vs. Army
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Even when we win, we lose.

This was a home game so I don't have any really nifty travel stories to relate, but what happened just before and after the game should prove to be rather interesting.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

The day before the game we were all called into the conference room for a little pre-game meeting. Once we were seated we saw "5:00 am" scribbled across the top of the dry-erase board with a list of transgressions underneath all in thick, blood-like red letters. The transgressions were as follows:
  1. Bigs not getting back
  2. Failing to challenge shots
  3. Failure to challenge passes
  4. 3 turnovers
...and a few others that only had to do with guard play.

After we had all assmebled, we were informed that if, after the coaching staff had broken down the tape of the game and charted each player's performance, anyone were found to be guilty of breaking just one of the list of deadly sins, he would have to come in for a 5:00am practice session and then again at 11:00am! Needless to say, none of us were to happy to have yet another dark cloud of fear hanging over our heads but of course there was no room for discussion on the matter. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Game day arrived, and in our pre-game meal and walk-through, we were reminded of our "agreement" with the coaching staff. We all nodded in mock approval...what can one do but simply agree? I would much rather just step out onto the court with the knowledge that I'm going to do my absolute best (for what it's worth at times) for as long as my feet are within the bounds of that court, but oh well...with every challenge more character is grown, right?

That night we literally slammed Army into the ground, toying with them at first only to pull away in the second half with a final victory margin of 18 points. Geno Carlisle played his butt off, playing some of the most tenacious defense I've ever seen in a college game, all but shutting down preseason All-American candidate Mark Leuking. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Geno would not be on the list for the 5am practice. In the paint, Evan and I pretty much sucked majorly, both of us combining for a whopping one point and two rebounds. For once I had outscored my evil twin brother *sigh*.

After the game: the night of Passover

After such a ripping victory, you would expect us to have been a jovial lot, horsing around and having a good time as we had after previous victories. Au contraire, monsieur (bet you didn't know I knew French, did you?). We walked into that locker room like Army had just got done handing us OUR butts on a platter; it's very hard to be happy with that dark cloud of a 5am practice hanging over one's head. Coach Byrd walked in some 5 minutes later after conferring with the rest of the coaching staff and outrightly declared that the only two players off the bat that would have the luxury of sleeping in the next morning were Geno and Julian Bonner and likewise declared that Jevon Johnson and Evan were definintely coming in early saying only "go home and get some sleep". He then informed the rest of us that we would each be getting a call to either call us in or let us off the hook. "Wonderful," I thought to myself. "Now I've got to sit around waiting for the Angel of Death to pass over my hotel room. How nice." Immediately I began to think of how I could get a hold of a lamb so that I might sacrifice it and smear its blood over my doorsill (check out your Old Testament if you are lost here) so that the Angel of Death would pass over but alas, all of the butcher shops were closed after the game. I went back to my room and awaited my fate.

At 11:30pm Death called. My heart just about flew out of my throat when I picked up the handset.

"Hello?" I said, a slight crackle in my voice in anticipation of my impending sentence.

"Dan." The voice was lifeless and cold. The voice belonged to Coach Parrish.

"Yeah." I could feel my stomach churning great waves of hydrochloric acid, pepsin and water.

"We'll see you at 5am. Is Julian there?" I handed the phone to my roommate, Julian Bonner. He told Julian to "sleep in and we'll see you at 11:00am." They hung up.

As soon as the receiver hit the phone, I began cursing under my breath, cursing the sport of basketball and all that which is associated with it. "&*$%#*&^ terrific--what the h--- did I do?" It was all too apparent to me that after a 7 minute stint that I had accomplished absolutely nothing more than a measly 1 point on 1-for-2 free-throw shooting, but I had busted my rump running up and down that court. I challenged all passes, challenged the h--- out of every single shot and didn't get beat or scored on--not once! I played by the rules and now I was getting &*$%#!@ for it. Something smelled like hot, steamy bovine fecal matter and it emanated from 1501 Central St. As Julian sat on his bed munching on his burger and fries from the local Booger Kling, I slammed my head into my pillow wishing out loud that the fleas of a thousand camels would infest the coaching staff's armpits. What could possibly be accomplished at 5:00 am that could not be done after our regular practice? Only one way to find out, I guessed. I slipped off into never-never land.

It's 4:15 am, do you know where your players are?

Four hours later, Evan picked me up in front of the hotel-- dark and early at 4:15 in the blessed morning. The roads were slippery, it was snowing, and Evan's foot was aching. His foot was cramping up and he was having great difficulty controlling the car. After taking turns cursing the weather and 5 am practices, Evan asked "Do you really want to go in this early?" We didn't have get our ankles taped for the ordeal so there was really no need to arrive 40 minutes early.

