A note on the door said not to knock, just to come in. A dog barked but otherwise, not much noise, until you heard a voice behind a door, "Who's picking next?" The door led to the basement, all seats taken, about 20 guys, from 15 years old to grandfather.
Conversation was along the lines of:
"From Duke, Harry Giles."
"Harry Giles is still there?''
. . . "Hassan Martin, Rhode Island . . . Gone."
"Hall from Virginia."
"Is Foster from SMU available?"
This was the 11th round of an annual Selection Sunday night event that began in 1984.
"It was fantasy before fantasy was such a word known to most people," said Mike Burke, who used to read Street and Smith magazine in the cafeteria at Villanova and saw an advertisement for Boulevard Games. They'd send you 100 teams and the stats for the last 10 games of the year.
On break that year on Selection Sunday, Burke played hoops with a bunch of Monsignor Bonner High buddies also home from Millersville and Scranton and the rest. They played pickup ball at what is now Penn Wood High and grabbed a half keg. Thus a tradition was born.
The rest of the world can just pick teams for their March Madness pools. These guys would pick players. The winner would be the guy who picked the team that had scored the most points.
Eight of the originals are still involved. One guy has moved to Atlanta so he's on a speakerphone, with his son in Colorado also patched in, although that makes keeping track a little sketchy, since the side conversations don't stop between rounds.
Now, there are 18 teams, the stakes not that high, except last year's winner was Burke's nephew Shane, 14 at the time so the money probably didn't hurt. He'd had the second overall pick, chose Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, and rode him until Villanova stopped Hield at the Final Four. He'd also chosen two Syracuse players who made the Final Four and a top Notre Dame scorer.
Villanova's Josh Hart went 20th last year, but first this time, ahead of Frank Mason of Kansas. Anybody can pick a first round. There are other contests like this maybe choosing five players, but this group goes 16 deep, the draft going 21/2 hours. Drafting began about 15 minutes after the full field was announced. Guys had laptops out, hunting for bargains.
Like a typical bracket, you need to find teams you think will make a run, then grab top scorers. A star of a team that wins a play-in game and then another can be gold. Final Four subs still help you.
Put a bunch of Bonner guys into a room together, mercy isn't part of the package. Someone chose a player from Texas State from the Sun Belt.
"They're not even in it, but you got him."
Somebody mentioned picking Charles Shackleford and there were smiles, remembering the late Mr. H, who had paid strict attention to the keg one year and drafted Shackleford from North Carolina State in the first, eighth and 14th rounds.
Shane won with Syracuse guys but others have their scars. One year Bernie needed the 'Cuse to come through and it was one of the early exit years so Bernie called Syracuse's athletic department and asked when the press conference was going to be.
"What press conference?"
"The one to announce Boeheim's firing," he said.
Choosing La Salle guys worked out in 2013. Going with Duke senior Johnny Dawkins and Louisville freshman Pervis Ellison in 1986 made Burke an easy winner when they were the leading scorers in that year's title game.
There are third-generation guys here picking, and offshoots exist in Ridley and Lansdowne. This basement was in West Chester, but the rest of the guys were from Delaware County.
"Can we recap who's gone?" someone quipped during the 13th round.
"I say we start over," another guy said. "I'll be more focused this time."
The last player went, Alvin Ellis III of Michigan State, averaging 6.5 points a game. About half the basement cleared out quickly. The rest gathered around a bar, ate a few peanuts, and talked a little hoops.