Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Wallflowers

Last Thursday, I was at Tin Roof, a bar in Nashville, with another manager Rob Cross. We were at the bar when Rob turned to me and said, "Bro, we have no status on this campus". I thought about his quote and realized he is completely right. Vanderbilt is a very status oriented school with a distinct social hierarchy that has frat guys at the top, athletes right below them, and then everyone else in varying degrees of social irrelevance. That is just how it goes, but I feel like we managers are in a particularly precarious position but also within the broader structure of the team.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we spend a ton of time around the team during the season. Whenever they are in the gym for a team event, we are there with them. We are constantly around the guys and based on that we have established great relationships with them. Since we spend so much time around them during the year, you often lose touch with other friends because your schedules are just so different so we hang out with the players in social settings. I would say 80 percent of the time I go out on a given night, it is with members of the team, and the same can be said for our other managers.

This has its positives and its negatives. On the one hand, as basketball players, the guys know a lot of girls and they will come out with us or hang out with us at the bars, but this is also not that beneficial to us. The girls are coming to hang out with guys on the team, they may not all be groupies (but some are), but all of them want to talk to and hang out with the players, not the managers. We are close to the action, but we aren't the action when it comes to social settings. We are kind of social afterthoughts for those who hang around the team because they see us as the water boys essentially. At some schools like Kentucky, being a manager is considered a sign of status, but at Vandy nobody really cares except the actual Basketball Wives.

The Basketball Wives are the collection of girlfriends that date members of the team. They are actually huge fans of the managers. They know we help the guys out and put the time into the program, and since the guys respect us, they do too. I know Cheyna and Morgan, who are dating Kevin and AJ respectively, have personally told me they are big fans of mine (thanks y'all), but we do have to sacrifice a lot socially as a manager.

For instance, many girls who talk to any of us will frequently ask what frat we are in, and only Rob is in a frat and he is barely involved. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked "what frat are you in?" only to respond "I'm not in one, I work for the basketball team" and a girl has looked at me like 'why would you do that?' Being a manager isn't the cool thing to do on campus, it just isn't. And I'm not just talking about girls, with guys also. There are certain sports junkies on campus who think what managers do is awesome and befriending guys like John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor is sick, but they tell me all the time that they could never do what I do. They just don't have the time, determination, and willpower to go through with it for a whole season because it really is a lot of stuff we do.

First off, most people don't really know all that we do and secondly we just don't have the time to be involved in that many social activities outside of basketball. Basketball is our social activity and we pour our heart and soul into the program and put the time in, but we are the least recognized members of the program by outsiders.

Without this blog, many of you reading this would have no idea who I was. I didn't create this blog because I wanted people to know my name, but because I wanted them to get an idea of what we as managers do and what it is like being around a college basketball team on a daily basis. It is a unique experience, and many of you probably don't have an idea what goes on inside the walls of Memorial outside of the two hours twice a week when we have a game there. However, it is cool to be recognized for a job where recognition is not in the job description, so maybe this post will serve as a means of elevating the appreciation of the Next-Gen of Vanderbilt managers and that would be incredibly rewarding for me to see.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Vanderbilt Basketball Superlative Awards

Everybody at some point has seen or gotten a high school yearbook. One of the most fun parts to look back on when looking through my yearbook is the superlative section to see who won awards like: best dressed, most likely to succeed, and class clown. So since this is my senior year with the team, I have created a superlative list for the team of 2012-13. Let me know if you have any questions about the awards, they were handed out solely by me based on strict criteria, I hope you all enjoy:


MOST INTELLIGENT: Shelby Moats and Carter Josephs

LOUDEST: Kyle Fuller

QUIETEST: Carter Josephs

MOST POPULAR: Kevin Bright








SWEATIEST: Kedren Johnson

MOST HELPFUL TO THE MANAGERS: Nate Watkins and Carter Josephs

WORST DIET: Josh Henderson

MOST UNIQUE: Sheldon Jeter




MOST LAID-BACK: Josh Henderson






MOST LIKELY TO GET CLOWNED ON: AJ Astroth and Josh Henderson






TOUGHEST: Kedren Johnson


BEST SHOOTER: Kevin Bright


FASTEST: Dai-Jon Parker

SLOWEST: Josh Henderson

MOST LIKELY TO ASK FOR NEW GEAR: Josh Henderson and Kyle Fuller








Monday, April 22, 2013

Take the Photographs and Still Frames in Your Mind

The title of this post is some of the lyrics from Green Day's "Time of Your Life". Whether it be during the Seinfeld finale, a wedding, a Bar Mitzvah, or at a graduation, you have likely heard this song before as a way of commemorating a special event. This post will take you on a photographic journey through my time here at Vanderbilt.

One of my favorite hobbies, outside of sports, is photography. The saying "a picture says a thousand words" is as cliched as it gets, but for me that statement rings true. I love taking pictures, because I love being able to look back at them and recall all the memories surrounding that distinct moment in time. When I look at a picture, it brings me back vividly to the past. I remember how I was feeling and what was going on at a given moment and that is why I love photography. It can often serve as a window into the past that we may otherwise overlook, and over the course of my managerial career I have taken hundreds of photos.

These photos are not just of game action, but team events, sightseeing, and anything else worth photographing. I have linked to my Vanderbilt Basketball album on Shutterfly here so you can look through all of my photos over the years if you so choose (each photo is captioned to give some background on it). This album includes every photo I have taken at a basketball related event or basketball road trip, but for those of you who don't want to look through all 420, here are some of my favorites from over the years:

 I like this shot because it really captures the uniqueness of Oregon's home gym, Matthew Knight Arena. You can see the color scheme on the floor quite clearly and how the gym has an incredibly futuristic feel to it. It captures the enormity of the arena.

This is Sunset over the Willamette River in Oregon. You can see both the shadows of trees on the right side setting in and the reflections of those on the left side over the river, with the sun making its way down the middle of the river. I loved exploring Eugene, as it is an incredibly beautiful city and this picture kind of encapsulates the natural beauty found there.

This picture is from Disney World when we are about to head into the 3D ride. It is myself, Coach Turner, and Rob Cross, Nick Souder, and Rafi Goldman. This is a fun shot and kind of a reminder of all the cool things we get to do as part of the program and also how basketball isn't the be all and end all of time with the team.

This is me, Nick Souder, Rob Cross, and Josh Henderson trying on different Disney hats at Disney World. Goes along with what I said about the picture above.

This picture is me with Bob Knight. Myself and Rafi, another manager, were anxious to meet Coach Knight when he came to broadcast our game vs Kentucky this year, but it was beyond intimidating. Not only does Coach Knight's reputation precede him, but he also kind of carries this cold, hard grimace around with him that makes approaching him seem quite scary. The fact that he is not smiling here is quite appropriate.

This is 5 of our managers (minues Nick Souder) with Coach Franklin after our game vs UT this year. Our game versus UT each year is a "White-Out" and the fans are encouraged to wear White, and this year the managers joined them as we decked out in White polos, White pants, and White shoes to take part in the promotion. It was cool to get this shot with Coach Franklin because of how prominent he has been in raising the level of school spirit on campus.

This is from Florida's Senior Day this past year. Kenny Boynton was the 2nd leading scorer in program history and despite getting a lot of flak for his playing style from the media and fans, he is an incredibly accomplished player. I like how this photo shows Boynton kind of getting everything off his chest and opening himself up to the love of the fans and his teammates, who you can see are all on their feet to celebrate his career.

