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BONA, CANISIUS SHOULD BE RIVALS WITHOUT A PAUSE

In 82 years, nothing has ever been black and white when it comes to Canisius and St. Bonaventure. Instead, everything is a shade of gray.

Though the propaganda promotes a healthy competitive relationship between the two Catholic schools, one Jesuit and one Franciscan, the men's basketball rivalry has been contemptuous since they started playing each other in 1919.

So the latest chapter really isn't surprising. Just disappointing.

It's a complicated tale, but basically, for various reasons, the Bonnies will not be making their previously scheduled trip to the Koessler Center to play Canisius on Dec. 15.

Instead, Bona will be at home, playing Davidson.

At the most basic level, St. Bonaventure is wrong. The schools signed a contract in June to play in the Koessler Center on Dec. 15. About one month before the season begins, Bona reneged and left Canisius high and dry.

Yes, creating a basketball schedule is a more difficult task than the general public can imagine, but you don't break a contract on an 82-year-old rivalry at that late a date. It's wrong.

But over the course of time, all members of the former Little Three -- Bona, Canisius and Niagara -- have committed their share of dumb, insensitive and self-centered mistakes. It's the pettiness that makes a rivalry so much fun -- and keeps it on the fragile brink of existence.

But before the finger pointing and chest pumping degenerate into a season-long my-school-is-better-than-your-school argument, take a moment to learn a lesson from Philadelphia's Big 5.

Once upon a time, it was the essence of college basketball -- the series of games among Temple, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Penn and Villanova.

From 1955 until 1987, the schools played a round-robin tournament with games at the Palestra, but Temple and Villanova wanted their home games in their own gyms and so the games moved to campus sites.

Then in 1991, Villanova became the villain. The Wildcats abandoned the Big 5 because of Big East scheduling requirements and their annual drive to make the NCAA Tournament.

"Traditions have a way of phasing out, with others coming in," then-Temple President Peter J. Liacouras told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1991. "It's a matter of making sense of all this and coming up with something useful. In many ways, maybe the fans can help us, by letting us know what appeals to them."

The fans wanted the Big 5 back in its original format and after an eight-year hiatus, the Philadelphia schools renewed the round-robin games. The Big 5 standings have returned along with games at the Palestra. There's the year-end championship and an official Web site and lots of hype and hoopla among the players and fans.

The Little Three was never close to being as formal as the Big 5, but the concept is the same. St. Bonaventure has different, and presumably tougher, scheduling requirements dictated by its Atlantic 10 Conference than Canisius and Niagara do by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. St. Bonaventure, like Villanova, is often viewed as the school putting individual needs above tradition, above what's best for the community as a whole.

But Bona, like Villanova, can redeem itself.

Villanova made the push to return to the Big 5, thanks in large part to former Wildcat coach Steve Lappas, who moved to Massachusetts this season. It was Villanova's strong interest that made the whole thing happen, along with a willingness of the other schools to sit down and work out all their issues.

While people on both sides of the Bona-Canisius divide are up in arms over this season's schedule, the real fear is not what eliminating the game means now -- it's what it could potentially mean in the future. Drop the game once and it becomes relatively easy and painless to drop it again . . . and again and again.

Hopefully, it won't take the Bonnies eight years to step up to the plate like Villanova and find a way to preserve a tradition too unique to lose to self-interest.

Stay-at-home guard

Sonia Ortega had finally gotten her golden opportunity -- a chance to play basketball professionally when she signed a contract to play in Israel, a country surprisingly noted for its top level of women's basketball.

But after the attacks of Sept. 11, the former University at Buffalo guard, with her family in Mexico, decided not to play.

"She was scheduled to leave the week of the attacks and I got an e-mail from her that Thursday," UB coach Cheryl Dozier said. "She was still discussing it with her parents, but it looked like she was not going to go based on security issues. It's unfortunate because she worked her butt off all spring and summer for this opportunity.

"I had concerns when she first had the opportunity because of that part of the world. But she said that she put her life in the hands of God and that it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. I talked with some people over there and they said she'd be near the university, which is the safest part of Jerusalem. But after the latest attacks, she decided not to go and you can't blame her. Your health and security have got to come first."

Ortega will most likely stay with her family in Mexico and possibly return to UB next season as a graduate assistant.

In her final two years with the Bulls, she started every game. Ortega ended her collegiate career second all-time at UB in steals (251), third in assists (451) and 11th in rebounds (579). Her junior year, she set the school's single-season record for assists with 188.

Meanwhile, former Niagara standouts Sheryl Klick and Amy Getman have landed professional gigs in Western Europe.

Both were playing in the English Basketball League for Rhondda Rebels in Wales, but because of rules limiting the number of American players, Getman left and is now playing in Luxembourg. She has rights to German citizenship and is waiting for her German passport in order to rejoin Klick in Wales.

Klick, who played professionally in Turkey last season, had 22 points, six assists, six steals and five rebounds in Rhondda's season-opening win last weekend.

"This team did very well last year, winning the English Cup and English League, so there are many expectations this year," Klick said by e-mail. "The competition isn't as high as in Turkey, but I am still enjoying playing. . . . It is nice to be in a country where everyone speaks English. It's much easier to get around."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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