I’ve got a great job. I get paid to go watch ballgames and I get to sit courtside sometimes — I do at the ACC tournament; I don’t at Hawks games — and I get to fall over backward in front of famous people (more about this later), and therefore I should never complain about anything. But every March it gets harder and harder to keep up with the Can Policy on press row.
Perhaps you’re unaware of this pressing (pun intended) dilemma. A quick recap: Drink companies tend to pay for tournament sponsorships, and one (Pepsi, let’s say) doesn’t like it when a media person plunks a 20-ounce bottle of Coke down on the press table because said company is worried that a TV camera is going to focus on the 20-ounce bottle instead of a millionaire coach who’s cussing the refs. (I believe it’s called product placement.)
True story: Because I’m an Atlantan and an avowed Coke guzzler, I went to the mezzanine at the Meadowlands on Final Four Saturday in 1996 to buy a 20-ounce bottle of you-know-what. (Coke wasn’t available in the press room because — you guessed it — Pepsi was the NCAA’s corporate sponsor.) Anyway, I left the bottle at my seat and went to gather pertinent jounalistic material, and when I returned the bottle was still there but the red label had been non-surgically removed.
So now I ask beforehand: Am I allowed to carry a canned drink to press row, or do I need to pour it into a non-offending generic cup? I even asked Mike Finn, who’s a big-shot assistant ACC commissioner, yesterday, and he looked around and saw other folks bearing cans and said, “No, you’re OK.”
Flash forward to today: I start to the court bearing a canned non-caloric drink, and a (very nice) lady working security says, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to pour that into a cup.” So I did. And now you’re up to date on this pressing matter.
Second round of the SEC tournament, here in 2007: Georgia is playing (and will lose badly to) Florida. Esteemed colleague Chip Towers sits next to me with the biggest (generic) cup of water in the history of mankind. Within two minutes, a Georgia player slings the ball out of bounds and hits the massive cup dead solid perfect.
Chip gets maybe two drops on him. I get 10 ounces of liquid full in the face, and at least eight of those ounces drip down onto my keyboard. For 15 minutes I can write nothing — and this is a night game, so I need to write as it goes — because my cursor has disappeared beneath the deluge.
Miraculously it reappears, but not before Damon Evans, the Georgia AD, walks by and says, “Didn’t they teach you how to duck?” Under my breath, I say a word I’m not allowed to say at the moment because I’ve given up cursing for Lent. (Or at least I’m trying to.)
Nobody here at the G-Dome is talking about the ACC. Everyone is still going on about the six-overtime game between UConn and Syracuse. And here’s my little tale: I left here last night after Maryland beat N.C. State. I got home and started watching the Big East game and naturally got hooked.
I watched through one, two, three, four, five OTs. And then, being old and decrepit, I went to bed because I could no longer hold my eyes open. But I set the recorder. And then, naturally, I woke up way too early and said to myself, “I’ve got to know who won that game.” So there I was at 7 a.m., watching the sixth OT on five hours’ sleep. I am a moron
North Carolina is on the floor warming up for its game with Virginia Tech. Ty Lawson isn’t out there. If he doesn’t play in this tournament — he has a tender tootsie — Carolina might not win the thing. And Carolina is in Georgia Tech’s bracket. Not predicting. Just saying.
If you were following along yesterday — and if you were, thanks for your continued patronage — you’re probably aware of two key developments: First, I’ve been asked by to snap a few pictures with an AJC-issued BlackBerry Storm. Second, I fell backward in my chair — I’m telling you, press row is dangerous! — trying to squeeze off a shot of Lewis Clinch after Tech won.
An hour later the famous Andy Katz of ESPN asked me if I was all right. (I am, thanks very much.) I said, “Just embarrassed.” He said: “No reason to be. The only people who saw you are those who know you.”
Carolina has taken the floor and is shooting layups. Lawson walked out late and is uniform but has a weird-looking black half-shoe on his right foot. And he’s just standing there. I assume he’s not playing.
Check back throughout the afternoon. I’ll be here all day, and we’ll really get going when Tech and Florida State tip off at about 2:30. Loser has to wear Ty Lawson’s shoe.
Carolina has trailed almost the entire half but, being Carolina, it’s ahead at the break. The legendary Tyler Zeller — never to be confused with Tyler Hansbrough — hit a layup to make it 43-42 with five seconds left.
I’d say Virginia Tech is fully capable of winning this game, but I’ve seen Carolina win this exact game in this event almost every year I’ve covered this tournament. The other team plays out of its mind, but the Heels prevail. Which is why everybody else in the conference hates the Heels.
