March 17, 2011
NCAA Tournament Central
Press Notes in PDF Format
Georgia Gives UW Chance To Flex Lineup Versatility
Gregg Bell Unleashed: Behind-the-Scenes Look at What Bonds Huskies Hoops
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - So just what have the Huskies been up to since they left Seattle?
A few dozen fans and UW staff members stood out in the rain to send the team off from Alaska Airlines Arena at noon Tuesday. The players wore new, all-gray sweat suits with purple, block Ws and 2011 NCAA Tournament on the front, and 2011 Pac 10 Champions on the back in the middle of the shoulders.
Lorenzo Romar began the flight to Charlotte by coming to the back of the plane and offering sticks of red licorice to surprised members of the Husky band. Try to find another big-time coach who does that.
The band members then continued their tradition of singing "Bow Down to Washington" with a clapping chorus as the Huskies' chartered jet took off at about 1:20 p.m. local time Tuesday afternoon from Boeing Field in Seattle. The players, all in first class for this latest trip to the NCAA tournament, got a kick out of forward and jokester Darnell Gant joining in with the band from the other end of the plane.
Senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who with classmates Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton are beginning their third NCAA tournament Friday night here against Georgia, said he never gets tired of the band's serenade at tournament time.
Then came the five-hour flight across the country, covering 2,800 miles in the longest trip for an NCAA tournament team to a second-round site. Coaches and some staff sat with their wives and families. Isaiah Thomas listened to music on his headphones, which are on so much they may actually be glued to his head. Freshman Terrence Ross fretted that he had forgotten his movie DVDs, and that this was going to be "the longest five hours of my life."
Somewhere over the Rockies, Bryan-Amaning held and swung and giggled with assistant coach Raphael Chillous' daughter Zaya as the toddler waited in front of first class for the bathroom to become available.
Moments later, MBA emerged in coach class with a smile and a box of Cinnabon rolls. He took them to the back galley and convinced a flight attendant to warm up the rolls there. Minutes later, she came back carrying a warm tray of them, with the sweet smell wafting through the cabin.
The team arrived around 9:30 p.m. Charlotte time and were greeted with home-like weather: rainy and temperatures in the 40s. The seventh-seeded Huskies arrived at the Reinassance Charlotte Southpark, which is in a corporate office park and across from a swanky mall, about 15 minutes south of downtown and the Time Warner Cable arena, and immediately ate a Southern-style dinner in a meeting room: fried chicken, ribs, macaroni and cheese and corn muffins. Oh, and apple pie with ice cream.
The NCAA assigns hotels for each second- and third-round sites based on seeding. In Charlotte, No. 1-seeded Duke is at the, ahem, Ritz-Carlton downtown. Second-seeded North Carolina is at the Hilton Charlotte University Place. The Tar Heels' opponent, 15th-seeded Long Island, gets the Marriott across the mall from where UW is staying. The only other of the eight teams here not downtown near the arena is 16th-seeded Hampton, which is staying at a Doubletree Suites, about a quarter mile from UW's place.
The first full day of acclimating to the Eastern time zone included players submitting some of the 10 final exams or term papers for winter quarter the players are completing on this trip. The Huskies have an academic advisor on the trip that administers study tables each afternoon in the hotel and proctors exams. So it's not all basketball here.
Bryan-Amaning joined us before the team's lunch for a live chat with hundreds of fans in the hotel's lobby atrium. He spent a full hour answering questions such as what attracted him to UW from London - "Coach Romar." He also revealed that the international basketball governing body, FIBA, this week granted host Great Britain a place in the Olympic tournament at the 2012 London Games. He's already been on the national team, and its coach has indicated this week's decision likely makes Bryan-Amaning an Olympian.
The team had an intense, two-hour practice inside the tiny gym at Division II Queens University nearby on Wednesday. You could tell it was March. Players dived head-first for loose balls and staged a battle royale during a particularly heated rebounding and transition drill. It was the most competitive - and, the players later said, productive practice of the season. This game will be won or lost in the lane against the inside-oriented Bulldogs, and Washington knows setting a rugged, frenetic tone on its terms will be a key.
Wednesday night, the players, staff and their families had a big dinner at Del Frisco's steakhouse a short walk from the hotel. At the end of the feast, assistant coach Raphael Chillious had his daughter help him blow out the single candle on a small cake as the rest of the room sang Happy Birthday to him.
Coaches have come by rooms at 11 p.m. for bed check each night, but that's not lights-out time. The Huskies have struggled to get their sleep patterns on east-coast time, and many have been up to the early A.M. hours because of their Seattle body clocks. That's how Friday night's 9:45 p.m. local time should work to UW's advantage. It's almost the precise hour, 6:45 p.m. Seattle time, that the Huskies tipoff most of their West Coast games all season. Georgia, meanwhile, will be starting at its latest hour of the season.
Thursday was the Dawgs' busiest basketball day yet this week. Another focused, two-hour practice in the morning back at Queen's University last until lunch. The players then bussed back to their hotel, and en route stopped at the neighboring mall to visit its food court and their favorite place: Chick-fil-A.
Next was study hall, with four more players taking tests. Bryan-Amaning had a sociology final, one of the last ones in his major. At 4 p.m., the team boarded its bus downtown to go to the game arena, the fancy, 20,000-seat home of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, for the first time for interviews and a public practice of mainly layups. As they left the hotel, many of them were buzzing over Morehead State upsetting Seattle native Peyton Siva and Louisville minutes earlier.
The team's demeanor grew noticeably more focused Thursday. All minds are on Friday night's start to UW's sixth NCAA tournament in nine seasons under Romar.