December 3, 2007

The Week Ahead ...


The Week Ahead ...
The Week Ahead ...
It's the start of a new week on the Cal State Northridge campus ... This week, Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, offers his weekly insight on what it is like to travel with a Matador team ... Last week, the Matadors men's basketball team embarked on their longest road trip of the 2007-08 season ... It was a six day journey that covered thousands of miles on planes and buses traveling from the Cal State Northridge campus to the states of Illinois, Ohio, Iowa and then back home ... There was little time for relaxing. There were four games to be played, practice time, scouting sessions and study hall ... But the 14-man Matador team focused on the task at hand.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
It is approximately 4:45 a.m. on a cold, Tuesday morning on the Cal State Northridge campus. On the Matador campus, there is no activity except near The Matadome where a group of basketball players from Cal State Northridge are preparing for what will be a tough, day-long trip from Southern California to the Midwest; Cleveland, Ohio, to be exact where the Matadors will face Cleveland State the following night.

To go from the West Coast to the Midwest is a day long excursion. Preparing for a road trip is no easy task for players, coaches and staff. The players have spent the night before preparing for the trip, packing several suitcases with uniforms and warm clothing in addition to bringing school books and laptop computers to study during idle times on this trip which will last six days. It is the longest road trip of the season. The coaches have spent most of the previous night preparing detailed game plans, scouting reports, packing important video equipment and finalizing the travel itinerary for not only Wednesday's game at Cleveland State, but also the trip to Des Moines, Iowa for a tournament which entails two games.

The team is scheduled to leave campus at 5:15 a.m., but the 14 players, four coaches (Bobby Braswell, Louis Wilson, Stan Johnson, James Blake), basketball operations director Ryan Dodd, manager Jason Eubanks, athletic trainer Steve Grech and sports information director Bob Vazquez are packed and ready to go. The bus leaves campus ahead of schedule. The trip begins at 5:05 a.m., ten minutes ahead of the scheduled departure.

The bus trip to Los Angeles International Airport is easy by Southern California standards. There is little traffic at this early hour, and the drive from the San Fernando Valley takes less than 30 minutes. There is little chatter on the bus. It's a chance to get some sleep. The day's journey will be long.

To get to Cleveland is not easy. The airline flight leaves Los Angeles at 7:05 a.m. and arrives in Chicago three and a half hours later. It is a flight that runs into moderate turbulences over Colorado and doesn't end until the final minutes of the team's arrival in Chicago.

There is a two-hour layover, which gives the team a chance to eat lunch, study, write school papers on their laptop computers, or just catch a nap. Lunch at the airport is not cheap. For example, an ordinary oriental chicken salad and drink cost $13.

The flight from Chicago to Cleveland is only 90 minutes, but yet an adventure. The American Eagle plane is a smaller, commuter plane with 60 seats. There is little head or leg room for a basketball team that features tall players, including 6-foot-9 center Tremaine Townsend. The other passengers on the plane are amazed on how the team is able to adjust to the limited space on the plane. The team doesn't complain. Being tall has everyday hazards.

Shortly after the team arrives at the hotel where the team will be housed for two nights in Cleveland, there is little time left to relax.

It's time to board the bus for a 20-minute drive to the Cleveland State campus which is located in the downtown area near Jacobs Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians.

The team practices at the home court of Cleveland State, a 13,610 seat arena built in 1991 at a cost of $55 million. It is a spirited workout, the first opportunity on this Tuesday night to work up a good sweat, practice and focus on the task at hand, preparing for an important non-league game the following night against Cleveland State.

After the 90 minute workout that ends at 9:30 p.m., it's back to the hotel for a hearty dinner, a team meeting, and study time which ends the long day. Lights out at 11:30 p.m.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007
It's game day. Thank goodness basketball is an indoor sport. The weather outside is cold (35 degrees), cloudy and windy in Cleveland.

After breakfast, the team buses to the arena for a one-hour practice at the Cleveland State arena. The mood is good, and the players are confident of victory against a tough opponent.

After the team returns to the hotel, there is a couple hours for study hall, followed by a pre-game meal. At 5:15 p.m., the team is back on the bus for the ride through rush hour traffic to Cleveland State.

