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Opening of College Hoops

November 17, 2003 Columns No Comments

Opening Night as Therapy
by Adam Shandler

While many of us writers live in the fine burg of Hoopville, some of us have to commute to work in other places. As a PR consultant, sometimes projects take me to exotic realms, and I am proud to say that the natives in St. Louis, New Hampshire and Camden, NJ, have welcomed me as one of their own. I even learned to speak their language. (Wicked good. See?) On Thursday, I schlepped up to Boston and represented 2003 Hoopville Tournament Challenge sponsor NFG Stuff (a line of men’s hair products) at the annual SnowShow at Boston’s Bayside Expo Center.

Angry, high-speed, November winds tossed my Mercury Sable about the asphalt of the Mass Pike, but I held fast and docked me “Silver Lassie” in harbor. Such a jaunt would have shaken the hairs off of any man’s chest, but a sterner cap’n I be. (Okay, I just received word from my editor that I am hereby banned from any more pirate talk — arrrrggh!)

The SnowExpo is a mondo event for all those adventurous souls who like skiing, snowboarding, skiboarding, boardskiing, skateskiing, skiskating, slushsurfing and imbibing generous – if not steeply priced – quantities of beer. I parried jokes with handsome, square-jawed ski instructors from Colorado (fun) and rubbed shoulders with Anne-Marie, the fleece-vested, fair-skinned blonde representing Quebec Tourism (more fun). Folks poured in from as nearby as Dorchester and as far as the outer reaches of Hartford to steal a deal on ski pants, goggles, snowboards, lift tickets and, of course, fermented hops and barley. And there was me. The shampoo guy.

After setting up my wares, I prepared for six hours of hawking products, passing out samples and informing the public about our “Hair Stuff for Guys” and how the Y chromosomed need a more masculine scent in their head. I went full-throttle from 4 PM to 10 PM and by the end of the night I had a twinge of laryngitis and stiff legs. The hotel beckoned!

Route 1 North in the Boston suburbs is one of those sadistic stretches of American roadway where if you miss your turn you must drive three miles up the road to find the U-turn in order to go back south, to then make another U-turn to resume heading north. Needless to say I had missed my entrance at the Marriott was forced to tack on another twenty minutes to my night with this bit of highway doe-see-doe. The day had gone on long enough and I was more than ready to punch out.

Like a mythical oasis, I found my room: No. 529, located inconveniently down the hall from the elevators. If my room had been any further down the hall it would have been at the Hampton Inn next door. I tossed my bags on the couch of the office/living room/kitchen and was ready to unwind.

And how does a trade show veteran like myself get the lead out?

Deep-tissue massage, you say? Nay, my friend, nay.

Jacuzzi? Well, if your definition of a Jacuzzi is a big ol’ swirly tub of college hoops, than color me soaked!

Being a Hoopville writer and big time fan of the college game, I knew the significance of the evening. The college basketball season was to tip-off with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden. Like a latecomer to a wedding that misses the ceremony but stays for the party, I failed to catch any of the Wake Forest-Memphis game, but soothed into the second half of Marquette and St. John’s. I know, it was a low-scoring, poor-shooting affair that the #24 Golden Eagles could have easily fumbled, but as the hobbly Travis Diener sank his key free throws my throat and legs felt a little less sore.

College hoops was back, and as I discovered, its games are therapeutic for both the mind and body. They are an absinthe for a hard day’s work, and watching amateur athletes attempt professional feats can be pretty inspiring. While I could have just passed out at 10:30, I was locked into the game. I enjoyed celebrating and castigating, praising and critiquing. Sometimes it’s the early-season imperfections you enjoy most (29.6% shooting and 20 turnovers for Marquette, 31.4% shooting for St. John’s). With the Golden Eagles’ Duane Wade gone and St. John’s looking to anoint another Marcus Hatten, you had two teams making a season opener what it should be: a storybook of uncertainty; of holes to fill and rust to repaint. But there were also some bouts of heroism, glimpses from guys we knew little of previously, who could be the subject of future articles – or dare I say, recipients of postseason honors.

Man, I missed this.

Had I shut it off the broadcast, I would have felt detached from the college hoops world, and this being opening night, I would have only been asking myself, “Did Marquette pull it off?” I went to bed with a great satisfaction, knowing that every night between now and April there’d always be a game on. Perhaps I took it for granted in the past, when I was less mobile in my job, that college hoops were a great way to end the day. They are chamomile and taurine rolled into one. They are the best form of reality TV, with no one getting voted off until March. Or until the NCAA Committee on Infractions says so. And you don’t have to worry about the season getting canceled like 70% of this season’s ill-advised TV train wrecks. Such thoughts gave me comfort as I flicked off the light after Marquette’s 52-45 W over the Johnnies, and I was primed and ready to do the trade show thing all over again on Friday.

I returned to the floor the next day with a renewed spirit and an unconquerable energy in my pitch of novel hair care items. I had not a care in the world.

Well, maybe one care: Getting home in time to catch St. Joe’s-Gonzaga and Pittsburgh-Alabama.


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