sports (2006-12)

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Basilio charters a tourney bus. What was he thinking?

March Madman

by Tony Basilio

When it comes to the real March Madness, Tennessee and its fans still have a lot to learn. Experiencing the NCAA Tournament last weekend in Greensboro gave me a glimpse of why this truly is the greatest sports spectacle in our country. The drama, intrigue and magic of several games occurring concurrently across four different corners of North America is but a microcosm of experiencing a piece of the tourney in person.

This year, I concocted a plan to take a bus trip to the second round. It was an ambitious thought given Tennessee’s recent tourney history. Less than an hour before going on a Monday morning, I decided to act on my impulse. For one week, I was in the travel business. Now that the experience of putting this together is complete, I can honestly say it feels great to be back in radio. Nonetheless, it was a great experience.

I went on the air and announced the trip. My plan was to take the first 25 people who called—first come, first serve. Within hours, I thought I had the bus filled up! But the fun was just beginning. I ended up going through about 60 commitments to get my final group. The original 25 consisted of, among others, a couple from Tupelo, Miss., who listen to my show on the Internet who were going to drive up on Friday to board my bus for an additional five-hour ride to Carolina. They ended up backing out. As did a guy from Claxton who I’m calling out in this space for committing to four spots by telling me how grateful he was that I put the trip together. He was so grateful that he actually went behind my back to the ticket guy trying to find out if I was profiting from the trip! He eventually backed out, and blamed it on his friends. How about a little honesty next time?

Those misadventures notwithstanding, I can tell you that if you get a chance to attend the real March Madness, do it. Even in defeat, our traveling party was unanimous that we would do it again. A few highlights from the trip:

The presence of Duke and George Washington as the opening act to the day helped cement the festive atmosphere at the arena. Basketball is different than football in that the game is the focus— not the tailgating and the socializing, but the contest itself. 

We arrived at the Greensboro Coliseum two hours before the first game. That gave us ample opportunity to join UT fans at the pep rally which was held in one of three adjacent rooms, serving GW, Wichita State and Tennessee fans. Duke, since they always hammer everyone they play in the first couple of rounds, apparently doesn’t need pep rallies. Tennessee’s offering consisted of a pep band and some remarks from Mike Hamilton and UT president Dr. John Peterson. Concessions were selling everything from spirit beads to buttons to Cokes to apparel from a local Knoxville clothing concern. There were noticeably few student-aged folks in the room. It was a pretty lame affair. Any spirit I had was dimming; it was time to exit stage left.

I grabbed a couple of Vol fans and crashed the George Washington shindig. It was a great party. Free breakfast was served. People were inviting and mingling. There was true school spirit in the air. This is what it’s all about! GW had a swarm of people collecting free NCAA Tourney-themed shirts (I took one) and foam Colonial-style hats (I took two). What a departure from the UT offering. I was eventually thrown out of the gathering by someone from the GW alumni association who said, “Sir, I really appreciate your excitement for our team, but we have neither the space nor the food for fans of other schools.” Feeling her pain, I said, “I understand” as I grabbed a heaping plate of food and left their room with free lunch in hand.

Duke fans didn’t disappoint at the game. They were arrogance personified. One Dukie set me off by taunting GW fans, goading them with a few inappropriate gestures. So, like any good ole East Tennessean, I volunteered my two cents, resulting in a near-melee with the Duke fellow. It wasn’t pretty.

Speaking of Duke fans, their arrogance was truly on display during the Tennessee game. While the Vols and Wichita State played, the Duke fans who stuck around refused to condescend by choosing a team to cheer for. It was almost as if they wanted to see the peasants play as they passively glimpsed out the plantation window.

At the end of it all, the harsh reality of March smacked us in the face when Tennessee fell apart down the stretch against Wichita State. A painful ending to a great day was punctuated by having many Wichita State fans come up with well wishes. It was a first class event throughout. I now have a couple of new teams to root for in the future. GW and Wichita State are alright by me. Duke, on the other hand, remains part of the axis of evil of college hoops!

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.

© 2006 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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