Friday, September 6, 2013

Brian Suh Takes on THE BIG ROOST

Yesterday's blog post was on Zach Kleiner, one of our freshmen managers from last season. Today's post will be on Brian Suh, our other freshmen manager whose birthday also happens to be today (happy birthday BSuh). Like Zach, Brian was recruited over Facebook, and upon joining the program, we immediately noticed Brian took advantage of the immense amount of free food the program had to offer.

He had a big appetite but the thing that separated Brian from the rest is that he always finished meals with an empty plate. He put a lot on there, but he finished it all. His confidence and ability to execute his dining gameplan was impressive. As a result, myself, Rob Cross, and Nick Souder wanted Brian to put his abilities to the test. We wanted him to take on the Big Roost.

For those who don't know what the Big Roost is, it was a challenge at Rooster's BBQ (a now out of business restaurant) in which the person has to eat a 72 ounce steak, 1 pound potato, texas toast, and a salad in 1 hour. We were confident Brian could complete the task so on December 17, 2012 myself, Zach, Rob, Nick, and Rafi Goldman, our final manager stepped into Rooster's with Brian. It was showtime.

However, before we got to the restaurant Brian was busy preparing for the big day. After consulting with our strength and conditioning coach, Curtis Turner, Brian's plan of attack was as follows: a relatively big breakfast to stretch the stomach, followed by non-stop hydration throughout the rest of the day. Brian was pissing every 10 minutes the entire afternoon because clearly his bladder isn't as big as his stomach. After the preparations were over, we arrived at Rooster's to present Brian Suh as the 104th challenger to the Big Roost.

Upon arrival we were hoping that there would be an extensive crowd at the restaurant but there were about 5 other customers there. We really wanted to create an encouraging, loud, home-plate advantage for Brian, but instead the crowd was more like one you'd expect at a Vandy football game when Robbie Caldwell was the head coach. Anyway, once we got settled, I claimed the rights to live tweet the event so in the remainder of this post I will re-post my tweets (and accompanying photos from that time), and go through our collective thought process at each point in the journey. Enjoy.

NOTE: Bold type is the actual tweet, regular type is additional thoughts

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Brian has the appetite of an ox and is confident in his ability to conquer the big roost. Here he is in anticipation

Right now we have just settled into the restaurant. We have placed our orders and they have started preparing the Big Roost. Everybody is trying to keep the atmosphere light and jovial, but we all know the seriousness of the task at hand, and we don't want Brian to lose focus. His eyes are like lasers in this photo, penetrating and fearless.

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A bit of background on the contest. 103 have tried and 98 have failed. Expectations are high. Brian wants on the wall 

This tweet is pretty self-explanatory. The odds were long, but the hopes large.

Brian just headed to the bathroom for the 3rd time in 15 min. Being properly hydrated is a key component to tackling this challenge

During each of Brian's trips to the restroom, we had somebody accompany him. As I said above, not only did he need a lot of water during the day, but he needed confidence throughout. Conquering the Big Roost was going to have to be a team effort. You can't leave the man alone, he needs constant encouragement when facing such a daunting task.

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When you see the roost for the first time, you are immediately struck by its largesse. Obviously, 72 ounces is a lot but when you actually see it, it feels like even more. Once the food arrived, we started talking strategy. There was some different components to the meal, but one of the biggest challenges is the fact that you could not cut the steak at all before the hour started so you have to account for the time it takes to cut the steak into your calculation. It was not something we had prepared for.

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Brian eyes the Big Roost. The roost is trembling in fear

Just look into his eyes in this photo. There is no fear, just intense focus and unwavering confidence. He looks like Vladimir Putin here, the eyes are stone cold and filled with contempt. Except instead of fighting capitalism, Brian is fighting a dead cow. A cow that no longer breathes, and is no longer living, but poses more of a threat to Brian than it did when it was alive. It now has the potential to wreak havoc on his digestive system and also turn him into another victim to go on the wall. Brian is determined to defeat the dead meat.

