There are several questions that you’ll ask yourself when attending a Manhattan Jaspers basketball game. The first question everyone asks is “What’s a Jasper?”. Well, the team nickname is derived from Brother Jasper, who was credited with bringing baseball to Manhattan College’s campus in the late 19th century. He served as the first baseball coach of the university, and according to campus lore, was the creator of the seventh inning stretch. The story goes something like this; Brother Jasper also served as the head of discipline for the University and would police the student fans in the stands at home games. He noticed during one game that the students were getting restless during the seventh inning of a close game . He called timeout and ordered the students to stand up and stretch in order to alleviate the tension. Since Manhattan played the New York Giants regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City, the tradition stuck in the major leagues and continues to this day.
The second question you might ask is “Why is Manhattan College located in the Bronx?”. The answer is the school started up in Manhattan in 1853, but outgrew its facilities there, and moved to the Riverdale section of the Bronx in 1922. The campus area feels more like a suburb instead of being in New York City.
The Jaspers have a history of good basketball teams. Manhattan has made the NCAA Tournament six times, advancing to the second round twice; once in 1995 after beating Oklahoma and again in 2004 after beating Florida. The team currently plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and has local rivalries with Iona and Marist. Becoming the Jaspers head coach has been a good springboard to bigger jobs for several coaches. The school can count Bobby Gonzalez, Fran Fraschilla and Steve Lappas as coaches who advanced to a Big East head coaching position straight from Manhattan. The Jaspers are currently coached by Steve Masiello, who was Rick Pitino’s head assistant coach at Louisville.
Draddy Gymnasium, the Jaspers home court, is named after Vincent dePaul Draddy, a college football hall of famer. He was a Manhattan graduate, and a trophy is given out yearly by the National Football Foundation in his honor to the college football player who has the best combination of academics, community service and on-field performance.
Let’s stretch out here, and take a closer look at Draddy Gymnasium, the home of the Jaspers.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
None of the concession offerings jump off the page, but the fare has some variety and the prices are low (you can get a bottle of Coke and a soft pretzel for $5, for example). In an effort to offer more healthy selections at a sporting event, you can buy an apple or a banana at the snack bar for $1. They're labeled as "hand fruits". If you feel like a sandwich, the school offers a variety of "grab and go" sandwiches for $5.
Draddy Gymnasium has a very intimate atmosphere, but is in a very large building. The gym seats 2,345 for basketball, but Draddy Gym itself has a full track, batting cages and a basketball arena all under the same roof. One of the coolest things about seeing a game there is when you're walking in, the Jaspers cheerleaders are lined up behind the ticket-taker, and actually cheer you like a player when you're walking in. The gym has bleacher seating behind both baskets, with the students and the pep band taking up one of those sections. Between the hoops, you have chair-backed seating on one side, with bleacher seating on the other. There is a center-hung scoreboard, and a crystal-clear replay screen on each side of the gym. When the Jaspers are playing in a rivalry game against a local opponent, the students come out in force and make it an exciting atmosphere. The Jaspers have a dance team that performs during timeouts and halftime.
The campus of Manhattan College is very colonial-looking and quite handsome. The neighborhood surrounding the campus has nice apartment buildings and single-family homes. The area around the subway station that services the campus does not share these same characteristics, however. There are a few fast food places around campus (Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King) and a good diner on Riverdale Avenue (The Riverdale Diner) that is open 24 hours. If you're looking for a drink after the game, check out The Punch Bowl on 238th Street, a good Irish pub that won't kill your wallet if you're having more than one. If you like the microbrews, check out The Bronx Ale House, also on 238th Street. They have hundreds of beers and really good wings.
The fans that come to Jaspers games are passionate about the home team. The crowd is a diverse mix of students, alumni, college basketball fans and, since most of the players are local, a good representation of family and friends. A Jaspers game is very much a PG atmosphere, and I wouldn't hesitate to take a kid to a game. In fact, with all the area to run around inside of the gym, most kids are racing each other on the track or diving into the foam pit that the gymnastics team uses behind the bleachers. The students did storm the court after their win against local rival Iona, but it was a double-overtime game and it was nationally televised, so it wasn't beyond reason for them to do so.
If you're walking to Draddy Gymnasium from the subway stop on 242nd Street, bring an oxygen tank or a sherpa. You will have a long climb up several sets of stairs just to get to the front door of the gym. Even if you are in really good shape, you will likely be winded from that walk. The school could do a better job of marking where the gym is located when you enter campus. You sort of have to follow the crowd to know where you're going. There is on-site parking, and I didn't see them charging for it, but the lot is small and there did not appear to be a lot of nearby off-street parking.
It is typical to overpay for everything in New York City, but Jaspers tickets are quite a deal. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 12. There is usually a giveaway of some sort, so you might end up with a frisbee or a free t-shirt included. The Jaspers offer good Division 1 basketball, and a family of four gets in for $30. That's cheaper than the movies, and a great way to spend a Friday night in New York City. The concessions won't break the bank, either. $50 gets everyone a ticket, a soft pretzel and soda each.
Four stars are given for the unique setup of the arena, the cheerleaders cheering you when you walk in, the very fair prices and the friendliness of everyone who works at Draddy Gym.
New York City may have better-known venues to watch basketball games, but a trip to Riverdale to watch the Jaspers is worth your time. It may be out of the way of the bright lights and big city, but it's a beautiful campus and a special place to see really good basketball.
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