Twenty-nine hours to Springfield

<B>10am Friday November 28th,</B> the day after Thanksgiving:<BR> A classic northeastern rainy, gloomy, chilly late Fall day for a start. It was not a surprise, it was the day's forecast. Have packed for an overnight stay at the Marriott in Springfield. Distance from my northern suburban New Jersey home is 167 miles. On a clear day, it's under three hours. Today, with all the amateurs heading back to their destinations and with the existing road conditions, I arrived at the hotel at 2:15 p.m.

CathodeRay is a Cat Tracks' message board poster who lives in the Northeast. This account was originally posted on the Cat Tracks basketball message board

2:45pm After check-in, time to get a slice of pizza somewhere in the mall adjoining the hotel. This under-tenanted retail area, is practically abandoned. Few stores, no "anchor" store so to speak, scant foot traffic, but clean. It is still raining outside. Find a pizza pusher at the food court (only five food counters total, one is closed). One slice of a Chicago style veggie and a Snapple is all I need. My family orders a similar snack that provides a 're-coup' before the Boston area alumni hold their "meet and greet" with Lute Olson. It is to start at 6:30 p.m. Getting a table at the hotel sports bar looks like a "must get there early". The Marriott's Champions Sports Bar is practically reserved for Arizona Alumni from around the region.

3:20 p.m. One of the retailers in the mall is a CVS pharmacy. My wife says she needs to check on an item in there. I stay just outside its entrance with my two small children, a 6 and 4 year old. As my wife enters, Lute Olson himself is paying for a candy bar at the counter!

Lute is by himself. So, there I am, waiting for the coach to pay for his items telling my kids, "that's the coach of the Wildcats".

Lute comes into the empty mall. I smile, he smiles back. Lute's wearing a black leather jacket, I'm wearing my winter only navy UofA sweatshirt. I extend my hand out to him and say "Coach, welcome to the Northeast again! My name is ........... These are my children ........ and ..........."

Coach Olson was VERY gracious with my two kids. He asked if they were going to the game. I said that they were and that it would be surprising if they lasted for the first half. I mentioned that we have met in the past, I mentioned where, and he said that I did look familiar. I then stated that I don't want to keep you from anything, and hope that you're still sporting a big smile at about midnight tonight. A pleasantry or two and then he was on his way. My wife emerged from the pharmacy only to see Lute walking away. She was bummed, but not for long.

3:24 p.m. Waiting for the elevator to arrive at the hotel's lobby, the doors open and it's a curtain call. It's Lute again! We're going to eleven and I believe he's going to sixteen.

"Hello again coach" I said.

He's chewing on his candy bar now. Coach this is my wife.......... she was disappointed to have not met you just now. I thanked him for bringing the team out east this year again. He mentioned that they'll be playing at Madison Square Garden on December 9th. I tell him that I've got my fabulous mid-court seats for the event and that I'm looking forward to it. I told him you'll know that I'm there, because I'll be the loudest fan. He said that that's good. That the team needs a lot of that when were on the road. I said that I always scream and cheer and that it's always free of charge, be it at a game or at home or elsewhere. My wife interjects and carries the brief encounter again for another two or so floors. We exit at eleven, and wave our good-byes.

4:00 p.m. Those of you with children know that its time to hit the pool. It is heated, indoors and with a Jacuzzi.

4:45 p.m. Back to the room. Regroup with showers for us and baths for the two little ones.

6:05 p.m Exit our room and I languish behind slightly to secure the room door. The children want to depress the button for the elevator, so they have run down the hallway. Mom is in pursuit. Mom tells the kids to press the down arrow. An elevator arrives to drop off someone, but it is on its way up another few floors. The kids want to get in. Mom herds them both back but the remaining passenger in the elevator gestures with his arm and keeps the elevator from advancing. The young man in the elevator asks if they are getting in, but the answer is no. We are headed down. At that moment I've walked over close enough and caught up with this exchange and I realize that it's non-other than Josh Pastner. He looks like he just came back from working out at the fitness room.

I say "You're Josh Pastner!"

Josh's face lit up. He appeared to be genuinely surprised being recognized. He says "You got it!"