This photo is from my Senior Day this past year. I like how both my parents are looking at the camera while my sister and I are looking off for Coach Stallings who is on his way with a new mop.

Another from Senior Day. This photo sums up the job as a manager I feel like. We are on the periphery of the team and in the background to those on the outside. So as the team huddles up, I pose for a picture for my dad and it kind of symbolizes the precarious place of the managers. We are involved in the team but we don't coach and we don't play, we are like the invisible cogs that make the engine go.

This is the other managers hoisting me after Senior Day. To me this symbolizes the philosophy of our managerial staff which is that we have each other's back and we cover for one another. If someone needs help, we help them out, and someone can't be at a practice we cover for them knowing that they will do the same for us at some point. This photo is cool in that my back is against all of them which is literally showing what we preach figuratively, that they have my back.

I like this photo of the team huddling up after winning the SEC Tournament because it shows the power of this group and their committment to one another. There are fans, media, cheerleaders, and a host of officials surrounding them at this moment but they tune everything out to show their thanks and humbled appreciation for this moment and what they just accomplished.

This sums up Dai-Jon Parker's personality well. Dai-Jon is one of the most outgoing members of the team and he is incredibly entertaining. This took place when we were in New York City last year for the Legends Classic tournament and we spent an evening in Times Square. Dai-Jon got into a stare off with a mime to the enjoyment of the crowd.

Despite being 73 years old, Dick Vitale remains a great ambassador for the game of college basketball. His passion for the sport comes through each time he does a broadcast and you get the sense this man truly loves what he does. This photo was taken before our game versus Kentucky last year with Dickie V in front of our student section, enjoying the moment and soaking up the love from fans who are as passionate about him as he is about the game.

I really like this shot of Steve Tchiengang. It was during a 30 second timeout during our game versus Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament and Steve was not in the game during the huddle, so he is kind of just looking out and thinking about the game at hand. He looks very reflective and almost larger than life in this photo based on his position to the others on his left.

This is the team holding up the SEC logo and trophy after winning the Tournament. I love this photo because while you can see the pure joy on the guys' faces, you can also see the utter exhaustion present. Playing 3 games in 3 days is challenging for anybody, especially when the last game is against the best team in the country. At this point, the guys are just emotionally and physically drained, yet so thrilled so this photo captures both sides of their emotions.

Last year our NCAA Tournament games were in Albuquerque and my dad came out for the games. The day between games we went hot air ballooning over Albuquerque and this is a shot from up in the sky looking out on the city and it is cool to see the way the city is designed from above, as well as the physical features of the city.

This photo is from the 2011 SEC Tournament and it is of former Tennessee star Tobias Harris, now with the Orlando Magic. Not much behind this photo, it's just kind of a cool/unique face he is making in this shot.

Another shot from the 2011 SEC Tournament. This is of Rob Cross filming one of our games (with his eyes closed). Filming the games is not the most exciting part of our job by any means and it can be quite tedious to be all the way up top away from the action and clearly the tedium of the moment overtook Rob.

A shot of the Georgia Dome from the SEC Tournament in 2011. The playing of basketball games in football domes is a hotly debated topic and this picture really captures how those environments are just not conducive to basketball. The court is so small in the grand scheme of the stadium and nothing about this setting looks natural. It is also a TERRIBLE environment for games. The fans are disinterested and very far from the action, I hated this as a venue.

This is me and John Jenkins after winning the SEC Tournament. As mentioned in the post I just linked, John and I are very close and during this moment I was so proud of him for being named MVP of the Tournament and winning this. John poured his heart and soul into the program and into that Tournament run, and you can see that on his face here. Despite doing his best to smile, he is almost too exhausted to do so. 

Like the photo of Dai-Jon above, this really captures his outgoing personality. This is him making "confetti angels " with the confetti that came down after winning the SEC Tournament. Pure, unadulterated joy.

This photo really sums up my relationship with Steve Tchiengang. Steve is always seeking the best out of others, just like he seeks the best from himself, and he is always attempting to help me "improve your swag" said with his deep accent. This is from his senior night, where Steve wanted to make sure I got the most out of my smile.

This was taken before our NCAA game versus Wisconsin last year. It is of John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor before pre-game introductions. You can see the look on Jeff's face (he is on the right) and also with John's body language which shows just how seriously they are preparing for this matchup. Their intense focus and warrior mentality show through in this photo.

I really like this photo. I took it last year after our game versus Kentucky in the Marriott hotel next to Memorial Gym. UK always stays there when they are in town and my parents were in town and also stayed there this weekend. There were probably 10 or 15 fans around him at this time and one of their managers made sure he wasn't taking pictures with any of them (some compliance violation he said, really just an excuse not to bother him) so I took this picture of him, alone. He is kind of staring off into the distance and seems disconnected from the madness surrounding him.

I will let this one be self-explanatory....

This was taken during the SEC Tournament semifinals last year when Kentucky played Florida. It was coming out of a timeout, and Florida was hanging tough with UK, you got the sense they really could beat them and I remember the five players in this picture: Erik Murphy, Erv Walker, Pat Young, Kenny Boynton, and Brad Beal walking out together with an intense purpose and wanting so badly to finish the job, but they came up short.

This is another shot from hot air ballooning in Albuquerque and it is of a 4-way intersection, it is cool to look at something that is a part of our daily lives from a new perspective.

This is from last year in New Orleans for the SEC Tournament. Bourbon Street is obviously notorious for nightlife and I like how the sign for Bourbon Street and the two red lights are the only things captured against a pitch Black sky.

This was taken as Festus was looking at the senior day video presentation for him on the Jumbotron. He played at Vanderbilt for five years and was a very important player for this program and I like the look of awe in his eyes as he watches all he has accomplished flash before his eyes. It is like he is mesmerized by what is going on and it is a really cool look.

I like this photo because of Brad Tinsley's reaction to Coach Franklin's presence. I remember seeing Coach Franklin tap Brad on the shoulder and Brad be unsure of who it was and this is a cool moment before their exchange with Coach Franklin's hand out to congratulate Brad on his career.

 This is a shot of Thompson-Boling Arena at Tennessee from the upper level. I like how the court is almost neon looking when looked at in comparison to the Orange-clad crowd as well as the glow of the scoreboard. It is also cool to see all of the UT Women's Basketball title banners hovering over the arena.

I like this photo from Memorial Madness last year because it shows Coach Stallings in a different light. Many fans only see Coach in his intense sideline demeanor, and this gives a glimpse into the other side of his personality that many don't get to see.

From senior night this year, me embracing Kyle Fuller. I just really like this shot, from the embrace, to the team surrounding us, to my mom smiling on the side. It really summed up what was truly a fun day to be a part of for me.

As many of you know I have embraced my role as The Mop Guy and have grown attached to my mop over the years. This is me hoisting the autographed mop (as shown on the Jumbotron) I was given by the team and Coach Stallings on senior night, and for once the man who works the least glorious job in college sports was finally on top.

Like the photo above, this took place after I mopped up an enormous wet spot in our game versus UK this year. It took quite awhile for the spot to be sufficiently mopped so the student section gave me a standing O after I finished. This is me saluting the crowd.

