20 Games; 9 Days: Max’s Journey

Opinion, SC8 Diary

Sportschannel8 correspondant and newsletter editor Max Gongaware is hitting 20 college basketball games over 9 days. This is his story …

 the aftermath:

Well folks, I did it. I attended 20 Basketball Games in 9 Days.

A 4.5 hour drive from Raleigh to Charleston on a Friday (including about 100 miles with my “check engine” light on, but it eventually turned off so I’m sure it’s fine). Three nights sleeping on a couch in Charleston. A late-night drive back from Charleston, arriving back in NC around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. A few hours of sleep in my actual bed. Awake and headed to work Tuesday morning. Leave work around 4 p.m. Tuesday. Fly from RDU to LaGuardia Tuesday night. Sleep on a pullout couch in Hell’s Kitchen for five nights. Wake up early Sunday morning and hop on a flight back to RDU. Back to work Monday morning.

Oh, and basketball. Lots and lots of basketball.

It’s been a joy to journal some of my highlights and experiences throughout my 9-day journey. I hope that I’ve been able to share some insights you hadn’t previously noticed or thought about.

It’s difficult to know at this point if I’ll have the opportunity to double-dip the CAA and ACC Tournaments again next season, but I sure hope so. Until then, make sure y’all stay in tune with everything going on here at SC8 (including some occasional stuff from yours truly). There’s a lot of fun stuff still to come this March and beyond.

To read previous journal entries, keep reading below. To subscribe to the SC8 weekly newsletter to get access to the best of SC8 plus exclusive content from Max and Mark, go here. 
The Colonial Athletic Association’s Conference Tournament got started yesterday with a couple of play-in games. Since neither of yesterday’s games featured a team from North Carolina (take a lesson NC State and Wake Forest), I figured it makes the most sense for the Day 1 journal to be about Colonialism. The staff at SportsChannel8 sent me down to Charleston because I’m their guy when it comes to the intersection of sports and the second half of the 1700s (also because I’m an Elon alum and I happened to be attending this tournament anyway).
The first game of the day featured 8-seed Hofstra and 9-seed Delaware fighting for the right to play top-seeded UNCW on Day 2. Delaware has the conference’s Rookie of the year in Ryan Daly and he didn’t disappoint, scoring 17 points in the first half and 27 for the game, along with 11 rebounds. How does this intersect with Colonialism? Well, Delaware was, of course, the first state to ratify the US Constitution in 1787. Yesterday, they became the first team to record a win in the 2017 CAA Tournament. History!
The second game of the night featured 7-seed James Madison and 10-seed Drexel. Drexel jumped out to an early lead and clearly frustrated James Madison offensively. Their frustration turned into some aggressive arguments with the referees. JMU was whistled for THREE technical fouls in the first half. Their head coach, Louis Rowe, was called for two of those techs, which resulted in his ejection. Historical Note: James Madison University is named after a guy named James Madison (imagine that), one of this country’s founding fathers. Madison is perhaps best known for being the author of the Bill of Rights–the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution. Madison’s first amendment included protection of free speech (among other things). Maybe it’s ironic, then, that the very school that honors the man who invented “free speech” was whistled for three techs while trying to speak their minds.
Stay tuned into SC8 today, as CAA action brings us two games featuring NC teams. UNCW will play Delaware at noon and Elon plays William & Mary at 2:30.
There is nothing in the world that I love more than four basketball games in one day in a Tournament setting. Nothing. The venue becomes your home for the day. It’s peak people-watching, as eight different fan bases (also important: eight different pep bands) come through the building. The section you’re seated in becomes your new family. You learn to be amicable with all the other fan bases (ok maybe not ALL the other fan bases). You get to listen to super fans from around the league spew information about players you never knew existed. I now know more about Northeastern’s CJ Williams (the CAA player of the year) than I ever thought possible. Oh, and you get to watch four basketball games.
The other day, somebody asked me if I’m a “beach” or a “mountains” guy. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I don’t have a particular affinity for either. Which is more likely to host a conference basketball tournament?
North Carolina note: North Carolina teams went 1-1 on the day. UNCW ran past Delaware to advance to the semi-finals. My Elon Phoenix led William & Mary for the majority of the day, but forgot how to offense down the stretch and dropped a heartbreaker. As an Elon alum and self-named Super Fan, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of Elon hoops. In just three years in the CAA, they’ve come a long way, finishing above .500 in league play for the first time this season. They had only one senior this season that played consistent, valuable minutes (Luke Eddy) and he wasn’t even a starter. Obviously, there are some other forces to be reckoned with in the CAA, but I’ve gotta think Elon has a chance to do some big things in the next couple of seasons. Look out!
Non-North Carolina notes: Towson beat Northeastern. College of Charleston sent home the CAA’s best pep band by beating James Madison.
Semi-final Sunday featured a matchup of the CAA’s top two scoring teams (UNCW and William & Mary) followed by a matchup of the CAA’s stingiest defenses (College of Charleston and Towson). Game one didn’t disappoint, as UNCW beat W&M 105-94. UNCW has a LOT of guys that can make shots. Plus they have the CAA’s defensive player of the year in Devontae Cacok (who also happens to shoot about 80% from the floor). If they’re hot, I can definitely see them making an NCAA Tourney run (they’ve gotta win the CAA Tourney first, obviously).
CofC/Towson was ugly until it wasn’t. Both teams were shooting around 30% for most of the game. Towson built up a decent lead, but College of Charleston (specifically Joe Chealey) got hot late and won 67-59.
Since 9-seed Delaware beat 8-seed Hofstra in the Tournament’s opening game, we’ve seen nothing but chalk throughout the rest of the tournament.
Should be a fun Championship Game tonight at 7pm in front of a national audience on the CBS Sports Network. UNCW has easily had the largest “out-of-town” crowd all Tournament long, while College of Charleston has predictably had a “home court” (the North Charleston Coliseum is not where they normally play, but is still pretty close to campus) advantage in both of their games.
I wrote the other day about how much I love watching four games in one day during a basketball tournament, but there’s also something to be said about the day of the Championship Game. The first few days of the Tournament, you’re spending basically ALL of your time in the arena watching basketball. The day of the Championship Game finally gives you a chance to explore the city you’re in. It’s a long day leading up to one game.
I spent most of my Championship Monday exploring the city of Charleston. I visited some parks, walked along King Street and Calhoun Street, found a place to eat some lunch, looked at some cool houses, and eventually decided to settle in at a local coffee shop and get some writing done.
The Championship Game started at 7pm. A matchup of the CAA’s highest scoring team (UNCW) and stingiest defensive team (College of Charleston). It was announced crowd of over 6,000 at the North Charleston Coliseum, easily the largest of the Tournament. It was a great Championship environment, especially when you consider that they were playing at the home arena for the South Carolina Stingrays, a Minor League Hockey affiliate of the Washington Capitals. What would they know about providing a Championship atmosphere?
UNCW showed yet again that they have a lot of different guys that can hurt you on any given night. I really think they could be a dangerous team in the big dance. If I’m a 5- or 6-seed, I certainly don’t want to see them.
One cool thing about Conference Tournaments for the smaller, “one-bid” conferences… it’s really cool to see the pure jubilation from the team and their fans when they clinch that automatic bid. I call it a “Cathartic Moment of Happiness.” Barring something unexpected, the ACC Tournament Championship Game won’t feature that kind of pure joy. It’ll feature a team that wins and a team that loses, but the losing team will still most likely get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last night, UNCW won, the students that made the trip to Charleston stormed the floor, and it was really fun to watch.

