Last week, I sat in the front-row of the Ted Constant Convocation Center, the only spectator in one of the best basketball arenas you'll ever see. It was early on a Wednesday morning. I sat silently and watched Old Dominion University's men's basketball team run speed and agility drills on the court. Aside from the squeak of shoes on the freshly waxed floor, the only sounds were the occasional shouts of encouragement from the ODU coaches. As a basketball nut, it doesn't get any better than this.
I work in University Relations for ODU. And this season, I'm going to be "embedded" with the Monarchs' basketball team - providing an inside peek into the high-pressure world of NCAA Division I basketball.
I played basketball myself in high school, then in university in my native Canada. But my playing days are long behind me. I proved that to myself when I joined a full-court pickup game in the spring in ODU's new Student Recreation Center. I didn't completely embarrass myself, but the next day, it felt like someone had hit my right knee with a hammer. I limped around for two weeks.
So now I'm a fan ... with a very fun vantage point for could be a special season for Old Dominion University's men's basketball. Coach Blaine Taylor returns every player but one from a team that finished last season 25-10, and captured the inaugural CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Expectations are sky high. That's resulted in serious faces at workouts and weightlifting sessions, even a month before formal practice starts. In two weeks, I've been to events as diverse as the ODU basketball fund-raising golf tournament. I've watched the players get fitness-tested (they are VERY fit). I've talked with coaches, trainers, event planners and fans. All to try and capture the excitement, effort and energy involved in putting a competitive team on the court.
All-Colonial Athletic Association forward Gerald Lee returns for his senior season, along with athletic swingman Marsharee Neely. The entire backcourt returns from last year, including junior Darius James and sophomore Kent Bazemore. Small forward Ben Finney is back for his junior year, as active, vocal and emotional as ever.
And ODU's depth up front, starting with junior power forward Frank Hassell, is the envy of the conference. This is Taylor's ninth season at Old Dominion University, and observers say this could be his best team ever. For now, however, the long-time college coach is all business. Intensity ratchets up at workouts when he walks in, carrying a black coffee and wearing a serious look.
I might be able to crack Coach Taylor up, however. As part of my blog, I'm hoping to make my ODU basketball experience a little more interactive. I have volunteered to be fitness tested, and do the same workouts, as ODU's players. That includes trying to lift 185 pounds as many times as I can (I'm guessing zero). And the dreaded 20 in 20 - 20 timed, suicide sprints in 20 minutes.
"I can't wait to see you do that," assistant coach Jim Corrigan told me. Something tells me I'm not going to enjoy it. But it'll make a good blog.
I'm also planning to take in ODU basketball games from as many vantage points as I can - painted up with the Monarch Maniacs student section, as part of the game day event team, even sitting next to radio announcer Ted Alexander. I'm embedded with the team, and it's my job to take you basketball fans with me. C'mon, let's enjoy the ride.
I can't wait until the season opener Heck, I can't wait until tomorrow's workout. I've got a 20 in 20 to run.
Brendan's Blog 46