Brian sends the roost back!!!!!!! It is not cooked enough to his likely. The roost is back on the grill as we await its rentry

Part of the contest allows the contestant to take one test bite to see if the steak is cooked to their liking. I think the steak was fine, but this was a power play on Brian's part. The roost was getting set to dig in and stand its ground as the hour ticked off, but Brian threw a curveball. It's like the eating challenge equivalent of icing the kicker, so back to the grill the roost went.

The rest of the table: myself, @robcross924 @thenicksouder and @ hesonfire28 just got our meals. 2 brisket a, 1 ribs and 1 order of wings

We got our meals at this time. My brisket came with fries and mac and cheese, and this was after I got a 10 order of wings and before I ordered my banana pudding. Meals like that are the reason I am currently dieting today.

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At this point the excitement is palpable. We have waited for the roost to be cooked to Brian's liking and the nervous tension has been replaced by palpable excitement. It's like the start of a new season when every team thinks they have a chance to win the championship, that is how we felt now. That we had a champion in our midst.

Brian brings a 2nd plate in to make cutting the meat a bit easier. He is using a combo of A1 sauce and the house BBQ sauce on the steak

This was Brian's first strategic decision. As you can see above, the 72 ouncer took up most of the plate so Brian wanted to rearrange it and make cutting easier therefore saving valuable time that could be used to chow down. Brian's choice of sauces was standard, but interesting because he slathered his steak in sauce. When you are eating 72 ounces of meat, you need flavoring, but steak sauces are high calorie condiments so at the time I was questioning if he had achieved the right flavor/caloric balance.

Brian has mastered art of multi tasking: chewing piece of steak while simultaneously cutting next piece. And he just took his 1st breath!!

At this point Brian just sprints out of the gate. He is on a roll and pursuing a very aggressive mentality. He wants to get out ahead of the the competition and never look back. Pacing is not part of the equation right now. He is trying to set such a high bar of excellence that he eats so much so fast, he can just coast to the finish line. This hot start comes back to kill him later on.

new strategy in place, Brian just ripping the steak off w/his mouth and cutting out the middleman (the fork). It's like eating pizza he says

This was just primordial barbarism. Brian was eating like a lion who just rips up overmatched animals with his mouth. He had no regard for the steak at this stage, his teeth were ripping into it shamelessly. There was no dignity, no neatly cut pieces to be consumed at a leisurely pace. Just shreds of meat being thrown into his mouth all at once. The caring Brian we all knew had disappeared at this point.

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Now Brian is sandwiching the large steaks between pieces of Texas Toast. He's innovative

After eating straight steak for awhile, Brian's taste buds are sick of it. He needs to try something else. So he plasters on pieces of Texas Toast loaded with butter onto the steak. This will help him get over the feeling of fear that he can't eat the steak any longer and to rekindle the fire we saw earlier where he was full steam ahead.

I've put a table wide ban on telling jokes. If Brian laughs he has higher probability of both choking on his food and losing pace

At the time of this tweet, there had been some resident comedians in the audience who didn't realize the seriousness of the task at hand. When you laugh while eating you are more likely to choke on your food or spit it out because you can't swallow. In a race where every second is precious, we can't afford an amateur comedy hour.

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LOOOK AT HIM GOOOOOOOOOOO. Ripping steak like the karate kid rips wood

Brian starts ripping the steak apart with his hands. All those hours of weight lifting and those awful looking protein shakes he makes for himself start to pay off.

He's discarding gristle and fat off the steak like a stripper discards her clothes. Just rapid fire dismantling

You don't need to eat the fat or gristle as part of the challenge so Brian gets rid of them. He realizes he only has room for the essentials. He can't spend time eating fat, he needs meat. He's basically decided to pursue a thick girl (the well-cut steak here) versus a fat one (the blubbery exterior) at this point.

Brian's mom just texted him about ordering his textbooks for next semester ASAP. I don't even know how to respond to this blasphemy

In response to hearing about his moms text, Brian says "it's so Asian of her to do that during dinner"

I was disgusted at this series of events. Her son is in the middle of conquering the biggest challenge of his life, and she's thinking about books? We are talking about books (Allen Iverson voice)! It's not like this was the day before classes started. We had just finished finals 2 days ago, the semester was three weeks away, and she's thinking about books?! LET BRIAN LIVE!!!! AND EAT!!!

