Friday, February 22, 2008

Courtside Recap: George Mason vs. Delaware

Would it have been rude of me to have asked George Mason basketball coach Jim Larranaga to sit down during Wednesday night’s game against Delaware? He was blocking my view for much of the second half! You see, I lucked into VIP tickets where I sat two rows behind the Mason bench. With the exception of my brother’s JCC basketball games when he was in elementary school, this was the closest I have ever been to the court. I wasn’t even this close watching my high school’s basketball games, which featured an awkward center named Jason Taylor who I don’t remember scoring more than six points in any game. Apparently, he’s now dancing with the stars or something.

Anyway, being a VIP wasn’t just about being close to the court. It also meant free food and drinks! I felt a little out of place given that most of the VIPs probably donated thousands of dollars to the university. I was just a guy there with some friends that happened to have a connection for the night. Did I mention that sitting directly in front of me was former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans General Manager and current CBS Analyst, Charley Casserly? At least I knew the names of the Mason players and some of the team cheers, so I wasn’t completely out of place.

Since I do not get the opportunity to sit this close often (or ever), I thought I would share my experiences, thoughts and observations here.

- Being close to the bench certainly had its advantages. During time-outs, I could hear coach Larranaga give instructions to the team. For example, he told John Vaughn to switch to a different defender. I also heard Larranaga talking with the team about paint so they must be doing some renovations after the game. Maybe it’s a Habitat for Humanity project?

- There are many pressures in being a Division I basketball coach. Just ask Kelvin Sampson, the head coach at Indiana. Your career is fairly or unfairly defined by wins and losses. However, there are certain advantages. During the game, Larranaga simply looked at a student manager, says water and instantly receives a cup. By the second half, all Larranaga had to do was look at the kid, and a cup of water immediately appeared.

- In his program, Charley Casserly circled each of the Mason starters and also put numbers next to the substitutes when they entered the game. This is the inside information that you just can’t get anywhere else!

- The game started at 9:00pm because it was aired on the Verizon Fios network. Does anyone actually have cable through Verizon? What does Verizon show at 7:00 at 8:00 so that the game didn’t start until 9:00?

- Verizon Fios did have a sideline reporter who alternated between standing behind the Delaware and Mason benches during time-outs. I would love to know what she said after listening to the discussion. It was probably something like "play good defense" or "pass the ball to Will Thomas." Maybe she could hear the paint discussion better than me.

- Freshman guard Isaiah Tate entered the game with about one minute remaining in the game and a victory already secured for the Patriots. I don’t know if he knew, but there was a lot of suspense and pressure on him when he was fouled and went to shoot two free throws with only 25 seconds remaining. George Mason had 68 points at the time and 70 points are needed for everyone to receive 5 free chicken wings restaurant. Fortunately, Tate hit both free throws and the crowd rejoiced. Unfortunately, you could only get the wings on the day of the game or the day after the game. Since the game ended around 11:00pm, Thursday was really the only chance to get the wings.

- As for the game itself, Mason won 70-58 with Will Thomas leading the Patriots with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Although Thomas is probably too short to play in the NBA, he is an amazingly solid player on both ends of the court and can play on my basketball team any day. Thomas is now 3rd in the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring (16.5 points per game); 1st in rebounding (10.6); 2nd in field goal percentage (63.5%); and 4th in minutes played. Recaps of the game are available at The Washington Post and at the Mason sports website. This was also Larranaga’s 400th career victory.

- I hoped to take a physical memento from my experience of being close to the court besides the pictures of the back of Casserly’s head and the view of my seat when Larranaga was standing in my way. As I walked out, the team’s water bottles were just sitting there seemingly calling my name. Each water bottle was specifically labeled so I didn’t want to get Vlad Moldoveanu in trouble by taking his bottle. There was also a security guy standing 20 feet away.

If I attend next week’s Mason game, I’ll be sad to return to the cheap seats.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hey Sean, great story. You should come up for a Bona game sometime. I've sat in the front row of the bleachers on the side opposite the benches and if you stretched your legs out, your feet would be on the court. It's really fun being that close. Sitting behind the visitors bench for most of my four years, it was fun to hear the coaches yelling and screaming at their players. John Chaney always was and is still my favorite.

By the way thanks for your B-Day wishes and your present of Johan Santana. That was a very generous gift!