HITTIN’ THE ROAD WITH THE RAMS: BIG APPLE OR BUST!
RICHMOND, Va. – For the first time in the 43-year history of the VCU men's basketball program, the Black & Gold will play on one of the most historic courts in all the world when it hits the hardwood at Madison Square Garden.
Scott Day of VCUathletics.com will be along for the ride and will bring you all the action through this travel blog with pictures, videos and much, much more.
VCU is scheduled to play on Wednesday night at 7 p.m against 23rd-ranked Tennessee on ESPN2, but the Black & Gold will hit the road on Monday night to make it in time for media day on Tuesday in "The Big Apple."
Monday, November 22nd
Prior to the Ride – Welcome aboard Rams fans and we hope you enjoy the ride. We're scheduled to hit the road on our charter bus around 5 p.m. with a stop in the great state of Delaware (my home state) on the itinerary. Before the squad gets on the bus, I'm going to hop on and let you see the inside of what how we ride. Don't miss it!
Also, don't be shy, if you've got questions, shoot me an email! Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be glad to let you know if Strength Coach Daniel Roose actually does eat raw eggs for breakfast or if Jamie Skeen can actually lift the bus with one arm tied behind his back.
4:25 p.m. - I told you I would get you on the bus and that's what I do. I deliver. To the left you'll find a brief video tour of our home for the next six or seven hours. It's not your typical tour bus that you might find at Broad and Boulevard that gets to NYC for $26.37. It's a pretty easy ride when you have this thing underneath you. My apologies for the Ron Burgundy-esque commentary, I'll read whatever is on the telemprompter.
5:31 p.m. - Well we're off folks, got on the road just a tad later than planned, but that might not be a bad thing if it allows us to miss some of that oh so great D.C. traffic. Got my first e-mail (shoutout to Christopher von Elten), I'll gladly answer any questions you guys might have.
My guess for first on the bus was Rob Brandenberg, and I gave myself half credit since it was the whole group of freshmen, but technically the first one on the bus was Reco. After the GAs ran around like chicken with their heads cut off making sure everything was on the bus, we were handed Great Wraps for dinner. I went with the Honey Turkey BLT (hold the tomatoes) and I replaced the lettuce with spinach and added pickles. It was delicious as usual, I believe the popular choice among the team was the Santa Fe. We watched the end of the end of the UCONN-Wichita State game and now most of the guys are catching some shut eye.
I'm going to try and do the same. Next up is a stop in the Great State of Delaware for a brief pit stop then its off to the New Jersey Turnpike for Gym, Tan, Laundry time.
9:23 p.m. - We just got back on the road after about a 20-30 minute stop at the Delaware House Rest Stop in the First State. I was going to go with a healthy choice and get something from Baja Fresh, but I could get my stomach in trouble, so I went with just a regular grilled chicken sandwich from Burger King. Popeye's and Burger King were the most popular choices for food for the players, but the most disappointing news was that Cinnabon was closed, Rob Brandenberg was not happy about that one, even Coach Smart couldn't talk the ladies behind the counter into selling a cinnabon after they had closed.
We've actually made pretty good time so far and with most of the players cashed out in the back of the bus earlier, several of the GAs (Donny Lind, Tim Lawrence and J.B. Tanner), Coach Roose, Trainer Eddie Benion and myself embarked into the world of Sporcle.com. If you haven't heard of it, you should definitely check it out. With only two days left in the work week, and let's be honest you're not doing any work this week anyway. I suggest you bookmark three pages, Sporcle.com, VCUathletics.com and whatever company you work at. You can spend most of your time at the first two, but have the latter for a fallback when the boss walks in. (Spoken like a true veteran of killing time on the internet - You did not read that Mr. Teague)
Roose was unbelievable when it came to football alma maters, so he'll get the MVP for the first part of the trip. However, Joey has spoken up and wants to be involved in the second part of our Sporcle adventure. I'll be checking back in after we get into the hotel, which should be after midnight or so. We actually haven't watched any movies yet, we've stuck to ESPN, but just switched over to the ODU-Xavier game down in the Virgin Islands.
