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Basketball Brotherhood Stop #4: O’Fallon, Illinois/St. Louis, Missouri

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on December 21, 2007

Doc’s Note: This is the latest in a series of columns on sports at Crichton. These columns will appear regularly until the end of the school year.

One of the joys you get while being a staff member on a basketball team at a small school like Crichton is the fact that instead of dealing with players that put on airs, something I knew firsthand when I worked with the Southwest Tennessee basketball program briefly in 2005 as their assistant manager, you get a chance to bond with the team.

The latest stop on the “Basketball Brotherhood” tour opened my eyes to that aspect of college basketball.

Monday, December 17th-Prior to heading north on Interstate 55, we stopped for pizza at CiCi’s in Poplar Plaza, located just down the road from Crichton’s campus. Much like what happened prior to our trip to Little Rock to face Philander Smith the day before Thanksgiving, there was a bunch of schoolkids in the place after a field trip but instead of hounding us for autographs they were on their way back to their school bus.

After we stuffed our bellies with pizza, we returned to the school to pack everything up on the team charter, which was going to be driven by Ms. Pam, the same lady who drove the team to McKendree College at the beginning of the season. Since many of the players were asking about the performance tights, I along with Coach Dee Wilkes stuffed them into the equipment bag and since I was trying to not be left behind like Culkin in “Home Alone”, I decided to run with a huge equipment bag through a door that was not big enough.

“Lemme help you with that,” Coach Sanders said to me, referring to the equipment bag.

The first 80 or so miles of the trip was uneventful, save for the viewing of “Transformers” and the first time that I heard someone actually agree with me about the movie.

“It was more action and less acting,” I said to Sapp, who was sitting behind me.

As the bus made its way through Cape Giradeau, however, I found myself stuffing my face with chocolate-chip granola bars and washing them down with Diet Cokes, the drink of choice by my former Journalism teacher at Whitehaven High School.

“Don’t drink ’em all,” Coach Ryans said to me as we passed through Perryville, “They’re Coach Walker’s.”

Obviously, none of us, I don’t think, took that warning to heed because by the time we reached the south suburbs of St. Louis, all of the Diet Cokes were gone.

We cross the icy Mississippi River into Illinois around 6 o’clock and fearing that we would have to spend our time in the St. Louis area in a hellhole like East St. Louis, which has a 630-foot geyser rivaling the Arch across the river and a city where you probably couldn’t find a McDonald’s, I then asked Coach Ryans a question about where we were actually staying.

“O’Fallon,” he said.

Given the fact that the St. Louis area was hit with a bad snowstorm this past weekend, the streets of O’Fallon was still filled with ice and snow on the ground.

The hotel we were staying in was no different as our bus stopped in front of an icy yet somewhat clear path that led to the entrance.

Twenty minutes after we arrived, we then took advantage of Hometown Buffet, located just down the road from the hotel we were staying in and just after finishing our meal and heading back on the bus, I tried to test my vertical leap only to nearly fall on my behind.

“You were saved by the grace of Grace Walker,” Sly Watkins said to me.

“It was the grace of God,” I said.

Tuesday, December 18th-O’Fallon for all intents and purposes reminded me a lot of your typical one-horse, Midwestern city.

After waking up with a fully-charged IPod, I went to pick up that morning’s edition of the Belleville News-Democrat from the newspaper rack outside the hotel.

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned as a member of the basketball staff, it’s this:

Intensity pays off, even if you have to spend an extra 50 cents on getting your headphones out of hock in a newspaper machine.

As I grabbed the News-Democrat out of the machine, the door decided that it wanted to listen to the latest Lil’ Wayne mixtape that I had on my IPod.

The first attempt was to slide the headphones out slowly and see if it would work, but after two attempts, I then went back inside to talk to the manager of the hotel.

“We don’t own the machine,” she said, referring to the News-Democrat’s machine, “all I can say is that you’re going to have put 50 more cents in to get your headphones out of hock.”

At the same time, Mario Chaffin was up in the lobby asking me about where breakfast was served.

“In there,” I said.

After realizing I had to get 50 more cents, I ran back upstairs to my room and cussed and mumbled my way through the room while my roommates Rico Seay and Johnathan Bohanna slept.

By the time I ran downstairs to put the extra 50 cents in the News-Democrat machine to get my headphones out of hock, the nice manager beat me to the punch.

“You owe me 50 cents,” she said.

At a quarter to 10, we headed across the river to Harris-Stowe State College for shootaround.

Standing in the shadow of St. Louis University and directly across from the brand-new arena that will be home to the Billikens in 2008-09, the campus in a sense was trying to keep up with its neighbor across Compton Avenue.

But as far as their facilities was concerned, the “Hornet’s Nest” was a cut above the rest.

Built in 2003, the building was home to a theatre, a weight room, and a 900-seat audiotorium.