"Uhhh, no," I replied.

"Good, let's just drive around, then--even driving in this sh*tty weather is better than sitting around waiting for them to decide what to do to us." We soon found ourselves at the local White Hen so I could procure some sustanance. I picked up an 8 pack of cinnamon-raisin rolls and a 32 oz. cup of "crappuccino" flavored coffee. Evan declined to eat or drink what I had...I guess he was keeping with the rules of the Passover in not eating anything un-kosher. He drove, I ate and drank.

We got to the stadium at 4:45 after dilly-dallying around for a while only to find the stadium totally locked down and Coach Swanson's car under about 5 inches of snow--he had spent the night. Angry and continually cursing the weather and anything else we could think of that sucks in this world, Evan and I headed back to the car to wait for someone to let us in. We began to day(?)dream about how it would be so cool if all the coaches had driven into snow banks on the way to practice that morning and how we could just go back to our respective beds and sleep in for a bit longer.

No such luck. At 4:53am, a car slid up the road and got stuck on the icy incline leading to the parking lot. It was Coach Jamal Meeks. As we saw the car sit there for a while, Evan wished out loud that he had a big-ol' snow plow and a 4x4 at the end of the little drive. He explained how he would just sit there with his lights off until a coach tried to pull into the drive, then as the car got stuck on the incline, he would turn on his brights and fog lamps, drop the plow and accelerate towards the precariously perched car. "They'd never know what hit them or who did it!" he proclaimed. For once, I was in complete agreement with him and one of his wild ideas. "That just might work," I muttered. I looked around the lot for just such a vehicle, but again, no such luck. Just then, the car regained its footing and resumed its journey up the drive. "S--t," we exclaimed in unison. We headed for the door and the fate that awaited us within. We were joined by all the other white players on the team. I know that our coaching staff doesn't have a racist bone among the four of them--there is no doubt in my mind about that....it was just interesting to note that only the honkeys on the team (with the obvious exceptions of Coaches Byrdsong and Meeks) were up at 5am while the rest lie under 6" of blankets. Things that make you go "hmmmmmmm".

Why in the world am I here?

What awaited us was not altogether that heinous. We were quite surprised to find that the *entire* coaching staff was there....even Byrdsong graced us with his presence that fateful pre-dawn morning. The first chance I got, I interrogated Swanson.

"Coach, just so we're all on the same page here...why am I here this morning?" Brian couldn't believe I would have the balls to ask but hey, at 5:00am I'm not afraid of anything--run me till I puke, I didn't care--I just had to know what went wrong.

"Uh.....hrmmm." He scratched his orange head. "Hrmm...good question. Let's see here, Brian is here because he was 6 for 11 from the line, Evan is here because he played sloppily....." he rattled off reasons why each of my team-mates was there but for me all he could come up with was "Well, we broke the tape down and we came up with some reason for you."

I immediately noted that all the rules were thrown out the window on this one...freethrow shooting wasn't one of the "deadly sins," and neither was scoring only 1 point. The rules had oh so conveniently changed; and there we stood.

The voices in my head told me to run over, grab him by the neck, shake him like a rag-doll and scream at the top of my lungs "SOME REASON??? YOU DRAGGED ME IN HERE AT 5AM AND YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY???????????". I was really steamed at that point. I don't know how I did it, but I resisted the prompting of the voices and remained perfectly calm...on the outside, anyway.

Aside from the fact that we had to deal with Coach Swanson after only having 4 hours of sleep, practice actually proved to be rather beneficial--we worked on fundamentals drills (passing drills and some very basic post-up stuff) for the very first time in the two and some-odd years that I've been here!!! I actually walked away an hour later feeling that we had accomplished something--it was a very strange feeling and I really didn't know how to take it.

After practice, Evan tried to convince me to make a burrito run. The burrito run is a "big man" tradition that was started with Kevin Rankin and Evan two years ago when Rankin was a senior. The two were out looking for a good burrito at 3am and some Mexican dude in Chicago directed them to this little joint called El Norte on Chicago's North Side. But, as much as I love those burritos, I needed sleep. He called me a "wuss" for not wanting to partake of the burrito run, protested and then took me back to the hotel for another 3 hours of sleep. When I hit the pillow for the second time, I began to regret imbibing that 32oz. "crappuccino." I stared at the ceiling and eventually fell asleep....3 hours later we were up and at it again for round number two. That session was more like the practices we were used to--lots of running and the lot but amazingly I didn't feel to tired. We practiced for the usual two hours and then Coach Friday (strength coach) dragged us in to lift--merciless cur.

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