Basketball Diary: A Tale of Two Road Trips
Jon Teitel spent last week watching his alma maters play in two very different atmospheres. Game 1 featured powers Arizona & Louisville going at it in the world’s most famous sports arena. Game two featured his Penn Quakers taking on Navy in little Annapolis, MD. Here's a log of his journey that featured famous coaches, minor celebrities, good basketball, and guns.
Arizona vs. Louisville, 12/5, Game 2 of the Jimmy V Classic in New York, NY
After my 4-hour bus ride to NYC (thank you Greyhound), I walked a few blocks to a bar called Shady Jake’s (do NOT get the Carolina pork sandwich) for the Arizona pre-game pep rally. As usual, I did not win a single damn thing in the raffle, but still had fun seeing friends and getting psyched for the game.
Just as I’m getting ready to head over to catch Game 1 of the Classic (Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse), a roar erupts from the Wildcat fans in the bar. I look over to the staircase, and who comes walking up but the Silver Fox himself…LUTE OLSON!! The crowd goes nuts, as everyone wants a piece of him: handshake, picture, autograph, etc. He stands up on a chair behind me, gives the patented visiting-alumni-on-a-road-trip speech, and takes a few questions. As he precariously steps off the chair, I hold out my hand to make sure that Josh Pastner does not prematurely become the next Arizona head coach. After Lute safely reaches the floor, he gives me a smile and a handshake, thereby making my day. If this man ever decides to run for political office, look out!! Speaking of which, another older fellow who is working the room comes over and introduces himself: it’s outgoing Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe. Apparently, I am not the only one who is more interested in Arizona basketball than DC politics.
It’s now time to walk across the street to the world’s most famous arena: Madison Square Garden. I missed the first half between the Cowboys and the Orange, but caught most of the 2nd half. Mario Boggan is unstoppable in the paint, Paul Harris throws down a sweet dunk, and the pro-Syracuse crowd goes home sad as they lose a close one, 72-68. Then the real game begins.
The Cats look good early, building a double-digit lead late in the 1st half. Derrick Caracter, the kid who was 6’8”, 240 pounds as a 13-year old, made his collegiate debut for the Cardinals: it was the best of times (9 points, 7 rebounds), it was the worst of times (11 minutes, 5 fouls). I have never seen more combined hatred for a single player in my life than the venom that evening directed towards Louisville’s David Padgett: the Arizona fans booed him for not deciding to enroll in Tucson a few years ago, and the Louisville fans booed him for averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds a game despite being 6’11”, 245.
Another first was seeing a forward get a double-double while shooting 1-8 from behind the arc: thank you Terrence Williams (13 points, 10 rebounds). On the victor’s side, the 2 leading men were the super-frosh (Chase Budinger: 17 points, 6 steals, 3 blocks, 0 turnovers) and the super-Serbian (Ivan Radenovic: 22 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals). The other 3 starters (Williams, McClellan, and Shakur) were a pathetic 5-25 from the field, which contributed greatly to the Cats missing 17 of their first 18 shots in the 2nd half, but it was not enough to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
While the crowd listened to Dickie V’s halftime ode to Jimmy V, I moved down to about 10 rows behind the Arizona bench. Two tall latecomers showed up during halftime after playing for the Nets in the Meadowlands: former Wildcats Hassan Adams and Richard Jefferson. They were mobbed by fans, and security stepped in to quash the hopes and dreams of teenagers who wanted an autograph from their heroes. After leaving the Garden, and surviving the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 1:30 in the morning, I made my way out of NYC with a big win, some great memories of my first-ever trip to the mecca of college basketball, and further proof that the Big East is not going to be as dominant as it was last year.
Penn vs. Navy, 12/7, Annapolis, MD
How did the Midshipmen commemorate the 65th anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor: by scheduling the Quakers for a riveting Ivy League-Patriot League battle at Alumni Hall. Penn was in command the whole way, both on offense (all 5 starters finished in double figures) and defense (a whopping 15 steals), en route to a 79-58 win over Navy. With conference scoring leader Mark Zoller having only an above-average (rather than an out-of-this-world) game, the rest of the starters showed off their own skills for all to see. Steve Danley was unguardable down low, and ended up making 11 free throws. Surprise starter Michael Kach had 12 points and 1 nasty fall while on the receiving end of a flagrant foul.
Ibby Jaaber was an absolute menace on defense, racking up a game-high 7 steals and leaving him 4 short of the all-time conference career record. Like a 7-foot center whose physical presence is enough to keep opponents out of the lane, the Navy guards wanted no part of Jaaber: if one of them was being guarded by Jaaber while bringing the ball up the court, they would pass it to the other one so that they could avoid having their pocket picked (more of a threat in the Big Apple, no!!).
Other than the Quakers’ win, the most enjoyable part of the game was the crowd. I showed up expecting military men and women dressed in uniform and solemnly supportive, but I was way off. There were students in all shapes, sizes, and costumes: Chippendale’s dancers, full body paint, kilts, togas, Speedos, camouflage, etc. During breaks in the action, groups of students would run laps around the mezzanine as others tried to block their way. A guy with a chest full of medals would start pumping his arms, and chants of “Fire it up, fire it up!!” would reverberate throughout the tiny gym. While other schools have halftime entertainment featuring acrobats or musicians, Navy brings you…guys with guns, marching in formation. I do not know if this atmosphere is the exception or the rule, but I have rarely been prouder of our servicemen and women.
In conclusion, it was a wild 3 days, but with 2 wins from my alma maters, Chanukah came early this year.