This is the seat.
It’s soft, sure. Sometimes comfy. Kinda depends on the circumstances.
This is where Bill Self will sit late tonight. He’ll have just walked off the court at Ford Center, as either an as-expected winner over Lehigh, or something else entirely: coach of the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16, to go home early from the NCAA Tournament, to dash the hopes and expectations of KU fans, amateur bracketologists and even the president himself.
No wonder guys squirm. One guy’s throne is another’s hot seat.
“Hopefully it will be more fun than the last time we were here,” Self said from this very seat Wednesday, answering questions from a room full of media about President Obama’s prognostication that the Jayhawks would win the national championship. “Because last time, in the Big 12 Tournament, we didn’t stay very long.”
Or the last time KU played in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, for that matter. KU had lost to Bucknell — like Lehigh, a member of the Patriot League — in the first round.
The actual seat itself isn’t all that unusual: The only real differences between it and the 90 others lined up in the room below, are the materials (it’s covered in leather, or some synthetic version), and it has the NCAA logo and BASKETBALL emblazoned across the back.
But that’s physical.
Professionally, every college coach in America wants a seat at this table, in front of a screen of NCAA logos, behind a microphone with NCAA logos, and answering questions moderated by an NCAA official.
It means you’ve succeeded. You’ve made it to the Field of 65, for a shot at a championship. One Shining Moment. Win six games and you hoist the trophy, head home for a parade, achieve campus immortality and receive even more financial security.
Only one coach gets to sit in this seat six times with a smile, though. There’s always a losing coach who gets to face the questions, gaze into the three high-powered TV lights, and explain to anyone out there that the kids played hard, gave it their all, achieved great things this past season and — someday soon — certainly will look back over the year and understand that they’re winners, even if they had to go home earlier than hoped.
I’ll be in the interview room today and tonight, watching as coaches take their turns in the seat. And I’ll know how it feels, with one difference.
For me it’ll just be a seat.
Kansas and Kansas State will be in close quarters today at Ford Center.
The two teams — with the top two seeds entering play Thursday in the NCAA Tournament’s first round in Oklahoma City — are using the same Oklahoma City Thunder locker room today, at different times, in the bowels of the arena.
I haven’t been able to sneak inside yet, but authoritative sources tell me the space is the best around — especially when compared with other dressing rooms, like the ones being occupied BYU, UNLV and on down the line to, of course, No. 16 seed Lehigh.
“About 100 percent,” according to one of the many men in blue Ford Center T-shirts, helping to control swarms of media members during the day Wednesday. “Every player has his own individual shower. There’s a hot tub. It’s totally high-dollar professional.”
Makes sense, considering that the digs were upgraded as part of an ongoing $100 million renovation and expansion of the arena.
We’ll see if I hear any “Hot Tub Time Machine” jokes in there later on...
By Mark Fagan firstname.lastname@example.org So this is how it ends. No trip back to California for C.J. Giles. No West Coast pilgrimages for legions of KU fans. And no shining moments for the Kansas University Jayhawks, whose supporters wanted to believe that the team could come back and win Friday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills, but ultimately closed out the year just like last year: another first-round loss, to a team outmatched on paper but superior what it counts most. On the court. Watching a game from courtside really is different from watching it on TV. I almost could feel the pain when Stephen Vinson - playing in what would be his last college game - struggled to front Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley's star forward, in the first half. He had 21 points, and only a few, by my count, came against the smallish guard from Lawrence. Vinson fought and fought and fought, giving up 5 inches, 30 pounds and who knows how much on scoring average to the guy who would be the game's leading scorer. Man, it was tough to watch. I didn't make it into the locker room after the game. Instead I managed to check in with a fans as their own hopes were dashed once again. Some left early, unable to watch. Others stayed in their seats, like they could somehow stay till Sunday and see their Jayhawks take the court once again, this time against Pittsburgh for a shot at making the regionals in Oakland. Then there was Max Falkenstien, unplugging his headset after 60 years of calling KU games on the radio. I watched him move about the corridors and across the court, stopping to shake hands and accept well wishes. Verne Lundquist, who called the game for CBS, apologized to Falkenstien for not being able to get to a planned "tribute" for Max on the air. I couldn't catch the explanation, but I do know this: Lundquist and his radio partner, CBS analyst Bill Raftery, have been calling NCAA games for ages, and if you take their CBS tenures together - 48 years between them - it's still not even close to Max's six decades. "Barring a miracle, I knew it would end on a downer," Max told me, after slinging his bag over his shoulder. A couple weeks ago he told me that he'd still be going to games next season, only this time as a fan. I asked if he had enough "points" to qualify for seats at Allen Fieldhouse, and he assured me - with a laugh - that he wouldn't have a problem. He'll be there like the rest of the KU fans: Hopeful for another season of entertaining hoops, only next time with a better ending.