“There should be no excuse to for anyone to miss practice,” Coach Sanders said as we got off the bus.

Prior to the start of shootaround, however, I found myself trying to add someone else to the list of injuries that have plagued the team so far this season by trying to do my best Scott Rolen impersonation.

After getting a loose ball and trying to give it back to Mario with one of my patented baseball-like passes, I ended up hitting Sapp.

“And you call yourself a former baseball player,” said Coach Ryans.

Once we started, Harris-Stowe’s cheerleaders came into the gym and believing that this was nothing more than a decoy for the real cheerleading squad.

But when I found out they had pom-poms, I began to count my blessings for the class and beauty of Crichton’s dance team.

At the end of shootaround, we all took advantage of the mounds of snow that was in front of the gym and had an old-fashioned snowball fight in front of the gym.

Back at the hotel, I took part in my first NBA Live fantasy draft with Brandon Burney, Marcus Butler, “U2”, and Stan Brownlee.

“Newcomers are always last in the draft,” Brandon said to me.

While Stan and Brandon were vying for who could get 40 wins, I was stuck in a fight of my own to get to the playoffs with the Indiana Pacers and although I didn’t make it to the playoffs, Brandon had this to say about my baptism by fire.

“For a newcomer,” he said, “you did pretty good the first time around.”

Tuesday evening-We arrived at the “Hornet’s Nest” two hours before game time. For a game played during the holiday break, the gym was quite filled with students wanting to get one more chance to root for their Hornets before they headed home for break.

Prior to the game, I ran into a couple of very lovely ladies and took this pic:

They may not have good-looking cheerleaders, but they do have some decent-looking girls that make up for their lack of beauty on the cheerleading squad.

One of the recurring things that Coach Walker has preached constantly about since I’ve been student manager and maybe even prior to that was intensity.

And at the beginning of the game, Crichton seemed to lack that energy that has been evident in their current winning streak.

As Harris-Stowe jumped out to a slim lead in the first half, in the bleachers I was having trouble with the filming of the game. Sometime prior to the game, the DVD player I was using to view the game along with the camera went black for some reason.

When I went to Coach Sanders and told him about the problem, we spent maybe two or three minutes trying to fix the problem.

“It’s the cord,” he said to me.

Figuring that regardless of what happened with the DVD player and the screen, there was going to be no problem filming the game.

When the second half began, Crichton would jump out the gate the same way those horses jump out at nearby Fairmount Park and wouldn’t look back as Bohanna and Brownlee earned double-doubles to give Crichton the easy 93-72 victory over the Hornets for their fourth straight win.

Tuesday postgame-While many champions celebrate with a night on the town, we celebrated our fourth win in a row with a night on the town at Red Robin in O’Fallon.

“The limit is $12.00,” said Coach Ryans.

As we were extolling the virtues of Red Robin burgers, Houston was placing the smackdown on Kentucky on ESPN, giving us another reason to thank God we’re not at Kentucky and being a shade under .500.

“What’s our record since you’ve been manager?” Coach Wilkes asked me.

“6-1,” I replied.

Our attractive waitress, however, was in the middle of having a blonde moment when she thought we were from Creighton University and the last time I checked, Creighton’s colors were blue and white, not black and silver.

“Let her think we’re Division 1 players,” Mario said to me.

Towards the end of our meal, Mario brought up my former job as a cheesecake salesman to our waitress.

“I used to sell them,” I said, “It was through a company in Nashville.”

And in the tradition of what happened at Harris-Stowe early that morning, we had a huge snowball fight on the outside of the place.

But this time I found myself under attack as I got hit with two snowballs, one by a guy who was impressive with the Cardinals in his tryouts early that morning.

Wednesday, December 19th-One thing that Bo said to me on Monday night about road trips is that the road back to where you started, it’s much longer.

And when I packed my things up Wednesday morning, what he said on Monday night stuck in my head.

We had a large breakfast as well as discussions about the Celtics-Pistons game that was going to be played later that night in Boston.

“Everything on the tape went black,” Coach Sanders said to me.

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

“There’s another copy,” he said, bringing me a sigh of relief.

On the way back to Memphis, our snacks that was once granola bars and Diet Cokes was turned into chips and Gatorade.

“You need to get a laptop,” Coach Walker said to me, “That way you’ll get a chance to post on the road.”

While I was listening to “I’m So Hood” on my IPod, I went into the bathroom to take care of business only to realize that I couldn’t get back out onto the bus.

After 40 seconds of beating down the door, I found the grace of God to help me fight off the trap door.

When I returned, I found out that the whole trap door was nothing more than a prank to welcome me officially to the staff.

“How long was you in there?” Coach Walker asked me.

“40 seconds,” I said, “My whole life flashed before my eyes while I was in the bathroom.”

“Even the girls you’ve flirted with?”

“Yes sir.”

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