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Hofstra basketball coaches sleep in offices after Sandy

Hofstra University men's basketball head coach Mo Cassara

Hofstra University men's basketball head coach Mo Cassara gives a thumbs up to his players for their defensive effort in the first half against Farmingdale State at Mack Sports Complex. Credit: James Escher

Hofstra basketball coach Mo Cassara was driving his car during Wednesday's nor'easter. The rain had turned to snow and driving was treacherous.

"I'm sitting in dead stop traffic," he said. "I was trying to get out and get some food. I may turn around and go back home. Back home, being my office."

Cassara lives in Point Lookout, at least before superstorm Sandy necessitated evacuating. Home has been his office on the Hempstead campus. Nice digs for a Division I coach, modern furnishings and big couch. But it doesn't have the comforts of home.

"Living out of the office, showering in the locker room," he said. "Going around trying to get hot meals at all kinds of different places."

Cassara did not want to be portrayed as a charity case, certainly that is not the situation. But hotels are booked and even on a D-I head coach's salary, those daily rates quickly add up. "The Marriott [near campus] wasn't available anyway," he said. "Hofstra made rooms [on campus] available for my staff."

Then there was the matter of his two dogs. Last Sunday, he drove them to his parents' home in Albany."I've been very content, I like to work late and early in the morning," he said, "so I've been pretty happy just staying in my office on the couch."

He has no idea when he can return home.

"No power, no heat, no water, water in the basement," he said.

Gas for his car was also an issue, as it has been for many Long Islanders the past 12 days.

"I just couldn't get back and forth even if I wanted to. All that and trying to get ready for a basketball season is really challenging.

"Between the [presidential] debate and not being in our offices, then trying to move back in and then getting kicked out of our houses, not having classes all last week, trying to help people who need help and at the same time trying to get a young team ready to play, it's probably one of the most challenging months of my coaching career."

He returned to Point Lookout to vote

"They had a generator at the town hall. I was able to get down and pack five days worth of clothes and suits. There are neighbors who lost entire first floors. Lost cars. Places in my town have lost complete businesses, demolished. I feel very blessed, very happy. It's been a little inconvenient for us. As Jay Wright once told me `It's all how you handle situations like this that makes you successful.' I think about that all the time. We have to handle it well, do the best we can, not let anybody get down. It could be a lot worse."

Hofstra women's basketball coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey, who was flooded out of her house in Long Beach, can empathize. She's also spent time in her office on campus.

Her team is in Daytona Beach for a weekend tournament.

"I'm sitting here looking at the ocean as we speak," she said. "I have an affinity for the water, even when it's the most dangerous. There's no doubt where my heart lies."

But the coach, her husband, Chuck, and her neighbors spent anxious hours during the storm. "Long Beach got crushed, like an accordion, the canals got crushed along with everybody else. We're a pretty tight neighborhood, we all stayed through [Hurricane] Irene. Everybody was hanging out that day [as Sandy approached]. We didn't specifically think it was going to be life-threatening. Everybody stayed, very few people left. I was inside looking how different it was than Irene, because water wasn't coming from the canal, it was coming from the bay. I took my car to higher ground. We have one-level house."

When the water reached her knees, Kilburn-Steveskey, her husband and their two dogs left for a neighbor's house that contained a second floor. "It didn't matter what I had, what I owned," she said. "It was just grabbing my dogs and seeing if everybody is safe in my neighborhood. It was like the Titanic in her [neighbor's] house. Her lower kitchen had just been refinished. Water was coming from every orifice."

When the storm ended, the coach went to check on her car.

"Mine was the only car that was coming out of Long Beach, it was like the walking dead, it was the creepiest thing," she said, describing downed wires and stunned residents walking the neighborhood.

The coach and her family left for Hofstra. "That was emotional, we left a lot of people there," she said.

When she returned to survey the damage, it was severe.

"I was cleaning the floor and Chuck said 'What are you doing?' As days went by, molding popped off the wall, now the house has just been stripped. Basically, it's been gutted. It's not condemned, it can be repaired. I'd say a couple of months."

Kilburn-Steveskey stayed in her office and then a few nights at a hotel. Hofstra associate athletic director Danny McCabe offered the finished basement of his home in Rockville Centre.

"It probably was the most important four days of my life," Kilburn-Steveskey said. "It allowed me to be able to practice. Now when I get back [to Long Island] I have some dear fiends that were calling me even before the hurricane. They live in Glen Cove. Chuck has already spent his first night."

Kilburn-Steveskey said she has no complaints.

"I don't have some sob story," she said. "I've seen Staten Island, Breezy Point, those are the things that kill me."

She has been in touch with Jean Kelly, executive director of the INN, a facility in Hempstead that provides aid and comfort to economically challenged individuals and families.

"She calls me almost every day," Kilburn-Steveskey said. "Our team does a lot with homeless shelters. She said the distance between people that were on the street and everybody else now is minimal. Two degrees of separation between being homeless and knowing what it feels like to be homeless."

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