This time of year, I miss my kids. I know what you're thinking: wah, wah. You're covering the Jayhawks. Tough job. Ronnie Chalmers, of course, doesn't have that problem. As director of basketball operations for the men's basketball team at KU, he's around his son - freshman guard Mario - a lot. How cool is that? Plenty. "I'm proud of him, because this is something that Mario has wanted since he was 2 years old," Ronnie told me the other day before practice. "You know, he came out of the womb shooting baskets." He's saying this like he's been asked about it a million times before, but the smile on his face says he never gets tired of answering the question. Ronnie Chalmers is the father of a certified Division I basketball star who's about to play for a shot college basketball's biggest prize. "He's getting a chance to live his dream," Ronnie says. Around him, the locker room is alive with nervous energy, kind of like a classroom on the first day of school. Everyone's happy to be back from summer vacation, seeing friends and trading stories - the kind of excitement that builds until you realize that soon you'll once again be learning multiplication tables or state capitals or whatever else the teacher wants. That's when I notice Mario over on the other side of the room, playing tag with Darnell Jackson and C.J. Giles. It's like they're itching to get outside for recess, shoot some hoops. Mario clearly is the leader in this game, just as he is on the court. He stares straight ahead, like he's paying attention to the teacher, before reaching back and slapping Jackson in the gut, all without moving his head or changing expression. Call it a no-look tag. "Time out!" he calls softly, apparently rendering him immune to becoming "it." Jackson and Giles are moving all over the place, like they don't care who's paying attention. Maybe Mario knows his Dad is watching. I still don't get a vibe on what Ronnie Chalmers is thinking during this little exchange. But of this much I'm sure: He is a Dad who gets to be around his son at one of the most important times of his life. And he's loving it. "I'm able to be here and to be able to see him live out his dream," he said. "It makes me really proud." Random question: So I'm catching up with tournament action by watching "Sportscenter," and I hear Scott Van Pelt give yet another shout-out to The Wheel in Lawrence, the iconic bar that he and Neil Everett visited after the Big Monday game against Texas Tech this season at Allen Fieldhouse. What do you think brought on this love affair: the drinks, the locale, the jukebox, the writing on the walls? I know Van Pelt must find the food satisfying - he mentions the "Wang" burger every now and then - but just what is it that makes the place so hot for KU fans and out-of-town visitors?
OK, so this is my first blog. Ever. An introduction: I'm business editor of the Journal-World, 6News and World Online. Someone decided it would be a good idea to send me on the road, chronicling this year's NCAA Tournament trip for the Kansas Jayhawks. So throughout the trip, I'll be adding a few thoughts, and maybe a few Web links or two, so that you can get a sense of what it's like out here on the road for a regular, nonsportswriting schmo. Here it goes...Guys who compete every day at the highest levels of college basketball are part of a smaller, much less important contest when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. The disclosure game. Kansas University players will be asked all kinds of questions in the coming days - and, hopefully, weeks - as the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament rolls along. On the other side will be media types like me, posing questions that we hope will spur thoughtful, insightful and, most of all, interesting answers. There really are two venues for the exchanges: * Some players will be summoned to sit behind microphones, with their names printed on paper placards propped in front of them, waiting to dispense their thoughts, strategies, life stories or anything else that piques the curiosity of the assembled scribes, throats and chroniclers of all things hoops. * The rest hang in the locker room, with popular players often enduring wave after wave or reporters approaching them for knowledge, fishing for comments that will give their stories depth. But what if what if you're sick of it? What if you don't like talking about your tournament chances, much less yourself? Just what can a player do to escape the questions, get back to thinking about the next opponent or which team they'll choose to be in the next game of "NBA Live"? Now that I'm an officially credentialed member of the media for this year's tournament - and as a business editor, I don't get to do this often - I just had to ask some Jayhawks: What is the best way to get rid of doofs like me? Among the answers: C.J. Giles, freshman center: "That's easy. Cut everything short." (Pause) Me: That's it? (Silence) Me, again: Anything else? (Silence, and a look that says "What do you think?") Me: OK, next question... At least he was laughing by now.Mario Chalmers, a freshman guard, looked kind of surprised by the question. "I really don't have a line to get out," he told me. "I like doing media, but, um, I think, with Coach Self coming..." He had to go.Jeremy Case, a sophomore guard who's actually on his third tournament trip, clued me in on his "out line": " 'We've got to do what coach says we have to do.' 'If we do what coach asks, things will go right.' Something like that. 'We just do what coach tells us to do,' something like that." I had to follow up: Do you really do what coach tells you to do "Yeah, for the most part," he said, laughing. "I mean, not all the time."I managed to chat with Sasha Kaun, too. First, I realized he was really tall. Then he flashed a big smile. And, last, he showed me that this media-player game in Auburn Hills, Mich., wouldn't be all bad. "I usually just try to answer whatever you want to know," he said. "It's your job." Thanks, Sasha. Enjoy the games.