JOHN ROOKE'S ON THE ROAD WITH THE FRIARS

John Rooke is the long-time Voice of the Friars, and along with his radio partner, Joe Hassett, forms one of the very best on-air tandems in all of college basketball. John has spent an enormous amount of time in airports, on buses, in hotels, over the years, covering the Friars. This has given him a unique opportunity to spend time with the players and coaches, in good times and in bad, and in the first of his columns for Friar Insider, he offers insights into PC's most recent trip.

At Seton Hall – February 23, 2005

I'll start off breaking this piece of news… the road ain't as glamorous as you think it is.

OTR will offer a glimpse into what life is like for the coaches, players and administrators (and broadcasters, too) while away from home – playing on the road in the Big East Conference.

Throughout college basketball – throughout ALL of sports, really – playing on the road is a unique challenge that many athletes readily accept, but few actually experience real success. Why it is difficult to win on the road, and win consistently, is subject to debate. Suffice it to say, unfamiliarity does not usually breed success.

The Seton Hall trip isn't much of a road trip. The game is played at the Continental Airlines Arena (the Meadowlands) in East Rutherford, NJ, which is about a 3 hour bus ride from the campus. In this particular instance, the team departed Providence after practice on Tuesday, bussed to Teaneck, NJ (where the hotel was located) and then settled in for business. Typically, the team arrives at their hotel headquarters, receives room assignments (players have roommates, and not always the same person), and then will either gather for dinner, study hall or team meetings to go over game plans.

Generally, the players are allowed to sleep in a little bit on the road… but then again, when have you EVER known college kids to willingly get up early? After a team breakfast, there is a mid-morning shoot-around at the game site, although on occasion the site isn't available depending on who uses the facility. As an example, at the Meadowlands, the team had a 10 AM shoot-around, which lasted about an hour and consisted of drill work and a walk-through of strategies for the game that night. After taking the bus back to the team hotel, the players rested during the afternoon and used the time to study. A pre-game meal usually is offered in the late afternoon (typically 4 hours before tip-off), before dressing and departing for the arena approximately two hours before game time. After the game is over, once interviews are completed and everyone is through in the locker room, the bus is boarded (30-45 minutes later) and the team heads home.

Seems pretty mundane, if you ask me. The routine rarely changes, but every once in awhile, after arriving the night before a game, the team goes out to dinner – always together – and the players will occasionally go out together if there is a mall or shopping nearby. Joe Hassett, Nick Parente (video coordinator), Kevin McNamara (ProJo beat writer) and myself, along with the Big East Statbeast John Zannini, usually find out where the action ISN'T. But we do find some of the best places to eat! If you're looking for a recommendation, chances are strong that one of us can offer you a good one, based on personal experiences.

If you've ever wondered whether the players fret too much over a poor performance, or get upset with newspaper, television, radio or message board commentary, don't worry too much. There really isn't time for them to take much of it in, with the busy schedules they have, and the demand placed on them as scholar-athletes. Like a thoroughbred horse racing with blinders, these guys manage to stay pretty focused on their "job," and on their teammates. Very little else creeps into their consciousness. I've covered this team on the road for 17 years (16 as the play-by-play broadcaster) and almost all of the players I've known share this trait.

The coaches are always accessible and willing to share their thoughts, whether it's on the upcoming game, or on another major sports story that makes headlines. Quite often, when taking a flight to a game, the scene at the airport gate is quite diverse – players reading, napping, eating or listening to CD's; a coach watching video on his laptop, another on his cell phone, still another talking to a fan. It's usually at this time the Statbeast and I say to each other it's "just another Big East road trip."

This trip, however, was unlike others this season. Ryan Gomes became the all-time scoring leader in school history. The Friars actually made plays at the end to win…coming through in clutch situations to beat the Pirates. Sure, it was Seton Hall. But a win is a win… is a win. No one is throwing it back. Smiles were present afterward, and that's a good thing. Now, it's on to Syracuse.

From trip to trip, I'll share stories and itineraries with you… as well as the wins and losses. Feel free to comment on the board, or send me an email, if you have any questions.

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