As I mentioned in “Know Your Enemy” earlier, the Lipscomb coaching staff has allowed me to travel, eat, and stay with their team as they prepare to face your Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena. As a Lipscomb graduate and a Kentucky fan, it doesn’t get much better than this.
I want to structure this as somewhat of a running diary. Within that diary I’ll attempt to describe how a team like Lipscomb, a school with 176 division one wins, prepares to take on the all time winningest program in division one college basketball.
Friday, December 14th
9:15 am: Just arrived at Allen Arena to meet my main contact for this story, assistant coach Shaun Senters, at his office. Shaun played for Lipscomb and has been an assistant for as long as I can remember. He is a high energy guy. He knows everybody. Everybody likes him. He likes everybody. As soon as I hit the door we start talking UK scouting report and he shows me the video he has put together on the Cats (more on the scouting report in Part 2).
9:20 am: I purposely wore my old Lipscomb basketball shirt today so Shaun would make fun of it and realize I needed some updated gear. He presents me two new t-shirts. Mission accomplished.
9:25 am: The players are lifting weights before we load up the bus. My feelings are hurt they didn’t wait for me.
9:45 am: Shaun and I head to the locker room where the players are getting cleaned up and Coach Sanderson is preparing to talk to them before we board the bus. On the way to the locker room I ran into an old friend.
Lipscomb readers will appreciate this. I ran into everyone’s buddy, T.J Hale. I met T.J. when I was in school at Lipscomb. I used to take him to my church league basketball games. UK fans, T.J. is a Lipscomb LEGEND. T.J. has autism, but he is very outgoing and loves sports. He lives right across the street from Lipscomb and attends almost every sporting event on the campus. T.J. loves asking questions. In five minutes today, which included a two minute break for me to talk on the phone, T.J. asked me the following questions:
-“Are the Preds going to play this year?”
-“Who is good for Kentucky?”
-“Who is their best player?”
-“Who is their fastest player?”
-“Does Kentucky have any seniors?”
-“Who is your favorite player?”
-“Is the game on TV?”
-“When are you leaving?”
-“Are the Preds going to play this year?”
I answered all of them. Quickly too, I might add. If you don’t answer quickly, your answer is likely to be overtaken with the next question. T.J., if you read this, talking to you was a great start to the trip. Go Braves!
9:55 am- I am now in the locker room listening to Coach Sanderson address the team. He told them about the Lipscomb team that found itself down 17 points to Indiana in Bloomington a few years ago only to come back and win by 5 (I really enjoyed that part).
Then came the part of the speech where he gave them the speech every underdog gets. For a moment I felt like I was in the locker room in the movie Hoosiers.
“They put their shoes on just like we do.”
“Their floor is 94 feet long and 47 feet wide.”
“The rim is 10 feet high.”
All of a sudden I was ready to lace ’em up again. I’m usually anti-cliche, but an impassioned delivery of such cliches can get the blood flowing, especially for 18-20 year olds who have a lot of hard work invested into the outcome of every game.
10:15 am- We head out to the bus to load up. It is then that I meet the true star of the show: Daddy Dave, the bus driver. Daddy Dave is the man. Dave is such a good bus driver that he brought Coach Sanderson a Mountain Dew because he “knows that’s what coach likes.” He drives with fingerless leather gloves, sunglasses, and headphones playing (in his words) “everything from country, rock, and the 50’s.” He also has an old school earring in the left ear. Not a stud. A ring. You youngsters can act all cool with your diamond studs and bling bling, but Daddy Dave knows whats up. The ladies love the ring.
10:30 am- We depart from Lipscomb’s campus. As we make our way to the interstate a few pieces of paper get handed to me. “Here, place your order,” Coach Senters instructs. What they have handed me is a menu for Olive Garden. We’ll be stopping in Bowling Green on the way up. The order is called in while we are driving so we can quickly and easily get into and out of the restaurant. Okay. I could get used to this.
Speaking of getting used to things… Our bus has wireless internet. This makes for a silent bus. The last time I traveled with a team on a bus was in high school. Wireless internet wasn’t a thing. Much less was our yellow school bus “wifi capable.” Our bus trips consisted of us making fun of each other, playing cards, and farting on people that fell asleep. All those joys seem to be gone. But if I could go back in time I’d certainly trade making fun of the guy who’s feet smelled for watching a little Netflix on the road.
There aren’t many ways I like to travel, but this is one of them.
11:00 am- We’ve been driving for 30 minutes and Dave has had a story or connection to every exit we’ve passed so far. This is not an exaggeration. To name a few of the connections: where he has hunting land, where he bought a trailer, where he grocery shops, where he lives. All different connections to different exits.
11:40 am- We file into the Olive Garden. People stare. We get a big long table in the back. Salad, breadsticks, and water are already on the table. No time is wasted.
11:45 am- More bread, please.
11:48 am- Hot plates of food begin appearing from the kitchen. The waitress says, “If you’ve gotta play basketball you better not touch these plates. They’re hot.” What if we have to type?
12:05 pm- I’ve never seen a fight less fair than the one food tried to fight against these collegiate athletes. It was a first-round knock out. In case you’re wondering, this writer showed out against some chicken parmesan, as well.
12:25 pm- Back on the road. An entire basketball team, coaching staff, and media contingent just ate at an Olive Garden in 45 minutes. Barring a Lipscomb victory, that may end up being the most outrageous feat of the trip.
12:30 pm- As we get back on the road, I asked Coach Sanderson what it’s like to have his son, Carter, playing for him:
“It’s great. He’s worked really hard, gained 20 pounds, and earned his way onto the court. He had other small offers, but when your son wants to stay home and play for you, you can’t say no.”
Sanderson played at South Carolina from 1980-1984. His dad Wimp, a longtime assistant to C.M. Newton at Alabama, took over as head coach at Alabama in 1980 and coached until 1992. I asked him how Wimp was doing:
“He’s great. He did radio for a while in Birmingham with Sonny Smith before he decided radio was cutting into his time on the golf course. Then he decided to get back into it.”
Wimp has a daily show in Birmingham from 10-12 and he (to use Scott’s words) “loves getting those folks riled up.” Sounds a lot like a guy we know in Kentucky.
3:28 pm – We have changed time zones and are getting close to downtown Lexington. The ride up was rather uneventful. I spent most of my time typing and listening to Daddy Dave sing the music coming from his headphones. The players spent most of their time with headphones in and their eyes closed. Upon arrival we will get checked in to the hotel and head over to Rupp for practice.
Check back later tonight for Part 2. Unlike Part 2 of Drew’s Taco Bell trip, this one will happen.