As the 2019 Big East Tournament swings into the Semifinals, a new generation of young players gets to experience the aura of Madison Square Garden. Should the players feel the jitters, they are not alone. The stars who came before them know what they are going through.
Even as a college player, John Wallace carried himself in a way that seemed beyond his years. Leading his teammates, he possessed a reservoir of cool in the most pressurized spots. Still, playing at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament for the first time in 1993 stopped him cold.
“The air in The Garden makes you breathe differently,” says Wallace, who was the Knicks’ first round pick in 1996. “You know how in Denver the air is thin. In New York, the air is thick. That’s how it is at The Garden. There is an energy that is like nothing else.”
As the 2019 Big East Tournament heads into the semi-final round Friday night, a new generation of players is getting to sense this firsthand. With teams of cheerleaders and busloads of boosters on hand for each school, the Big East Tournament played at The Garden somehow blends the feel of an old-time college field house with big city intensity and glamour.
Villanova, the favorite and looking for a third straight Big East championship, will play No. 4 Xavier in a 6:30 p.m. game. No. 2 Marquette and No. 3 Seton Hall will follow, stepping into spotlight at 9 p.m.
Charles Smith appreciates what these young players are experiencing. Years before he became a Knick, he discovered the pressurized atmosphere of The Garden as a freshman with Pitt in
the 1985 Big East Tournament. “It’s a completely different kind of stage,” he says. “It threw me off. The excitement is high, and I got caught up in it. So did other players. You could even see it in their body language.”
Smith played his last Big East Tournament game in 1988 — the same year he was named conference Player of the Year. “The more you play at The Garden, you get better and better at it,” he says.
As for Wallace, in time he settled down, too. In 1996 he reached the semi-final round. What made the difference?
“My mom,” he says. “She came to the games, and when I looked over and saw her there, in The Garden, all was well.”
About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; and The Chicago Theatre. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA) and the New York Rangers (NHL); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com