Coach admiring me at work.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dealing with Tragedy: My Saddest Day as a Commodore and a Tribute to Chris Meriwether

In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it reminded me that often times in life, tragedy is most shocking to us when it occurs in a sphere of life that we use as an escape or outlet for our daily struggles. I feel like that is why when violence or sadness touches the sports world, it is an all too painful reminder that this part of our lives that delivers such great pleasures can also provide us with excruciating pain. I wrote on this subject during my 2010 internship at Dime Magazine and you can read that story here, but today I will write on my saddest day as a Commodore: January 29, 2011.

On that Saturday, we faced the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymnasium. Most people will remember that as the day Rotnei Clark scored 36 points on us and Arkansas center Mike Sanchez had a career high 20 points, but I will remember that day for very different reasons. Earlier that week, the Vanderbilt family lost Curline Meriwether, the mother of walk-on guard Chris Meriwether, and the funeral was held the day before that game.

It would have been tough to learn of the passing of any player's mother, but for me and I think for a lot of guys on that team, seeing Chris lose his mother was one of the hardest things we ever had to deal with. Chris is from Nashville and his parents were at every game, sitting in the first row along the baseline. Like Chris, his mom was an incredibly welcoming person, making you feel like an old friend each time you said hello to. His mom was and his dad is a great person, and you can see the effect they have had on Chris, who is far and away the nicest person I have ever encountered in my life.

Chris brings a relentless positivity and infectious personality to any room he is in. I have never heard Chris say a bad thing about anybody or complain about a situation and I probably never will. While Chris hardly played that season, he was by far the most respected player on the team. Chris had an unbelievable work ethic and took incredible pride in putting on the Vanderbilt jersey each and every day. Chris did not make the team until his junior season, and I think not being on it for two years then finally making the team gave him a sense of appreciation for being a Commodore that not every player in this program has.

He knew what life was like without the unique brotherhood you form on a college team and he didn't want to give that up. It was almost as if he felt that if he didn't give 110 percent each day, he would be cut, and he just didn't want that to happen. He brought his energy to practice each day, always encouraging others and willing to lend a helping hand, and was laser-like in his focus on the court.

In December of that year, Chris sustained a neck injury and while many guys would have taken the rehab process lightly, Chris rehabbed like his life depended on it. When he got healthy again, he wasn't going to play, but he cherished being on the team so much that he felt guilty if he couldn't be out there doing his job as a member of the scout team to make others better. I remember one day during his rehab, one of our assistant coaches, King Rice, remarked to another assistant, "No player in Division I wants to be back as badly as Chris does. He's unbelievable." And that statement was true, nobody wanted it more than him. Nobody.

That is what made seeing Chris lose his mother so terrible for all of us. Everybody on the team looked to Chris as a steadying presence. While other players may have gotten caught up in petty drama over playing time, girls, or other things, Chris was always seemingly above that. He was the type of person we all wished we could be because he was just good to his core. It seemed like nothing would break Chris or the consistency with which he approached  his role on the team or his upbeat attitude, but it all came crashing down when his mom died.

Before the game, nobody was sure whether Chris would attend the game so the managers didn't put his jersey out in his locker. About 45 minutes before tip, Chris came into the locker room and said he would be dressing for the game. We handed him his uniform and Chris sat there, stone-like and expressionless. Some of the guys went over to hug him, others let him be, but there was an unmistakable sadness in that locker room. Someone from whom everybody had once drawn strength, now had no strength of his own. I remember talking with Rob Cross and we talked about how it was one of the saddest things we had ever seen and it was.

Before the game, the national anthem was sang and then a moment of silence was held for Mrs. Meriwether. During that time, Chris lost it. He was bawling and he couldn't control himself. The first game in his life without his best friend there to support him and he just couldn't hold it in, and it was hard for the rest of us to hold back tears as well. I remember when Chris started crying, Jeff Taylor reached his arm around him and let Chris cry on his shoulder and that is how they went back into the locker room, with Jeff literally supporting Chris the whole way.

That was a moment full of contradictions for me. On the one hand, I was torn apart by sadness for Chris, but on the other was incredibly moved by Jeff's gesture, similar to what the Louisville players did this year for Kevin Ware. When the game started, it was clear the guys just didn't have it in them that day. They were on the court because the schedule said they had to be, but they really didn't want to be there. Our defense was horrible as we gave up 89 points, but the result just seemed so meaningless that day.

So while I was disappointed we lost, I really didn't care that we did. It would have been nice to win the game sure, but either way basketball was just a game that day. It was no longer the two hour diversion where I pour my heart and soul into rooting for the team and doing my managerial duties while forgetting about whatever else is going on. Real life had intersected with that little heaven and made it into an emotional hell for two hours in what was without a doubt my saddest day as a Commodore.

Me and Chris on my Senior Night this year

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Taking a Break from Basketball To Help Big Brothers, Big Sisters

I'm not going to post on basketball today, but instead inform you guys of a fundraiser I am participating in for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.  For those of you who don't know, I have volunteered for two years with this organization mentoring a child during his 4th and 5th grade school years.

Despite certain hardships in the relationship with my "little", due to the fact that he has ADHD and certain behavioral problems, the program has been incredibly rewarding for me. His mother and older brother have both been arrested this past year and his uncle was murdered. While it may not always be obvious to me, and sometimes going to volunteer in the middle of the week right from class to the school then to practice was difficult, it is clear I am making a difference in his life. 

I think I realized I was making a big difference this past year on Valentine's Day. We were making cards for his teacher and he made a card for me saying, "You are my friend. I love you." Getting that card from him meant a lot because I only spend an hour a week with him but it is clear my impact, and the impact of others involved in this program, goes far beyond that one hour a week.

To conclude my time with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, I am taking part in their Bowl For Kids' Sake fundraiser on April 25th with a team that includes the 5 other managers of the program. I am pledging to donate $25 of my own money toward the cause and hope some of you will join me in making that donation. 

I know there are a lot of worthy causes out there and lots of other ways to spend money, but I think this is a very worthy cause and one that I am grateful to be a part of.

To make a donation to our team and cause, please click on this link: and donate. Thanks for your time, and I hope you all see the value in donating.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nick Souder: The Yin to Rob Cross' Yang

Last week, I posted on our head manager and one of my best friends Rob Cross. I described his unrivaled passion and absurd level of commitment to the program, and now I am going to introduce you to one of my other best friends from the program Nick Souder. Nick, like Rob, is a junior but that is about where the similarities end between the two.

While Rob will drop anything in order to help the program, Nick won't drop much of anything to be in the gym. Nick does an excellent job, but he is the type who wants to do his job and then get on with other areas of his life. He doesn't want his life to be solely contained in Memorial Gym. Nick is a manager not because he wants a career in sports but because he does it for fun and to earn some money during the year. Despite being with the program for 3 years, Nick still doesn't know the difference between a cross screen, rear screen, and ball screen and if you ask him about what our ballscreen defense consists of, he is likely to say, "guard the ball" or something along those lines.

Whereas Rob will spend his spare time watching clips on Synergy (a basketball video and scouting service), rebounding at midnight for Rod Odom, or drawing up plays he may or may not run 15 years down the line, Nick does the complete opposite. Nick spends most of his spare time doing homework, as he is an engineering major and whatever is left of his time he spends watching TV or playing golf. Nick likes basketball, but his true passion is golf. He is much more likely to watch a random golf tournament like the Buick Open than he is to watch an NBA Playoff game.

