Deep in the heart of Brooklyn, there is a basketball team that has been a consistent champion, and you’ve probably never heard of them.
The men’s basketball program at LIU-Brooklyn won three Northeast Conference Championships in a row from 2011-2013, and earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament as well.
LIU plays their home games at the relatively new Steinberg Wellness Center, where the team moved after playing for decades at the old Brooklyn Paramount Theater. The sparkling new gym played a big part in LIU’s success according to Nelson Castillo, a writer for Blackbirds Hoops Journal, which undoubtedly has the most in-depth coverage of LIU basketball. “Once they were able to move to their current home, they were able to consistently land quality players and help build a program that can stay competitive year after year,” Castillo said.
Castillo also believes that the few home games that LIU gets to play every year in the even newer Barclays Center draws fans and recruits as well.
Once LIU was able to attract quality players from outside New York, they were on their way to a dynasty.
One of these quality players was Jason Brickman, the star point guard who anchored all three championships, and played his last game in an LIU uniform this year. Brickman came all the way from San Antonio, as part of a Texas pipeline that was built by former LIU coach Jim Ferry, and has continued under current head coach Jack Perri. The pipeline also brought in other important players such as Julian Boyd, Kenny Onyechi, and EJ Reed.
Speaking about his recruiting trip that he went on five years ago, Brickman said that he was “excited to be in New York,” and also stated “Brooklyn is a great area that is continuing to grow and get more popular.” There is no doubt that as Brooklyn and more specifically Fort Greene has grown, the program at LIU has grown.
In his 4 years at LIU, Brickman dazzled on the court, making assist after assist, and by his senior year, the basketball world knew he had a chance for 1,000 career assists. Despite the team’s disappointing 2013-2014 season, Brickman became the 4th player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat.
Even though the last game of the season had no meaning for LIU, as they were buried in 9th place in the Northeast Conference and mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the NEC Tournament, the Steinberg Wellness Center was packed as many basketball fans wanted to see Brickman attempt to get assist number 1,000. He walked off the court one last time to a standing ovation, and after the game many fans lined up on the court to meet Brickman.
“I had no idea there were so many people who came to watch me reach the milestone of 1,000 assists. Even though we lost the game it felt like we had just won a championship,” said Brickman. Brickman garnered national attention for the feat, receiving congratulations from all over the country from the likes of commentators such as Jay Bilas.
Brickman’s impressive four years at LIU have led to a spot on a professional team in Russia, Dynamo Moscow.
And while Brickman and his teammates are grateful to the Brooklyn fans, the fans of Brooklyn feel the same way about the team.
Phil Butleman, a Brooklyn resident and fan of the LIU basketball team has “had the pleasure of watching this team win three consecutive NEC championships.” Butleman also likes the “great view” of the game at the Steinberg Wellness Center, as well as the close proximity to Junior’s Restaurant.
Right now the connection between the fans and the team is very strong, as the team has been among the lead leaders in attendance according to an article written by Castillo on his blog. But coming off a tough 9-20 season, and without the attraction of Brickman, it will be interesting to see if LIU can continue to draw large crowds this season. Castillo says that for the connection with the fans to grow, that the team will have to stay “consistent and competitive year after year.”