12:39 a.m. - After a stellar driving job by Big Ron, we arrived in the heart of Times Square around 11:30 p.m. and proceeded to quickly unload and try to find our way to our rooms in this gynormous hotel. While most of our guys have never been to Times Sqaure, it's pretty easy to tell this group is very focused on the task at hand and isn't just up here to "enjoy the sights and sounds". This group is here to win.
Lucky for me, I'm along for the ride and am able to take in the city a little. I haven't been here in a while, so trainer Eddie Benion (my roommate) and I ventured out for a little bit and I'm still amazed at how different this place functions. It was after midnight and stores like Aeropostale, Forever 21 (only mentioning this b/c it's right across the street), Foot Locker and many others were bustling like it was Christmas Eve and people were scrambling for last minute gifts.
Along with the ability to never to go sleep, Times Square gives us a pretty solid cast of characters, like the three guys that asked Eddie and I if we were interested in doing stand-up comedy. Now, the only people that laugh at my jokes are my mom and my wife and that's because they have to. After several more interesting people, I ran into this guy (on the right). He proceeded to call Eddie and I out and try to "fight" us or something like that, I didn't want him to run over us with the Batmobile, so we just quickly scampered away.
I shot some video, but I'm waiting for that to upload, which is taking a little bit of time since I'm using my Aircard because the internet in the hotel requires you to chop off a finger (or $19.95) a day to use. Hopefully, I'll be able to post that clip shortly. Till then, I'm off to lay down, breakfast is slated for 10, but I'm hoping to get up and check out the city and maybe the fitness center before then. Coach Roose might break me in half if I don't get to the fitness center.
Tuesday, November 23rd
8:47 a.m. - Since my wife said I need to have a blog post this morning for any followers that may be at work already, I figured I'll touch base with my ravid fans. I just woke up here in the "City That Never Sleeps". It's amazing to me how loud it is outside, but when you're in your hotel room, you don't hear anything, which is always a good thing.
I'm off to the fitness center to get a workout in, then we have breakfast at 10, media session at 11:30 til a little after lunch and then practice at 2:30. It'll be a busy day for the Black & Gold, but I'll try to bring you as much as possible. I think I may try to give the camera to one of our guys this morning so they can give our fans a little taste of what they are experiencing.
Not sure that will work out, but I'll do what I can, if not I'll have plenty of other footage of our guys that will tickle your fancy. Now I'm off to get a workout in before Coach Roose makes me do up-downs in the middle of Times Square.
2:06 p.m. - First of all, my apologies for being delayed with this blog. It's been a hectic morning for the media guy. After a delicious breakfast in the hotel, the team headed out around NYC while myself, Coach Smart, J-Rod and Brad Burgess dealt with the media luncheon . However, after getting back to my room after breakfast I noticed a large crowd gathering outside the make-up story across the street. I had the video camera out ready to film the much anticipated guess. The young lady arrived with an entourage and the crowd went nuts and my reaction to roommate Eddie Benion, "Who the heck is that?". Well, my good friends Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell quickly pointed out via Twitter that it was upcoming rap star Nicki Minaj, who was launching a new make-up line apparently. That's the type of the stuff that happens on a daily basis up there.
Anyway, media lunch went well, Coach Smart spent time with the ESPN crew, ESPN radio and some Tennessee media. It was pretty cool to meet some of the ESPN Radio guys in person, this tournament has really turned into great publicity for us. The highlight of my day came when the ESPN crew complimented us on having smaller media guides so its easier for them to carry around and flip through (two points for the SID).
We've now hopped on the bus and are headed to practice at the New York Athletic Club, hoping to get some footage, but can't promise anything since I'll giving the ESPN guys actually knowledge on us. I'll have some more videos and pictures after practice. Thanks to those followers who have sent me e-mails. I'll try to keep this thing going strong through the trip home.
