Nov. 25, 2009
14th blog: You can get there from here, but it doesn't happen on its own
By Brendan O'Hallarn
The Monarchs, fresh off a four-win week, roar into the South Padre Island Invitational to face their first two big tests of the year. On Friday, it's the Missouri Tigers, an NCAA Elite Eight team last season. On Saturday, ODU plays the winner of Mississippi State-Richmond, the other South Padre semifinal.
But getting a basketball team, its coaches, trainers and support staff to games in far-flung locations doesn't happen on its own. Assistant coach Rob Wilkes, who is in his eighth year at ODU, coordinates team travel. It's one of the many duties he and the rest of the coaching staff take on, in addition to - you know - coaching.
"Most people think we put on a suit and tie and coach in the games, and put on a whistle and coach them in practice," Wilkes said. "That's a minimal part of what we do. It's an important part, but we certainly have other responsibilities."
In his seven years handling travel for the Monarchs, Wilkes has planned trips to London, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the team will return for a preseason tournament in 2010.
A self-described "work and worry" guy, Wilkes grew up in a basketball family. His father Glenn was the head coach at Stetson University, where Wilkes played for four years. "I guess you could say I grew up a gym rat," he said.
Travel is one of the duties that ODU coach Blaine Taylor has delegated to Wilkes. "You've got to think of all the things that go into it - you've got to have a bus when you get somewhere," he said.
"Typically, we'll find our own hotel. Coach Taylor wants to stay in a particular place, that's in a particular location (close) to the venue that we play in."
On Wednesday, the team will fly from Norfolk to Houston at 5:40 p.m., transferring planes and arriving in Brownsville, Tex., at around 11 p.m. After a half-hour bus ride, the team is expected to arrive at its hotel around midnight.
Wilkes said he's thankful that the team's support staff, director of basketball operations Joel Hines and executive assistant Annette Manley, pitch in to help with complex travel arrangements. The team travel agent, CI Travel, does a lot of the logistical work around finding airline itineraries.
Because South Padre Island is tucked away, Wilkes said the travel planning for this trip had to be done a little earlier.
"Because of the remote location, and particularly the time of year, being Thanksgiving, three months ago we had to find an itinerary we liked getting down there, and an itinerary we liked getting home, because we play a game the following Wednesday," Wilkes said.
"That's a big part of our job - finding itineraries and making sure we get there on time so our kids can perform at their best. People don't realize the importance of how you travel, and the way you go about your day to day itinerary that helps you focus on what you have to do."
And then there's the matter of price as well. A travel party of 24 isn't cheap for any destination, and the basketball program wants to pinch a penny, just like any organization in a competitive environment.
Something that the Monarchs try to do on some of their trips is fit in an educational component for the players as well. During the trip to London a few years ago, Wilkes said the team toured Big Ben and some rural historical sites. And last year's trip to Philadelphia and then New York afforded them a neat opportunity.
"We took the day and went by Independence Hall, saw the Liberty Bell," Wilkes said. "We try to utilize that to not only build camaraderie with your team, but also to show them some of the history of the United States. It was phenomenal. To be able to see the history of the Founding Fathers creating this country was tremendous for all of us, including the coaches. They really enjoyed it, had a lot of fun, and it was a great team-building experience."
Wilkes said he's thankful for the opportunities that he's received to learn the game of basketball from all perspectives while at Old Dominion.
"At this level, there's a lot of complexity to running a program. Coach Taylor is one of the best in the country at understanding and knowing how to run a high level, Division I program. Certainly the experience I've gained from his tutelage has been invaluable."
Brendan's Blog 46