Nick is a get the job done and then get out kind of a guy. His most dreaded phone calls come from Rob (or one of the assistants if Rob is out of town) asking to go to the gym and do extra work. And to be honest, those were my most dreaded phone calls as well. For instance, Rob was at the Final Four last weekend, and some of our workout diagrams that we hang in the practice gym had been taken down, and it was "urgent" that Nick velcro them back to the wall. Nick had about as much interest in doing this as Tiger Woods has in abstinence, which is to say not much, but he did it anyway.

In addition to the various ways in which they spend their spare time, Nick's management style is quite different from Rob's. While Rob hesitates to make executive decisions and struggles with long term planning (he is much more at ease doing things right before they are due), Nick is the opposite. Nick makes a decision (often time for Rob) and sticks with it and has no trouble enforcing his decision. I sometimes think of Rob like the Supreme Court. He will render a verdict on what he would like to see done, but based on getting distracted by other things he doesn't enforce the long-term goals he sets for himself or the program. Nick is like the president, he enforces the law.

Rob is extremely reluctant to impose on anyone else, particularly the players. Rob feels like since our job consists of making the sure the players can play and the coaches can coach, without having to worry about the minute details, that asking the players to do anything outside of play or practice is an unnecessary imposition on them. Even if it will make our job much easier, or helps make the organization run better, Rob will hardly ever ask a player to step outside their comfort zone, because he feels like no matter what the dilemma or situation is, he will be able to get it done himself. Just like he is reluctant to delegate, he is reluctant to ask the players for their extra time, and those are two of the main reasons why Rob works himself to exhaustion.

Nick on the other hand, has no qualms asking the players to do things. His philosophy is that we do so much for the players and have a non-glorious, often times grueling job, that anything they can do to help they should do. He is not afraid to ask a player to clean his locker or throw in his laundry or carry something, and he doesn't really care if they get upset. Since Nick is not looking to do anything in basketball, he has no problems potentially burning bridges because he is not going to be asking anyone in the program for a job. He is a pragmatist and interested in efficiency and his desire to get things done now as opposed to saving them for the last minute, makes him a perfect complement to Rob heading into next season when they are both seniors.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Engaging the Enemy: My Experiences with Kentucky

Working for the Vanderbilt team, I'm supposed to hate Kentucky. I do hate Kentucky. But I also love Kentucky and am in awe of Kentucky. What John Calipari has done at UK in 4 years is truly remarkable, the raw talent on the teams he has put together is off the charts and unlike anything college basketball has ever seen. His ability to reload and continue to attract the best in college basketball is amazing to see and it has created an aura around a program already steeped in mystique.

The fact that Coach Cal so brazenly takes advantage of the one-and-done system and flouts conventional wisdom about team building and "winning with program players" is fun to see. He doesn't care what people think of him or his methods, he is going to keep doing what he is doing because it works (with this year being an exception) and that is why I love Kentucky. They know that everybody hates them and wants to knock them from their perch and they just don't care. They relish their role as the empire of the SEC and they dare people to stand in their way, and that is what makes beating them so unbelievably rewarding.

I arrived at Vanderbilt the same time Coach Cal arrived at UK. We were part of the same recruiting class and the matchups versus Kentucky have been my favorite games every year, particularly during my first three seasons. Each of Cal's first three years, he took UK to at least the Elite Eight, they were consistently one of the best teams in the country, but so were we. They had NBA level talent, but so did we. Those games my first three years were unforgettable because we were so good and they were just a little bit better, but our guys and our team wanted nothing more than to knock them down. We felt we were as good as they were, but because they were Kentucky they got more recognition than we did.

The first game versus UK occurred my freshman year at Rupp Arena and we got beat pretty soundly. UK was coming off their first loss of the season earlier that week to South Carolina and they weren't going to lose again. It wasn't our finest moment. The second game of the season though was one of the most incredible games I have ever seen in person and the night before the game, due to the fact that none of our full time managers were around to do it (I was part-time as a freshman), I was asked to let the team in to our gym for shootaround. I was giddy at the opportunity, and described it in this story for Dime Magazine, and have excerpted some of it here:

" I only managed part-time as a freshman, but the weekend we were scheduled to play Kentucky, none of the full-time managers were able to let them into the gym for a shootaround. They asked me if I could do it. My heart probably skipped a beat.
This was the team with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, No. 1 in the nation, with John Calipari as the head coach. This was the best team in college basketball, one with gobbles of NBA talent and here I was letting them into the gym. I kept pinching myself at the thought as I waited for the team to arrive, and when they finally did I was starstruck. Coach Cal shook my hand and then asked if I could give him a tour of the locker room and I just nodded my head, and then led him into our locker room.
Following that, I went up to the court to make sure the team had everything they needed, and Erin Andrews was waiting there to interview some of their players about the game. Right as I first saw Erin Andrews, I remember turning around and seeing DeMarcus Cousins roll in to the gym with huge glasses, sweatpants rolled up above his knees, and flip-flops with knee-high socks, plopping down to be interviewed by Erin Andrews. At that moment I was thinking, Cousins either has more swag than I could ever imagine or was not aware he was being interviewed by Erin freakin’ Andrews. I think it was a combination of the two, but either way that experience was one of the coolest of my life."

It was truly awesome to have been able to interact with that team, even momentarily. That was a Friday night and the game was scheduled to start at 5 PM on Saturday but many Vandy students had been camping out for admission the night before. Admission to all games is free for Vandy students, so they were camping out for a good seat. I got on line early in the morning and waited until 3:30 with some of my good friends until the gates open. Within two minutes of opening, the student section was entirely full.

The hour and a half between going into the arena and the game starting felt like it dragged on forever. There was a palpable tension in the arena and just so much nervous energy going around. We were taking on this team of all stars with first place in the SEC on the line, and Dick Vitale and Erin Andrews were calling the game. It was a huge opportunity for us and the fans were in a state of hysteria even before the game started.

Memorial Gymnasium has a reputation as being one of the loudest in the country and it was especially loud on this day. Throughout the game you could barely hear yourself think, let alone hear the person next to you. It was a back and forth game and both teams were struggling to score. Everybody in the building wanted the team to win so badly and it was an incredible battle out there. Each possession was laced with tension and excitement, and everybody was just completely engrossed in the action.

Ultimately, we were down by two with a couple of seconds left in the game. We were out of timeouts, but after I believe Eric Bledsoe hit a free throw, Coach Cal called a timeout which allowed us to set up the inbounds play. After the timeout, Darshawn McClellan got the ball to inbound it and he threw a three quarter court pass to AJ Ogilvy. COMPLETE! AJ caught the ball around the three point line, and spinned in toward the middle of the floor in the foul line area and put up a 15 foot floater to tie that was just wide. It was like the air had been sucked out of the gym, and it was an emotionally draining experience to be a part of, even just as a spectator.

The next year, Kentucky came to play in Memorial for the first game and that was another incredible show. Before the game started though, UK assistant John Robic came to me with a unique request. He said that his wife was a Vanderbilt alum and despite his employment with UK she wanted a Vanderbilt basketball T-shirt. That began an exchange of t-shirts each year between me and Coach Robic.

