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March Madness descends on Brooklyn

Barclays to Host Brooklyn’s First-Ever NCAA Tournament Games

March 17, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After  helping his team get past Tulsa on Wednesday night with this soaring scoop to the hoop, Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rhakman and the rest of the Michigan Wolverines will battle rival Notre Dame Friday night during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP photo
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For most Brooklynites, March Madness coincides with a series of rituals:

Filling out a bracket sheet for the annual office pool, perhaps sneaking out for an extended lunch at a local pub to take in the early first-round games, and then spending the evening among family and/or friends watching the best college basketball teams in the country fight it out for a national championship.

But this year, for the first time ever, the NCAA Tournament itself is right here in Brooklyn.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

With Friday’s 12:40 p.m. tip-off between second-seeded Villanova and No. 15 UNC-Asheville at Downtown’s Barclays Center, our fair borough will officially become one of eight sites across the nation to host both first- and second-round tournament games.

“We are excited to host one of the world’s greatest sporting events in a venue that has become the center of college basketball on the East Coast,” Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark stated.

“In just [a few years], Barclays Center has welcomed the most exciting and talked-about events in sports and entertainment, and the NCAA Tournament will be another celebrated moment for the borough.”

Following the clash between the highly touted Wildcats and upset-minded Bulldogs on Friday afternoon, seventh-seeded Iowa and No. 10 Temple will square off to complete the day’s first session at Barclays.

Later Friday evening, the building should be rocking from the rafters as third-seeded West Virginia battles No. 14 Stephen F. Austin, and No. 11 Michigan, a 67-62 winner over Tulsa Wednesday night in a First Four contest, tries to knock out sixth-seeded Notre Dame on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

“I love New York City; Brooklyn’s great,” said Fighting Irish senior Zach Auguste, who actually played a game at Barclays against St. Joseph’s back in 2012, when the arena was making its first foray into the world of college basketball.

“It’s going to be a great time, but I take this very seriously,” Auguste added. “I want to play as long as I can.”

“We’re thrilled to be in New York,” added Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “It’s a great Notre Dame town. We have great memories of our Big East days playing and hanging out in the city.”

The winners of Friday’s games will be back in the state-of-the-art arena Sunday looking to punch their respective tickets to the Sweet 16.

Though Brooklyn is unlikely to host a Final Four at Barclays, as the NCAA now looks to secure stadium-sized sites for its seminal event, the Downtown destination hasn’t taken long to become a huge part of the local and national college basketball scene.

And figures to continue being so for years, and decades, to come.

It has already hosted hotly contested Battle of Brooklyn games between Downtown rivals LIU and St. Francis, as well as numerous national tournaments throughout the past several seasons, including last December’s CBS Sports Classic involving legendary college hoops programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State.

“Our venue continues to be a must-play for major college hoops and we are looking forward to providing a memorable atmosphere and to being on a national stage,” added Yormark.

* * *

In other local college sports news, St. Joseph’s College (SJC) this week named former Christ the King High School (CTK) coach and St. Francis Brooklyn alum Ovid Cusu as the new leader of the men’s soccer program.

“Ovid is a great addition to the Bears’ coaching staff,” said SJC’s interim Director of Athletics Alex Winnicker. “His accomplishments at the high school and club levels in addition to his playing experience will help make us a more competitive and professional team in the Skyline.”

“I would like to thank St. Joseph’s College for giving me the opportunity to coach at the collegiate level,” added Cusu, a former Division I standout with the Terriers who was named the New York Post’s Queens High School Coach of the Year in 2010 after lifting the CTK program into elite status.

Cusu is no stranger to success in Brooklyn.

He was a member of the 1998 Northeast Conference champion Terriers, the only squad prior to the back-to-back title-winners here from 2013 and 2014 to hoist the NEC Trophy on Remsen Street.

“I am aware there will be challenges competing in the Skyline Conference,” Cusu added. “But [those] challenges will bring the best out of me, my coaching staff and most importantly, my players. I am looking forward to establishing a very competitive men’s soccer team in Brooklyn at St. Joseph’s College.”


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