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Brian is halfway through the competition. We have 30 minutes remaining

We all feel good about the progress Brian has made thus far. We estimate he has finished over half the steak to this point but if you look at him now, you can see the early signs of fatigue setting in. He went hard the first half hour, but now does he have enough left in the tank for the second one? We are all skeptical.

Brian is taking some vry deep, labored breaths right now. Showing his 1st signs of fatigue. And on a side note I just got my banana pudding

Brian really starts slowing down here. He is breathing like our team after running a series of 22's. Out of breath, borderline wheezing, almost sick. But this was a time of joy for me as I got my dessert!

Sweet Home Alabama comes blaring over the speakers. It's gettin grooovvvvvyyyyy in here

I just randomly decided to comment on the music selection at this time.

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Brian takes a quick break from the steak to dig into his dressing less salad

Smartly, Brian decides not to waste any calories on salad dressing. He goes to the salad not only to vary the taste but also give his jaws a much needed rest. Salad is much easier to chew and digest so this is a slight recovery period for him before going back to the steak.

Brian has his head down as his jaw looks to be functioning at about 50%. Please send me tweets of encouragement to read to him

At this time, Zach Kleiner channels his inner Coach Franklin and is yelling at Brian to take this challenge six seconds at a time. One bite at a time. Worry about 6 seconds at a time. He is relentlessly propagandizing the message to Brian who is doing his best to take it to heart. A few moments later, Nate Watkins tweets in "make sure he's just focused on being 1-0 tonight. Tomorrow doesn't matter right now".
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 TEN MINUTES REMAINING!!!!!!! Can he do it????? 

With 50 minutes passed, Brian has made significant progress. The steak has taken a massive hit, but like the Russian Army under Stalin, it just has more manpower than Brian does at this point. There is still a good amount of steak left, and clearly Brian is mentally and physically exhausted. Optimism is low.

AND A MASSIVE BRIAN CHANT STARTS TO BREAK OUT. He has quickly become a fan favorite and he just got a pat on the back from a hot girl!

This is the crowd's last stand to will Brian to victory. The chant starts out organically before spreading like wildfire to the other 5 customers in the joint. They come to the table and start joining in, chanting "BRI-AN, BRI-AN, BRI-AN". Unfortunately when the hot girl pats Brian on the back his jaw is still chewing on a piece of steak so he can't ask for her number. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the evening.

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It's an uphill battle now. 2 minute warning

Reality is starting to set in and the mood becomes somber.

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The roost wins :(

The agony of defeat.

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We are heading to the scale to see exactly how much steak he ate. 9.5 oz left so he ate 62.5 ounces of steak in 1 hr 

A remarkably valiant effort

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bitty Bit Bit

At Vanderbilt, our managerial staff is incredibly diverse in their backgrounds, basketball experiences, and how they came into the position. Some managers like Rob CrossNick Souder and our current freshman manager Zach Hamer reach out to the program before arriving on campus. Others have connections to the coaching staff that get them on board, but some are randomly recruited through email or Facebook. That is how Zach Kleiner joined the program.

At the beginning of last year, I posted in the "Vanderbilt Class of 2016" Facebook group about openings on the managerial staff. One of the responses was Zach. These interviews are pretty informal and usually take place over a mediocre lunch from Rand Dining Hall. Some meetings are group meetings, others are one on one. My meeting with Zach was mano a mano.

The first thing that struck me about Zach was the fact that he was actually in college. Zach is about 5'6" with freckles, red hair, and a face that looks closer in age to a middle schooler than a college freshman. Upon finding out that Zach was a fellow Jew, I almost asked when his Bar Mitzvah was but refrained. He strikes a diminutive pose and was rather quiet. I told him what the job entailed and then we kind of just sat there in silence. I wasn't blown away by any stretch because we rarely spoke during the meal, but at the time there weren't many other candidates for the job so I told Rob we should look at hiring him.