Today is a travel day for me. No basketball, unfortunately. I got home from Charleston at about 2 o’clock this morning. I’m putting in a good 6-7 hours of work in at my real job today and then it’s wheels up to Laguardia Airport this evening. My plan is to be one of the first people inside the Barclays Center around 10:30 tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to joining the rest of the SC8 team and providing some energy off the bench when I get up there!

We’re now on Day 8 of my 20 games in 9 days journey. I haven’t written anything about it in a little while. I have an explanation for that and some more musings from Brooklyn.
I spent 5 months living and working in NYC in 2014, when I had an opportunity to intern in the Business Public Relations Office of Major League Baseball. It was an amazing experience and I learned a ton, both professionally and personally. New York is an amazing city and it’s been fun to feel nostalgic about my 2014 experience.
One of the things you learn very quickly when you’re in NY is that everything is just a little bit harder. That includes something as simple as finding a place to just sit down, take a deep breath, and write for your favorite web-based NC Sports Outlet. My first few days in NYC have been packed with basketball, squeezing into a friends’ tiny apartment, navigating subways, and, of course, getting over the emotionally draining reaction to Jim Boeheim saying Greensboro has “zero value.”
I’ve just been a part of back-to-back days of basketball heaven. Again, there’s nothing greater than attending four games in one day, and I just got to do it twice. Now, its’ semi-final Friday. Games don’t start until 7pm, it’s snowing in NYC, I’m underground in the Columbus Circle subway station typing on my phone, and I’ve got some time on my hands to starting feeling a little sentimental about this whole experience.
I don’t know if this is the right place for it, but I want to give a quick shoutout to Summer Camp. This journey wouldn’t be possible without it. I worked at a camp in NC for six summers (after being a camper there for eight summers). Camp is a place where it’s possible to build relationships and friendships unlike any other that I’ve ever experienced. It’s an incredible thing.
Many of my friends that I once worked with at camp have now scattered across the country in pursuit of “big boy” and “big girl” jobs. Even though it’s difficult to catch up with these folks as often as we once could, our relationships still pick up right where they left off when we do get to see one another. The bonds created through summer camp help make this happen. It’s literally magic.
This 20 games in 9 days journey was made possible because of my old camp friends in Charleston and New York, who I’ve been able to stay with for free.
The opportunity to contribute to SC8 was also made possible through another camp person in Hayes Permar, one of our fearless leaders. Even though we went to and worked at different camps, I think it was our mutual understanding of “camp life” that helped our relationship get off on the right foot when we first met nearly six years ago.
If you were to ask me about powerful “karma” that helps bring people together, the two things that would jump to my mind first are “camp” and “sports.” It’s been amazing to feel the intersection of camp and sports at work over the last eight days.
I’ll have more basketball-related content ready to roll for you tomorrow or Monday, after this ACC Tournament is wrapped up, but this felt like an important point to make. And I thank y’all.