April 8, 2004
Going into the championship game, we were prepared. From the scouting report on the other team, to the knowledge and execution of their plays, every angle was covered. All that was necessary was for us to go out there and perform.
This wasn’t our first encounter with this team. We had met UConn once before in the preseason NIT, a game we won by 16 points. With that in mind, we knew they would come out gunning, seeking redemption. Needless to say, they found it. We didn’t help our situation any, missing lay-ups, hook shots, and free throws. The foul line killed us more than anything. Even with all of those errors, we still fought to the end. Therefore, on behalf of my team, I offer a congratulatory praise to the Men’s Basketball team of the University of Connecticut for outplaying us, and delivering an outstanding game.
Aside from the game, which I’m sure most people were watching, the overall atmosphere was great. We arrived in San Antonio Wednesday night, so there wasn’t too much hoopla at that time. The next day, however, after we had fulfilled our practice and media obligations, we had about 5 or 6 hours to relax, or do whatever we, legally, wanted. There was a mall just a few blocks from the hotel in which we were staying, so, as you can imagine, just about the whole team went.
Now, keep in mind, the mall is only 4 blocks away. It took us about 30 minutes to get there! As soon as we walked out of the hotel, there were about 10 people asking for pictures and autographs. Every twenty steps we were signing something else. There were fans running across the streets, dodging traffic, just to take pictures with us or get something signed. We had individuals racing up in cars, hopping out waving banners and t-shirts, screaming and yelling excitedly. Some of our fans even chased us down the block from the hotel just to get an autograph from one the team members that they missed.
When we finally made it to the mall, there were more people gawking in awe and asking questions, than desiring pictures or autographs. That didn’t occur until we were leaving, then we got rushed.
That aspect of the whole experience is very nice, at times. It’s always good to know that you have supporters, fans, and admirers that cheer you on and are there for you; especially the children who look up to us so much.
The downside to it is when the adults start acting “fanatical”. If I’m signing something for children, then I will gladly stay there from sunrise until sunset. The frustration arises when you have grown people pushing and shoving, almost demanding that we sign things, and not only one shirt or hat, but sometimes several. In Milwaukee, there was a group of about 3 or 4 people following us to and from the hotel and practice with a backseat full of basketballs. When times get like that, it becomes a drain on us, and we simply go back to the hotel and rest.
One of the best things about the Final Four, San Antonio trip, besides playing, was the fact that the historical Alamo was also just a few blocks from us. Administrators, coaches and players, alike went to visit this site. Ironically, it was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but, nonetheless, possessed a commanding presence. (Of course I had to take pictures.)
On game days, the already electric atmosphere became even more charged. As we came down the elevator, through the hotel halls, there were hundreds of fans screaming, whistling, waving, and reaching out slapping high fives with us, as well as the coaches. Obviously I felt that this was something special, but on the day of the UConn game, we were greeted with between 1,000 and 1,500 passionate fans! They poured out from the hotel hallways and lobby, through the valet parking area in front of the hotel, down the stairs, around the bus, filled the streets and sidewalks, and there were even some hanging from the parking deck across the street. It was absolutely amazing!
A young lady, by the name of Sasha Spencer, told me that while she was in California, people had embraced our team. They looked at us as the hope for everyone else. She mentioned that America viewed us as everyday people, staying focused, working hard, and more than anything working together, as a family, to achieve a goal despite the odds. It was stated that it’s easy to be successful with a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or Shaquille O’Neal on your team, but by us not having that one superstar, but instead a team of superstars, performing on any given night, was inspirational.
When she told me that, it put everything into perspective. I realized how much of an impact what we do has. Not only on our die-hard fans, who brave the elements throughout the night, sitting in line for tickets (who we thank and appreciate so much!), but also to society as a whole. I didn’t understand how important it was, and how it touched the lives of so many individuals in its own way. This NCAA experience has been great, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all the way to the Final Four in San Antonio, and, in spite of our second place standing, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end my collegiate career. My best wishes go out to the Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball Family, and the entire Georgia Institute of Technology!