Ultimately we did hire him, and while he was quiet during our lunch, he quickly conveyed his boisterous personality upon joining the program. He was a fireball of energy. The great thing about Zach is that you could ask him to do something, and his eyes would get wide, he'd nod his head, and say yes, then get to work. He was always happy to be doing the job, and as someone who had been through the ringer for 3 years, I couldn't always match his enthusiasm. The big test for Zach though was the first time he hung out with the players in a social setting.

As I mentioned, Zach is small. He is like the textbook example of the guy that every girl thinks is just so adorable, but who is permanently stuck in the friend zone because they won't date someone shorter than them. Across campus you would frequently see girls run up to him and shout "Kleinnerrr!!!" before hugging him then asking for an introduction to Shelby Moats.

In this post I discussed the tenuous social status of managers on campus. We are lower on the social rung than both frat guys and athletes, and most of the time guys find it much cooler that we work for the team than girls do. It doesn't help when you are a short Jewish ginger either, but Zach makes up for that with his outlandish personality and he was put to the test by the guys early.

Because of how young he looks, Zach was the butt of many jokes early in his career. Managers get clowned on a good amount because in the basketball hierarchy the only other person on our level of influence and sway is Ricky Reno, the head maintenance man at Memorial Gym, but he even holds more clout than we do. So Zach got thrown some verbal punches but he responded very well and conducted himself with the right degree of brushing it off while also standing up for himself and he was immediately accepted into the basketball family.

Upon acceptance, Zach worked his way through the gym with a smile and positive attitude every day. I honestly felt horrible when I was at practice and in a bad mood because Zach was always in a good mood. On our trip to Auburn, I was particularly exhausted but Zach was so positive, I ultimately went along with him and started smiling so hard my face hurt. His positive personality even brought personal recognition from Coach Stallings.

As I detailed here, establishing a relationship with the big man is an uphill battle. It took me 3 and a 1/2 years for Coach Stallings to laugh at my jokes and fix my jumpshot, both watershed moments. Now, he greets me with a warm embrace and a firm handshake. Heart melting stuff. This year though he actually referred to Zach by name on a number of occasions, a big step, though coach has yet to call him by his nickname "Little Bit", we still hold out hope he might do so.

So while Zach didn't jump off the page as a promising candidate at Rand, he turned into a spectacular diamond in the rough manager. As the man personally responsible for finding and hiring him, I take a measure of pride in Zach's success, it's like I'm leaving behind a legacy of unathletic, Jewish managers for him to uphold. I have the utmost faith he will.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Miss Debbie: The Protector of the Program's Purity

Everybody has a vision of the Southern Belle. Blonde hair, blue eyes, skinny, and with a touch of southern twang. Fast forward 40 years and you have Miss Debbie, a woman who fills many roles for the men's basketball program. Miss Debbie serves as the program's secretary and Coach Stallings' personal assistant. She manages the coaching offices, organizes our camps, and keeps track of the nitty-gritty operational details of the program. After our former secretary, Molly, left for another job, Miss Debbie filled in and has become the permanent replacement.

Miss Debbie's second responsibility is handling ticket requests for the players and staff. A day before game-day Miss Debbie will come to practice and take down the names of the people who we leave tickets for. Some players always used their full ticket allotment and others sometimes didn't use any tickets, but if you wanted your family to get into a game, you needed to go through Miss Debbie. This role as manager of the tickets segways into Miss Debbie's most important role: the protector of the program's purity.

While Miss Debbie does not conduct background checks on the names given to her, she gives on-site examinations of those picking up tickets that would make the TSA proud. She is not looking for guns or Swiss Army knives, but rather seeking out a color scheme and logo. Because in Miss Debbie's world, you need to be a Vandy fan with no traces of evidence to the contrary. Those wearing the colors of the opposing team or in anyway affiliated with them will not gain entry into the game. It doesn't matter if it was Rod's mom or a distant friend of mine, if you violate the color code, she isn't giving you a ticket.