4:58 p.m. - Well folks, my apologies for the blurriness of that last update... Apparently my internet connection went down while I was trying to load it up. Anyway, we're back in the hotel after a great practice. I'm continually impressed by the focus our guys have displayed on this trip. Communication is really stressed during practices and it was evident right from the start.
Our star sightings have increased big time with Graduate Assistant J.B. Tanner and Coach Roose spotting Chris Mullin (yes, that Chris Mullin) on the sidewalks of New York and then later on we spotted Mel Gibson heading into the New York Athletic Club (same place we practiced) as we were leaving. The NYAC was a pretty elite place that required coat and tie if you were entering through the main lobby, we went through a back entrance. In fact, there were two guys that came down into the main gym/workout area with adult beverages in hand and it was only 3 p.m. Now that's not that odd for the VCU Sports Information office, but adult beverages at 3 p.m. on Tuesday is usual an odd sight. Not for these guys, it was like an everyday occurrence.
The guys are back in the rooms for very little down time and then it's off to The Boathouse in Central Park for a very nice dinner. I'm hoping to get some video of our guys out in Central Park. I was given the choice of fish or beef, I went fish, I'm hoping not to regret my decision.
Also, it's clear that we weren't the only ones to spot Nicki Minaj. Apparently freshman Heath Houston got pretty excited over spotting her. Don't worry, we all think Heath has a chance with her too.
5:43 p.m. - Got a chance to catch up on some e-mail which was pretty built up from this morning. One of the emails that I want to address came from passionate Rams fan Kurt Williams. I told you guys, I'll take any question and that's exactly what I'm going to do. Mr. Williams, I hope this answers your questions
1. Which one of our kids has been the most star struck or enamored with their experience in NYC so far? That's a tough question to answer. Only a handfull of our guys have ever been here, so it's really everyone. Obviously all the freshman are pretty star struck, but Brandon Rozzell seems to really be enjoying taking in sights of NYC.
2. What are the plans for Thanksgiving day? Will the team be attending the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade? The NIT committee really does a nice job and actually has a full brunch and dinner planned on Thanksgiving day. The hotel is literally right on the parade route, so they've set up a whole lobby area for the teams to sit and watch the parade, I'm hoping to get outside and watch it right from the street.
3. Sounds like our kids are having a good time (via twitter posts). Do they remain focused on the task at hand? I briefly mentioned it in other posts, but this team is extremely focused. Yes, it's nice to enjoy the surroundings, but as Coach Smart addressed with the team today, we're here for a reason. We're here to win and that's what our guys are going to try and do against three really good teams.
4. Is University of Tennessee staying at the same hotel or did they put them up at the Ritz? :) Haha.. Great question. Actually the Marriot Marquis (right in Times Square on Broadway) is the main hotel for the whole tournament so all four teams as well as tournament staff are staying here. Don't worry, there are like a million rooms and the fastest elevators known to mankind.
Also, I've added a video from today's media luncheon with some comments from ESPN's Fran Fraschilla and then Coach Smart. My apologies for the camera work, I'm no pro with the ole handy cam, my arm got tired at one point (yeah I know that sounds bad), but whatever. You can still here what is said and that's the most important part. At least that's what I think.
10:35 p.m. - Well folks, we're back and resting up after an unbelievable dinner at The Boathouse in Central Park. It was really dark, so my pictures didn't come out clear, however, here's the link to the restaurant to enjoy what we saw (http://www.thecentralparkboathouse.com/). After some tasty appetizers of chicken fingers, quesdillas and crab balls, we had plenty of bread, but we weren't able to have any butter since Graduate Assistant Tim Lawrence literally ate the whole tub that was left at the table for us.
The fish was unreal, as was the beef from what the guys tell me. Cheesecake was the obvious choice for dessert in New York and that was tasy as well. In fact, Jamie Skeen provided me with a little picture of how good dessert looked and tasted.
After returning from dinner, our guys did some brief interviews with radio man Robby Robinson, before heading into a film session. This team is really ready to prove to the whole college basketball world that VCU is here to say and they want to prove they belong with three of the "heavyweights".