The doors are closing, "Josh, Bear Down and Break A Leg!" "Will Do!"

6:07 p.m. Arrive at the Champions Sports Bar and get promptly waited on. Wow, the ASU football game is on a big projection screen and it doesn't look grainy. The picture is good from our table, but the score is not so good. It is now 28-7 and it's late in the fourth. The waiter makes a great exception to the pre-fixed menu for the alumni, and caters to the two little ones with a hot dog and fries for one, spaghetti and fries for the other. Later, he also brings dessert for them.

6:25 p.m. Boston club president announces a raffle for an autographed basketball with all the players and coaches names on it. The two runner-up prizes are a cap and a T-shirt. I buy 10 tickets.

6:45 p.m. Kids are close to mutiny. Food finally arrives. The food is your standard pub fare, but it's well prepared and presented and it does hit the spot by now.

7:10 p.m. Elvis has entered the building. Lute speaks to the alumni gathered. He introduces his grandchildren that live somewhere nearby (perhaps Boston). Two girls and a boy. His grandson is the ballboy for the game. He takes a few questions from the audience after the introductions. He talks about the scholarship bind that the team is in and having lost Walton, Gardner and Anderson. He says that everyone will "love" Mustafa and that his game is special. That he's a Jason Terry look-alike but two inches taller. He says that Salim is a very emotional player. That this year if there are any problems creeping up with him that "that we'd like to know about it right away". Isaiah Fox is in the best shape that he's ever been. He makes reference to a recruit (Mohammed Tangara) from Mali, West Africa and an exchange student (Daniel Dillon) from Australia who is now in Kentucky. Lute's appearance was under 15 minutes.

7:40 p.m. We pay and leave. And it's back to our room and wait for the two block walk to the arena.

7:45 p.m. I realize, I didn't stick around for the drawing! I rush downstairs, family stays behind. The drawing is at 8:00 p.m. I win nothing. The winner of the autographed basketball is an idiot. He is a known Boston alumni club-ster. He's not careful when he grabs the ball and briskly leaves the bar and heads back to his hotel room. I chase him down to ask him if he wants to sell the ball. But he makes the elevator. There is another alumnus in the lobby with his pre-teen son and is telling me that he "DRIBBLED" the ball into the elevator. I'm reminded of the saying......"casting your pearls in front of swine".

8:10 p.m. I get back to my room and tell the story of the winner. Kids don't care. They are watching "Frosty The Snowman". "Frosty" is over at 8:30 and it is a perfect time to walk the two blocks to the arena.

8:45 p.m. It is still raining and it is getting windy. The Springfield Civic Center is a small arena. The announced sell-out was at 6,800. I'm sure that the inclement weather kept a few from getting there, since there were some empty seats around. For once, I had better seats than George Kalil. Our $35 dollar seats were good. We were on the last row along the first half Arizona baseline (screen left). Not behind the baseline but along it.

The alumni's $25 dollar seats were in a corner and low by the second half Arizona goal. The attendance was evenly split with the fans. My wife described the facility as "it's kind-a bare bones".

9:10 p.m. The game begins.

9:35 p.m. My four year old snuggles up to his mother and falls asleep amidst the racquet and my screaming.

Halftime, whenever that was, was time for soda, coffee and peanuts for my crew who's awake.

10:35 p.m. My six year old gives up the fight and falls asleep also.

The ebb and flow of the game times out in favor of Florida at the very end.

The Arizona team gets consolation plaques.

We leave the building only to get hit with gale force winds outside of the facility. We're forced to collapse our umbrellas and fasten them. It is that windy.

Friday Morning 9:30 a.m. Buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The Boston Globe went to print too early, and no accounts of the game made print.

10:30 a.m. An entire section of the restaurant gets sectioned off, probably for the Wildcats. We don't stay long enough to find out. We check-out at noon. The rain has stopped. The weather: A chilly 49 degrees. Windy with sunny breaks through the clouds.

12:00 p.m. Check-out of the hotel.

3:15 p.m. Arrive back in suburbia.

It's odd for me out here to spend time somewhere where a large amount of people are wearing Arizona Wildcats regalia. The only thing missing was Mexican food.

See you at MSG Wildcats!

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