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Big East fans recall lasting memories of Madison Square Garden

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, March 14, 2013

Here on 7th Avenue and 32nd Street, everyone has his own Big East tournament story.

Herbie Storrier first made a pilgrimage to the Mecca 28 years ago. Some could say he is devout, others religious. But an entirely different word dribbles into the mind when he tells you he has made the pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden every year since.

“Chills,” said Storrier, a lifelong Syracuse fan. “I’ve got a bunch of memories, and then a bunch I can’t remember.”

This year, Storrier did things a little differently; he brought a giddy rookie with him, one of his best friends, James Root.

Root, 66, had never seen a Big East tournament, and here he was with a 28-year vet. It was the equivalent of a father bringing his son to his first game, sixty years later.

“This is on my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to come here,” Root said. “My friend said it’s now or never, and it’s now. I had to come to this.I’m finally here.

“We love New York City. We love MSG. We’re feeling bad,” Root said. “There is no better place to have a college basketball tournament than New York City. The ACC is a great league, but New York City is a basketball town.”

On his way out of Madison Square Garden came Ernie Massa, class of 1993 from Pittsburgh. Wearing his Panthers sweater, Massa is attending his 10th Big East tournament in person.

“Since I was a little kid, I’ve been watching this tournament on TV,” he said. “From 1980 and on.”

The Garden was a place filled with cherished memories for Massa, whether he was there or not.

“It’s unreal,” he said looking up at the videoboard outside the front entrance of Madison Square Garden. “You can cut it with a knife, the electricity. It’s beautiful. It’s the best place in the world that I’ve ever seen for basketball.

Massa exuded a guarded confidence in two prospects about the future of his alma mater and its relationship with the Garden.

“I’m going to miss it, but we had to do what was good for our university,” Massa said of Pittsburgh. “It had to be done. We didn’t want to be left out on an island.

Asked if he would make the jaunt to North Carolina for the ACC tournament next season, Massa reluctantly said he would – but to him it just wasn’t the same as Madison Square Garden.

“You have to see what it’s like in the ACC with all the great basketball fans down there too,” he said. “I’m sure it won’t be like this, but hopefully they bring it back up to Manhattan for the ACC tournament, to the Garden or to the Barclays Center.”

On a day where his team didn’t play, there stood Creighton Benoit wearing a Louisville track jacket and hat. Benoit, 25, graduated from Louisville in 2011 but has made the trip to Midtown each of the last five years. It was special each time, he said.

“It’s just the atmosphere of being at the Garden seeing the best teams in the country,” Benoit said.

Since Louisville will not join the ACC until 2014, the Cardinals will play in what’s left of the Big East. Benoit said he will miss the tournament, the competition and the rivalries, more than anything.

“It’s a little bit of a disappointment. We don’t have the competition. We don’t have the rivalries that we’ve had in the past couple of years. I’m hoping next year that some team will still play us even though we’re not in the actual conference.”

But the Louisville alumnus, who said he grew up and still remains a big Notre Dame fan, said just looking forward to the ACC will be enough to last him through “a cold winter.”

“We have one year of a down year,” he said. “It’s one year, I can suffer through it. I’m looking forward to the ACC.
“I will miss it, but at the same time I will look forward to the times to come.”

It’s funny. Here on 7th Avenue and 32nd Street, everyone has his own Big East story – even the first three people you meet.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu