Jack Kvancz, Catholic University's athletic director and basketball coach, wrote an article four months ago for the school's alumni newsletter outlining the problems of the basketball program. In it, he asked that anyone with suggestions, comments or complaints write him.
He still is waiting for his first response.
Bill Dankos, a sturdy junior forward for Kvancz's Cardinals, says the relative obscurity in which the basketball team operates on the Catholic campus doesn't bother him too often.
"When I sit down at dinner on a game night and someone asks me if I want to go to the movies that night, it gets to me," Dankos said. "That doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen."
Monday night, Catholic, which operates its basketball program with an annual budget of about $30,000, hosted St. Joseph's of Philadelphia in Brookland Gym. Brookland is a disaster waiting to happen. Johnny Carson could have a field day telling "Brookland Gym is so old" jokes. The place creaks.
"They'll get rid of it someday," Dankos said. "It'll probably just fall down."
On this night about 800 people turned out for the game, meaning the gym was about a third full. The atmosphere was much akin to a high school game, maybe a bit less intense.
The Catholic University of America is not a place one would expect to find top-flight basketball. Its campus off Michigan Avenue in Northeast Washington is dominated by the physical specter of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The school was founded 90 years ago with approval of the pope and to this day is the national Catholic university. Its graduates are priests, teachers, college presidents and philosophers. Some of its most famous alumni are actors, produced by its school of drama. They include Jon Voight, Ed McMahon, Henry Gibson and Pat Carroll.
Conversely, the school's most signifiant basketball player in recent memory, Division II All-America Greg Kolonics, last was seen playing for the Washington Generals, the team that plays patsy for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Every sport on campus, except for basketball, either is played on the club level or Division II or III. This is not a place for those with pro ambitions.
But the Cardinals, who visit Maryland at 8 tonight, play hard-nosed basketball. They play the way their coach lives -- all out. They do not win often but they rarely are embarrased.
There was no reason to think Catholic would beat St. Joseph's, which is bigger, stronger, quicker and faster. CU's home-court advantage was minimal -- except the Hawks could have been so disgusted by the gym it affected them.
But Kvancz was confident.
"If the kids do what they're told to do, we can win the game," he said earlier that day. "We have to play our game to win.But if we do that, we'll be there at the end. That's all I can ask of them."
Kvancz has been asking a lot from his players for five seasons now. He arrived here in 1975, determined to make Catholic a winner. He left his job as an assistant coach at Brown for two basic reasons: Catholic was going to join Division I the following year and the administration told him a new gym was imminent.
At 28 he was confident he would succeed where others had failed.
"If you look around this place there's no reason why we can't recruit," he said. "We've got a tremendous school academically. This is a nice campus, the people here are good people. It all comes down to the damn facility."
"Damn facility," is about the nicest term Kvancz will use when the subject of Brookland comes up. He readily admits that he feels let down by the school's administration, that he expected to have a gym by now and finds it stupefying that he still doesn't have a firm commitment that one will be built.
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am," he said. "When I started recruiting here I told kids a new gym was imminent because that's what I'd been led to believe. Now, I've stopped telling them that because I don't believe it anymore. And I'm not going to be a liar."
No one will ever call Jack Kvancz a liar. A native of Connecticut and a graduate of Boston College, he is as honest and straightforward as anyone you could meet. At 32, his face still is youthful even though the lines every college coach seems to develop in his 30s are beginning to ring his face and forehead.
His tone is refreshing, his frankness disarming. A year ago, the Cardinals were 6-20 and seemed to find a thousand ways to blow close ball games. How did Kvancz handle the losses?
"I didn't, I handled it lousy if not at all. It affected everything I did. It affected my family life. I became completely introverted.
"For the first time in my life, I separated myself from my team. They became 'they' instead of 'we.' They were losing, not me. I blamed the kids, I was supercritical.
"Finally, one day I just walked into the locker room, threw out a case of beer and said, 'The hell with practice.' And we talked about it all. Since then, I think I've figured out how to handle it better."
Externally perhaps. Internally, never. Kvancz already has an ulcer and does little to take care of it, smoking cigars, drinking beer and generally losing his cool during close games.
And Catholic plays most of its games very close. Monday night's 68-67 double-overtime win over St. Joe's was a prime example.
"We played a perfect game," Kvancz said when it was over, "except we didn't make any free throws." The missed foul shots prevented the Cardinals from wrapping up a game they appeared to have won with four minutes left.
"Jack is one hell of a coach," said Richmond Coach Lou Goetz, a friend. "He steals a couple every year and there's always a couple more he keeps them in, which may be just as important as the wins. He's given the school a competitive team."
The St. Joe's game was vintage Catholic. The Cardinals jumped ahead fairly early and were able to stay in their zone and walk the ball up court. And during the final 10 minutes of regulation and both overtimes they were able to put the ball in the hands of Donnie Farrell, their point guard whiz.
It took the Cardinals every second of the 50 minutes to pull the upset of St. Joe's. The game ended with the Hawks missing two shots just before the buzzer and Dankos finally yanking the rebound and falling to the floor with the ball as time ran out.
Kvancz, who had called almost every play from the bench, was on the court the second the buzzer went off soaking wet with perspiration, his straight brown hair hanging in strands, trying to embrace his entire team and his assistant coach, Ed McNamara, all at once.
The victory raised Catholic's record to 2-3, the wins at home, the losses on the road to Harvard, Holy Cross and Rider. Some wonder why Kvancz doesn't play more games against the likes of St. Anselm's and the College of Staten Island instead of going on the road to play Maryland (tonight), Jacksonville, South Florida and Richmond.
We're still searching for an identity," Kvancz said, sipping one of at least six cups of coffee he will drink in a day. "We're really not a southern school, I don't think our alumni identify with southern schools.
"But with our gym, I can't get anyone except my good friends to play me home and home. Why should they play me here? So, I have to play them on the road. And it is tough to win on the road. But I'm convinced that if I could play these guys home and home, I could compete with them."
As for the game with Maryland, and games the last two years with Clemson, Kvancz says once is enough. "I don't see any reason t play a team like that once in a season.It's good for us financially and it's a memory for the kids to take away with them. To play an ACC school is something, you know. And the way I look at it, come Saturday night I'm going to have a hell of a lot better chance to beat Maryland than someone who isn't playing them."
Kvancz's players, to a man, support the tough schedule.
"One of the reasons I came here was because I knew I would get to play against good teams," said Farrell, an art major. "Playing against a Holy Cross and a St. Joe's is fun. We were two down to Holy Cross in their gym with three minutes left. That tells me that we can play. You can't really find out about yourself playing a bunch of Division I school."
Kvancz's best record at CU was 13-13 two seasons ago. That was considered something of a minor miracle. He thinks he can do better than that eventually -- but only with a new gym. But he may never see a new building.
"The general feeling of the administration is that we want a new facility," said Father Roger McGrath, a spokesman for the university development office. "But exactly when that will happen, we don't know. It depends on when we can get the funds."
McGrath said unless something out of the ordinary appearing unexpectedly, for example, it probably will be at least another two years before ground is broken on the gym and probably two years beyond that before it opens.
"You can take a guy around campus, you can show him all the good places, tell him what a great guy the coach is, show them every reason Catholic is a good place," Dankos said. Eventually, though, you have to show them this place. Very often, they look at it and say, 'you want me to play in this?'"
Kvancz admits he is discouraged by the administration's lack of movement, but he is not ready to give up. His reputation as a coach is such that he could have left Catholic several times in the past. But he does not want to leave. He likes the school, the people and the area.
"If I can't get a commitment on the gym soon, I'll have to make a decision," Kvancz said. "I'm not sure what I would do."
His voice says he is not sure but his eyes say he will leave. The competitive fire which burns inside Kvancz is as intense as any ACC coach. After a game he is as exhausted as the players, completely drained emotionally.
But in spite of the struggle he has retained his quick wit and sense of humor. And while he takes his basketball very seriously, a part of him keeps it in perspective, makes it -- at least somewhat -- still a game.
I don't go into every game expecting to win, I go in thinking we can win," he said. "But I try to tell the kids there's a difference between getting beat and losing. If you go out and play your guts out and lose, okay. You take a shower and go have a few beers.
"But if you get beat, the you crawl out of the place. If I don't think they've given me the effort, I bury them. They know I'll do it. All I ask is that they make the effort. They don't have to win, necessarily, just give me the effort. To me, that's more important than winning or losing.
"I'm not saying I don't die when we lose because I do. I still want to go after it . I want this team, this school to succeed. I still think it can."
There is no quit in Kvancz and that is the way his team plays. It goes after it. But the new gym -- if there is to be one -- is still years away. The Cardinals will play good teams on the road and Kvancz's friends in tiny, dirty musty Brookland.
"If we don't get the gym, we might very well lost Jack," Father McGrath said. "Personally, I think that would be a shame, although I could understand why he might want to make the move."
Kvancz knows that alumni and campus interest in his team is minimal -- at best. But the glow on his players faces as they romped around their tiny locker room after the St. Joe's win makes it easy to understand why he wants to stay. He wants more nights like Monday.
What's more, buried way down deep -- way down -- is the idea that some night it will truly all come together and a headline -- "Catholica Stuns Maryland" -- will appear in local papers.
"If that happens, if we could do that, I swear there wouldn't be enough Budweiser here, in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia," Kvancz said. "We would just party for as long as we could stand it."
That day may never come. But it it does two things are certain: Kvancz will be responsible and he will live up to his word.
There won't be enough Budweiser.