ESPN’s Jay Bilas to appear in Project Unfurl, a multi-part docu-series by filmmaker Mike Camoin, St. Bonaventure ’88
What does the heart of Bonaventure basketball mean to you?
That’s the question that filmmaker Mike Camoin, St. Bonaventure class of 1988, hopes to answer in Project Unfurl. This documentary series will detail St. Bonaventure basketball’s history, character, and camaraderie.
Camoin first discovered his love of storytelling while sitting in Dr. James Martine’s early morning English class during the fall semester of 1984.
Nicknamed “Big Daddy,” Camoin considers Martine, who passed away in 2021, as one of his most influential mentors.
“He was this big and loving guy with a tremendous sense of humor,” Camoin noted. “He loved life, but he also loved and understood the power of the written word. And you know, that’s when you start to become a storyteller that shapes a story.
“So I boil it down to that. It’s a lot about moving words around to help tell a story. And that developed by taking his classes and other classes at Bonnies. Did I mention how Dr. Martine was a huge Bonnies fan too?
Of course, he was.
Following his retirement from the English department in 2001, Martine spent five years as a statistician for the men’s basketball team.
As all Bonnies know, the basketball team connects students, faculty, staff, alums, and the greater Olean community. It’s a special bond and a story that needs to be told.
So in 2018, when Camoin returned to the Enchanted Mountains for his 30-year reunion, he began to map out a vision of telling the story of St. Bonaventure basketball.
“I came back for my reunion. And by then, St. Bonaventure had been through the gauntlet with the scandal, but it recovered,” Camoin noted. “We had just made it back to the NCAA’s, and we beat UCLA [in the First Four]. The question that came to my mind was, how did we do this? The University was on the brink of disappearing. You heard things as alumni about how we were financially in a terrible state.”
In 1992, Camoin began studying documentary filmmaking in New York City. It’s here where Camoin discovers the idea of moving images around, similar to the power of juxtaposing different words on a page to create an emotional impact on an audience.
“I go to New York, and I was moonlighting in this career that hooked me,” he recalled. “And every good story starts with a hypothesis, right? So the question is, how did we do this? That then led to the question of, what does the heart of Bonaventure basketball mean to you? In asking people that question, and hearing different answers, that started to help shape how this story might be structured.”
Camoin bumped into his fellow classmate Colette Dow ’88 at this reunion, who served on the Board of Trustees at St. Bonaventure in the 2000s.
“I told her, this is what I am thinking of doing,” Camoin recalled. “She then said, ‘well, Mike, I was on the board when we were determining whether or not the University would move to Division III. It was called Project Bluebird.'”
The scandal that rocked the University in the early 2000s created a very trying and emotional time for everyone involved with St. Bonaventure. The future of the University was at stake, and the heartbeat that makes St. Bonaventure shine—the storied basketball program—could no longer exist.
But St. Bonaventure—the little engine that could—just kept on chugging along as it barely survived a declining enrollment, a dwindling endowment, and disappointing performances in athletics.
And by 2012, less than a decade after Jan van Breda Kloff, Gothard Lane, and Robert Wickenheiser had embarrassed this small Franciscan institution, St. Bonaventure was back in the national spotlight at the NCAA Tournament. The Bonnies won the 2012 Atlantic 10 Tournament, led by senior forward Andrew Nicholson, thus earning the conference’s automatic bid for the first time.
The NCAA gave the Brown and White a 14-seed that year, and “the little engine that could” almost knocked off 3-seed Florida State in the first round. The Seminoles were a Final Four contender that season.
But how could little St. Bonaventure possibly do this?
It did not happen overnight.
Instead, the foundation of St. Bonaventure has strengthened for over a century.
Hence the importance of going from Project Bluebird to Project Unfurl.
Camoin’s documentary series is well underway, as the Wappinger Falls, New York native has traversed the country to conduct almost 40 interviews. He’s not done yet, as he plans to interview more Bonnies, players, coaches, and community members in 2023.
But what’s most important about these interviews, dialogues, and conversations is capturing the essence of those Bonnies that came before us.
Sam Stith ’60, Larry Weise ’58, and Fred Handler, all of whom are St. Bonaventure Hall of Famers, have important stories to share to help us understand the early keys to Bonaventure’s success. They also helped lay the foundation of Bonaventure basketball for future generations.
And unfortunately, these legends will not be with us forever.
This past year, we lost Bob Lanier ’70, the greatest Bonnie of them all, an NBA Hall-of-Famer, and the man whose court at the Reilly Center bears his name.
But thankfully for Camoin and his team, Project Unfurl interviewed Lanier in December 2019, following a Bonaventure-Hofstra game, during which the 1970 Final Four team was celebrated.
“I had two interns with me at the time. So I said to the others, ‘we have to go over and talk to Lanier,” Camoin recalled. “You know, it’s intimidating to take up somebody’s time, especially when everybody else wants to meet this person. And here I am with the camera, and I am asking for 90 seconds, of which I know I will want more.
“In looking back at the footage, I think to myself, ‘what an eloquent speaker this guy is!’ He didn’t hesitate to articulate what the heart of Bonaventure basketball means to him. You will see what he had to say in the series. But as a whole, all of these interviews speak to this brotherhood that comes through year after year, which is the foundation of this basketball program.”
The Bonaventure brotherhood extends far and wide, fully displayed in putting this project together.
Camoin has roughly a dozen interns who help develop questions, shoot film for b-roll, and schedule and record interviews.
But his team extends much farther than that.
Camoin has the support of Chris LaPlaca ’79, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at ESPN. He also has received guidance from Mike Vaccaro ’89, a columnist at the New York Post. Rayna Banks ’03, a Senior Managing Producer in ESPN’s investigative unit, has also provided her expertise to Project Unfurl. Banks’ time at Bonaventure began with the Bonnies suffering a brutal double-overtime defeat to Kentucky in the 2000 NCAA Tournament and ended with the aforementioned scandal.
Eric Handler, whose father Fred is featured in Project Unfurl, has helped Camoin by reaching out to old-timers and developing lists of questions. Handler works as the Vice President of Communications for the YES Network.
Many others have contributed to this project, and you can too by supporting Project Unfurl here.
Welcome to the official PROJECT UNFURL Twitter! Our story dives deep into the Heart of Bona’s Basketball and transcends generations. Follow us as we build an unstoppable fandom across the nation like only a documentary can. Click the link in our bio. Join the journey! pic.twitter.com/Ewa1IsceVA
— ProjectUnfurl (@ProjectUnfurl) October 11, 2022
And that’s what makes St. Bonaventure special. Everyone supports one another by rooting for their beloved Bonnies, both on and off the basketball court.
So when you ask yourself, what does the heart of Bonaventure basketball mean to you, what do you think of? Do you think of hanging out at The Burton before a big game with friends and family? Or about how this small University took over the city of Charleston in 2021? Or maybe, it’s sitting around the television with your loved ones watching the Brown and White hit the floor.
Whatever it may be, this small school, one of the smallest Division I schools in the country, is quite extraordinary. The story of its basketball program needs to be told as it reaches every fabric of the school. By the time this series is finalized—hopefully by 2024—we can all watch and cherish the history of this institution. Perhaps incoming freshmen will view this at their orientation too.
Either way, Project Unfurl will keep the Bonaventure legacy going on forever, which is important considering we all only have so much time left.
Jack Milko is a current graduate student at St. Bonaventure University. He will graduate with an M.A. in Sports Journalism in May 2023. He also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter @Jack_Milko.