followed on Friday.

Many of the players and coaches attended Mass at Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Equipment Manager Franny Murray’s son, Mike, joined the team for Mass.

On game day, Nov. 6, CUA held its shoot-around at The Pit, the Irish practice facility. Ipod-fueled music filled the air for much of the session. Following a pre-game meal at another nice restaurant, it was time to head to the game. More than one of the security guards greeted players and coaches with, “Welcome to Notre Dame.”

The Cardinals played hard for 40 minutes and everyone on the roster except an injured Matt Stone saw playing time. With an attendance of 6,525, more than two-thirds of the arena was full. The Irish started five seniors, while CUA countered with two seniors and three sophomores.

Ben Hansbrough scored 30 points to lead Notre Dame to a 72-47 victory. Despite a deficit that that grew as high as Hansbrough’s point total, the Cards continued to give 100 percent. Senior co-captain R.J. Dixon drew praise from Brey and led CUA with 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

“It was a great experience,” said Dixon in the post-game news conference. “I think every guy on our team can hold their heads up high and say they gave a great effort. We can walk out of here with our pride high, learn from this and compete and move forward with our season.”

Everyone among the Cardinals’ 29-person travel party had a great time, and many of the players’ parents attended the game. The golden memories should last a lifetime.

“This was a very special opportunity for our university and again, I just can’t say thanks enough to Coach Brey and everybody here at Notre Dame who was so great to us,” Howes said. “Hopefully we’ll get invited back real soon. We could get used to these trips.

“I think I’ll still be talking about it 20 years from now. It was remarkable.”

Back to Earth
Shortly before boarding the team bus Saturday to head to Sandusky, Ohio, for the night, Coach Howes was asked how we would bring his team back to the reality of playing on the less-bright Division III stage. 

“We’ll get back to work because every day we walk in the gym, we look up and see the 2001 National Championship banner, and we see 13 NCAA appearances on the walls of our gym, and that’s what we’re working for every day,” Howes said. “This was a great experiment for us to test our stuff against a very talented and very well-coached team that is going to play [in the NCAA Tournament], for sure. They’ll have a lot of support back in D.C.”

The Cardinals, who resumed practice Monday, will begin the regular season against Fredonia (N.Y.) State in the Allegheny Invitational in Meadville, Pa., on Nov. 20. Their first home game is against Frostburg (Md.) State on Nov. 23.

Will the Real Billy Donovan Please Stand Up?
CUA freshman Billy Donovan’s namesake father and grandfather flew up in time for the Notre Dame game with his younger brother and sister. His dad, who led the Florida Gators to consecutive National Championships in 2006 and 2007, was proud to see his eldest son debut on the Irish hardwood.

“With me being in coaching, it’s going to be hard for me to see him play a lot,” said Donovan at halftime. “To see his first game against Notre Dame, where you have two very prestigious Catholic institutions – great education, great campuses, great places to live – to be able to come into this environment is great.

“I’ve only seen him one time since August, so this is nice to see him here tonight.”

After Coach Donovan spoke with his son and Howes, the family headed to South Bend (Ind.) Regional Airport for their two-hour and 20-minute flight back to Gainesville, Fla.

Alumni Support
About 90 CUA alumni and fans made the trip to see the Cards take on the Irish. A bus from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport brought more than 50 people to the area the day before the game. Cardinal assistant coach Harvey Powell’s parents flew into Grand Rapids, Mich., and made the two-hour drive to see the game and support their son.

On game day, the alumni enjoyed a campus tour and reception at Joyce Center. They heard brief remarks from Howes, CUA Athletic Director Mike Allen and new university President John Garvey, a Notre Dame grad.

Many in the group visited the Notre Dame Grotto on Sunday Nov. 7 and attended Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart before heading back to O’Hare.

Leave the Coats at Home
Coaches Howes and Donovan are trying to schedule an exhibition game on Florida’s home court, perhaps as early as next season.

“The next project right now is to try to get Catholic to have an exhibition game against Florida,” Donovan said. “We’ll see if we can make that happen.”

That’ll be good news to freshman Kevin Forde’s parents, Michael and Vivian, who live in Lake Mary, Fla. Michael hadn’t seen snow in years until they arrived in Indiana, and Vivian lamented that it’s “65 back home.”

Michael is director of corporate partnerships for the Orlando Magic.

Story written by Chris McManes, former CUA Sports Information Director