This week on the blog will be a week of lists and favorite things. I am going to do four different posts, the first of which is this list. Being a manager allows you to meet all different types of people, and that is one of the coolest parts of the job, not only getting to know different people in the program, but meet people outside the program that you otherwise might not get to.
This list looks at the ten most famous people I've met due to being a manager (NOTE: they are not listed in order of their famousness, just numerically). Some people might think some of the things I talk about below are "unprofessional" or something along those lines, but I just love meeting people and if any of you saw these people, I'm sure you would have wanted to introduce yourself as well. Enjoy:
1. RICK PERRY - GOVERNOR OF TEXAS
My meeting with the Texas Governor and former presidential nominee almost didn't happen because I walked right by him the first time I saw him. I was leaving our locker room to go to the media room down the hallway before our game versus Texas A+M this season and saw the Texas A+M head coach, Billy Kennedy, talking to someone and overheard him say, "And then I told the guy that my day job was governor of the great state of Texas, and turned around and it was Rick Perry.
Before deciding to introduce myself, I was thinking of a way to cleverly incorporate the word "oops" into my intro after Perry's infamous gaffe during a debate last year. I couldn't figure out a way to include that in the intro so I just went up to him and he was a nice guy. He was there because his son was a Vandy alum and he is a A+M alum so him and his son came to the game. We chatted about the high price of tuition and he asked if there was anything I could learn that could be worth $56,000 a year and I told him I hoped I was learning something. Then I asked him to sign my roster card and he did, but his autograph was not in script, it was in print. I wasn't sure how to interpret it at the time and it still befuddles me to this day.
2. ALLAN HOUSTON - FORMER SHOOTING GUARD, NEW YORK KNICKS; CURRENT ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER, NEW YORK KNICKS
Growing up, I lived outside of Washington, DC until I was 9, and since my dad was from New York, I was a New York sports fan despite growing up there. Those New York teams included the Knicks (when I moved to New Jersey, I became a die-hard Nets fan) and my favorite player was Allan Houston. I used to cut out photos of him from the New York Times to collect and I loved watching him play. This buzzer beater he hit in 1999 to beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs is one of my earliest basketball memories, and solidified him as my favorite player.
So last year when Houston was at one of our practices in New York, it was hard for me to contain my excitement. He was one of my childhood heroes and he was sitting like 10 feet away from me during one of our practices, I must say I was not focused at all on the job at hand. I shook his hand after practice, and it was a really cool moment for me.
3. PHIL KNIGHT - NIKE FOUNDER AND OREGON SUPER-DONOR
Eugene, Oregon and the campus at the University of Oregon were two of my cities and campuses respectively, as I detailed in this blog post. Their athletic facilities including their arena were absolutely incredible and Phil Knight was responsible for them, as well as that small company known as Nike. When we were at shootaround and I saw a table at center court with placards that said "Reserved for Nike", I got my hopes up that Phil Knight would be at the game. He is one of the most influential people in sports over the last 50 years and has shaped the landscape of the apparel and shoe business forever. He is a genius and I was really hoping to meet him, and luckily I did.
I told him that the facilities he had built at Oregon were remarkable and what a great tribute they were to his alma mater and he was very nice and appreciative of my compliments. I then asked for a photo, and snapped one right before game time.
4. CLIFF LEE - PITCHER, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
One of the worst games I ever had to sit through in my managerial career was our game at Arkansas this year when we lost 56 to 33. Every time I looked up it seemed we were either turning the ball over or Marshawn Powell was scoring, so the highlight of the game was when they showed Arkansas alum Cliff Lee on the big screen. As a Mets fan, I am all too familiar with just how good Lee is, so at halftime, in the 10 to 12 minutes or between when the team goes in the locker room and when they come out (only the head manager, Rob Cross, is allowed in, the rest of us stay on the court) so myself and one of the other managers, Brian Suh went over to introduce ourselves.
5. STEVE SPURRIER - HEAD FOOTBALL COACH, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Ever since Vandy football lost the opener to South Carolina last year, I have been bitter toward their football program. We got jobbed on that missed pass interference call on Jordan Matthews and should have won that game. Anyway, when we were in Columbia for the basketball game this year, before the game Nick Souder mentioned that he saw Steve Spurrier walking around, and he was wearing some hideous garnet jacket. I then went on a quest to find the "Ole Ball Coach".
I have always been intrigued by Steve Spurrier as a coach known for his genius but also his infamous press conferences in which he will often call out members of the press. And I also had something to tell him. When I found Spurrier in some bourgeoisie booster room, I introduced myself and lied that my dad was a Florida alum and huge fan in order to get his attention so that I could drop the bombshell on him: IT WAS PASS INTERFERENCE AGAINST J-MATT!! Coach Spurrier laughed and said something along the lines of "I don't make the calls" at which time I said well to make up for that call, how about a photo, and he said, "Alright, but that doesn't mean I'm admitting it was a bad call young man" while chuckling.
6. BOBBY KNIGHT - FORMER INDIANA UNIVERSITY HEAD COACH
Bobby Knight is a legend in college basketball and the reasons for that vary from his quasi-abusive practices as a coach to his unprecedented and sustained success at Indiana University. Coach Knight's reputation precedes him wherever he goes, and you can see immediately why he had made some enemies over the years. Coach Knight was broadcasting our game versus Kentucky this year at Memorial Gym (you may remember that as the game where he got confused about the difference between the shot-clock and game clock) and before the game, myself and a fellow manager, Rafi Goldman, wanted to meet him.