Now to the game, it was a tightly contested game, but John Jenkins just willed us to victory that day. He was unstoppable. John played all but 30 seconds of the game, and when one of our assistants reminded Coach how long he had been in for, Coach told him, "John can rest tomorrow". He carried the team on his back shooting 11 of 17 and scoring 32 points. I was so proud of him because he worked so hard for a day like that and John always had a chip on his shoulder when we played UK. He hated how much recognition all their guys got and felt like he was consistently overlooked by people in comparison to the guys at UK, so that was a special moment for him.

We later lost 68-66 at Rupp Arena in that year, but my junior year was the most fun to compete against UK. Like my freshman year, that team was loaded with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrence Jones leading the way. They were an unbelievable team to watch not just because of their individual talent but their ability to put aside their egos for the greater good of the team.

The first game was played at Memorial, and I again let the team into Memorial the night before the game. I was still in awe of them, and Anthony Davis was a lot taller than he looked on TV, here I was just casually interacting with the future number one pick. It was sweet. During the game, in the first half, UK took a huge lead, and we came back in the second half but it wasn't enough, losing 69 to 63.

My parents and sister were in town for the game and were staying at the same hotel as UK (the Marriott right by the gym) and I went there with them after the game and it was a scene. There were fans camped out all over the lobby just looking for a glimpse of their favorite player or Coach Cal. It was chaos, and it was all being monitored by Sandy Bell who essentially oversees the basketball program for the athletic department. I talked to her and asked her what it was like travelling with the team and she said, "It's like the Beatles, our fans are rabid, they just love these guys so much. It's hard for these guys to have a normal road trip experience because everybody wants to meet them."

Later in the season we went to Rupp and that was my first personal experience there. We lost the game but I was astounded by the arena and the atmosphere. Rupp is old and dumpy, but it seats 22,000 people who absolutely love their team. It's not that UK fans are the most rowdy or rabid bunch (I think Arkansas and Florida fans are more vocal), but the sheer number of them is overwhelming.

It is 22,000 people wearing blue and while the fans aren't necessarily screaming the whole time, when UK is struggling, the entire building rises up as one and it is like you are competing against not just the five guys on the court but the entire arena. It is a hard feeling to explain but you almost feel like the fans are injecting their passion and will into the team during certain moments, it's like they are refusing to let them lose, no matter what. When the fans start standing and cheering during crunch time, they can almost will the team to victory and it is a magical thing to witness, even if you are on the other side.

The third game of last season came in the SEC Tournament Championship. To be honest, I didn't think we were going to win. We were good, but they were great. Trying to beat that team was like trying to ride a bicycle up a steep hill. You may get close to the top of the hill, but not quite over it each time you try and that is how it felt in the first two games versus UK that season. It felt like no matter what happened they were still going to win, and that is how I felt late in the SEC Championship as well. The game was back and forth pretty much throughout and New Orleans Arena was essentially Rupp South, filled entirely with blue and small section of Black and Gold. The way Kentucky fans travel is amazing.

We were down by 5 with just over 4 minutes left and I just didn't think we would get it done. They were just too good but I think the moment I knew we were going to win was when Kedren Johnson hit a reverse layup to put us up 2 with a minute and a half left. It was a huge shot for a freshman and at that moment it was like we had finally climbed over that hill. We were on top and we didn't just beat anybody, we beat Kentucky. And not just any Kentucky team, but that Kentucky team. It was an incredibly special day and moment to be a part of.

This year, both teams had down years so the rivalry wasn't as intense as in years past (though it was great to knock them from NCAA Tournament contention), but there were still some good memories. There was the time when Willie Cauley Stein slid halfway across the floor at Memorial and I had to wipe up his sweat for about two minutes, after which I received a standing ovation. Or the time the night before the game, when Coach Robic said to me, "you're still here?" and I replied, "yeah, we don't have a one and done program for managers here" and Coach Cal chuckled and smiled at my joke.

Overall, Kentucky is unbelievable. The support the fans have for their team is unrivaled by any fan base in America. It is simply remarkable and the program continues to churn out ridiculous loads of NBA talent. I think I figured out that by the time Jon Hood is done playing after next year, he will have played with 25, TWENTY-FIVE NBA players in his 5 years at UK (John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, DeAndre Liggins, Enes Kanter, Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley Stein, Alex Poythress and then the 6 McDonald's All-Americans coming in next year. THAT. IS. ABSURD. And that is also what makes beating UK so rewarding, it is like beating the Yankees. So while I always hate UK as a fan, playing them and observing their program over the past 4 years have provided some of my best memories as manager, so I will always be grateful that the team got the chance to compete against them year in and year out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rob Cross: The Hardest Working (and Best) Man in Showbusiness

Everyone in this program has a passion for Vanderbilt Basketball, but nobody is more passionate about it than our head manager Rob Cross. During my freshman year, I was so impressed with Rob's ridiculous work ethic and desire for perfection, I wrote this story on him titled "Meet the Next Brad Stevens" based on Rob's ambitions to be a college head coach and I am confident after two more years working alongside Rob that my prediction will come true as the characteristics I describe in that story have only intensified over the last two years.

As mentioned above, Rob is more passionate about this program than anybody else and that is evidenced by the sheer amount of time he puts into it. Rob never misses a practice or team workout, no matter the circumstances. One time this year he was incredibly sick and had shivers but still showed up to practice, despite being in a hoodie sweatshirt and beanie hat. At one point, Coach turned to Rob and said, "Are you sick?" and Rob said "Yeah I am Coach" and Coach said, "I was sick last week too, but you didn't see me wearing that ridiculous cap". With his self-confidence shattered momentarily, Rob removed the cap for the last few minutes of practice.

That incident is just one of many examples of Rob putting the program before himself. Other prominent examples include sleeping in the basketball offices so he can wake up early in the morning and get right to work, making sure all of his classes end by 12:30 so he can be at the gym at least 2 hours before practice every day, and responding to the needs of the coaches and players faster than Jimmy John's can deliver a sandwich. If a coach or player needs something, Rob will respond no matter what he is doing at the time (just ask his ex-girlfriend, she always said Rob was dating basketball and cheating on it when he spent time with her, which is pretty funny... and accurate).  My mom compares him to former New York City mayor Ed Koch. People always used to say Ed Koch (who never married) was "married to New York" and my mom says "Rob is married to Memorial. It's his true love" and I wouldn't argue.

He will skip class, not go out, or even not eat, if he has an opportunity to better the program. For example, one of our other managers Nick Souder and I went to an NBA game in Memphis back in December. Classes were over and we had only a morning practice, but Rob wouldn't come with us. Coach Rich needed some film clips done by practice the next day and Rob wouldn't go to the game because he hadn't done them. He ended up missing a great night as the GM of the Grizzlies, Chris Wallace, ended up putting us up in a Memphis hotel for the night after we met with him for awhile at the game, but Rob did what he felt he had to do.

Based on his penchant for getting things done, Rob occasionally loses sight of his bigger goals for the job. Any time a new task comes up, he wants to get it done so some of the tasks that don't have a "deadline" or goals he has get put to the side. Those include keeping the locker room clean (it is the messiest environment I've ever seen), weekly managerial meetings (they had a good run but faded toward the end of the year), or my favorite, learning how to delegate or say no to something (I'm not sure this will ever happen).

He believes that ensuring the coaches are prepared and our players have what they need is the most important thing he can be doing at anytime, he is completely selfless in that regard. The coaches know they can ask him to do anything and he won't hesitate to do it. He essentially served as head manager this year in addition to being co-video coordinator with Dan Cage. He is maniacal about this program and there are no amount of words I could use to describe just how much he cares and puts into it.

