Greetings from our beloved Island of Long, where I am beginning to feel human again after I slept more last night than in the previous three or four combined. Made it back safe and sound in the middle of the night, dodging for once dumbass drunk drivers who graduated from George Mason (I am not making that up, I still want to detail the night of Jan. 4, maybe in the off-season) to return home—a mere 43 hours, 774 miles, 217 Tweets and four incredible basketball games—after our departure.
I sit here and type with just an ever-so-slight sense of melancholy. We’d love nothing more than to still be several hours to the south, fueled on adrenaline and sugar, and wondering what to do between checking out of the hotel and arriving at the Richmond Coliseum for the Hofstra-Old Dominion championship game I predicted on Friday.
To hear of Northeastern losing (we took off between games in order to see a college friend on the way home) to William & Mary by two points—after missing a heart-wrenching seven shots in the final 20 seconds—is to wonder what could have been if the Flying Dutchmen had finished off the Huskies in regulation in Saturday’s epic quarterfinal. Would the Dutchmen have had enough left in the tank to knock off the pesky Tribe, too?
But honestly, other than heading home a day and change earlier than I wanted, this weekend was just perfect. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed our time in Richmond. We made new friends, many of whom we only knew via Twitter, and got to shoot the breeze and work alongside Litos, which was as much fun as I expected. We reconnected with old friends as well. A sun-splashed couple afternoons made Richmond look shiny and festive. Everyone we ran into had a smile on his or her face, even a Mason fan who was a former foe on Twitter!
Any fan who bitches about Richmond as the host site is crazy. It’s centralized, it loves basketball and the 12,000-seat capacity Coliseum is perfect for the tournament—big enough to feel big-time yet small enough to feel intimate. Yeah, it favors the Virginia-based teams. As I wrote on Gary Moore’s blog last week (speaking of new friends): The format in the America East a decade ago favored Delaware. Nobody complained.
Speaking of no complaints: I got to enjoy the weekend with my wife. How lucky am I, having a wife who enjoys a trip like this as much as me? This may already be our spring version of our annual summertime trip to Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions.
She’s already looking forward to next year and declaring the Dutchmen will make things easier on us by having a first round bye. I’m planning to make things easier for the trip home, too, by lacing her Whopper with sleeping pills so I can do 85 the whole way home without her waking up from her fitful slumber to check my speed on that blasted, got-us-lost-in-DC GPS. Just kidding honey!!!
And the basketball—my God, the basketball. I cannot say this enough: If you love mid-major college basketball—and you probably do, unless you are reading this because you stumbled upon it searching for pictures of Stewie Griffin—then you must hit Richmond for the CAA Tournament next year, presuming of course the Dutchmen are still in the conference. And even if they’re not, get down there, as long as the A-27 Tournament doesn’t interfere with it.
We saw four games, every one of them memorable. VCU ran away late from Mason to win by 15 (editor’s note: ha ha, our season lasted four hours longer than yours, ha ha!) to win the second quarterfinal Saturday, but the first 35 or so minutes were nail-bitingly tight and competitive and the atmosphere just electric as two warring fan bases cheered their lungs out.
I’ve already rambled on about Hofstra-Northeastern—my 194 in-game Tweets actually shut down Twitter!—and I could have gone all night about that one. William & Mary mounted a comeback from an 14-point second half deficit to edge James Madison in the nightcap.
VCU-Old Dominion yesterday was like VCU-Mason on steroids. My wife and I sat, literally, with VCU fans in front of and behind us and ODU fans next to us. I honestly thought we’d end up collateral damage. Behind one basket was a bouncing sea of silver and white, behind the other a bouncing sea of black and gold. The bands tried to top one another. The fans yelled at each other. It was awesome. I wish the northeast, outside of Storrs, cared this much about college basketball.
It looked like Richmond Bias U. was headed to the title game, where it would try to become the first team to win four games in four days to win the title, but Old Dominion mounted a remarkable comeback from an 12-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of regulation to force overtime.
The final few minutes of regulation and overtime were some of the most compelling I’ve ever seen. My second-favorite sight of the weekend, right behind Charles Jenkins and Matt Janning slapping hands before the first overtime, was of VCU’s Bradford Burgess clapping his hands as ODU’s Darius James burned clock near half court as the Monarchs tried to wait for the final shot of regulation. Just some great, great basketball played at the highest of competitive levels.
As Litos said multiple times over the weekend: “Welcome to Richmond.”
This marked the first championship-level event I attended with a press pass since the 2007 baseball playoffs (the audience in unison: “They’ll give press passes to anyone, wont they?”) and I can’t thank CAA associate commissioner of communications Rob Washburn enough for the last-minute access nor for how unbelievably welcoming he was and for the great access provided by the CAA.
The media room and locker rooms were in the same hallway, which meant after exiting the marathon Old Dominion press conference yesterday, I walked right by Northeastern huddling and got to hear someone yell “THIS IS OUR TIME!” before the Huskies bolted for the court.
The odds of seeing something similar in Major League Baseball—of Jonathan Papelbon ripping the head off a chicken and eating it and screaming about how it’s time to go get the Yankees—is about as likely as Theo Epstein asking me who I think should win the final spot in the Red Sox’ rotation. Good stuff and a great time. I was humbled just to be part of it.
Sure, it’d be great if the Dutchmen won Saturday and Sunday and were playing for all the marbles tonight. But this weekend was enough for me. The first weekend of March 2009 was the last weekend my Mom was alive. We couldn’t go to Richmond because it was impossible to justify such a trip while she was so sick and my Dad and sister were tending to her.
Experiences like that in the rearview mirror made it easier to appreciate the simple joys of the weekend and to know exactly what Tom Pecora was talking about late Saturday night, as the muffled sounds of teams still playing echoed beyond the basement walls at Richmond Coliseum.
“This is preparing you for the real world,” Pecora said. “This is not the worst thing that’s ever going to happen in these guys’ lives. Right now, they think it is. They’re too young to understand, you know? But a lot worse than this will happen, losing a basketball game.
“Like I said to these guys: Nobody died here. There’s no reason to cry and mope about it. We’ll move on. Our lives will go on and we’ll get better because of this.”
Good luck finding anything better than the first weekend in March in Richmond, though.