For Miss Debbie, the family section is personal. She sits in the front of the section and everybody else must comply with the rules. One time, fellow manager Nick Souder left tickets to a game versus Western Kentucky to friends of his who were students at WKU. These friends were forewarned to dress appropriately and showed up in all Black outfits that would make your neighborhood criminal proud.

However, one had a lanyard with the letters WKU on it hanging out of their pocket. With laser like focus, Miss Debbie zeroed in on the serious infraction. A traitor was about to enter our home turf. This was an affront to everything Miss Debbie stands for, and she didn't back down. The friends were denied tickets and forced to purchase their way into the game.

An enemy was staring us down, encroaching on our domain, and the will of one woman stopped them in their tracks, a truly remarkable accomplishment. As long as Miss Debbie is handling our tickets, the only people let into the family section will be those who wear the Black and Gold. I worry about the day she retires, when the guardian to our fortress leaves a gaping hole and an open invitation for others to attack, who will stand in her place and emerge from the shadows to protect the very essence of our program's being.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Other's Men's Basketball Team

For those loyal readers of the blog (if there are any), sorry for the lack of posts, but been busy trying to find a job and am still looking (if anybody reading this has any connections in the NBA or NBA D-League feel free to reach out), but wanted to do some more blogging cause I really enjoyed doing it.

Today's post is on the other men's basketball team at Vanderbilt. This team doesn't play on ESPN, have uniforms with their names on them, or get a scholarship to attend school. This team doesn't play in games, they just practice. THEY DON'T EVEN EAT AT MCGUGIN! This team is the women's basketball practice squad.

The practice squad as they are known around Memorial Gym is made up of guys on campus who absolutely love to play the game of basketball. Some of them have tried out for the men's team in the past, others have just always been a part of the practice squad, but however they got there, one thing unites them all: their undying loyalty to the women's program. Another thing that unites them is their lack of ego. Many guys would not want to be part of the practice squad because they don't want to get schooled by a girl as prehistoric as that philosophy sounds, it's true. To be on the practice squad you have to be willing to get crossed up by Jasmine Lister or beasted in the post by Tiffany Clarke, and not everybody can handle that.

Their job entails showing up each day after class, and on weekends to practice against the women. They help out in drills, play pickup with the team, but most importantly run the scout team offense before each game. As opposed to a practice uniform, the guys practice in raggedy old T-shirts that change based on the color of the upcoming opponent (i.e. orange for Tennessee, blue for Kentucky, etc). They help to prepare the women for games and work closely with the coaching staff as they run an offense they will never actually get to execute in a real game.

At least for members of our pseudo-scout team, the "Gold Bombers" like Nate Watkins and Carter Josephs, there is the slight chance they might be able to record a trillion in each game or perhaps a minor statistic like a field goal attempt. However, while the practice squad doesn't play in any games, they do show up to every single women's basketball game... even the exhibitions.

Despite making the Tournament for I believe 14 straight years, the women's team does not draw huge crowds for the most part, outside of games versus Kentucky and Tennessee. While the rest of the student body is unfortunately pretty apathetic towards women's basketball, these guys are rabid fans. They sit in the front row, slap the gymnasium floor, and taunt the opposing players, and for the most part people throughout the gym can hear what they say. They even paint up for the big games and occasionally make signs. They are die-hards.

For their efforts in practice and on game-day, they are rewarded with staying in shape, some free gear, but mainly in their relationships with the players on the team. The players all appreciate the efforts these guys bring to practice each day and their devotion to the program, and many of the players and practice squadders are good friends. For a job with no pay and a lot of time to commit, these guys make the most out of it, and for what it's worth I think they should be honored on senior night along with the team managers.

So this blog post is dedicated to Harold Hichez-Nunez, Morgan Stevens, Austin Wilson, Jacob Teichner, James Quick, Matt Bojanowski, Bradley Roberts, Lester Primus, and whoever else has dedicated their time to the women's program (and also organized highly competitive Friday afternoon pickup games).