Shtick On The Sidelines: College Basketball's Most Famous Bench The men's basketball team at Monmouth University has been scoring upset victories. But it's the team's bench players who have been making the highlight reels with their choreographed celebrations.
NPR logo

Shtick On The Sidelines: College Basketball's Most Famous Bench

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460784598/460784599" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Shtick On The Sidelines: College Basketball's Most Famous Bench

Shtick On The Sidelines: College Basketball's Most Famous Bench

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460784598/460784599" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And Renee, this next story's going to take me back to a very painful time in my life - my little league days. My mom was the coach of our little league team, and she benched me all the time. And went to her and I said, mom, you're probably just doing this because you don't want to make it look like you're playing favorites. And she said, no, David, you're being benched because we need to win (laughter).

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Oh, David.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: It hurt.

MONTAGNE: Is that true? Yes or no?

GREENE: A hundred percent, I swear.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter). Well, it turns out benched players can steal the spotlight. They're doing it at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. The basketball team there is off to a hot start, and their benchwarmers have been winning fans and fame with their over-the-top, elaborately choreographed celebrations. Here's NPR's Kevin Leahy.

KEVIN LEAHY, BYLINE: Like a lot of great teams, Monmouth's bench guys can give you a variety of different looks.

DAN PILLARI: We got the pirate ship, trophy fish, heart attack. We got some new ones.

LEAHY: Sophomore guard Dan Pillari opens up the celebration playbook.

D. PILLARI: The joust.

LOUIE PILLARI: It's, like, me and another one of the other kids are - we're horses.

LEAHY: That's Dan's cousin and teammate, Louie Pillari.

L. PILLARI: And then, like, Dan goes on the other kid's backs and then Tyler goes on my back, and we, like, joust.

LEAHY: Like a medieval equestrian duel right there on the sideline in the middle of the game. Along with Tyler Robinson and Greg Noack, Dan and Louie form what USA Today called the best bench in basketball. They meet before games and bounce around new ideas for celebrations.

D. PILLARI: And we write them down on a list. And Greg Noack keeps the list in his sock. He'll look at his sock real quick and be like, next big moment, this is what we're doing. So during a game against Rutgers, when Monmouth drained a big three-pointer, three guys dropped to their knees and reared up like horses. A fourth was in the back holding what looked like imaginary reins.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: I don't - I don't understand what went on over on the bench after that three-point shot.

LEAHY: The TV announcer was not feeling it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: I didn't understand that routine.

LEAHY: OK, it was supposed to be Santa's sleigh pulled by reindeer. They can't all be winners. But Dan Pillari says the key is to commit 100 percent.

D. PILLARI: When Tyler Robinson improvised in Florida, he died on the court. He was fully dead - closed his eyes. I was over - I was over his body crying, like, getting really into it.

LEAHY: And they keep it topical, too. Over the weekend, the guys reenacted a famous light saber battle from "Star Wars." These antics, which are shared across social media in the form of Vines and gifs, have led to a ton of media attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPORTSCENTER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is SportsCenter.

LEAHY: And by the way, it helps that their teammates have been getting it done on the court with a handful of high-profile victories. The bench guys have played charades on national TV. They've got their own twitter handle, @MonmouthBench. And the NCAA says, as long as they stay off the court, it's all just in good fun.

GREG NOACK: I mean, we're just all really good friends, to be honest.

LEAHY: This is Greg Noack. Remember the guy who keeps the list in his sock? He says his coach loves the shtick, and so do his teammates.

NOACK: It's really easy to feed off of that and to create energy for someone else that, like, you're just - you love them so much. And it's just like, man, I just want to support you. So it's really easy.

LEAHY: We were chatting a few hours before a really big game against Georgetown. And later that night, as Monmouth cruised to victory over the Hoyas, the benchwarmers revealed their masterpiece - a reenactment of a real-life masterpiece.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Sistine Chapel.

LEAHY: Dan Pillari's teammates picked him up and held him out horizontally. He outstretched an armed towards Noach, who was lounging on the hardwood. The two then extended their index fingers, just barely connecting. Yes, Michelangelo's famous painting, "The Creation Of Adam." The routine made Fox Sports One's post-game highlight reel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: When are they going to run out of ideas?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: But they're not because they're college students.

LEAHY: And there's a long season ahead. Kevin Leahy, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.