I just saw Leonard Hamilton, who coaches Florida State, in the hall. We go back almost 35 years. He was Joe B. Hall’s chief assistant when I was a cub reporter covering Kentucky, and Leonard — or “The Ham,” as he was known to insiders — had a massive distrust of the media. So I tried to avoid him.
Except this one time … October 1983. Winston Bennett of Louisville Male High was about to announce his college choice, which was between UK and Louisville. This was a matter, as you’d assume, of some local interest, and cub reporter Bradley was working like crazy to break the story. (My main competitor was Jerry Tipton, who has since been inducted into the Basketball Writers’ Hall of Fame and who remains a pal.)
So I pried Leonard’s home number from a source which I have never revealed and called him the night before Bennett’s announcement to see if I could pry anything from him.
The conversation: “Leonard, it’s Mark Bradley from the Leader …”
The Ham: “How’d you get this number?
Me: “I …”
The Ham: “I’m changing it tomorrow.”
Just for the heck of it, I called back the next day. The number had indeed been changed. Bennett signed with UK, as you might recall. And Leonard and I, amazingly enough, get along famously today.
I know, I know. Everybody thinks he gets every call, and he does get a few, but I love watching the guy. I’ve been following college basketball since Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes were going at it, and I’ve never seen a guy play any harder.
He made the three biggest plays in North Carolina’s narrow defeat of Virginia Tech, same as he did in this tournament a year ago. This time he scored underneath to give the Heels the lead, and then he tied up J.T. Thompson to give Carolina the ball — Seth Greenberg went nuts, but it looked correct to me — and then he made the foul shots with 4.6 seconds to make it a three-point game.
I don’t know what kind of pro he’ll be — I suspect he’ll be better than many believe — but that really shouldn’t matter. He’s a great college player. He’s one of the greatest college players ever.
Khalil Johnson, the general manager of the World Congress Center and an apparent reader of this blog, just sidled up to me and slipped me a can of Sierra Mist. I hope he doesn’t get in trouble for this blatant violation of ACC policy.
Between re-creating the entire blog (which crashed and was lost due to the wireless going down here) and drinking my illicit drink, I’ve been able to catch enough of Tech-FSU to say that the Jackets are in a bit of trouble. They’re down 33-27 at the half — that man Lewis Clinch has 11 of their points — and the Ham’s guys are defending like mad.
The Jackets can still win — they’re only down six — but they must make the game go faster. And that’s hard to do when you’re playing your second game in two days and a fierce opponent is playing its first in almost a week.
The Jackets nearly made it to Saturday and a date against the nation’s No. 1 team, but Leonard Hamilton drew a beauty of a sideline inbounds play and Florida State won on a driving layup. The play, for fans of minutiae, is named “Slant,” and it has several options. The one FSU seized was Derwin Kitchen slicing down the sideline and then along the baseline, whereupon he shoveled home a reverse while being fouled by Alade Aminu.
You may recall that UNLV scored the winning basket against Tech in Round 1 of the NCAA tournament on an inbounds layup. (Kevin Kruger, Lon’s son, threw the pass.) So the Jackets might want to reassess that part of their defensive scheme.
It was a shame that Tech lost after playing its best two games of the season these past two days, but it was also symptomatic of their larger ailments. The Jackets couldn’t finish games. Paul Hewitt said last week that his team had been “unfortunate,” but I maintain his personnel was misdirected. I mean, how many better collegiate shooting guards have you seen this year than Lewis Clinch these last 27 hours?
And it was revealing that Clinch didn’t get the ball on Tech’s final possession of the season. He’d scored 57 points in the tournament, but Hewitt’s final stratagem called for Iman Shumpert to take the ball the length of the court and drive. (As ever, Tech was out of timeouts.) And there was logic therein: Shumpert had made a similar last-gasp shot to beat Wake Forest on Jan. 31. But still …
Consider those two shots. FSU didn’t get the ball to Toney Douglas, but it found a guy who knew he had a layup. Shumpert wound up shooting — not a terrible shot — over one of the massive FSU guys. And Clinch never touched the ball.
Have fun with that, folks.
I was standing in the corridor when Dave Neal, a Maryland forward, charged off the court in the middle of the second half. I thought to myself, “He looks like a guy in a hurry to freshen up.”
Lo and behold, he was in such a hurry that he ran without exactly knowing where he was going. The famous Melinda Mazo, who was mentioned in this space yesterday and who’s working the tournament for ESPN, was in the women’s room when she saw Neal burst in. She recounted the conversation:
“I said, ‘This is the ladies’ room.’ He said, ‘I’ve got to [freshen up] really bad.’ So I stood guard for him.”
Duly refreshed, Neal returned to the game. And Maryland won.