Jan. 25, 2010
27th Blog - A peek inside the team room
By Brendan O'Hallarn
Have you ever wondered what happens in the locker room for the Monarchs just before they take the court for a big game? Me too. I'd been wondering that all season. Then I thought, "Wait a minute. Why don't I find out?"
I asked last week, and Coach Blaine Taylor allowed me to sit in on the tense few minutes before ODU took the court against William and Mary. Then I was back in the locker room for the jubilant moments after the team's impressive 61-42 shackling of the Tribe.
After milling around in the arena before the game, saying hello to the large number of friends I've made following the Monarchs this season, I hung around near the tunnel heading to the locker rooms as the team finished its warm-up.
With 12 minutes to tipoff, the players jogged off the court, serious expressions on their faces. A few fans stuck out hands for high fives. The players reciprocated, but kept their gaze straight ahead as they went back to their sanctum. "Come on, let's go," Director of Basketball Operations Joel Hines said as he took me in after the team.
I slipped in a side entrance and stood at the back of the room. The players were seated in rows of chairs facing a whiteboard scribbled with pregame instructions. Besides the list of William and Mary's lineup, and diagrams of a few plays, Taylor had written a few key phrases on the top of the board: "Sweep" "Our House" "HOOPS!" and "US" – which was circled.
I was struck by one thought: It's VERY quiet in here. Normally, a dozen of 18- to 21-year-old boys and no supervision is a recipe for high-volume hijinks. But even chatterbox forward Ben Finney was almost silent, repeating "let's go!" to himself, over and over. Forward Frank Hassell had his eyes closed and was rocking his head ever-so-slightly, side to side, visualizing the battle to come. Senior guard Marsharee Neely looked around the room. When he made eye contact with a teammate, he gave a tiny nod. Center Gerald Lee stared straight ahead, unblinking and unsmiling, looking like he was sitting in a jury box.
The faint strains of the Star Spangled Banner drifted through the walls into the room. What little chatter there was died out completely. The coaches walked in.
A few last-second instructions, on early offensive calls, and making sure the players understood their defensive matchups, Taylor asked players to take a knee. For a good 30 seconds, each player was alone with their prayers or thoughts.
As the players rose to their feet one at a time, a rhythmic clapping started, getting louder and louder as Taylor grabbed a marker. He announced the starting lineup, something he doesn't reveal until the moments before the team takes the court.
"Snake!" he yelled, writing Darius James' name on top of William and Mary guard Sean McCurdy. The players whooped with delight. It would be James' first time in the starting lineup for a few games.
Using one-word nicknames, Taylor does the same for the rest of the starters – Finney, Kent Bazemore, Lee and Hassell. Each time, he wrote their name directly on top of the Tribe player they'd be guarding. With each announced starter, the din gets louder in the room.
"Get 'em up," Taylor bellowed, and the players raised one hand over their heads in a huddle. "Defense on three. One-two-three, DEFENSE!" and the Monarchs went racing out the door to the court. I charged out with them, as pumped up as I've been all season.
The energy carried over onto the court. Hassell, Bazemore, James and Lee scored the first four times down the court. The Tribe missed three wide open three pointers and suddenly it was 8-0. After calling timeout, William and Mary closed to 8-7 with a three by dangerous guard David Schneider, but that was as close as the visitors got all game.
We led 29-22 at halftime, but it could have been much more. ODU had 17 offensive rebounds at the half. William and Mary had 14 boards, total.
After a tense first five minutes in the second, a Keyon Carter jump hook got the margin up to 11, and William and Mary didn't get within eight the rest of the game. It would be a sweep of the season series.
Tribe coach Tony Shaver paid tribute to the Monarchs after the game.
"I want to compliment them. They are outstanding right now. They've won 20 in a row in this building. I told their coaches that I really think if they get to the NCAA tournament, they can make waves, they can beat a lot of people," Shaver said. "I've seen them on TV, I've seen a lot of them on tape. One thing is they're pretty consistent in what they do. They don't take people lightly, and they come and get it done."
Back inside the locker room, it was considerably louder than before the game. The players assembled in their seats and the coaches walked in again, looking a lot more relaxed.
Taylor followed through with a promise to his players. He said if ODU swept the season series, he would do the "Sweep Dance" with forward Chris Cooper, the team's resident dancer. "Get up here, Coop," Taylor said, keeping his word and doing a goofy, knees-bent boogie. The players roared.
"Nice job fellas. That was real workmanlike," Taylor said. "This is our house, you're not coming in here and screwing with us. We played some hoops, didn't we?
"One of the things we do when we recruit here is you need to be able to defend and rebound your position, and we defended and rebounded pretty well tonight, didn't we? Nice job tonight. That's a good team you beat. They've beaten some good people. Feel good about that, but the show goes on. We got a lot bigger plans this week than beating William and Mary."
At the end of his talk, the team gathered, each raising an arm again. Taylor asked Hassell, who dominated at both ends, to lead the Monarchs in the team mantra, adding one to the number at the end, to reflect the win.
"Every day we work to get better! Every day we work to get better! Eighteen! Monarchs!"
Brendan O'Hallarn is an employee of the ODU University Relations staff.
Brendan's Blog 46