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Girmindl's Ghost

A diary of Shaker High School's 2005-2006 basketball season, a retelling of Shaker's fabled 1979-1980 season, and general commentary on high school hoops, updated daily...

"I like sitting in the back row. I found that sitting against the wall is just easier on your back." -Dean Smith, on the comfort of the H-gym bleachers

Interview: Dare and Bodgan

On the record with Bodgan and Dare: [Note: During the first week of January, I sat down with Matt Bodgan and Ryan Dare, two junior reserves on the Shaker team. Bodgan is a 6’3” small forward and Dare a 6’2” power forward. When the interview was conducted, Shaker was 7-3 and was just starting to pull out of the 1-3 slump they went into during Christmas break. This is the third feature interview to appear on Girmindl’s Ghost. In early December, I talked with the leaders of Shaker’s 6th man. Later that month, I sat down with Shaker center Brad Sheehan.]

I usually like to start interviews by talking about specific individual plays from the season. And luckily, when Matt Bodgan and Ryan Dare are the players in question, the game sequences that come to mind first invariably involve both of them. In particular, the Maginn game stands out in my mind: three times Bodgan got the ball in the lane and decided not to shoot, but instead hit Dare with a clever pass on the low block for an easy layup and an assist.

“Yeah, he owes me a lunch for that,” Bogdan blurts out, laughing like he’s more interested in holding it over Ryan’s head than actually getting the lunch. He then turns and stares Dare down before again busting into laughter.

Dare calms things down via a lighthearted matter-of-fact explanation. “After the game, my parents said that I should buy him a lunch. I haven’t yet, but it may happen. He certainly hasn’t forgotten,” he observes, shaking his head but also smiling. Good lord, I think. These two must be really good friends. And perhaps a bit more selfishly, And boy do they like to talk. Who knows where this is headed.

I immediately scrap the game plan I had devised for the interview and go off the cuff. I notice that Bodgan is wearing gameday dress clothes, but Dare is dressed casually. So I ask about it. Dare involuntarily laughs and then offers an explanation.

“We had a pasta party last night, and the whole team decided we weren’t going to dress up today. Boggs was there, but I guess he didn’t get that memo,” he deadpans, but then again starts laughing. Bodgan shakes his head and rolls his eye, as if he’s been getting this same ribbing all day, which he probably has. This is going to be a fun interview.

We’re sitting in the Shaker library media center, and I’m quickly realizing that perhaps a different venue might be have been much more appropriate. Bogdan and Dare are both excitable, talkative teenagers, and in combination they are behaving more like brothers than teammates. The periodicals librarian media specialist – the same one who used to yell at me in the early 90’s, I swear – scolds us, and we try to return the conversation to a more normal decibel level.

That’s apparently not easy for Bodgan to do. Not only does he talk a mile a minute throughout our conversation, but he takes significant pride in his ability to get loud. “Last year, when we were on the JV, I was definitely the loudest kid in the 6th man during the varsity game. I was just ridiculous. We’d let the gym be quiet during the foul shots and I’d just yell at the foul shooter. I was really, really loud. I loved it.”

And that explains a lot. Although he probably only plays about 6 or 7 minutes a game, Bodgan is clearly the darling of the 6th man this year. Fans bring signs with his name on them, begin furious chants whenever he enters the game, and constantly yell things at him on the court.

At the Niskayuna game, I thought I even detected Bogdan acknowledging the 6th man while the ball was in play. His man had just gotten the ball on the wing and someone in the 6th man screamed, “Get in your stance, Bodgan!” It looked like he responded by nodding ever so slightly, never taking his eyes off the ball but clearly letting the fans know that he could hear them.

“Yeah, I did do that. They loved it,” he admits to me. “The thing is that once the play is going, you usually can’t really hear the crowd. That was an exception. It’s usually not like that. On the other hand, when there is a stop in the action, you definitely hear them. Certain words will get your attention. You try not to listen, but you hear it.”

I don’t believe him. Especially when he adds, “I love playing emotional basketball. I love letting the atmosphere get to me.” Right now, the library atmosphere is definitely not getting to either of them, as I spot the periodicals librarian glance over at us with a scowl.

Dare then chimes in, grinning ear to ear. “Special chants tend to get your attention. Like during the CBA game, there were a ton of those. And during the breaks, we’d hear them. I know I was listening. I try not to, but it’s hard.”

He pauses as if to analyze his statement, and then he resumes. “Look, I think this whole team is a very emotional group of players. We play with a really high energy and it’s a good mentality. Everyone realizes our chances this year and knows what’s at stake.”

And that’s a key word for both of them, I think: chances. In one sense, chances to win championships. “You know, Griff’s sneakers have ‘LC’ written on them, last chance,” says Dare. Last chance to win the section [for the seniors].” And while neither of them say it, it’s pretty clear that while it may not be the last chance for the juniors, it’s probably their best chance.

And also chances in the ‘opportunity’ sense of the word. While Bodgan and Dare were both starters on the JV team as sophomores, it’s been an adjustment for them to sit on the bench most of the game this year. “I know I’m going to get playing time,” says Dare. “Coach has confidence in all of us. But I also know we have a really talented and deep team, so I have to make the most of the time that I do get.” You can see it when Holmes taps them to go into the game. They don’t walk over to the scorer’s table. They run.