On a personal note, this trip has been an absolute blast to me. This group of guys is a really high-character roster that has big goals and I truly hope for all of us that all of those goals happen.
I'm going to work on some gameday stuff for the site and then try to get some shut eye. Thanks again for following along and can't wait for tomorrow and GAMEDAY! Goodnight world!
Wednesday, November 24th
10:02 a.m. - Some of us decided to sleep-in a little bit to rest up for GAME DAY! I did enjoy my text at 7:15 this morning from Coach Roose trying to get me to workouts at 8, but I elected to go for an afternoon work and catch a few extra Z's. Team enjoyed another solid breakfast this morning. Personally I went for the egg white omelet with cheese and turkey sausage, it was delightful. The fruit and french toast sticks seem to be a big hit with the players.
It's been a little busier than expected, so I haven't been able to get as much video as I had hoped, but we're headed to shootaround at MSG at 10:30 and that will be the first time nearly all of our players have been there, so I'll have video of that and hopefully their reactions... Thanks again for your support and GO RAMS!
1:13 p.m. - We're back from shootaround and it was a pretty memorable experience. Obviously there's a ton of history that comes along with the arena and to see the guys faces light up and to get the chills that came along with entering such a historic venue.
After about three minutes of taking it all in, our guys, like they have all week, turned into all business and got down to work. I spent much of the time talking with Doris Burke and Fran Fraschilla about our team as well as the guys from ESPN Radio in Marc Kestercher and Bob Valvano. Pretty cool to work with these people that I've watched on TV and listened to on the radio for such a long time.
Trainer Eddie Benion and I are back in the room and I'm going to get a quick workout in before maybe trying to work a nap in. The team will have one more video session a little before 3 before partaking in pre-game meal, which most likely will be grilled chicken, rice, broccoli, pasta and salad. This hotel is an elite level place and I'm sure this meal will be just as good as everything else.
While the food, rooms and location of this hotel have been really cool, the best part might be the elevators. If you've ever been in the elevator in the Siegel Center, think the exact opposite. There are a billion of these things and they literally get you 14 floors up in a matter of seconds. In fact, I shot some video of them just to show you. While we're enjoying a brief amount of down time, I hope you enjoy some footage from the walk into the arena and the greatest elevators ever.
3:56 p.m. - After some rest and a solid pre-game meal of chicken, pasta, salad, potatoes and mixed vegetables, our guys have headed back to their rooms for the mental preparation side of the game. When I played college baseball (early 2000s), I would pop in the Ipod and have six or seven songs I would lock into and wouldn't want to talk to anyone. From the year-plus I've been around this team, that's exactly what this team does.
Coach Roose may be the most anxious and is literally chomping at the bit to get this game underway. If you've ever met him, you know it's impossible for him to do two things 1) sit still for more than 20 minutes and 2) wear one outfit for more than 20 minutes. The dude has more shirts and shorts than Niketown itself.
Anyway, I'm going to hop in the shower and try and clean myself so the camera likes me tonight. Who am I kidding? The camera will LOVE me tonight, at least that's what my wife tells me (again, I think she has to say that).
Thursday, November 25th
1:54 a.m. - Well that sucked. That's really all I got for tonight's game. It started out bad when I couldn't connect to the internet at the arena. Yes, it's the "greatest arena of them all", but their internet doesn't live up to all that hype. Simply put, it's terrible, but can't do much about that.
I would have posted sooner, but I was running stats to our coaching staff and trying to get them whatever they needed to prepare for Friday's match-up with a tough, very physical UCLA squad.
Our kids played their hearts out, there is no doubt about that, but things just didn't fall into place for us between the tough shooting night and the foul trouble. There are a lot of things the coaching staff will work on for Friday.
But for now, we'll enjoy Thanksgiving and the fesitivites that come along with it. We have a big brunch with all the teams and staff, while watching the Macy's parade go literally right in front of our hotel. I'm going to shoot some video of the parade and get some action shots, between updating my game notes for Friday.
