Lobby, AmeriSuites Hotel, Tampa
Florida Travelogue - Day Six: "The Day After"
Saturday, January 4, 2003
The fallout from last night’s loss is mild, but still, everyone’s disappointed they let one slip away. The players don’t much care to talk about it at breakfast. They go about their business as checkout time is only an hour away and hardly anybody has packed. After leaving the Lakeland Holiday Inn, our home for the week, the team will drive 40 minutes to Tampa and check into the AmeriSuites Hotel, which is just a stone’s throw from the airport.
With a fleet of four rented minivans, the drive to Tampa is a challenge. If the last van in line doesn’t make the traffic light, the other three that did have to find a place to pull over, which happens often. I ride with Coach Harp and four players when we suddenly realize we’re running on fumes. After alerting the other vans, our fleet snakes into the gas station like a presidential motorcade. The Charge of the Light Brigade plays on the stereo (background music in a radio spot for a waterbed retailer) as we swerve toward the pumps.
AmeriSuites is fairly posh and the guys are impressed. We take over the entire lobby while our rooms are being prepared. There’s an Amherst player on every piece of furniture. Some read, others listen to music, a few talk to Mom, Dad or girlfriends on cell phones. I snatch Brian Preston’s headphones and sample his music. It’s alternative sounding rock, which places him in the minority. Hip-hop and R&B seem to be the overwhelming genres of choice among most of the players. Brian informs me it’s actually a friend’s demo tape. The friend, who’s the lead singer in a band, happens to be a 6-foot-11 basketball player, which burns an unusual image in my mind. We joke that, at 6-11, he must have the longest microphone stand in the music industry.
When our rooms are ready, Coach Hixon announces a team meeting in 15 minutes in the coaches’ suite. Different players are no doubt feeling different things after the loss and Coach wants to make sure everyone’s on the right page.
Before the players arrive, the coaching staff reviews potential topics of discussion. All concur that one of the reasons for the loss was a lack of execution and the team needs to be a bit more patient in some of its offensive sets, which makes sense. Free throw shooting is also an issue.
The team files into the room and carves out space - some on the couch, some on the beds, a few on the floor. They seem to be everywhere and all listen intently. Coach Hixon begins by preaching patience and illustrates his point by sighting specific examples in each of several offensive situations. He also talks about the importance of studying the game from the bench so that, if called upon, reserves can fit directly into the flow of the game. Coach Flockerzi adds that while the team’s first five players are important, as are the first few guys off the bench, a major key is the contribution of players eight through 12, who need to be ready at all times, whether called upon or not.
Steve Zieja, one of the team’s tri-captains, notes that it’s especially important for guards coming into the game to know in advance what plays have been working and which shooters are hot so they can run the offense accordingly.
Coach Hixon steers the discussion toward preparation for what will be one of the busiest sections of this year’s schedule - a Monday game against Salve Regina, a Wednesday game at Western New England and a Saturday matchup at archrival Williams. Injured players, says Coach Hixon, need to do everything in their power to get healthy and everyone should make sure they’re getting enough rest. He concludes by noting that while yesterday’s loss is disappointing, 7-1 is a pretty good start.
The players, for the most part, are tired and content to hang around the hotel on their last day in Florida, especially with tomorrow’s 5:15 a.m. airport departure. Coaches Hixon, Flockerzi and I decide to take a quick jog through the University of South Florida campus, which is just across the street. I ran with Luke (Flockerzi) yesterday and he blew my doors off, which I should’ve expected from a guy nine years my junior. I think he felt guilty because today he runs behind me the whole time.
The USF campus is sprawling, green and dotted with palm trees, and the grounds and buildings are immaculate. About three miles into our run we duck into the campus center for a quick look-see. Though students are on break the building buzzes with activity, especially the fitness center, which is equipped to the nines. On our way out a USF student says she saw us running and asks how far. One of us answers simply, “15,” which could really mean anything (15 minutes, 15 meters, 15 miles) and brings on a good laugh.
That evening Coaches Hixon, Buelow, Flockerzi and I drive 40 minutes to Lakeland Christian School for a varsity basketball game. We feel a special attachment to Lakeland Christian, which has been a gracious host during the week. The game begins with a lengthy and heartfelt prayer by a mild-mannered minister who doubles as the team’s public address announcer, after which the Lakeland cheerleaders perform a polished a cappella rendition of the National Anthem. Suddenly, the aforementioned mild-mannered preacher launches into one of the most animated, ear-shattering, earth-shaking set of player introductions we’ve ever heard, leaving us to wonder aloud, “Where did that come from?” It was as if the spirit of P.T. Barnum invaded his body, spilled past his lips and engulfed the defenseless microphone. This turns out to be the highlight of the evening as Lakeland Christian falls by 26 points.
On the trip back to AmeriSuites, classic rock flows from the stereo and Coach Hixon knows every word. The week has passed too quickly.
-Kevin Graber, Sports Information Director