A report from the nation’s capital:
This is surreal. I am in the huge media work-room beneath Capitol One Arena. It is a massive space with long tables set-up so that people can sit down and work on lap-tops, there are snacks and drinks available for the media members, and a large divider separating the main media work-room from the press-conference area. I had played it cool all the way down thus far: entering via the media entrance, going through the metal detector, getting my media credential, asking where to go (“down the stairs, left, right, and left”), smiling and saying “good morning” to the various Capitol One staff members, seeing signs pointing me towards the media work-room and more arrows pointing out “floor access” and the “locker-rooms,” but here was the real deal. I skirt the long tables, flop down at an open spot amidst bags and computers and people typing and chatting - all professionals who know what the heck they are doing.
I look up and see that Matt Norlander and John Feinstein are readily recognizable just 20-30 odd feet away. Looking around the space I see a ton of other national and local media from all four schools and tons of national media outlets, including some more I recognize. I look to my immediate right and I find that I have fortuitously sat down near just about all of the MSU beat reporters - Graham Couch, Kyle Austin, Chris Solari, Matt Charboneau, Shawn Windsor and some others. I will introduce myself soon, once I have caught my breath and settle down a bit, with the hope of embeding myself with them, to some degree, to see if I can pick up some pro-tips and best practices. Trying hard to overcome my feeling of imposter syndrome, and realizing that I am very much winging this and making it up as I go, I check the schedule to see that I have just missed the tail end of the LSU media availability (rookie move).
I am feeling a bit under-dressed/under-professional in my attire, I came in a T-shirt and a vest, and jeans, most guys are about a half-level up in snazziness. I ignore this. I see the MSU guys begin to trickle towards the stairs - I follow them, and see a small gathering of cameras and people holding their audio recorders (I too have mine in hand). I introduce myself to Couch and a couple others - they know of The Only Colors and welcome me. Apparently, if there is time, Izzo will have an impromptu hall-way press conference before he does his “real” press conference (it is suggested to me that the locker-room availability is a better use of time because I can get Izzo’s transcript later).
Izzo comes along after a bit of waiting, and has an informal chat answering questions, offering thoughts on the match-up, etc. I record some of it - not getting up the gumption to ask any questions despite being literally 3 feet away - but mainly notice how calm and at ease he is. There is not a hint of tension or concern, even as he breaks down the concerning areas of the LSU match-up: namely, length, rebounding, and their top 4 guys (Waters, Reid, Mays, and Smart). After a bit someone yells out that the locker-room is open, I stay by Izzo for a bit longer, and then mosey over to the locker-room. Walking past Fife and Garland.
And then the team is all just...there. All these players and athletes that I follow assiduously whose temperaments, personalities, mental-frames-of-mind, focus-levels, etc. that I try to parse through a TV or computer screen are there before me. Winston, McQ, and Ward, will be back in a bit - they are doing their media-availability in the press-conference room, but I can see the rest of the team sitting in front of their lockers, some with cameras and recorders in front of their faces, some just kicking back, looking around and chatting. Goins has a lot of folks talking to him, Henry as well - so I sidle up to Gabe Brown, boldly stick my recorder near him, and begin asking questions until he is done answering and I can’t come up with anything else to discuss.
I go through the locker-room, talking with Brown, Henry, Ward, Kithier, Loyer, McQuaid, and Goins. All of these guys are amazing - calm, open, confident, and while not giving any silly quotes. No crazy proclamations, just quiet confidence, coach-speak, and a focus on the team and the teams goals.
I ask Brown and Henry, separately, about the match-up with the wings from LSU, they aren’t interested in talking about individual match-ups or who is on NBA draft radar, or anything like that - they just have to defend, rebound, and execute. McQuaid, later, also offered the kinds of answers you would expect from a senior captain discussing the togetherness of the team and the focus of the team as a whole. I got a smile out of McQuaid when asking him about his similarity with Dane Fife’s senior year at IU - Fife’s senior year is McQuaid’s senior year’s #1 statistical comparison on Kenpom. McQuaid comments: “Fife was a great defensive player and he has helped me become a better defensive player over the years, and he always shows me his film from back in the day. Every member of the coaching staff has final four experience and we are drawing on that right now.”
Every one of the players is locked in, every one of the players is preparing like they will be called upon to make significant contributions, and every player I talked to is 100% aware of the need to box-out and to secure rebounds.
After the locker-room closes, I quickly duck back into the media work-room before heading to the Capitol One Arena floor, to watch the first 15 minutes of the MSU practice. I take a few videos, soak up the energy from the team, and head back to the work-room.
After all of that, I sit for a bit pondering the whirlwind past couple of hours. Then, realizing that I have nothing until tomorrow, I pack up my stuff, and head out for the day. We’ll see where I get stashed on the seating chart for the game itself, but I can’t wait for this evening, and neither can the team. I will head down to the arena in a couple of hours.