During last year’s NCAA Tournament, Fairleigh Dickinson head men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda was just hoping to get out of Texas.
Herenda wasn’t feeling great before his trip, and after he arrived, his condition only got worse. He was eventually diagnosed with blood clots in his thigh and abdomen while attending the Final Four in San Antonio, and he was fearful of what the future could hold, both during and after his visit to the Lone Star State. Herenda had two families he had to take care of: his wife and son in Hillsdale and his basketball family at FDU.
“When I came home I think [the players] were scared because they saw me not at full strength. You see your parents cry, they saw their coach walk in with a limp and a cane.” Herenda said, ”But it’s not about me or my illness, really. Thee kids, they want to play basketball and they want to win games. They rally around me. Good things happen to good people.”
Nearly a year later, Herenda continues to emphasize the importance of family to his players. That was certainly the case at Sunday’s on-campus event in Hackensack, where fans and media were allowed to watch a practice, as well as the March Madness Selection Show from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Knights will play Prairie View A&M on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio in the First Four, and the team will bring that same family mentality along with them to the tournament.
The word was seen on the warm up shirts that the players wore on Sunday, and the song ‘We are Family’ by Sister Sledge played over and over.
“We are just a big family,” forward Kaleb Bishop said. “We come in here every day, we go to practice, we go super hard. And [Herenda] always says it, like you know, it’s just us. The guys [that are] in the gym, that’s your family. That’s the guys you go to war for every night.”
Herenda, a current resident of Hillsdale, has a son who attends Pascack Valley, and has lived in the town for the past six years, moving in after landing the job at FDU. Prior to that, Herenda was a head coach at the Division II and Division III levels, and he has also been an assistant coach at multiple schools. Herenda grew up in nearby North Bergen, NJ.
“We were so lucky because when I got the job [at FDU], our realtor brought us to a number of places,” Herenda said. “And she showed us Westwood, and I’m like ‘I like Westwood’ and I was excited, and then we went into Hillsdale and we were like ‘oh this is much quieter’ and there was just something about it.”
The Knights earned an automatic bid to the ‘Big Dance’ after capturing the Northeast Conference Tournament crown, and will now go on to play Prairie View A&M in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night. Prairie View A&M is a school located in Texas, near Houston. They earned their bid to the tournament by defeating Texas Southern on Saturday, winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
If the Knights win, they will travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to face off against the top seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs of the West Region, who has been the top seed in the West Region in two of the last three years. They will presumably be heavy underdogs against coach Mark Few’s national powerhouse.
However, with No. 16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) famously routing No. 1 overall seed Virginia in the round of 64 last year, it’s possible that FDU could pull off a historic upset. Herenda spoke about how his team hopes to do that during his selection show speech.
But before Herenda and his players can think about the Bulldogs, the Knights will need to go to Dayton and avenge their previous NCAA tournament loss that took place there. During the 2015-2016 season, the Knights also took part in the First Four, but lost by over 30 points to Florida Gulf Coast. Two players who were apart of that team, guard Darnell Edge and forward Mike Holloway, are seniors on this year’s iteration of the Knights. They will look to help capture the first NCAA Tournament win in the history of Fairleigh Dickinson.
“Going back a second time, we know what to expect,” Edge said. “It’s not as [many] nerves as my freshman year, and also, my role is a little bigger. So I know I [have] to go out there and be a leader, showing the younger guys, and play well.”
Holloway spoke of how important Herenda was to building their team chemistry and confidence that they could make the NCAA Tournament a second time.
“It makes us even closer,” Holloway said. “We got closer when we won the NEC championship so we make moves as a unit. I know that win or lose we got to stay together.”
The Knights, along with cheerleaders and mascot Nitro the Knight, both of whom supported the players at Sunday’s festivities, touched down in Dayton on Monday. They play the Panthers Tuesday night, with tip off set for 6:40 p.m., and will be televised nationally on truTV.