8:00 AMI just got home from our college basketball road trip and I'm about to go into a three-month hibernation. But before I do, let me share my ten favorite moments from our journey:
Top Ten Highlights from the College Basketball Road Trip
10.) Bob Valvano – ESPN announcer and Louisville, KY resident Bob Valvano was undoubtedly stunned when he spotted us in Northern Iowa. Valvano, who is familiar with our Kentucky blog, asked us how we ended up on press row at the Northern Iowa-Old Dominion game in Cedar Falls, Iowa. We explained our road trip and offered Bob a seat in the car, but he respectfully declined, as he had to catch a flight to Chicago after the game. The next morning, inclimate weather forced us to DePaul where we once again saw a clean, well-rested Bob Valvano. We, on the other hand, hadn’t slept or showered, and were in the same clothes from the night before. Valvano couldn’t believe his eyes.
9.) Kentucky’s Joe Craft Center – Halfway through the drive from Lawrence to Chapel Hill, we stopped by Lexington for a tour of Kentucky’s practice facility. Our good friend Dave Scott showed us around the Craft Center with stops at John Calipari’s office and John Wall’s locker. I (unexpectedly) sat down with Patrick Patterson for an interview after the Wildcats’ practice where I asked him hard-hitting questions like, “Hey what’s up?” and “So, you like basketball, huh?” It was a great afternoon for this lifelong Kentucky fan and one I certainly won’t forget.
8.) Snow, a blessing in disguise. – Snow was a constant theme on the road trip. Though it might seem like snow was out to ruin our trip, I think it was a blessing in disguise. Without snow, #10, #5 and #2 would be absent from this list. Without snow, we make it to Siena-Butler and Matt never writes his controversial column on Rick Pitino. Without snow, there is no sense of danger or 4-hour late night stop at Junie's Diner in Iowa. Would the trip have been better if we stuck to the original schedule? Maybe. But we'll never know. All we do know is snow grabbed us by the balls and re-routed the trip, and we still had one hell of a time.
7.) Entering The Phog - You see it on television and hear all of the hype but it’s hard to really appreciate a game in Kansas’ Phog Allen Fieldhouse until you experience it firsthand. Students make up a vast majority of the lower arena and are unbelievably loud and organized with their cheers. Even the old folks in the crowd stand up and get in on the action. And as much as I want to downplay it, the famous “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant is pretty incredible. I tip my UK hat to you, Kansas.
6.) This-is-SPARTA! Overall, Michigan State was the best stop on the trip. It wasn’t the nicest arena, it wasn’t the loudest crowd, and it wasn’t the best game, but I'd rank our Spartan experience in the top 3 in nearly every category across the board. We had a fun Saturday night in East Lansing and the Breslin Center was rockin' on Sunday for the Spartans matchup with Ohio State. But honestly, the cheese omelettes in the media room are what really won me over. And meeting Kid Rock. But, mainly just the omelettes.
5.) H-O-R-S-E – While waiting for Virginia Tech and Maryland to tipoff, we conned the cheerleaders into finding a basketball for us so we could prove that bloggers got game, too. Unfortunately for me, all I proved was that three plus years of boozing and Taco Bell without setting foot in a gym can really have a negative effect on one’s hoop dreams. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was eliminated first (and quickly) while Hubby pulled off the upset win. Despite my humiliating performance, I can now say that I’ve played basketball in an ACC arena. On a side note, I’ll be joining a gym first thing in the morning.
4.) The McLeod Center at Northern Iowa – There was a lot of excitement coming into this road trip and I can’t say that an ounce of it was for the stop at Northern Iowa. With sites like Michigan State, Kansas, North Carolina, and Syracuse on the schedule, how were we supposed to get amped up for UNI? We expected a barn for a gym and a dismal turnout in the stands. Boy, were we wrong. We entered the jam-packed McLeod Center just minutes before the tip to find our seats on the baseline, two feet in front of the student section. And this wasn’t just any student section, these kids were borderline crazy. Nearly everyone not wearing Bert and Ernie costumes were covered in white body paint and screaming their lungs out. The students were very friendly with us and loved what we were doing at the table in front of them, just as we loved their craziness behind us. The McLeod Center might not have the powerful atmosphere of an Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor but the passion is certainly there. Now, if they could just do something with all of that snow.
3.) Marquette, So You Think You Can Dance? – Our first night out on the road trip made for one of the most awkward nights I’ve had in quite some time. As a recent college grad and liver of the dream, bars and partying are nothing new to me. I feel like I’ve seen and experienced enough to adapt to the various environments. But, Marquette threw me off my game. While most bars/clubs offer a designated area for dancing, the kids in Milwaukee will spontaneously dance wherever, whenever and they don’t need a reason or give a heads up. They just dance. It’s what they do. Some danced in pairs, many danced alone, some danced in the corner, and some danced by the bar. The only consistency was that NO ONE had ANY rhythm. It was like a convention for “that uncoordinated white guy” who can be found on dance floors across America. I’ve never seen anything like it and I really can’t put into words how absurd it was. With that being said, it was a lot of fun partying at Marquette and seeing so many people having a good time without worrying that someone might mistake their dancing for a seizure. Keep on keepin’ on, Marquette. You might look like band camp but you’re America’s best dance crew!
2.) A snow hurricane, a beer truck, and a fire hydrant – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An epic snowstorm in the northeast detoured our trip to Blacksburg, Virginia where we spent eight hours in Virginia Tech’s arena due to a water main break caused by a beer truck backing over a fire hydrant. You can’t make that up. 10,000 fans entered Cassell Coliseum after a three and a half hour delay to find that there were no working restrooms in the building. Fans were allowed to leave the arena to relieve themselves during the game. And as if the game wasn’t prolonged enough, it went into double overtime. Only on the road trip.
1.) The Kia Rondo – You can call her a station wagon, a snowplow, the Harangody, or the Rajon, but for the past week and a half we called her home. She traveled through 13 different states in just 11 days. She saw new faces board the ship halfway through and said goodbye to old ones along the way. She saw rain, shine, snow, more snow, and everything in between. She was littered with McDonald’s cups, Mountain Dew bottles, and Starburst wrappers, and she held more luggage than she was probably manufactured to hold. She served as an office, a trashcan, a country music jukebox, and even a hotel room. I can’t say I enjoyed traveling 6 hours a day for 11 days but the ol’ Kia Rondo somehow made it bearable. While our stories, columns, pictures, and memories will live on from the trip, we won’t forget what got us there. Rondo, it’s been real and when you’re riding around town with whatever old woman rents you next, just remember who took you out and showed you the world.
Honorable Mention: Tomlin getting turned down by the Golden Eagle, a Morehead State frat party, "Are you better than Iowa?", a hysterical call-in to a West Virginia radio station, and Bojangles Famous Chicken'n Biscuits
To the readers, thanks for following along. We appreciate the support and hope you enjoyed our stuff.
To CBSSports.com, thanks for the opportunity and for not pulling the plug on us midway through the trip.