Not only does he do whatever is asked, but Rob is also always asking questions about he can do better. He realizes that being on the inside of a major program is an incredible learning opportunity and takes the chance to pick the brains of the coaches, players managers, strength coaches, administrators, anyone who is associated with the program. He wants to gain every insight or advantage he can because he knows one day it will come in handy when he is running his own program (and he will be at some point).

However, while Rob cares a lot about the success of the program, he cares even more about the people in it. If anyone has a problem, whether it be on the court with our players or off it with the players and managers, he is there to help. He listens to everybody and is never condescending in the way he treats others. He wants to be everybody's friend and wants people to feel like they can come to him with anything, and people certainly feel that way about him. 

He is one of the best friends I've ever had and one of the best people I've ever known. Vanderbilt is beyond lucky to have him and wherever he ends up, he will do an unbelievable job. Knowing and working with Rob for three years has made me a better person and I'll miss the frequent late night conversations we have at the gym or in the dorms next year, though I will get a lot more sleep without him around, so I guess there is one positive about it.

Me and Rob at Disney World in November

An Open Invitation To Vandy Fans

Last night I went to the Nashville Sounds game with Chris Meriwether. For those of you who don't know, Chris was a three-year walk-on for us and a graduate assistant last season. He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He will always take the time out to say hello or help you out and expects nothing in return. For those of you who never had the chance to meet Chris, be sure to introduce yourself to him at a game next season as he still lives in Nashville and attends many of our games.

Anyway, while at the game Chris told me that one of his favorite parts of college was the last few weeks of his senior year. Not only did he get to spend time with the friends he had made to that point, but he also said he got to meet a lot of new people who became good friends of his in the last stretch of his college career. I thought about that a lot last night, and Chris is right.

To this point I have made some unbelievable friends and had some unbelievable experiences with the men's basketball program, but there are still so many people associated with the program and this school that I haven't had the chance to meet, and would love the opportunity to do so. As fans, students, or just observers of the program, you guys are help make games in Memorial and working for the program so enjoyable. Being a fan is not an easy experience, you go through the ups and down of a season, numerous times over the course of your life, but true fans always stick with their team no matter what.

Growing up, I was a die-hard New Jersey Nets fan, I attended tons of games, collected autographs, and watched them on television religiously. Some of the greatest moments I had as a fan were getting to meet my idols, go to a Q&A with the general manager, and get an inside look at the locker room. When you pour so much time into rooting for a team or a player, it truly is an enormous emotional investment, and fans have the same passion for the team that the players and coaches have. Sometimes even more so.

Many of the Vandy fans have interacted with me on Twitter and some have introduced themselves at games, but I don't actually know many of you.

So I want to take this opportunity to invite any fan to contact me with any questions they may have about the program, certain players, what it's like on the inside. This blog attempts to give you an inside look at what goes on, but I certainly can't cover and won't cover everything you are interested in, so feel free to contact me asking about aspects of the program I haven't covered. If you want to meet for lunch or are in town and want a tour of Memorial I'd be happy to meet with you or show you around. You all pour your energies into supporting us season after season so this is a chance for me to give back something in my last month on campus to you guys.

I hope you will contact me in some way, because while I can provide insights for you guys, you can do the same for me. I don't know much about the program before I got here and many of you are going on 20 to 30 years of fandom and I'm sure have tales of the past that I would find interesting, much like UK superfan Bob Wiggins does for those in the Kentucky program.

Here is my contact info, so please feel free to reach out, I hope to hear from some of you:

Twitter: @dgm591


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Jolly and Jovial Bob Horner

When our fans listen to our games on the radio, they listen to the best play by play man in the business, "The Voice of the Commodores" Joe Fisher, and Tim Thompson on color. However, there is a third member of the radio crew who you don't hear on the airwaves, but is integral not only to the broadcast but also one of the more entertaining members of the Vanderbilt Basketball program.

Bob Horner is the radio engineer for our games and has been for 34 years. He also is the radio engineer for the Nashville Predators, so Bob is like a local legend when it comes to radio engineering. He is responsible for ensuring the broadcast goes smoothly so that the only thing Tim and Joe need to worry about is calling the game. If you have been to a game at Memorial Gymnasium, you have certainly seen Bob. He is a hard man to miss. He is rotund and quite jolly, almost like Santa Claus, and takes on that type of larger than life personality on the road.

I really enjoy spending time with and talking to Bob because we share a lot of similarities. Bob is a straight shooter and enjoys the finer things in life like comfort and food. When we go on roadtrips, we always take a DVD player and camera box with us. The boxes for those two things are large and take up their own seat on  the plane and Bob always volunteers to sit with them. The boxes have no preference for an aisle seat, have no legroom, and don't shift around in the air, so they are the ideal seatmate. Bob realized that before anybody else and now lays claim to those boxes whenever we travel.

While Bob appreciates comfort, I think he appreciates food even more. Bob and I always look forward to post-game meals on the road. Shannon Gordon, our athletic trainer, always organizes the post game meal. Sometimes it is pizza, sometimes Chick-Fil-A, sometimes Jimmy John's, but whatever it is when it arrives we are always hungry. I think my favorite post-game memory with Bob happened after the Xavier game this past year.

After the game Gordo had ordered pizza. A lot of times trying to get good pizza outside the Northeast is a difficult task (Oxford, Mississippi had some terrible pizza), but the pizza we got in Cincinnati was phenomenal. I was downing an entire pie of Buffalo Chicken Pizza while Bob was eating a pie of Meat Lover's and we were both remarking at just how good the pizza was, and then Bob turns to Gordo and says, "Gordo you really did it this time. This pizza is phenomenal. You kicked this one out of the park."

Then once Bob polished off the pizza, he reached into the box of cookies and he looked at me and said, "The cookies are heated. This is fantastic" before turning to Gordo and saying, "I thought the pizza was good, but these cookies are even better". Taking Bob's advice, I tried one and boy were they good. They were warm and soft and the chocolate just kind of melted in your mouth. They were delectable. From start to finish that was a very fulfilling meal.

My other favorite memory regarding Bob happened this year during our game at Missouri. Every game Coach Stallings has a cup of water that is constantly refilled throughout the game. Due to his active sideline demeanor that rarely includes sitting down for long periods of time and his quite vocal nature, Coach needs to stay hydrated at all times in order to keep on stomping. Usually a manager is in charge of filling up Coach's cup but in Missouri, Bob volunteered to do it because his seat was right behind where the cup was placed.

We try to fill the cup up to about 80 percent of capacity but Bob was filling it up to around 95 percent capacity that day. We were losing by 29 at halftime and Coach was not in the best mood, nobody really was, and during the second half he took his anger out on the water cup. The cup was too full so he turned around and looked in the direction of Nick Souder and I and said, "Who's filling up the damn cup?! Stop filling it to the top, every time I pick it up, I feel like I'm going to spill. It's not that hard to fill it up right."

At the time, Coach was not aware that Bob was filling the water cup up and I wasn't aware either so I turned to Nick and said, "Nick, why are you filling it all the way up?" He said, "I'm not, Bob's doing the water." So we both turn to look at Bob and he has both palms up and his arms outstretched, shrugged, and then he says, "I thought that was the normal amount" in his deep, baritone voice before swearing off the job for the remainder the game and season (though Bob did later tell Coach he was the one filling the cup up that day).