Good news. The Matadors remain unbeaten with a 78-68 victory over a tough Cleveland State squad. It's a great team effort, and in the locker room, head coach Bobby Braswell praises the team for its hard work.

Back on the bus, the players congratulate each other for a job well done. Back at the hotel, a post-game meal is available, and then curfew is imposed. The wakeup call on Thursday is early, and the team must prepare for its next destination, Des Moines, Ia.

Thursday, November 29, 2007
Once again, the morning weather in Cleveland is cold, and the windy conditions bite through several layers of clothing. After checking in their luggage at the Cleveland airport, there is time for the players to eat breakfast, listen to music on their headphones, relax or get in some study time.

The team flies from Cleveland to Chicago, where again there is a layover which means another opportunity to eat, relax or study.

The flight from Chicago to Des Moines only takes a little more than an hour. Once on the ground, the temperature in Des Moines reads 43 degrees. The weather forecast calls for a snow storm on Saturday.

An evening practice at Drake University is followed by dinner at the hotel. The long day is nearly over. But first there is a team meeting to go over the scouting report for the next opponent, unbeaten Duquesne. Then the players head back to their rooms to relax, study, watch television and get a good nights sleep.

Friday, November 30
It is the first round of the Drake Invitational Tournament and the Matadors will face their toughest opponent of the season thus far - unbeaten Duquesne. The Dukes can play. They are averaging 92.5 ppg, second-best in the nation. The Matadors play hard, but lose their first game to a very good Duquesne team.

Saturday, December 1
The bad weather has hit Des Moines. Freezing rain, sleet, icy roads and snow have fallen on this Midwest city. The mid-morning bus ride to the shoot around at Drake is a ride of caution. The road conditions are icy, and at least three cars have spun out on the freeway. But the bus driver is a veteran and knows the road conditions. The players, coaches and staff are thankful.

Good news. The Matadors win a decisive 69-43 verdict over North Carolina Central in the third place game of the Iowa Tournament. Coach Braswell said he knew this would be a tough game emotionally after the loss only 24 hours earlier to Duquesne. But the team pulls together, plays great defense and wins its fifth game of the year.

One of those in attendance at the game is Kevin Zihlman, who formerly worked as compliance director at Cal State Northridge, and who now works in the same capacity at Drake University.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, coach Braswell announces that Tremaine Townsend is named to the all-tournament team and presents the junior center with a plaque. The team offers its congratulations for a job well done. The day is over. As an old coach once said, "always win your final game on the road. It makes the ride home so much easier." Amen!!!

Sunday, December 2 2007
It's 7:15 a.m. (central time, 5:00 a.m. pacific time) ... time to pack, check out of the hotel, load the bus and drive to the Des Moines Airport.

It's cold but the weather is much better than yesterday (sleet, freezing rain, snow). As the team begins to board the plane for the connecting flight to Chicago, the temperature reads 18 degrees, and it is beginning to snow. The pilot requests that the wings of the plane be de-iced. That's a good idea.

The Matadors are lucky. They are able to fly out of Des Moines for home. Duquesne, Friday's opponent, had its flight canceled to Pittsburgh and would have to take a bus home, an 800-mile journey.

The flight to Chicago from Des Moines is only 46 minutes. It is a roller coaster ride. Descending into Chicago, the plane hits heavy turbulences because of the weather conditions. But the team is too tired to really notice. Most are asleep. It will sure be nice to get home to California.

Because the flight from Des Moines arrives late into Chicago because of the bad weather, a flight attendant tells the Matador team to run to the next terminal. The team's connecting flight to Los Angeles is about ready to leave. The run from terminal "H" to terminal "K" is quite a distant, but the 22-man Matador contingent makes it to the flight with only seconds to spare. However, no one is sure of the team's luggage will make the flight.

Good news. The three and one-half hour flight is smooth and before you know it, the team arrives back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. And more good news. The team's luggage arrives on the same flight.

The warm California sunshine is a welcome relief.

After a 35-minute ride from Los Angeles International Airport, the team arrives back on the Cal State Northridge campus.

Homeward Bound!!! Home Cooking!!! Home Sweet Home!!!

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