And that seems to suit both of their attitudes. If they're eager to get in the game, they're anything but cocky about their skills. In fact, you get the sense from both of them that getting into the game is as much a confidence boost as an opportunity to prove themselves. The chance to play is simultaneous the validation that you deserve to be playing.

Of course, along with these chances comes a lot of pressure.“The first two games of the year (Amsterdam and CBA), I was definitely nervous,” explains Dare. “Huge crowds, everyone had been talking about it for weeks. I know all the juniors were nervous, being the first couple games on varsity. Obviously you want to play well.”

And play well he did, scoring 7 points against Amsterdam and adding a crucial 6 against CBA, solidifying his spot in the regular rotation.

“My role is to just go in there and play as tough as I can. I try to be like Griff – get all the rebounds I can, and maybe score a couple of points. But mainly rebounding and trying to body up the big men, especially if Brad’s not in there.”The surprising thing is that Ryan is only 6’2”. But – as anyone who has seen him play can tell you – he plays much bigger than that, especially in the post. His game is somewhat reminiscent of Griff’s in that way.

Bodgan, on the other hand, took a little longer to get his sea legs. “I sat the bench against CBA, and I was honestly pretty scared – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into that thing.” But lately Bodgan has found himself some time as a solid role player off the bench.

“My role is more defensive, just get in there and shut down my man. Give a spark to the team. I typically guard whoever’s hot at the time among the small guys. Often that means I’m matched up against great players, like [Maginn standout] Taylor Battle. On offense I just try to get the ball to the scorers in good position – usually Brad, but I guess occasionally others, like Ryan,” as he unleashes a long grin.

That probably downplays Bogdan’s contribution. The first word most people reach for to describe his game is “smart.” He just looks like he’s always thinking on the court, and when he’s playing well, it usually pays off in the form of assists.

I detect a confidence in his voice that probably wasn’t there six weeks ago. In fact, it wasn’t a given that Bodgan was even going to play hoops this year – he’s an all-state cross-country runner who could easily have found stardom on the indoor track this year.

“Back in November and early December, I don’t think I had found my role yet. I was working hard in practice, but I was struggling. At one point I was even questioning why I didn’t just run track. I was thinking ‘we could have a national-quality 4 X 800 relay right now.’ But I kept working hard, and I was so happy after the Maginn game, when coach gave me a shot and I played well.” Bodgan still things of himself as a runner who plays hoops, not vice versa. “I run two out of three seasons, and that’s what I’m going to do in college. I think a lot of people were actually surprised I played hoop this year, because I had such a successful cross country season.”

One reason I think Bogdan stuck with the hoops is the obvious friendship he has with Dare and the other members of the team. “This is a really close team,” offers Dare. “And Matt and I have been good friends for a long time.” File that in the obvious folder, fellas.

And neither of them seems to have come by their success on talent alone. In fact, Bodgan is eager to offer his praise for Dare with a classic left-handed compliment.

“I can remember in 7th and 8th grade, I was so much better than him,” he says, with Dare patiently waiting for him to twist it into a compliment. Boggs continues to twist the knife. “Freshman year I was just praying that he made the team.” Wait for it. Wait for it. “But by the end of the season, he was starting, it was incredible.” There it is.

Dare offered his own version of the story, the implicit argument being that he could wipe the gym floor with Bogdan these days. “I didn’t start playing hoops till 6th grade, and I never once made the A team at St. Pius [where he went to 6th through 8th grade]. “But then after 8th grade, I realized that I really wanted to play hoops in high school, so I went to Koubek camp [a popular and excellent local summer sleepover basketball camp] and I improved so much there.”

In fact, the summer basketball programs – both camps and AAU leagues – have really had a big effect on Bodgan, Dare, and much of the Shaker team. That’s pretty amazing to someone who grew up in the late 80’s, when the only summer basketball options were Shaker’s one-week camp and the playground games at Latham little league.

“We all go to Koubek camp – me, Bogs, Hooks, and we always have a great time. We don’t play on the same team, but we always hang out together at the cabins. It’s really fun. I also play AAU. Hooks’ dad started a new team, the Adirondack storm, and me, Hooks, Eddie, and Fallon play on that.”

Because of track commitments, Bogdan can’t play AAU. He’s a big fan of the camps, though. “You get to see all the local players. You really get a good feel for what’s out there in section II, and not just in Class AA, but everyone.”

At this point, the librarian kicks us out and we have to continue the interview in Taft cafeteria. I begin to ask about the other guys on the team, and before I can finish the question they both jump right in.

“First off, playing with Brad is ridiculous,” says Bodgan. “Just the stuff he does at practice, you don’t think you’ll ever see that from someone on your team. Just the way he opens the game up.” Dare concurs. “In practice, if you get a stop on him, it just boosts your confidence so much. And really it’s the same thing with Griff. If you’re playing with someone that strong, it’s going to help you get better. Our practices are just so hard and so physical, it makes the games and the opponents seem so much easier.”

