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On the Road With the Yellow Jackets

Jan. 28, 2002

By Wes Durham – Friday, January 25, 2002

4:30 a.m.: Georgia Tech head basketball coach Paul Hewitt awakes at his suburban Atlanta home and makes his way toward Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Typically the day prior to a game, the Yellow Jackets will have an early morning practice and today is no exception. The coaches all arrive around 5:30 a.m., and fine tune the morning session. The 13 active players have already arrived and been taped by trainer Tim Hansen. Player development coach Scott McDonald takes them a regular pre-practice stretching routine.

6:00 a.m.: The practice begins and runs almost 90-minutes. The session features not only “floor work” with drills, schemes at both the offensive and defensive end, but often times some video review of the upcoming opponent or something in practice from a previous day. There is some scouting information pertaining to specifically Wake Forest and what the Deacons under first-year head coach Skip Prosser will try and do.

8:00 a.m.: Just about everybody involved with the practice eats breakfast at the Edge Athletic Center dining hall before beginning their morning schedule of classes. By 8:45 a.m., most everyone is on their way.

2:30 p.m.: Players and staff have arrived back at the Coliseum as they prepare to leave for Hartsfield International Airport. Prior to their bus ride to the Airport, Tech goes through a quick “walk through”, reviewing some of the sets that Wake Forest will employ at both ends of the floor in the upcoming game.

3:05 p.m.: A few minutes late, the bus departs the Coliseum parking lot for the Airport. This day, the parking lot is a busy spot with both Tech’s swimming teams and track and field also meeting for bus departures to their respective weekend events. It’s a short trip to the airport, but long enough that the assistant responsible for scouting the upcoming opponent can put a tape into the bus VCR and get a quick review of opposing personnel. This time, assistant Cliff Warren spends the trip reviewing Wake Forest’s key players.

3:25 p.m.: Arrive at the South Terminal of Hartsfield. Director of Basketball Operations, Peter Zaharis, coordinates almost all of the Jackets trips from buses to flights and accommodations while on the road. Georgia Tech is also one of the few schools in the country that flies commercially to almost all of its games. The convenience of Hartsfield and the frequency of Delta flights to ACC cities makes it easy for Tech to travel this way. However, after the events of September 11, and the recent screening measures on air travel, things are a lot more hectic than they used to be.

Tech’s trip to Duke back in early January proved to be a long wait, while the most recent trip to NC State didn’t have much delay. Today’s trip to Greensboro, will be much different. Michael Roberson with Delta Air Lines, who helps Tech coordinate all their travel, meets the team at the airport. Long lines at the security checkpoints have developed through the morning and despite the Jackets being there two-hours prior to departure, today is going to be rough.

With a travel party of almost 30 people, Tech basketball is in and out of Hartsfield enough during the winter that people who work there in various places always offer a greeting or word of encouragement to the players and coaches. This day there is not much time for that, the Jackets have to wait in line with the rest of the flying public. Today’s wait is the longest of the year, it’s well over 90-minutes from the time they checked their baggage (37 pieces), until they reach the gate A-3, to meet flight #970.

5:35 p.m.: A slight delay in departure from the gate, but it won’t be a long flight to Greensboro (44 minutes), but there is some strategy involved in the trip. 7-foot freshmen Luke Schenscher needs to find a seat in an exit, where leg room is at its best, or at the “bulkhead” of the coach seating where he can stretch his legs under the curtain into first class. On the way to Greensboro, the exit row is the option, coming home Saturday night, the bulk head is the choice. Like most recent flights, the Boeing 727 is nearly full and that always begs the traditional questions that the other passengers ask, “What basketball team is this?”, “Who do you play?”, or lately “I’m a Duke fan!”

6:30 p.m.: Tech arrives in Greensboro and after wading through baggage claim, the Jackets are off to dinner via charter bus. Another “tradition” in the regime of Paul Hewitt is the dinner the night before a game is almost always some sort of Italian. Pasta and the Jackets are good friends. Administrative assistant Christy Kaiser had contacted the restaurant, Caf? Pasta, during the week and coordinated the arrival with the restaurant and Peter Zaharis for Friday night. The restaurant had faxed a menu to Atlanta and the team had “pre-ordered” their meal following practice on Friday morning. That meant service was quick and efficient when they arrived on Friday evening.

9:15 p.m.: The Jackets arrive at their hotel near the airport in Greensboro and unload. Sometimes there might be a quick video session with Coach Hewitt. This itinerary didn’t list such for Wake Forest, so it was off to rooms and curfew, which was 11 p.m.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

8:30 a.m.: Wake-up calls are distributed through the hotel for the Jackets. The team will meet in one of the small banquet rooms for the morning “walk-through”. This one is not unlike the one that was done prior to departure in Atlanta, but rather than being in a gym wearing street clothes with a ball, this one features sweats, carpeted floors and a knotted up napkin serving as the “ball”. It lasts maybe 15 minutes and the team has their pre-game meal for 1:30 game against Wake Forest.

11:30 a.m.: The team bus departs the hotel for the short ride to Winston-Salem’s Joel Coliseum. Minutes before the departure, Tech assistant coach Dean Keener arrives to join the team. Keener had spent all day Friday in the northeast recruiting for the Jackets, but flew direct from New York to Greensboro on Saturday morning to join the team.

12 noon: Tech arrives at Joel Coliseum for the game. Head coach Paul Hewitt tapes his pre-game radio show with me, followed by a quick interview with our colleagues on the Wake Forest broadcast. Each coach is different, but most these days are doing interviews prior to games, which makes it really convenient for broadcasters. Hewitt will also visit briefly with Steve Martin and Gil McGregor, who will do the game for Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot television.

During all this, the players go through their pre-game routine, shooting, stretching or just quiet time in the locker room.

1:36 p.m.: Tip-off between Wake and Georgia Tech…the Deacons get the ball first.

3:45 p.m.: Wake Forest freshmen guard Taron Downey dribbles off the final seconds of an 87-74 win over Tech. The Deacons snap a three-game losing skid in the ACC, while Tech loses for the sixth straight time.

Moments later after speaking to his team, Hewitt addresses the media and visits with us on radio. His players shower and dress for an expected departure of 7:30 p.m., but things could be changing.

4:30 p.m.: The Jackets depart Joel Coliseum for the Greensboro airport. The 7:30 p.m. flight is booked, but Peter Zaharis has contacted Delta about the chance of making the 6 p.m. flight back to Atlanta. The MD-80 plane has plenty of vacancies and the Jackets are on track to make the flight. Security checkpoints at Greensboro are no different than Atlanta, or any other airport for that matter, but unlike Friday, the lines are not there on Saturday.

5:00 p.m.: Tech arrives at the airport and gets the baggage processed. The Jackets have already gotten the change made to “stand by” status and have arrived in plenty of time to make the earlier flight. 90-minutes might not seem like a big thing but every little bit helps in late January.

6:05 p.m.: Delta flight #309 leaves Greensboro for Atlanta. Flying time home is 52-minutes. Most players sleep, while the coaches and staff talk about the game and other things with college basketball.

6:58 p.m.: Touch down at Hartsfield and arrival at gate B-33. Next stop…baggage claim, carousel #1, then downstairs to a waiting bus for the ride back to the Coliseum.

7:50 p.m.: Bus arrives in Coliseum parking lot, where inside the Tech women’s basketball team leads Clemson by 11 points at halftime.

8:00 p.m.: Players and coaches depart the Coliseum. The Jackets seventh road trip of this season completed. They have now passed the halfway point of regular season road trips with only stops in Clemson (bus), Maryland, St. Louis, Virginia and FSU (bus) left to go.


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