I had an opportunity this week to participate in an event run by the Marquette basketball team called All-Access Media Pass. The idea was to give media folks a behind the scenes look at the program, covering everything from their off-court schedules and routines to running us through a practice and a couple of scrimmages.
My goal for this event was to not embarrass myself and to escape without injury. I failed on both counts, but I'll get to that later.
We checked in and were given a practice uniform. We got a reversible mesh jersey with our name on it, a shirt to wear underneath, mesh shorts in the current style, meaning larger than my first apartment, a left sock and a right sock. That's right, socks supposedly designed to go on specific feet. I wasn't daring enough to try wearing them on the wrong feet then, but I have since learned that they fit just as well that way.
I went down to the locker room to change and saw the rosters for the four teams into which we were divided. The teams were assigned MU players to be our coaches. My team was "Team No Comment," which was coached by senior Lazar Hayward.
After we changed, we went up to the media room where we were given a lecture/chalk talk by head coach Buzz Williams. We were also given some sample documents that they use in game preparation, including a scouting report on an opponent and practice schedules and notes.
Marquette is a Catholic school, so not surprisingly, everything they do starts with a prayer. Coach Williams led us through a prayer before the chalk talk and again before we practiced.
Williams talked to us at length about the importance of their game preparation routine, which is three days long. Nothing ever gets sacrificed in the routine, although sometimes it has to be condensed when games are scheduled closer together.
He also got into the Xs-and-Os of some of their base schemes. He talked to us about the various ways they defend a man coming off the screen and how they decide which way they will defend that. He also talked about how the players are supposed to cover in man-to-man, and a little bit about their basic offensive set.
He ran way over his allotted time, but I would have been happy to hear even more. For the people who cover this team on a daily basis, and that would include all but two of us in attendance, it's really valuable info. Knowing what they are supposed to be doing isn't always apparent when you watch a game. Being told what they are supposed to be doing makes you a much more savvy reporter because when things break down, you have a better idea of what was supposed to happen and why it didn't work. You can also ask smarter questions after the game. Of course, we only got a snippet of what they do, but every little bit helps.
After the talk, we headed down to the floor at the Al McGuire center where the women's team practices and plays. The men's practice floor was closed for resurfacing. They had our floor taped off into two full-size courts going sideways across the painted floor.
We were put through some warm-up drills by strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith. We skipped, shuffled, chopped our feet, ran backwards and forwards for about 15 minutes. During one drill, we did a fast chop of our feet in a defensive stance, then on Smith's signal, we'd sprint to the other end of the floor. When I turned to sprint, I stumbled, rumbled, bumbled, and finally fell and rolled across the line, earning me a little floor burn on my knee and ruining any chance I'd get out of there without embarrassing myself. Fortunately, another guy fell later, so I wasn't alone in my shame. It turns out we were on the same team for the scrimmages, which no doubt thrilled coach Hayward.
Following the warm-ups, each team went to a different station on the courts to run through some of the things coach Williams talked about earlier. We worked on how to defend a dribbler coming off a screen, running the secondary break on offense, running an out-of-bounds play under the basket, and running a basic half-court set. We didn't use any of that in the games though. It was all some of us could do just to get our aging bodies up and down the floor.
After the practice session, it was time for the games. I'm not sure how the teams got divided up, but we were a bit undermanned. In fact, one of our players was a woman, one of two in attendance. She was pretty good too - one of our better players. Our team though was a lot smaller than the others. I'm 6'1" and only two guys were taller than me, and then only by a couple of inches. Every other team had bigger guys who were also younger, stronger and faster than us. One team had Jim McIlvaine, a 7'1" former star for Marquette. Fortunately, we didn't play that team.
The games were played with 20-minute running clocks and officiated by the MU assistant coaches. Our team did OK for a little bit in the first game. We made a late run, but ended up losing by five. I didn't start, but played about 12 minutes straight in the middle. I was gassed after about four minutes. It's not easy being old and out of shape. I asked out, but coach Hayward left me in. I didn't shoot (a man has to know his limitations), but I got my hands on a couple of balls on defense, committed a hard foul on a fast break, and got called for another foul on a clean block. That got coach Hayward pretty upset and he gave the refs a real hard time about it. His reaction is about 4:30 into the video that is part of the recap of this event on the Marquette site (link above).
Coach Hayward was upset with the refs a lot. He spent the vast majority of both games giving those guys a hard time. He kept it clean though. Yelling at them was probably easier and more effective than yelling at us.
Late in the first game, coach Williams called a time out to talk to our opponent as we were trying to make a comeback. We never got that kind of help. Not that I'm bitter. Perhaps we were beyond help. The help we could have used was for Hayward to put himself into the game. But, I digress. Coach Hayward said during the timeout that we should switch to a 2-3 zone. I suggested a 3-3, but he thought we'd get caught.
Our loss put us in the consolation game against an even better opponent, but one that unfortunately had to play McIlvaine's team first. I played about 15 minutes this time because one of our guys had to leave early (our biggest guy, naturally). We got crushed, mostly because we couldn't do anything to keep the other team off the glass. They had one guy who got about 200 rebounds against us. I think he had a possession where he rebounded his own miss about four times before finally putting it in.
Again, I had a couple of steals, and this time, I tried my hand at shooting. I hit one shot, a runner in the lane on a fast break, but landed wrong on my left foot and rolled my ankle a little. So much for escaping without injury. It was the only shot I made in five or so attempts. That included a miss of a wide open layup in the closing seconds. That miss was rebounded by a teammate, who followed and missed as well. That pretty much summed up our day.
So, we finished fourth in a four-team tournament. I was thinking that this must be what it feels like to be NJIT.
Afterwards, we had lunch back up by the media room, and then the SID, Scott Kuykendall gave out some awards. I upheld my Purdue heritage by winning the Defensive Warrior award. I have to say, I was stunned. I mean, yes, I suppose I played hard on that end of the floor. I like defense, and I want to try to make up for being a liability on offense, but it's not like I was a lock-down defender or even close. I suppose the term "Warrior" implies as much about effort as results though. That's the only plausible explanation. Either that, or someone just wanted me in the press conference.
And, other than the cool trophy, getting to participate in the postgame press conference is the reward for the award winners. There was also an award for Chairman of the Boards (Tony Sparks - the guy who had 200 rebounds against us), and MVP (Michael Wottreng - on the team that we didn't play).
Some of the comments from the press conference are near the end of the video on the MU site.
The press conference was an exercise in role reversal. We media folks were answering questions instead of asking them. The players and coaches did the asking (well, some of the media folks asked questions too). I was asked things like:
The players and coaches have some work to do if they are ever going to be professional questioners though. Nobody started a question with, "Talk about...," which is the crutch of many writers, and technically, the start of a statement, not a question.
This was a really fun and informative event. One of the reasons it worked so well was because of the candor of coach Williams, who gave us a lot of inside information that frankly, he would probably not want public. But it's that kind of information that makes this event really useful. It would be good without the same level of candor, but it was even better because of it.
Another benefit of this event was the opportunity to interact with the players and coaches in a more fun and less stressful environment. Both sides get to see each other in a different light and walk away with a better understand of what each other does.
I have not heard of other schools doing this kind of thing, but it wouldn't be a bad idea. Marquette intends to do it again next year.