Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 4th, 2009: NCAA Final Four open practices

Teams vary their atmospheres, and the Game Notes of Doom are starstruck.

OMG. OMG I'm actually here, so help me God. It's real. I'm in St. Louis. I think I may die of squee.

So my Final Four experience actually started on the flight to St. Louis, with a plethora of UConn fans, a temporally confused LSU fan, a small group of Stanford fans, three NEC basketball players, Phyllis Mangina (presumably on her way to the WCBA convention), and Rita Williams (presumably on her way to Geno's Final Four party). I think there were a couple of other people on the flight I should have recognized, but I was already operating on one hour of sleep (which I'm still operating on, so please don't be surprised if my accounts from this beautiful Saturday lack my usual eloquence and ability to make sense).

We checked into our hotel and found ourselves confronted with the UConn band and more than a few Husky fans. Orbitz picked a lovely hotel for us- shame about the infestation. ;) It was a bit of a hike to the Scottrade Center, which is a very pretty arena, but nothing too bad. Probably not something that could be done from Hoop City, though.

Oklahoma practiced first. It was a very dry, business-like practice. Started with loose stretching, some shooting, some post moves, then moved to inside-out plays, then perimeter shooting. Then the team split up and did a couple of shooting contests. I don't know the scoring rules, because it seems like they went twice, and after the second time, one group did sprints. My favorite part was the next drill, which involved using a set number of passes before taking the shot- seven or eight passes were the minimum. I liked the idea, especially the way some of the players executed it, with faux-penetration and backing away as if the defense had come in on them. Then it was on to more traditional drills- shooting, then shooting and defending, more shooting, and then a two-shots-at once drill.

Then we went to the Oklahoma autograph sessions, which is not so much "get your poster signed" as it is "wave hi to the nice ballers while you rush to the end and pick up a signed poster". It was kind of like being on a conveyor belt. Abi Olajuwon got a bit of a kick out of my shirt- I was rocking the Narbonne tee that Sass sent me. Wished them all luck and thanked them kindly.

Because we were on the Oklahoma line, we missed part of Louisville's practice, and I'm starting to regret that, because what we saw of it was hysterical. When we entered, they were doing dribbling drills and some individual shooting. Their band and cheerleaders, like every team but Oklahoma's, were involved in the festivities as well. They practiced free throws and did some more shooting. Then the dunks of great LULZ began- each Cardinal taking her turn running for the basket and being lifted to the hoop (or not- Coach and his loyal assistant did miss a couple of approaches) for a resounding (or not) dunk. We were rollin'. Then they scrimmaged. They finished up by stripping down to their compression bras and taking halfcourt heaves. They must practice those a lot, because there were something like four hits out of twenty shots- including one that was nothing but net, and one from Coach Walz himself. He was very satisfied with himself afterwards.

I don't think Geno was taking the practice seriously. He spent most of it shooting the breeze with Lobo, Burke, and a couple of the other ESPN blondes. Jonathan performed with the cheerleaders. They came out lapping the court a la the Liberty. Unlike the other two teams, they did their stretching as part of the practice- I guess they wanted to kill as much time as possible. They did some disorganized shooting. The bigs worked on their pivot moves. More shooting. Then there was a shooting contest of some kind, but I'm not sure what the split was. Loved the fast break sequences, especially when Moore got slick with the passes. Then they ran a few plays, but probably not ones they plan on using very often. More shooting. Shooting contest- posts took twos, perimeter players took threes, and the bigs won.

Stanford's tree is freaky, and needs another layer of foliage to be decent. They did some dribbling and ballhandling drills, ran a layup drill, did some halfcourt stuff, did a contest of some kind where the losers did pushups, and shot free throws. Then Sass distracted me, but I don't think we missed anything exciting.

I don't want to say the Huskies were popular, but the line for their autograph session was as long as the one for Oklahoma... two hours before UConn was scheduled to go. Crazy.

We changed seats after the autograph session, and ended up sitting behind some young coaches-to-be and in front of Joanne Boyle. I think I spent as much time scanning the crowd people-watching as I did watching the actual practices.

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