For many years in my various roles with the Burlington Free Press sports department, I seldom had the opportunity to watch either of the University of Vermont’s basketball programs.
The reason was simple: If our beat writer, whether it was Andy Gardiner, Patrick Garrity, Hillary Read, Jeff Pinkham or the current beat writer, John Fantino, was at the game, I had to be in the office overseeing production and/or dealing with the myriad of calls, emails and faxes from the many high school and college teams in our circulation area.
The reverse was true whenever I was at Gutterson; the other beat writer usually had to tend to office chores.
Since I retired from full-time Free Press duty 1½ years ago, I’ve had more opportunities to see UVM’s men and women excel on the court and it’s been fun. Many of those games I’ve covered for the Free Press or other news outlets and that’s also given me the chance to see the players up close in postgame situations.
Many, many years ago, when the UVM hockey program was in its infancy and I was a student intern for the sports information department — I kept stats for several of those years — men’s basketball was really the only big thing on campus in winter; well, except for the long-departed Kake Walk.
Hockey has since generally reigned as the biggest of Vermont’s winter teams in terms of success and community interest, but the accomplishments of both basketball teams in recent years have given the university a nice trifecta for relieving the January/February blues.
For years, I’ve been fortunate to witness the on-ice exploits of so many UVM hockey players, from Dave Reece and George Minarsky to Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes, and way too many in between to mention.
It’s been since the days of Dave Lapointe and Frank Martiniuk since I’ve watched UVM basketball players as often as I’ve seen Marqus Blakely, Evan Fjeld, Courtnay Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos, and it’s been fun to rediscover the intensity, the drive, the élan with which they play their sport. From Marqus’ highlight jams to Pilypaitis’ game-altering 3-pointers, it’s fun, a fun heightened no doubt by success.
Still, I also realize that I’m watching the games with an unpracticed eye. I must be, because I’m not always seeing the same game as those folk in the striped shirts.