Given their penchant for emotional play, it isn’t surprising how they instantly answer when I ask them who their favorite player on the team is:

“Far and away, it’s Griff,” says Dare, as Bodgan nods in agreement. "His emotion is just unbelievable. He just plays his heart out every single game. He never quits. His emotion toward the game is just amazing. And he always brings up the other players. If someone is in a slump, he just picks them up. He’s such a leader.”

There’s a pause in the conversation, and then out of nowhere, Dare decides to let the Times Union have it. “One thing that’s been bothering me is the whole Suburban vs. Big 10 thing. I know the Big 10 has dominated Section 2 for a while now, but it frustrates me that we seem to get no respect in the rankings. I know it doesn’t mean anything, but still.”

It’s the most dead-serious comment I’ve gotten from either of them about anything, and I use the opportunity to shift topics. Crossing my fingers and not knowing what to expect, I turn their attention to the Maginn game.

“Utterly frustrating,” Bodgan offers after thinking for about 5 seconds. I’m not sure if he’s going to say anything else, but then he does. “We actually played a good game. We accomplished our goals on offense, and we held Battle in check for most of the game. But he just made some shots late. Our defense wasn’t up to par. And we were definitely annoyed by the final play. We tried doing it at practice – stealing the ball, dribbling to the hoop and shooting a layup in 3 seconds – and we didn’t think it was possible.”

Dare was even more direct. “One word to describe my feelings after the game: frightened. That was just a scary locker room. People were really mad. But Coach Holmes calmed us down. He just said there was nothing we could do about it, so we can’t let it affect us going forward. That actually really set the tone. We could have gotten down about it for a long time.”

As it turned out, they did bounce back quickly, beating Niskayuna 55-53 the following Tuesday, although they did blow a 14-point lead in the 4th quarter, a recurring problem this season.

“Turnovers have been absolutely key for us this year,” suggest Dare. Against Lasalle, we were just throwing it away. We couldn’t execute our pressbreak. It was just terrible. At Nisky, it was more the pressure than anything else. But we have to improve.”

Bogdan then suggests that they are working hard on it. “Nonstop in practice. We put in some new pressbreaks, and we’re really focusing in on the turnovers.” And ever since that point in the season, it has gotten better: for five straight games now, the press breaking has been good and the turnovers – particularly the unforced throwaways – have been way down.

Bodgan credits Coach Holmes.“He’s a great teacher. He can yell, but he usually stays calm. He doesn’t get angry, he just tells us what we have to do and lets us go to it. And that works well with this team, I think.”

Dare thinks for a moment and then adds a counterpoint. “Sometimes he tries to motivate us by getting all fired up. At halftime during the BHBL game, we were only up 19-18 and he really worked us over. It definitely got me going, and I think it really got the team going. We ended up winning by 14. But don’t get the wrong impression, he’s definitely not a drill sergeant. I think he really likes how the team has bonded, and that we joke around and all.”

These two? Joke around? They’ve only been needling each other and telling gossip stories for half an hour at this point. It’s enough to make me wonder how they ever manage to bring the intensity to the court that they do. I try to pry a bit deeper.

“We like to joke around on the bus before the game,” explains Dare. “And maybe even a little bit during the JV game. But you should see how the attitude changes when we head into the locker room. From then on, it’s all business. And I mean all business.”

But joke around they do. Three times during the interview, Bogdan takes us “off the record” because he’s just dying to tell a funny story from the season but isn’t sure how it will look in print.

I steer the conversation back to the pasta party they had mentioned earlier, hoping to get some more insight about the social dynamics of the team. Before I can even ask a question, they both look at each other and start laughing. This should be good.

“Well, it was Griff’s birthday, and his mom get him a zing-o-gram,” explained Bodgan. “It was a fake cop. So there was this knock at the door and then all of sudden there’s this cop demanding to search everyone for who knows what, and no one has any idea what was going on. It was unreal. You should have seen the look on Griff’s face. Priceless.”

“Then this guy dressed like a referee comes in and starts rapping,” adds Dare. “It’s funny because before the season started we weren’t quite sure how the two grades were going to interact, because the seniors were really tight and the juniors were really tight too. But now it’s just one big thing. It’s awesome.”

“It’s those kind of things that make the season really fun,” adds Bodgan, who starts to add some more juicy details before (wisely) opting to shift the conversation off the record again. More fodder for the gossip column.

The interview has now gone on for an hour, but neither of them show any signs of slowing down. Then all of a sudden Bodgan looks up at the clock, sees the time, and says, “Oh, crap, we gotta get going Ryan. We’re going to be late.” They're out of the cafeteria in a flash, and just like that the interview is over. I look down at the timer on my ipod. Sixty-seven minutes. Wow.

Three hours later, I’m sitting in the bleachers at Saratoga. For the first time all season, Shaker is using a 1-3-1 trap press, and Holmes sends Bodgan in to stand at the point and hound the ball. The 6th man has broken into an extended “Boooogggg-daaaan!” chant. I look over at the bench. Dare is smiling. The ref hands the ball to the 'toga player. I look back at Bogdan. I can see it in his eyes. The atmosphere is getting to him, and this is his chance.
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