Me and Bob Horner

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Conundrum of Free Gear

For anyone that has ever seen me outside the game-day setting of Memorial Gymnasium when I wear a polo and khakis on Game Day, it is likely that you have seen me (much to the chagrin of my mother) in some form of sweatpants. My philosophy on clothing is to dress comfortably because if you are comfortable, you will perform better at whatever activity you are participating in. For instance, no competitive swimmer goes swimming in jeans and no basketball player competes in a suit because that would be incredibly uncomfortable for them to perform in.

Companies like Nike and Adidas make their money off designing the most comfortable and performance enhancing shoes and gear that they can because they realize that if a performer is uncomfortable, that takes away from their ability to focus strictly on competition. I feel the same way about my brain function. If I wear sweatpants or shorts to class, my mind is at ease and free to think creatively. I attribute my extensive creativity and outside the box thinking in no small part to my insistence on ensuring I feel loosey-goosey when working hard or just in general.

Now you are probably asking why I am posting about my penchant for wearing sweatpants on this blog and the answer is because most of the sweats I wear are team provided. One of the perks of being a manager, coach, or player is the loads of free gear we get every year. From dri-fit T-Shirts, to hoodies, to full sweatsuits, we get a lot of nice looking and very comfortable gear each year. The more free gear I accumulate, the easier it becomes for me to just wear that to class each day, so that is what I have done essentially, with one noticeable exception.

For the first two weeks of any semester, I always dress up for class. Always. The reasons for doing this are two-fold. The first reason is to give the impression to my professor that I am a serious student. I look the part and come in with a purpose of providing scintillating intellectual commentary. This is the same reason you don't show up for a job interview in sweats: you want to look like you are important, even if reality says you really aren't.

The second reason is to impress any cute girls who may be in class. So the first two weeks serve as essentially a scouting period, or in basketball terms a recruiting period. During this time, everybody is looking around the class to see which guy or girl they'd like to partner with on a project or sit next to at some point. It is just a natural thing that occurs, so during this two-week period, I identify if there are any girls I might want to get know in a given class. If there is a cute girl who I'd like to talk to, I will extend the two-week period until either we begin talking and something comes of it or I find out she has a boyfriend at which point, the sweats are immediately removed from the shelf and worn to class.

In the case of a class with no cute girls, I tend to break out the sweats even before the two-week evaluation period is up and I've been convinced that the professor finds me to be a riveting presence in the classroom. One time I tweeted about this philosophy and a girl from a previous class got mad because she said, "you wore sweatpants to class every day in the class we had, do you not think I'm cute?" I didn't my guidelines for class dress would be taken so literally, but anyway once the two week period is up, I usually go with team issued gear.

Now, most of the guys on the team wear their sweats to class each day as well, but the problem is they are athletes so they are seen as being able to get away with doing it. It is acceptable practice for the athletes to wear their gear to class, but it is less known the acceptability for student managers to do so. Unlike on the road when I wear Vandy gear and can attempt to convince people of my walk-on status, most people here know I'm not a member of the basketball team. I'm 5'10", 170 with a vertical leap of like 22 inches. I don't scream "D1 Athlete" or even "D1 Scout Team Gold Bomber". I scream "Student Manager".

There was one instance of someone asking if I played on the team though. I was in the elevator with a girl, who was pretty cute, and she saw my Vanderbilt Basketball T-Shirt and said, "Are you on the team? You guys played a great game last night". I usually think quickly on my feet, but I kind of froze at that moment. On the one hand, I could lie and say I am and even give the name of a walk-on like Nate Watkins to solidify my story, but she would probably look into that after we got off the elevator or I could just be honest and say "No, I'm the guy that mops the sweat" and live with the consequences of that reality. So I told her I was the mop guy and ended up without a new number in my phone.

That is the reality of life when you are given, and consequently wear, team gear but are not actually on the team: trying to explain your role in a way that other people put you on the same status level as the players themselves. That is a balance I'm still working to figure out to this day.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Harrowing Journey of Captivity, Broken Promises, and Mia Mozzarella

We got to the airport in the morning and I was honestly sad to leave Oregon, I had really grown to like the place, but also wanted to get back for the Vandy-UT football game that night. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:45, but shortly after we got the airport, I noticed the flight had been delayed. I told Coach Frederick, who is the point man on all travel, and he was concerned because we had to catch a connecting flight later on. As he went to talk to the desk clerk, they announced the flight had been cancelled because the flight attendant was sick. Everybody was PISSED, and I was particularly devastated because it meant we would not get back in time for the football game.

I was upset they didn't have a backup flight attendant at the airport, and thought it was a BS excuse for a flight not to take off. I thought about suggesting that they hire our secretary Miss Debbie as a temporary replacement. Miss Debbie is very matronly and friendly and I thought she had the capability to do a nice job, but then I remembered there would be Oregon fans on the flight and Miss Debbie might have difficulty serving them. Miss Debbie has a firm policy that no fan of an opposing team will be allowed to receive tickets from any member of our team: players, staff, or coaches, and if she had to treat Oregon fans the same way she treated us, I'm not sure she could have handled it, so I backed off the potential suggestion.

Head manager Rob Cross then suggested that we get the Oregon cheerleaders to each adopt a Dore, so I tweeted, "" hoping that somehow one of the Oregon cheerleaders saw me at the game on Friday night, thought I looked cool/funny/attractive, and found me on Twitter. Unfortunately that didn't happen, as nobody responded to my tweets except a random Vandy fan saying "haha". So Plan B was now out.

My third suggestion was reaching out to Phil Knight. I think in our 30 second interaction the previous night we had established a real repoire. Vandy after all is a Nike school and Phil Knight owns Nike, and was in Eugene so why not enlist his help. I tweeted this, hoping to catch someone's eye, "Phil Knight is in Eugene. We are a Nike team. Not sure why we arent calling him " but unfortunately that tweet got a grand total of 0 RT's, favorites, or replies.

My tweets for help were not being received by the broader community. I started getting restless so I went on LinkedIn to pass the time. Yes, that LinkedIn. The site where you try to promote yourself to employers and kiss ass to other networkers. That was how I was spending my time, and this was only like 6:30 AM. My day was just getting started.

Ultimately, Coach Fred made the decision that we should bus to Portland 2 hours away so that there would be more flight options out of there than there were in Eugene. So at 7:00 AM we boarded the bus for Portland. For the first hour and a half of the bus ride, I and everybody else was knocked out. Everybody was exhausted. I slept like a baby, but when I woke up I had to use the bathroom to pee. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but I have a lot of trouble urinating on a moving vehicle, it is just very hard to stabilize myself and I get quite gun shy, so after 5 minutes in the crammed stall, I just gave up.

So upon arriving at the airport I sprinted inside to use the bathroom because I was too traumatized to use the bus one even though we had stopped moving. When we got inside, Coach Fred had booked the team on a 12:30 Pacific Time flight out of Portland to Las Vegas with a connection to Nashville, that would bring us back there at around 9:30. The only problem was that this flight only had 26 available seats and there were 30 members of our traveling party. As I mentioned in this post, my place and the place of managers in the program is quite tenuous, so I knew some of us would be left behind, the question was who.