Again, I want to thank everybody for reading the blog, I've thoroughly enjoyed the emails and people that have stopped me up here in NYC about it. I'm glad I can provide some entertainment. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving and I truly am thankful for the job that God has blessed me with and my wife and future child. I'm truly blessed. Goodnight everybody.
1:33 p.m. - Well, I apologize for the delay with this posting, but I was enjoying the parade and then some time with the team. It was a late night for me trying to update some game notes and getting stuff for the coaches, so I woke up just before the parade started at 9:15 and watched the first hour from right here in my hotel room. After that the team assembled at a balcony over looking Broadway as the parade went by.
All the players along with the families of Coach Roose, Mike Ellis, Robby Robinson, Coach Rhoades, Coach Jones and even Andy Katz were all there with the kids loving every minute of it. After that, the team gathered for some film review and scouting for UCLA tomorrow afternoon. Before getting underway, we all took a minute to talk about what we were thankful for and it was pretty special to me. It allowed all of us a time of reflection and really thinking about how lucky we are to be around the people that we are on a daily basis.
The team headed over to a very brief practice, but I came back here to the room to get some work done. I do have some video of the parade and everything, but I have to get game notes done first, so I'll have the videos up at some point today. Thanks again for checking in and hopefully you enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and friends.
7:51 p.m. - I hope everyone has had a relaxing, enjoyable Thanksgiving spent with family and friends. Although, I'm up here in NYC with my VCU family, it was still good to talk to my brothers and parents today because I truly am blessed with a great support system.
Back to what the people care about... while I was doing my game notes, the guys headed off to practice to just get a little bit of work in, not a high intensity workout, but more of a clean up the sloppiness work out. The Rams are ready and anxious to get back to MSG tomorrow and try and head home with a big win over a very good UCLA squad.
After the practice, the bus headed to the World Trade Center site to get a "a little dose of perspective" on a day that is truly filled with just that. I've finally had a chance to upload some of the videos of the parade, I hope you enjoy the two that I shot literally from my hotel room 14 floors up. Pretty cool to be able to do that.
I'll probably check in once more before tomorrow. Until then, I'm off to spend more time with my VCU family.
Friday, November 26th
9:16 a.m. - Well, I apologize for lying to my faithful fans. I said I would post one more time last night, and I didn't. I hope you forgive me and keep coming back, although you have less than 24 hours to enjoy my wittiness.
The Rams are up and moving this morning with a victory on their minds. We'll have a walk-thru here in the hotel to talk about the way UCLA handles its business, followed by pre-game meal and then we'll head over to MSG.
It's been crazy to see all the Black Friday traffic in Times Square. When trainer Eddie Benion and I walked outside last night, there was a line nearly three blocks long at Toys 'R Us and that was before 11 p.m.! Good luck to any of you going out today, I may think you're crazy, but I still hope everyone is safe.
For now, I'm off to pre-game... Let's Go Rams!
7:17 p.m. - I could say a lot right now, but some of it isn't safe to put on a university website, but man was that exciting. I'm currently joined by Graduate Manager and Video Extraordinare Donny Lind, he sits behind me on the bus and usually is my proof reader for obvious mistakes which I make on a daily basis. It was a huge win for the Rams today as you've heard against a program that has won 11 national titles. Not too shabby. For the full recap, check it out here.
One of the players that I thought played a huge role, but may not have showed in the boxscore a ton was redshirt sophomore David Hinton, who is a walk-on that is one of the hardest working kids in the program. I shot a little video with him after the game where he scored a career-high four points.
We're on the Jersey Turnpike now and dealing with the day after Thanksgiving traffic while watching Tennesse beating seventh-ranked Villanova, not too bad of a week for the Black & Gold.
I thoroughly hope you guys have enjoyed reading this blog as this will be my final entry after a fantastic week with my VCU basketball family. Now it's time to focus on South Florida on Wednesday.
Thanks again and GO RAMS!