It’s pretty rare you get chance to revisit who you were in your life previously, and step back in at your current age and life stage, and get a peek at what things would’ve been like.
But I got to do that last week for five glorious days. Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, I spent three years working at the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, and one of the awesome jobs I had there (slightly cooler than compiling the Fishing Report) was covering ACC basketball. For a few fantastic winters, about 10-15 times a year I got to jump on Highway I-40 and cover Duke, North Carolina, and N.C. State games up in the Triangle, and I loved it.
I also got to cover two ACC Tournaments at the beginning of March, and that too was tons of fun. Covering up-close the best basketball in America at that time was so, so cool.
I thought then that I’d be doing a lot more of that in my future, but nope, that’s not how it worked out.
When I heard a couple years ago that the ACC Tournament was coming to Brooklyn in 2017, I immediately knew I’d get tickets. What I didn’t know is that my awesome friend Andrew Jones, who I love despite him being wrong on everything politically (Love you buddy!,) would be running a UNC Rivals.com site and ask me to help him out at the tournament.
Turns out Andrew didn’t need that much help, but with the credential he got me I was able to snare four freelance assignments, meaning I was way busier than I thought I’d be.
So for the first time in 17 years, when I had a lot more hair and a lot fewer medical issues, I got to cover the ACC Tournament last week. The verdict? It was an incredible step back in time. And it was pretty freaking exhausting.
Some thoughts from my brain after a few days in a past life:
— Gotta start off with my non-basketball “celebrity encounter.” So one of the teams I was covering was Notre Dame, and after their win Thursday night I went into a mostly-empty locker room and went to look for Matt Farrell, one of their top players.
I can’t see him right away where his locker is because a very large man in an enormous black and gold Notre Dame sweatsuit is blocking Farrell, laughing and talking with him and gesturing animatedly.
As I get closer and hear the voice, I know it instantly: It’s Chris Christie.
You remember Christie, the awful governor of New Jersey last seen being humilated by Donald Trump right after the election. As I waited about 30 seconds for Christie to stop, Farrell sees me standing behind good ole’ Mr. Bridgegate and points a finger toward me, trying to let Christie know I was waiting to interview Farrell. Christie got the hint and moved aside. (Now if I were truly brave or stupid, I should have loudly announced “Hey, there’s some traffic in here!” But I didn’t)
The next night, Christie was in the locker room again; turns out his daughter is a Notre Dame trainer or something.
— You get free food, actually quite good food, as a media member at big events like this. Several times a day there are complete meals served for us. And yet, without fail, it happened: One day a couple of photographers in the press room were talking and complaining about what was served that day. Are you freaking kidding me? We’re getting paid and getting free food!
— Another thing I noticed: None of the reporters covering the tournament walked around with notebooks and pens. Everyone just used their phones to record interviews, and while sitting on press row just typed whatever notes they wanted to make about the game into their laptops. It was weird but this is the new normal.
— Most often these days at basketball games reporters are seated somewhere high up in the mezzanine, off the floor. But last week I was lucky enough to be assigned to a courtside seat, right behind one of the baskets (so I got some TV time as background, always cool.)
Two things immediately jumped out at me, having not sat on the floor for a game in years: 1, The size and speed of the players seems to have gotten so much more noticeable. How fast every drive to the basket and block is, how quickly the action happens, it’s so much faster than on TV.
The other big thing? Refereeing is really, really hard. I saw a ton of missed calls (mostly offensive players driving and getting fouled) because it was happening so fast the officials either didn’t see it or didn’t think it was enough contact.
But honestly, every game I watched at least 5-6 blatant foul calls weren’t whistled.
–Had a couple of late starting times of games I was covering last week, including a 9:30 p.m. start between Florida State and Notre Dame, and oh yeah, I was covering the game for newspapers on both sides, which meant I was simultaneously writing two stories from separate points of view. While the game was going on.
Ah, deadline adrenaline, how I’ve missed you!
**Next up today, this picture that I saw on Twitter Tuesday made me laugh out loud, hard. Sometimes ad placements are really great on websites and newspaper pages, other times, well, this might be the most unfortunate/worst ad placement I’ve ever seen. Read the headline, then scroll down just a bit…
I mean… if you’re reading that story aren’t you going to freak out completely as you scroll down???
**Finally today, March Madness begins in just one day! My bracket is filled, submitted, and I’m expecting to win ESPN’s $1 million any day now.
Yeah, no. This was a very difficult bracket this year, at least for me. I didn’t love too many upsets (although Rhode Island is going to the Sweet 16, and I love UNCW and Fla. Gulf Coast), and I don’t even feel that great about my Final 4 picks. (There are some great first-round games, though, including Dayton-Wichita State (I think the winner will beat Kentucky), and Vandy-Northwestern.)
But alas, here they are: I like Villanova (in a classic Elite 8 over my Duke boys), Arizona, Louisville, and UCLA (even though they play no defense, I just don’t want to pick North Carolina).
And my national champ? Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats. They’re playing well at the end of the season, they’ve got size and strength and sometimes, it’s just your time. Miller has had a ton of great teams over the years and fallen just short of the Final Four (he’s been to the Elite 8 four times but never farther.)
It’s the Wildcats’ time. And if it isn’t, you never heard it from me.