As much as its undefeated football team has summoned the glory days of Vince Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite and bygone bids to the Sugar and Cotton Bowls, Fordham often defines its athletic standing by the success, or lack thereof, of its men's basketball team. In that context, Wednesday represents a big day for the Bronx school trying to emerge from the deepest depths of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Eric Paschall, a 6-foot-6 wing at Connecticut's St. Thomas More Prep, is scheduled to make it official in signing with the Rams to give their coach, Tom Pecora, the kind of one-two recruiting punch some believe the Bronx school hasn't landed in decades. Like Paschall, Fordham freshman Jon Severe, a Parade All-American and Mr. New York Basketball out of Christ the King Regional High School in Queens, was pursued by bigger schools in bigger conferences before deciding to try to revive a Division I program close to home.
Tom Konchalski, the widely respected talent evaluator who produces the scouting newsletter HSBI Report, said Severe and Paschall represent Fordham's most promising package of recruits since it landed future NBA players Kenny Charles and Charlie Yelverton in the late 1960s.
"And you have to give Tom Pecora a lot of credit for getting them," Konchalski said. "These are signature recruits, the foundation of a program. They're the kind of kids who can raise Fordham a level in the Atlantic 10 and give them a real chance to win in that league. ... When Paschall committed verbally, I didn't know if Fordham would be able to hold on to that commitment. He can play at the highest level."
Paschall's future teammate, Severe, scored 28 in Fordham's season-opening victory over St. Francis (Pa.); the 6-3 guard scored 19 Tuesday night in the Rams' 89-74 loss at Syracuse. Paschall transferred to St. Thomas More from Dobbs Ferry, where he gave a verbal commitment last year that surprised those who figured he'd end up in the Big East or Big Ten.
"Eric could've signed with a school in any of those conferences," said his father, Juan. "But he established a great relationship with the Fordham coaches, it's close to where we live and, after the air comes out of the ball, a Fordham degree carries a lot of weight in the New York area. There's no better place to win than in New York, and I think Eric and Jon Severe will have Fordham winning a lot sooner than later."
Said Eric, who has a 6-10 wingspan: "It's great to go somewhere 15 minutes from my house, and I think we can turn the program around quickly."