Men’s basketball is making history, one win at a time
The energy is palpable. The feeling is indescribable. The potential is endless.
The 2018-19 Hofstra men’s basketball team is one for the ages. The Pride have made headlines across the country, emerging as one of the greatest story lines the sport has seen this season thanks to a historic 16-game winning streak. With each victory, dreams skyrocket for a team, fan base and community that have craved success for decades.
This group of young men has been truly unique and special, managing hefty expectations with composure and confidence in themselves. The locker room culture, practice atmosphere and bonds these players have are genuine and unique to the Pride.
Notably, there is no fear in this squad. Unlike some teams, the Pride have embraced their winning streak with open arms and do not shy away from talking about it. The players perfectly walk the line between staying humble and staying hungry.
The Pride put their win streak in perspective, realizing the impact their success has on college admissions, campus morale and the community. Hempstead has been devoid of success in this sport since 2001, when the Pride made the NCAA tournament but fell to UCLA in the first round 61-49, and this team wants to change that.
“The best part about it is the university benefits,” said head coach Joe Mihalich. “Hofstra University is in the news and being publicized, and it gives us a chance to remind everyone what a great school this is.”
Feelings of positivity and excitement are spreading like wildfire, fueling a hungry and passionate fan base with dreams of making a run in March. However, that does not stop the Pride from skewing from their main goal: taking it one game at a time.
“It is too soon to think about at-large bids and March,” Michalich said. “If you think any more than the next game ahead of you, then you are going to lose.”
Losing is not on the table for this group of young men, as the leadership core wants nothing more than to have the best season possible. Justin Wright-Foreman is the stalwart for the Pride, averaging 26 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting, while showing no signs of letting up. He has scored at least 10 points in 75 straight games, the second longest streak in the nation.
With Wright-Foreman leading the way, this team is confident they can follow their star-player to the promise land.
“I just want to live in this moment,” Wright-Foreman said. “You only go to college once, and I am enjoying this amazing time for the program.”
Wright-Foreman struggled his freshman year with limited playing time, but used it as a learning experience to grow as a player and a person. With the help of mentors like special assistant and Hofstra basketball legend Speedy Claxton, the Pride now have one of the best players in the nation leading the way.
But it isn’t just Wright-Foreman, and that is the beauty of this winning streak. Junior guard Eli Pemberton has been Wright-Foreman’s partner in crime, contributing 15.8 points per game and memorably drilling a full court shot on Jan. 24 against James Madison University.
“My team needs me,” Pemberton said. “It isn't about points. I do whatever my team needs me to do, whether it is rebounding, defending or doing the little things. One night I will be Dennis Rodman and the next night I will be a scorer.”
The depth of the team is unmatched by other mid-major foes, as the roster sports a diverse lineup of players with many different talents. Senior guard Desure Buie, for example, is a veteran presence who has mastered the less-spoken about aspects of the game. His 90 percent free throw percentage contributes to the Pride’s 79.7 percent mark this season, good for second in the nation behind only the University of the Incarnate Word.
“Free throws win you games,” Buie said. “You need to make free throws when the game comes to a close. I have spent countless hours after practice shooting free throws because that is what wins you games.”
At the end of the day, the Pride are focusing on Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play and taking their momentum into March. All this could be for naught if the team cannot put together three wins in North Charleston for the CAA Tournament, and the team recognizes that. But for now, there is no harm in embracing a wonderful stretch of games for this program.
“Everyone else is talking about it,” Mihalich said. “I do not believe in jinxes. When the streak ends, it will be because we did not play well, shoot well or play good defense. It won’t be because of superstitions.”
That type of attitude has done wonders for this team. A program that has often struggled in the New York market has now grabbed it by the throat, taking the state by storm with a win streak for the ages.
Winning streaks come in all sizes, but for the Pride, it has been 16-games, good for the longest winning streak in men’s college basketball. When asked what this means to them, coach Mihalich and his players did not hold back in expressing how monumental this is for the program.
“Going on a winning streak means you have the will to win and the refusal to lose,” Mihalich said. “Everyone knows about it and loves talking about it. It is so good for everyone.”
Wright-Foreman, both a talented player and respected individual off the court, focused on the intangibles when talking about what this winning streak means to him.
“A winning streak is all about how you carry yourself,” Wright-Foreman said. “We have to do things right and that is what we have been doing.”
And finally, Pemberton, the wild-card of the team that has been the spark that ignited the streak, feels that it is all about the brotherhood this team has formed.
“The term winning streak means that you work, you stay after practice and put shots up, and most importantly, have a brotherhood,” Pemberton said. “You can’t compare this group of guys to anything else. I get excited to talk about my team and what we can accomplish.”
Photo courtesy of Hofstra Athletics