As the players and coaches got their tickets, myself, the other 5 managers, and Coach Turner were left at the ticket counter with Coach Fred to find out our fate. I thought that maybe my seniority would have bumped me onto the regular flight, but I couldn't be sure. Freshman manager Zach Kleiner found out his fate before me and when he went to the counter his name was not on the ticket list, I immediately shouted, "Haha!! Karma's a b*tch!!" assuming that his not being on the flight meant I had made it. I was so ecstatic because I hate airports. They are dirty, crowded, and everything there is overpriced. They disgust me and I hate waiting in them.

After Zach went to the counter and his name wasn't on the list, I went up fully expecting my name to be on there. However, I told them my name "Daniel Marks" and she said "I don't see your name on this list". Zach immediately shouted "Karma's a b*itch" and I went into a faux-rage half produced by anxiety and half by exhaustion. I was furious and I stormed off to a bench area at the other side of the waiting area to sit by myself. I needed time to gather my thoughts and figure out my next move, but this decision to isolate myself from the group came back to haunt me.

While I was staring listlessly into the abyss, another seat on the flight opened up and it was given to Zach, primarily because he was going home for Thanksgiving the next day so he had a flight to catch, but I still wasn't pleased. So when it was all said and done our two freshmen managers, Brian and Zach, along with our head manager Rob Cross, got onto the team flight while fellow managers Rafi, Nick, and then Coach T were left behind with me. It was a motley crew of people on the fringe of the program's existence.

Once it was determined that the four of us were to be left behind, Coach Fred gave us some options about flights. There was a 6:30 flight leaving from Portland to Los Angeles, another one later, and then we could stay overnight in Portland as our last option. Despite having no clean clothes, I wanted to stay in Portland for the day because I had never seen the city or go back to Eugene for the Stanford-Oregon game, but my comrades wanted in on the 6:30 flight to get back as soon as possible, so we got that. Rob Cross, our head manager, was freaking out about the possibility of being the only manager at practice if we stayed later so he insisted on the earliest flight as well but his opinion meant nothing to us. He was on the flight, the four of us couldn't give two shits what he thought at that given moment. This happened at about 10:30 AM.

When all that was decided, I was planning my next move. I tweeted at Blazers' rookie sensation Damian Lillard seeing if he wanted to chill for the day and didn't get a response. Then I tweeted this, "Didn't make cut for 1225 flight out of Portland. Have submitted my withdrawal papers from Vandy ". I was fully prepared to begin a new life with just my Vandy duffel bag, three pairs of clothes, and my retainer. I liked Oregon from the hospitable people to the outdoorsy vibe, and the laid back atmosphere. If I wasn't good enough to make the first flight, I was just going to carve a new identity in the Pacific Northwest.

When I tweeted that, one of our walk-ons Nate Watkins Retweeted it. I was pissed, here Nate was on the regular flight RT'ing me about starting a new life, like he thought it was a joke. It wasn't and I responded to his ignorance with this, "As I sit here at the check in counter pondering my next life move, RTs me from the gate ". Obviously, the loss of me in his life was difficult for Nate to comprehend, but he just needed to accept that I had moved on from the Black and Gold at that point in time.

Once I got over Nate tweeting me from the other side of the security line, I decided I needed to leave the airport. I couldn't spend all day there so after receiving some cash from Coach Fred, I decided I was going to take a cab to the Rose Garden, home of the Trailblazers, and hopefully meet some NBA person who might consider giving me a job. I got in the cab and it was a 20 minute ride in pretty heavy rain and the cab cost $40 but that was irrelevant at the time. I was determined to meet somebody. Anybody.

I arrived at the Rose Garden and there was an auxiliary building with offices that was locked  and I started walking around the arena aimlessly with my duffel bag. My shoulder was killing me and I began to realize the plan was hopeless so I had a homeless guy take a photo of me in the rain with the Rose Garden marquee. I then sent the photo to every NBA contact I had hoping one of them could put me in touch with someone from the Blazers who might be willing to meet with me. I got a response from one of my contacts that their practice facility and team offices were 45 minutes in the other direction and he could call the Assistant GM if I wanted him to. I said sure why not.

Then Nick Souder called me and said there was a chance we could catch a 12:45 flight so I hopped in a cab immediately and tried to race back to the airport because it was now 11:45 and I got to the airport at 12:15 but that other flight plan fell through, so we were stuck in the airport till our 6:30 flight. We made a nice home for ourselves in the corner of an overpriced pizza joint known as Mia Mozzarella.

Coach T ordered a few slices of mediocre tasting pizza as I tried to arrange a meeting with the Blazers Assistant GM. We ended up connecting on the phone but were unable to meet. At about 1:00 I passed out on one of the tables at Mia, while Nick Souder also passed out on another table, and Rafi read a book. Coach T was either reading some strength and conditioning print out or bidding on folk art, I can't remember which one.

I napped for about an hour then woke up and got a triple cheeseburger at Wendy's with a root beer frosty float. Yeah, I was worried about the possibility of stomach issues in the air, but at that point I just didn't care. I was eating and eating what I wanted and I wanted Wendy's. Meanwhile back at our temporary home at Mia, Coach T requested they put on the USC-UCLA football game and they asked if we had ordered any food so Coach T ordered another mediocre slice from them.

We then watched mediocre football while eating mediocre food for awhile, lamenting our collective fate and pondering if anybody would care if we never made it back. I texted about 7 friends, 4 of whom I don't even really like, and got one response. I was gunning for conversation like Marshall Henderson on a White Girl Wednesday.

Then me and Nick Souder went to the ticket counter around 4:00 to see when we could go through security for our 6:30 flight at which point the ticket lady informed us the time on the ticket was wrong, our flight was actually at 5:20. At this point, we really thought it was our fate not to go back to Nashville. A collective destiny of Commodore rejects. The possibilities for our future lives were endless.

At around 4:15 we said farewell to Mia and went through security. When we got through the security line there were so many flights we were tempted to get on. There was the one to Hawaii or the one to Alaska, offering unprecedented opportunities for the four of us. At this point we were so disillusioned with the thought of Nashville, we were willing to go anywhere. Ultimately we boarded the flight to LA as none of us had the balls to stick it to the man and venture elsewhere in the world.

I lamented that we were going back to Nashville but wouldn't be able to go to the Vandy-UT game, and Nick responded, "I remember when we thought we'd be at the game" to which Rafi retorted, "Yeah when we woke up this morning". That about summed up our day. I passed out on the flight to LA and woke up elated to see we had beat UT 41-18. When we got off the plane in LA, we watched the end of Oregon-Stanford before we had to take a bus to a different terminal

When we got to this new terminal the dining options were limited but there was a Chili's Too. Chili's has a location on West End right across from campus and because of that I have eaten an inordinate amount of Chili's over the last four years. I'm really sick of the establishment, but at that time Chili's was like Ruth Chris. I got some type of quesadilla and felt some sort of nirvana go through me, it was an out of body experience that I never thought I'd have at a Chili's too, but I did. I actually liked my meal at Chili's, weird things happen when you're stranded.

After the meal at Chili's we killed more time in the terminal then boarded the flight to Nashville. I passed out the whole time and woke up with a terribly sore throat. So when we got to Nashville I needed Starbucks, I waited 15 minutes at 5 AM for a caramel apple cider while the other three got the bags. Then we got into Nick's car, which Rob was driving and headed back to campus. I took a shower then decided to clean the kitchen because I was tired of it being dirty before I passed out into the abyss, 24 hours after the journey had begun.