Nov. 17, 2009
11th Blog: Being a manager means being ready - for anything.
By Brendan O'Hallarn
I walked into the Monarchs' locker room before Tuesday night's game with Longwood University, and the first person I saw was forward Frank Hassell.
He's a gregarious guy, so I blurted out that I'd talked my way into being a team manager for the game.
"You're a manager tonight?" Big Frank said. "Great. I need new shorts. My elastic broke."
Welcome to Old Dominion University basketball - manager style.
Mike Boothe, one of the team's four volunteer managers, and me had to hike over to the athletic administration building to grab another pair of game shorts for Hassell.
On the walk, Boothe, who's from Stafford, Va., described his job in a nutshell.
"Most people think that all we do is collect towels and wash underwear," he said.
"We do that, but it's more of a job than that. We try to make sure the team has everything they need to go out there and perform."
As part of "embedding" with the basketball team, I asked head manager Anthony Brammer, who's now a paid staff member with the team, what drives his colleagues and he to work as hard as they do.
"Basically, we just want the coaching staff not to have to worry about anything but coaching."
The basketball bug bit Brammer hard when he was younger. But a combination of illness and injuries steered him away from playing, and into the logistics/coaching side of the game, starting at Yorktown's Grafton High.
At ODU, he gets far more responsibility than comparable employees at bigger schools.
"Being here, I know all these managers at other schools. They told me they don't really get to be involved as much. We have a smaller staff here, so I get to get involved in more things, get my hands on more things, and learn."
Brammer was my tour guide through game day as a manager. As Brammer's role with the team has expanded, he's largely handed day-to-day manager duties over to his staff - head manager Lance Ricks, Grant Gardner, Ray Sells and Boothe.
One thing that Brammer does do is make sure the team's AV setup is ready for the team to view video of that night's opponent.
And in a very cool bit of access, I sat in the back of the room while coach Blaine Taylor broke down film of Longwood's recent games.
I found out they're a scrappy team, they shoot the three-point shot well, they run a screen heavy offense, but some of their most ingenious plays are when they fake screen near the three point line and roll to the basket. And you can break them down on defense if you make the extra pass.
In 10 minutes of stopping and starting of videotape, plus talk from Taylor, I learned more about Longwood than I could have gleaned watching entire games. Really neat.
I arrived back at the arena at 5:30, and Boothe and I went on our shorts-fetching mission.
When we got back to the Ted, it was time to help the players with warm-ups.
They jogged out of the tunnel. Lance Ricks passed a ball to Marquel DeLancey. Boothe passed a ball to Kent Bazemore. I attempted to pass a ball to Hassell. Plonk! He had to go over to the side billboards to pick up my errant throw.
In the moments before the game, the managers shag balls and fetch things if they're needed by the players. But there's a little time to kibitz as well. The managers have a running contest for each home game, a pool with courtside official Rick Henn about how many three-pointers the Monarchs will make by halftime. I said two, given the team's recent history of masonry from beyond the arc.
With warm-ups complete, I took my seat behind the bench to get ready for water and towel duty.
After being with the team for a while, Sells has a sixth sense for who needs water (each player has their own bottle) and who routinely uses towels. It's a surprisingly busy job, especially with how many players Taylor runs in and out of the lineup.
But the work is worth it; what an awesome vantage point for a game. Not only can you hear the players breathe because you're so close to the court, but since I had watched film of Longwood, Coach Taylor's instructions to his players fit the narrative of the game perfectly.
After a quick start by ODU, Longwood got its first bucket with - you guessed it - a fake screen near the three-point line and roll to the basket.
"We saw that on film. That exact play! Don't fall for it," Taylor scolded to his bench players.
There was good stuff too. Longwood had hit 13 threes on the University of Virginia last week, so point guard Darius James picked up his counterpart on Longwood in a full-court press, to stop him from pushing the ball in transition.
And ODU guard followed Longwood triggerman Kevin Swecker all over the court, harassing him into a dreadful shooting night. Swecker finished with all of two points.
Being a basketball coach, Taylor also said a bunch of things to his players that I can't print here. But even a perfectionist like him didn't have much to complain about after ODU started making it rain three-pointers. The team finished 10 for 15 from three-point land for the game, including three each from Neely and Trian Iliadis. I lost the guess-the-number-of-three-pointers pool (Boothe won).
It was a great night for the Monarchs. The final score was a punishing 98-59.
After the game, I did a few interviews and went home for the night. But the team managers had to stick around for a few hours after the game, getting laundry started, and packing the practice gear, game uniforms and other athletic equipment needed for Wednesday's trip to Lynchburg, where the Monarchs will play Liberty.
Boothe figured it would be close to midnight by the time his work was done tonight.
The work of the managers doesn't go unnoticed.
"There's a lot of respect in our program for the people that help us. I think that we have fun with our support people, but we do really respect how much time they put in and how helpful they are," Taylor said.
"They get a good experience being around this, and they get a lot of fun out of it, but there's a lot of time and energy that goes into it from those managers."
One additional note. We're sorry my last blog got cut off mid-sentence. Here's the anecdote about the players waiting out last week's nor'easter in its entirety...
"I must have studied the Farmers' Almanac from my days in Montana. Thursday (the worst of the weather) was a day off for us. We planned it two months ago," Taylor said with a laugh.
Brendan's Blog 46