As you probably realize by now I'm the type of person that will go up and introduce myself to anyone (except that cute girl at the bar, then I get gun shy, but that is another topic entirely), but I'm not going to lie, going about this introduction was frightening. Rafi and I sat in the stands behind him for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to make our big move. 'Should we get pictures or autographs? Is it Mr. Knight or Coach Knight?' we asked each other during that time before realizing no approach would be any less intimidating than the other.
We waited until another person asked him for a photo before asking for one ourselves. He wasn't dismissive of us, but he certainly didn't embrace seeing us. It was like when one of the ESPN or ABC sideline reporters tries to interview Gregg Popovich during a game. He looks like he would rather be anywhere else and that is how Coach Knight was, as you will see in the picture below. He wasn't even looking at the camera and we got out of there as soon as we could with shoulders tense and a deep breathe.
7. JOHN CALIPARI - HEAD COACH, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
I talk more about my relationship with Calipari and the Kentucky program here, but Coach Cal certainly fits as one of the 10 most famous people I've met. He is college basketball's biggest villain (at least as a coach, most villainous player is next on this list) because he so openly flouts conventional wisdom about team building and how to build a great program. He gets the best players every year and when I interacted with him over the last four years you can see why.
Coach Cal has a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world when you talk to him. I'm a manager for an opposing team and he made me feel that way, so I can imagine what he makes recruits feel like. He goes out of his way to thank me each year for helping them out and it's like 'wow this is John Calipari' each time he does it because he has such an aura around him. He knows he is great at what he does and he makes you believe it when you talk to him. He is so smooth and so consistent in his message, it is remarkable and you just want to say at some point 'come on man, is this real?' because he has cultivated his image and his brand so well. However, by the time I got done being in awe of his presence, I never had the chance to ask that question.
8. MARSHALL HENDERSON - SHOOTING GUARD, OLE MISS
As mentioned above, while many see Coach Cal as the biggest sideline villain in college hoops, it is safe to say many feel the same way about Marshall Henderson and his on-court antics. Every college basketball fan has an opinion of Marshall and usually it is polarized: you either love him or you hate him. And I love him. He is just so damn entertaining. Marshall is the embodiment of what everybody wishes they could be as a basketball player: one with a complete and utter green light.
Marshall could take a shot from the stands and while Andy Kennedy might shake his head, he won't take him out of the game because the next time down the floor he will spot up from 35 feet and swish a 3. He was like Jimmer Fredette with an attitude, and it was so fun to see because not only was he a straight gunner but a crazy personality on the court as well. It made for an incredible combination. I feel like I might feel differently about Marshall if his teammates and those in the program didn't seem to love him so much. Most of coaching outside of X's and O's is getting guys to buy in and molding the different personalities into a cohesive unit, so if Andy Kennedy can get Marshall Henderson to buy in and his teammates are ok with it, then I'm cool with it too.
I met Marshall this year at the SEC Tournament. He was sitting in the stands after our first-round game watching the game after us. That was a Thursday night and for those of you who follow him on Twitter, you know Marshall has a weekly ritual known as #WhiteGirlWednesdays. So I asked Marshall how his White girl Wednesday was and he replied, "It was fucking terrible. They kept me locked up in the hotel all night"(and I then said he could have had girls over) and he continued "I did. I had five of them. Fell asleep on all of them though." Marshall Henderson for you ladies and gentlemen.
9. BO JACKSON - FORMER MLB AND NFL STAR; AUBURN UNIVERSITY ALUM
At the time when we played Auburn this year at their place I had just seen the "You Don't Know Bo" documentary on former Auburn football and baseball star Bo Jackson. He was a mesmerizing talent, and he was sitting 10 feet away from me the whole game... except I didn't know it until the second half. I noticed a few kids coming up to Bo during the first half but couldn't figure out who he was, then asked our strength coach, Coach T, who that was and he said Bo Jackson.
So after having been entranced by his athletic ability in the ESPN 30 for 30, during a timeout I went to get my camera from the locker room, planning on taking a photo after the game, but Bo got up with a minute left. It was a conundrum for me as I wanted the picture but didn't want to be blatantly leaving the bench to do it, but then I figured I only had a week left so they probably wouldn't fire me before then, and got up to get the photo. I was the last photo he took before disappearing into the Auburn night (or some place to pay Auburn players for former Coach Gene Chizik, I can't really say).
10. NOLAN RICHARDSON - FORMER HEAD COACH, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS; MASTERMIND BEHIND "40 MINUTES OF HELL"
Last year when the SEC Tournament was in New Orleans, a lot of important people were staying in our hotel. We were staying there, as well as Tennessee and then various contingents of media reporters, SEC officials, and NBA scouts. It was big time, and I knew that right as I walked in when I saw Nolan Richardson standing in the lobby. Richardson is responsible for one of the most exciting brands of basketball around and is a legend and there he was just chilling in the lobby, so I introduced myself and he wished us luck in the Tournament before heading to the bar where he ate alone and ordered Buffalo Wings.