The Barclays Center is helping to enrich an already growing Brooklyn sports pride by renewing enthusiasm for the borough’s local college hoop teams.
The Long Island University Blackbirds and the St. Francis College Terriers square off at the home of the Brooklyn Nets over the next two weekends.
St. Francis takes on local rival St. John’s on Dec. 15 at 5 pm as part of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival, while Long Island University battles Seton Hall on Dec. 22 at 8 pm during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Festival, also a triple header, bringing a new level of excitement around both mid-major programs.
St. Francis College coach and borough son Glenn Braica and Blackbirds coach Jack Perri feel the arena will also bolster recruiting.
“Twenty years ago we were probably not telling kids we were recruiting from Brooklyn,” said Braica. “Now both schools are making a push to be from Brooklyn, and letting people know that.”
Barclays’ corporate sponsor Long Island University, which lost 77–74 to Morehead State last month, will play four games there annually — and the buzz on borough campuses is palpable.
“I know in classes people are always talking about going to games in the Barclays Center, even professors,” Blackbirds junior guard Jason Brickman said. “I think we will get a lot more fans.”
It’s also a chance for both schools to broaden their fan bases, playing in events that include teams like Michigan and West Virginia, and local programs Hofstra and Manhattan. Also, St. Francis and Long Island University play each other at the arena on Feb. 10, 2013.
“It gets everybody excited about local college basketball,” Perri said. “For us to be put in that same light, it’s exciting. I think it will help people who might not have seen us play.”
Long Island University is the favorite to win a third straight Northeast Conference title and reach the NCAA tournament. The Blackbirds got off to a slow start, including losses to defending national champion Kentucky and Maryland, but has played well since returning to Brooklyn.
St. Francis has struggled to begin the year, but that’s a work in progress, says Braica.
The learning curve hasn’t deterred Brooklyn-born Akeem Johnson and his St. Francis teammates from seeing their game against St. John’s as a chance to get a memorable win. He plans on having extra family and friends in attendance at the Barclays Center.
“Growing up in Brooklyn and getting a chance to play in an NBA area, it will definitely be a special moment,” Johnson said.
It’s a special time for Brooklyn college basketball — and it’s only the start of things to come, according to the experts.
“It’s a whole different feel,” Braica said. “If you brought a Brooklyn guy back here from 20 years ago, and he saw what was going on in Brooklyn with the Barclays Center and even with our programs, he’d be excited to come back.”
Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.