Monarch Insider No. 31- Game Day
March 17, 2011
Monarch Insider #31 -- Game Day It's great to be a Monarch. Let's beat Butler Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider
The first thing I noticed, and remembered, when stepping out on the Verizon Center floor, was the smell.
At every NCAA Tournament site, the floor is painted with the same Tournament insignia, with blue and black lettering. It's the same color scheme as last year's Tournament, when ODU was in New Orleans. And the exact same varnish smell.
It's just one more happy memory of last season, which Monarch Nation will hopefully channel tomorrow at 12:40 p.m., when we tip against Butler.
My wife and I left Williamsburg a little after 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, without our kids, thanks to the true MVPs of the Monarch Basketball Insider blog - my in-laws. They and our good friends are tagging off with our two kids, so my wife and I can dive into NCAA hoops for the weekend. It's a wonderful treat.
We arrived at the team hotel around 10 a.m., and team staff were milling around the lobby, making the final preparations before departing for shootaround at the Verizon Center at noon.
Before taking the court, five of the Monarchs held court with the national media in the team press conference, and were their usual poised and charming selves.
"Like coach always says, this Tournament has all good teams," said center Frank Hassell. "And last year we kind of got our feet wet and played the best of the best and showed that we could actually play with boys and actually we belong here. So this year, we're going to take the same mentality and look to go win some games."
Junior forward Kent Bazemore said the team hopes to draw on last year's experience. "In tournaments like this, when you lose you go home, every possession counts," he said. "Being sound on defense is one of the things I really worked on this past season. Not going for every steal, letting the ball come to me some."
After the players, Coach Blaine Taylor took the mic and, well, he was Blaine. He said his team didn't necessarily draw inspiration from Butler's run to the NCAA final last year, or George Mason's Final Four trip in 2006.
"I think our kids look around and probably hear it from enough different angles that the non-BCS schools can maybe jump on a storybook ride that would be very rewarding," Taylor said. "I really haven't used that as (motivation) and I am probably better off now because we gotta play them now."
I've written in this blog before that I love the ritual of shootaround. The drills are the same, the practice is simple and straightforward, but you can read from body language and interactions who's feeling good and ready to play well. I'm encouraged.
A few hundred spectators, allowed into today's practices for free, took a curious look at these Monarchs from southeast Virginia.
I sidled up to two fans because I noticed the husband had a Butler logo on his pullover. Jeff and Mickey Whitman are long-time fans of their team, and made the trip to Washington from Indianapolis to root on the Bulldogs against Old Dominion. After their first glance at the Monarchs, Jeff had this assessment: "They're HUGE."
As fans, the couple enjoyed the magic carpet ride of last season's Final Four for Butler. They're even more excited because they know many of the players, and their parents, and they say they're better people than they are basketball players.
"That's the great thing about being at a mid-major school like Butler or Old Dominion. These are good kids, and you can get to know them a little bit. It's such great fun," Jeff Whitman said.
I shook hands with them and said I looked forward to being a Butler fan again, after we're enemies for two hours Thursday afternoon.
Finally, do you need a little encouragement for our game against Butler? Here's my formula for what a team needs to win in the NCAA Tournament: A "star" - Old Dominion has a bunch of very good players, but in the past month and a half, center Frank Hassell has emerged as a bona fide star. He's averaging almost 20 points a game for his last nine games. He's still a rebounding machine. He's hitting foul shots. Frankly, he's our horse. An athlete - To succeed in the Tournament, a team also needs that one player who can do things that mere mortals can't. All the game planning in the world can't help a team start a player with that incredible first step, the levitational powers. That's our Kent Bazemore. A general - I cannot be objective about point guard Darius James. I love the guy. However, the past two months he's played better than he has his entire Monarch career. He's a coach on the floor. He's fearless. He doesn't get rattled. A winning team needs someone like him running the point. A human bruise - Need that loose ball? Need someone to fly out of bounds to save a turnover? You need Ben Finney. Every great team has a guy like Ben, who does nothing outstanding, but everything well. You know if things get tough in a Tournament game, you can count on Finney to perform. A banger - Chris Cooper doesn't mess around. ODU rebounds at an unprecedented rate, and Cooper's a big part of that. He's simply relentless on the glass, and nearly impossible to box out. Have fun with that, big men on the other team. A mismatch - How about a six-foot-eight guy who shoots 24-foot three-pointers? Who exactly do you put on Keyon Carter? Put a guard on him and he'll flip jump hooks in from the block. Tag him with a big man and he can step outside for that pretty long-distance J. A triggerman - When Trian Iliadis checks into the game, coaches on the other team frantically signal to their defenders. Leave him alone, and you can mark down three points for us. Trian's game is more complete than that, but it sure doesn't hurt to have a pure shooter to give defenses something to think about. A burner - How about our eighth man being the fastest guy on our entire roster? When Darius needs a spell, Marquel De Lancey checks in, and is quick enough to play in-your-shorts man defense, and fast enough to take a loose ball and turn it into a length of the court drive for a layup. Nice luxury in your backup point guard. Energy - Nick Wright doesn't play a ton of minutes, but makes the most of his time, flying in the air to block shots, running the floor, using his long arms to block shots and deflect passes. He'd play 30 minutes a night for many teams in our conference. We just need him to give us four high-energy ones. Coaching - I wouldn't trade Blaine Taylor and his staff for anyone in the country. He's got his players, and has put them in the perfect spots to perform. My basketball fan friends joke that I'm a relentless optimist about our team. Reading what we'll put on the floor on today against Butler, can you blame me?
Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in University Relations, writes Monarch Basketball Insider for ODU Athletics. Look for Brendan's blog posts on the ODUsports.com website. During the Tournament, he'll also be posting entries at http://monarchbasketballinsider.blogspot.com/. To contact Brendan, email him at email@example.com, or on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/#!/White__Knuckles.