They stood and waited for almost 45 minutes in a cold rain. They jammed the vestibule area as the crowd continued to grow. People were running from the parking areas to avoid being shut out of what was arguably the biggest basketball event in Long Island history.
Forget for a moment the glory days of Cold Spring Harbor's Wally Szczerbiak and Amityville's Jason Fraser, two of Long Island's most celebrated players. This was bigger and better than anything we've experienced. This wasn't Hoosiers. This was Long Island. And we haven't seen high school basketball of this magnitude.
They came to see Long Island's top two ranked boys basketball teams, Hills West and Longwood, battle for the Suffolk Class AA championship. The place was absolutely electric. More than 4,000 packed Nold Gymnasium last night at Farmingdale State University. An estimated 1,000 were turned away and left. Some chose to stay and received scoring updates.
"I'm not leaving," said Dennis Carter, a former All-Long Island defensive end for Hills West. "I've made almost every game this year. We waited more than an hour in the rain and still couldn't get in."
Lines formed late in the afternoon and by 7 p.m., university officials knew they had an overflow crowd on their hands. Credit forward thinking and a well-executed plan by Section XI and the crowd was under control.
"We had seating for about 3,500 and we went to standing room for another 500 so we didn't disappoint too many people," said John Dee, the director of security for Section XI. "It was a packed house. But the fans were great."
The championship atmosphere heightened with very big shot, every block. This crowd came to roar. They watched two phenomenal teams, loaded with Division I talent, highlighted by Tennessee-bound Tobias Harris go toe-to-toe for 32 minutes.
Hills West guard Aaron McCree drilled a three to open the scoring and off they went. This one lived up to the hype.
"This was our biggest crowd ever," said Suffolk boys basketball chairman Bob Mayo, the Babylon athletic director. "We haven't had this kind of star power on both teams. This game was the most exciting I've seen since the years of Glenn Vickers at Babylon in the mid-seventies."
Neither team had lost a game to a Long Island opponent. Hills West brought a 21-0 record with impressive wins over Christ the King and Bishop Loughlin. The Colts were buoyed by the playmaking of point guard Tavon Sledge and the intimidating front line of brothers Tobias and Tyler Harris.
Longwood, well, they just bring the wood! The Lions carried a 19-2 record, with both losses coming in a tournament held in Baltimore. If the Hills West football team on its way to a Long Island championship was the fastest show on turf, then the Longwood basketball team was the fastest team on wood.
As Tobias Harris walked off the court with his third foul of the first half, Gerald Holmes, the smallest guy on the court, arched his back and leaned into him with a little reminder - we're here - and we're in your face. It was like that all game.
For those who stood and waited - $6 was well spent - they saw a game they'll remember forever. Hills West won, 77-69, but there were no losers here.