The key to the most entertaining thing in college basketball right now can be found in Monmouth junior Greg Noack’s right sock.
It is there that he keeps a small call sheet that informs the Monmouth basketball bench mob -- better known as “The Hawks’ Nest” -- as to what its next celebration will be.
Should it be the crowd favorite, The Trophy Fish? Or maybe the Heart Attack? The scissor legs? Or maybe just the classic hawk impersonations?
They’ve acted out all of these (and more) on the sideline after stellar dunks or buzzer-beating 3s. They've put the standard clapping and cheering to shame -- and with it, gained a fair amount of fame and following for their creative celebrations.
Monmouths bench mob is my spirit animal— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) November 28, 2015
Officially, there are four members of the bench mob -- the ringleaders, Dan Pillari and Noack, as well as Tyler Robinson and Louie Pillari (Dan's cousin). And yes, the Hawks’ Nest has as in-depth a playbook for their sideline celebrations as the Hawks do for what happens between the baskets.
It all began in mid-November during the team’s season opening win at UCLA, when Dan Pillari noticed that the cameras zoomed in on the bench mob when they were, as he put it, “going nuts.” Actually, they was just being themselves, celebrating great plays in an upset over a Power 5 opponent.
"We were like, 'We’ve got to run with this,' " Dan recalled. " 'We can do some funny stuff.' "
So they met in Dan’s hotel room and began to discuss.
The “bench mob” had been done before. But how could they do it best? How could they actually feed energy onto the court?
They could shoot arrows like Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games." They could re-enact dunks using themselves as hoops. Was there any way to bring football and baseball into it? How could they convince fans that they were, in fact, a group of fishermen holding a prized fish for a photo op? Would people pay attention if they just passed out in front of the bench?
The four then staged bench meetings following their scout team meetings to discuss possibilities for the upcoming game. In total, they have upward of 23 celebrations to pull from. On any given night, they might go into a game with 12 or 13 in their back pockets. And sometimes they might throw it all to the wind and let improv rule the celebration.
Monmouth (4-2) upset No. 17 Notre Dame on Thanksgiving, then finished third at the Advocare Invitational and earned the program’s first-ever AP Top 25 votes this week.
Through all of this, Monmouth coach King Rice hasn’t stepped in once. He has one rule: As long as they aren’t taunting an opponent, he’s fine with the dead fish and defibrillators.
“I tell everybody on our team that everybody’s role is as important as everyone else’s, whether you’re the last guy or the first guy,” Rice said after the Hawks’ win over USC on Sunday. “That’s their role, to get us going on the bench and having the bench involved in the game. This is a new age, how kids are and they’re having a blast. I truly think it helps our team.”
And this is a newer position for most of the bench mob.
Noack, who’s sitting out due to concussion symptoms, played 27 games during his freshman season. The other three, all walk-ons, were starters in high school and all-conference selections.
“It’s not fun to not be on the court and contributing, but when you are on the bench you have one job and that’s to support everyone else as much as possible,” Noack said. “For us, it’s to go nuts and create an energy that’s easily transferable throughout the entire team.”
Now, the Hawks' Nest is hard at work conjuring up new and improved ways to support their teammates and bring a bit more fun to basketball. So, what exactly do they have planned in order to up the ante for Friday’s clash with Canisius?
“We might bring people back to the past,” Dan said, “with some medieval celebrations.”
The ball is in your court (or, sideline rather), Hawks' Nest. We’re just along for the ride.