It’s Tournament Time!!!

by

By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director

This has got to be my favorite time of year for one simple reason. The NCAA Tournament. The time of the year when people become aware of such basketball hotbeds as Davidson, George Mason, Kent State and individuals such as Stephen Curry, Bryce Drew, Trevor Huffman (played for Kent State, look him up) and countless others are thrust into the public eye for nothing more than a basketball game. That’s just it though; to so many people, the next several weeks are much more than just a basketball tournament. Especially for those involved, whether it be as a title contender such as a Syracuse or a Kansas, or the upstart No. 15 seed that is just happy to be there, the excitement and wide-eyed awe that these student-athletes share is remarkable.

I remember as a kid, my dad and I talking about college and life and what-not, and my dad saying how cool it would be if I was on TV during March Madness playing college basketball. Well I did in fact end up playing college basketball, but not at the NCAA Division I level and alas, I did not make it on TV to play in March Madness. However, my first job out of college was an internship at The University of Detroit Mercy in the Sports Information Department. It just so happened that this was the year that we (UDM) hosted one of four regional sites for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. See, UDM and Ford Field had been picked to host the 2009 Final Four and in 2008 Detroit (both the institution and the city) used the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 as a dry run for the following year’s Final Four. So, while I had not been successful in my efforts to perhaps play in March Madness, I was going to get to be around the action and, at times, right in the action. I spent that whole week (and then some…) down at Ford Field getting things ready for the throng of media personnel that would be invading the city in several days. It was remarkable the amount of planning and coordination it took to play three basketball games. We were handling media requests some six months in advance and no matter how prepared we thought we were, there was always something that popped up that threw a wrench into the whole system.

It was really a great experience for me on two fronts, well actually probably three. First, as someone that was looking into continuing my employment in the sports information field, this was a great opportunity to shake some hands and rub some shoulders with people that may be hiring me one day. It was also a behind-the-scenes look at how an event of this size (some 65,000+ fans in attendance) is handled on the back end, from getting student-athletes and coaches to the podium for interviews post-game and recording the quotes and typing them up in 1.8 seconds so that Jay Mariotti can quote Stephen Curry without having to actually talk to Curry himself. All the way to making sure that each team had enough media guides in the media workroom and that the broadcasters had up-to-the-minute stats to use in their broadcasts. It was really an eye-opener into the scope of the media coverage and what goes into getting a story into a paper, onto ESPN, etc…

Secondly, as a former collegiate athlete myself, this was an opportunity to be around the Holy Grail of collegiate competition in my eyes. Here were kids, just slightly younger than myself playing basketball on a stage grander than anything thing any of us had ever seen. The excitement in these kids’ eyes, especially those of Davidson, was readily apparent and, in some ways, I shared in that excitement. I had only been out of school for a year and was just a few years removed from playing in the Division III NCAA Football Playoffs. I thought that was great, being on a football field in front of a few thousand fans, and here these kids were going to play in front of over 60,000 people live and countless others over live TV. I mean seriously, how cool is that? I was reminded of this even more as I went to help out Jeremy Franklin with the radio broadcast of the W&L women’s basketball team’s first-ever NCAA contest at Christopher Newport. The excitement that those girls had in their eyes was palpable. They were doing something that no one else that had ever played women’s basketball for W&L had ever done. Alas, it was not to be as CNU kept its unbeaten season alive, but I was once again reminded of the excitement of collegiate competition and while its not THE March Madness, you would have had a hard time telling Head Coach Mandy King and her team.

Thirdly, I am a huge sports fan and here I am, given an all-access pass to run around what is virtually a playground for the sports nut. Anywhere I wanted to go whether it be locker rooms (I actually still have the placard that was on the Davidson locker room up in my apartment), media lounges, the CBS production truck, onto the court to shoot jumpshots when nobody was looking, I could do it. “Oh hello there John Thompson, former coach of Georgetown, its so good to see you. Gus Johnson, iconic CBS play-by-play guy, how are you today? Hi, Steph Curry? Nice to meet you.” It was like being a kid in a candy store, albeit with one’s jaw wired shut. As much as I would have liked to fawn over these personalities, it was my responsibility to assist them in doing their job(s) and make sure that their experience went smoothly. So, I had to resist the temptation to reach into the cookie jar and make sure that Gus has the media packets that he asked for and that Steph gets to the green room before stepping to the podium to speak to the press. Though, I did take a moment to snap a few photos of LeBron James and who ended up sitting right behind me.

In the end, I gained a much greater appreciation for an event that I already loved. And while my dad did not get to see me play in March Madness, he did see me on TV as my seat for the game was directly behind the visitor’s bench and every time the ball was on our end he could see me. He called me during the game to say that he could see me and that he was having a hard time explaining to my grandmother that I was on TV at the game, but I was not actually playing, I was – wait he’s…….oh missed him…….right there……that guy in the black suit that’s him.

So, as the remaining conference tournaments wind down this weekend and the field of 65 is announced on Sunday, keep an eye out for the underdogs (Northern Iowa and Saint Mary’s…just sayin) and wait for the next Bryce Drew 40-footer at the buzzer, or the electric smile of a Stephen Curry, or a Bo Kimble tribute to a fallen teammate. And, remember that the random kid behind the bench in the suit is doing his best to get noticed (while trying to look as though he is not trying to get noticed) and someone at home is desperately trying to point him out on screen in the 2.8 seconds that he is up there.

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