March 19, 2009
MIAMI, Fla. (American Airlines Arena) -
It's media day at the American Airlines Arena. That means the NCAA staff is prodding eight different teams through press conferences and open practices. The level of organization and communication required to pull off something like this is staggering. Glad all I have to do is take it all in and provide off-color commentary.
Somehow I awake without an alarm. Last night, I took one look at the clock on the bedside table in my hotel room and decided to set my cell phone alarm instead. Apparently I screwed that up anyway, since it never made a peep this morning. It's all right though. I'm up.
Just kidding. I laid back down and caught a few more Zs. Six hours is all I ask for in a typical night's sleep. Last night wasn't typical. The good thing about staying at the airport Hilton is that you're close enough to get out of town quickly. The bad thing is that you're close enough to hear everyone else arriving and getting out. Every time I was nearly asleep, I'd hear one of those physics-defying monstrosities roar past, and my palms would start sweating, thinking about my pending return flight. I might just stay in Miami.
Showered and dressed, I meet Assistant AD (and voice of the Lumberjacks) Rob Meyers in the lobby, along with SFA Public Affairs photographer Hardy Meredith. The arena opens at 9 for media, and we've been warned it takes a half-hour to get there by car.
We make a wrong turn and still hit the arena parking lot in a shade under 20 minutes. Our parking pass puts us right outside the "Command Center" entrance. All goes according to plan.
I give myself a sports hernia removing the box containing my postseason guides from the trunk of the car. I swear it outweighs me by 30 pounds. Assist to Hardy Meredith on the play.
We stand in line to get checked by security. The woman with the wand is polite, yet thorough. (It was easier getting on the plane yesterday.) She laughs when I pop the latch on my box and show her the 220 pounds of informative books I'm carrying with me.
I drop my postseason guides and copies of my game notes on the table in the media work room. One of the arena security staffers giggles as I fumble in my haste to get everything set up. "You got a little time, man," he offers helpfully. I stand up, look around, notice there's nobody else in the room and nod my head in shameful agreement.
My man with the security force was absolutely right. With all my supplies distributed, I wander around aimlessly for the next 20 minutes. The American Airlines Arena is niiiiice. The Heat have a palatial home facility. I check out the court and media seating chart, then go find our locker room. The detailed signage posted everywhere goes a long way to erase my fears of getting lost and missing a meeting.
I bump into some guys from Cleveland State that I recognize from our hotel. Figuring they know where they're going, I follow them to the Sports Information Directors meeting.
I can't lie. Dress code for this meeting was a concern for me going in. That's not the most manly thing to admit, I know, but the last thing a rookie wants to look like is a rookie. I opted for pressed khakis, a school polo and a pair of Nikes. Good call. The attendees' attire runs from team-issue wind suits to full-on slacks-and-sport-coat ensembles. I wound up right where I wanted to be, smack dab in the middle on the casual-to-formal scale. I'm also right in the middle on another front. The eastern guys all group up for small talk, as do the westerners. I end up shooting the breeze about hotels and conference tournaments with the fellas from Arizona and Arizona State. Nice guys.
The meeting begins, and I take notes more furiously than a college freshman, trying not to miss anything. The site media coordinator, Rich Kelch, and his assistant Brian Goldman, couldn't be nicer guys. They've been incredibly helpful, and I quickly realize this tournament isn't the intimidating event I imagined it would be.
I get a text from assistant head coach Brette Tanner that reads, "This is the first time I have had a police escort, and I wasn't worried about where they were taking me." I take that to mean that Brette's criminal record is more extensive than I ever imagined ... and that the team is on its way to the arena.
The team arrives, and I meet them in the locker room. Getting the chance to hang around the guys is the best part about these road trips, and I don't feel like I've gotten enough face time on this one. I greet a few of them and inform the guys who will be called to our news conference that they've got about 10 minutes to kill before it starts.
I escort Matt Kingsley, Josh Alexander, Eric Bell, Eddie Williams and Nick Shaw down the hall to the media room. These guys have done quite a few (for us) interviews over the days leading up to the tournament, and I've gotten great feedback from the media involved, so I'm sure they'll do fine.
I listen in on the first couple of questions then book it back down the hall to our locker room. The way the NCAA sets it up, the locker room is open to media while the press conference is going on. So, if you want to talk with anybody not involved in the presser, you can get some one-on-one time. Girod Adams gets some well-deserved camera time while the other five are tied up. By the time they get back, there are three two-man news crews and two writers crowded into our locker room. Matt and Josh both get the customary treatment, with as many as three cameras shoved at them at a time. Pat Forde from ESPN.com is one of the writers. He spends a long time chatting with Eric Bell, so hopefully some good ink will come out of that.
Coach Kaspar is back from his news conference, and it's time to take the floor for our open practice. I head out to visit with the CBS talent assigned to our game and answer any questions they might have. (On the way, I get flagged down by an arena staffer and told that I can't bring my bottled water onto the court. All drinks at courtside must be in an NCAA-approved cup. So I drop my Smart Water into a nearby trash can and go about my business.) I mostly help the broadcast team identify our players so they can get their names down for the broadcast. Injuries play a bigger role than you might think in this process, since knee braces, elbow sleeves and hand wraps are the easiest ways -- outside of jersey numbers -- to quickly identify a player you're unfamiliar with. And they've got to nail down the specifics on eight teams before tomorrow. Once again, glad it's not me.
Since there's not a whole lot of "coaching" going on, I bring Coach Kaspar over to meet the talent. They chat for about 10 minutes, trying to glean as much information as possible during that short time span. After practice he tapes a brief interview with the CBS radio folks. By my count, it's his eighth radio interview since Sunday night.
"Practice" is over, and now the team is heading down the road to PRACTICE. We had the band and cheerleaders in attendance for our open session, and they did a good job of getting excited for a layup drill, post flow and shell drill. The spirit groups leave following practice. I guess they didn't want to stick around and cheer me on as I updated the Web site.
I get my wireless internet access code and get started on my update for the day. Sorry it's late, but I stopped to chat up Pat Forde. He tells me he followed us last season and was disappointed when we didn't make the tournament, as he thought we were a really good team. Pat's a nice guy.
That's it for me today. I've got a meeting at 3, and I'll get quotes from the press conference up shortly.
-- SFA --