I waited many years for Northern Florida and Jacksonville to play on dates near each other to make it a worthwhile trip to see them. Adding the Florida Gators to the trip was a bonus. After a one and half hour trip from Gainsville, we made it just in time for the opening tip.
It is hard to imagine that this was the home of Artis Gilmore who in 1970 lead Jacksonville to the Final Four. It was truly one of the great Cinderella stories in college basketball history. The court has been named in his honor. Various plaques memorialize that great season for the Dolphins.
I was surprised to learn that the school also produced notable pros like Dee Brown and Roger Strickland (not to be confused with Rod).
We unfortunately ran into the crowd heading to the Jags game. After a few detours that had Google Maps confused, we made it in time. The game was originally scheduled for 6PM but moved to 5PM because of the football game.
I always admire those kids who come out to every game and dressed to be noticed.
As a self-professed Parrothead, I enjoyed the cheer during a foul shot by the fans – “Phins Up!’ The scoreboard also made clever use of memes to cheer on the team.
The Dolphins’ defense held Lipscomb as they rallied back from a first half deficit; The Dolphins won their 21st consecutive home victory in Swisher which is the fifth longest active streak in Division I. Swisher Arena was built in 1953 and looks like an arena from that era but it did get loud. I confess that I prefer the small arenas vs. the big ones.
I need to do a better job researching parking options at big arenas on campus. It never fails to confuse and delay me trying to find the correct parking area. As we entered the campus area, I asked the guard where the free parking is. She said that there was a shuttle from parking lot 5. Shuttle is not a word that I like to hear when we are in a hurry. So, keeping in mind that I had a second game that day that would be difficult anyway to catch the opening tip based on the distance (Jacksonville), I thought that I am on my own. I went in the opposite direction of where people were walking towards the arena. I did find a fraternity parking lot that allowed parking on weekends.
I love seeing the student section courtside. I wish more teams would do this (hear me UConn) but I get that there is a balance between satisfying the students vs. the big pocket season ticket holders. As typical of a major P5 conference game, the crowd was loud and energetic.
I noticed a first here with the huge cheerleading squad. The men and women would couple up and hold hands with each other as they would leave the court. This would be completely unfeasible with most schools given the dearth of male cheerleaders.
Interesting to see that the former coach of Florida Mike White is now the coach of Georgia in his first return to Gainsville.
I did not see much of Florida memorabilia in the arena lobby. My guess that this is a multi-use arena for other venues like concerts which I saw advertised on the walls. This is unusual to see for an on-campus arena.
I had a chance to watch Florida earlier this year on TV playing UConn. I was very impressed with the play of Colin Castleton the Florida center. Very mobile for a big man, he ended up with 7 blocks and was proficient passing the out to this guards. This was Todd Golden’s first win in the SEC. Florida needs to be really good in the second half of the season to make March Madness sitting at a record of 8-7.
Likewise, Terry Roberts was a one man show for Georgia putting up 22 points on a lot of shots. But his quickness and scoring ability will hold up well against future SEC opponents.
My wife and I and had a chance to visit St. Augustine before the game. The downtown area was lit up with lights. Sad to see the homeless folks laying down along the busy shop areas. Below are some pictures from our stroll through the oldest city in the country.
The picture below reminded me of the time I got food poisoning when I visited the grandkids in Missouri.
On to see Jacksonville whose game time was moved up from 6PM to 5PM because of the Jags game.
We begin our three-game trip to Florida here at North Florida University. I have waited many years for Northern Florida and Jacksonville University to play with close dates. This was also an opportunity to stay at the Margaritaville Hotel on the beach. Although not beach weather but still warm for us Connecticut folks, the scenery was beautiful and a welcome sight versus the cold northeast winter.
My wife Linda accompanied me on this trip. We try to do one Operation 351 trip together a year. Linda is far from a college basketball fan so four trips to different Home Goods, two trips to Marshalls and one to TJ Maxx was part of the tourism events. Trust me in that this was an even deal for me!
Jose Placer for the Northern Florida Ospreys was honored before the game with his 1000-point career. Jose would play a big part in the win as I will point out later on.
There were a couple of firsts for me here. The grey floor was a color that I have not seen before in a college basketball arena. The nickname Ospreys is a cool name but unique to me at least. I could not find another team with that name.
We were burned once again with a clear bag policy at the arena. We had to return Linda’s purse to the car because they would not let us through. This happened to us a couple of years ago at the University of Central Florida game. We performed some good deeds by warning some other ladies of this clear bag policy when we were walking back to the parking garage and noticed they were carrying purses as well. I guess that looking through each bag would take more time, but it’s not like there is a long line to get in. Her purse stayed home for the next two games.
In the 2015-15, the Ospreys made their first ever appearance in March madness by winning the ASUN tournament for the first time. As a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, they were defeated by fellow No. 16 seed Robert Morris in the First Four. A display was set up in the lobby to commemorate the special season.
The game turned out to be one of the more exciting games on my travels. Jose Placer hit a contested long three-point shot to tie the game with under a minute to play and followed up with a last second three-point shot from the top of the key to win it for the Ospreys. I mentioned to Linda that most of the games end up a winner for the home team, but I knew that I had to quantify this for Operation 351.
The record for my 109 games is Home Team wins 86 games. Away Team wins 23 games.
Hartford dropped from D-1 to D-3 this year. After much thought on how to note this in my blog statistics, I have decided to drop my count back to 109 games from 110. I have no blog post for Hartford since I counted them before I began my blog. This is frustrating to say the least in addition to the number of D-1 schools growing from 351 (i.e., Operation 351) to 363 this year. Is there an end in sight?
I do wish that arenas would keep the final score on the big scoreboard so I can get a picture instead of what you see below.
This was my third and last stop for this trip. I did not get to the arena till 10 minutes left in the first half despite a hurried ride from the Hampton campus. It was poor planning on my start which I will try hard to avoid in the future. I missed my usual tip off picture to start the game. But once again, I was afforded a free parking garage next to the arena.
So I was immediately impressed with the energy of the VCU crowd. Many were dressed in yellow and were very much into this non-conference game. The cheerleaders, dance team and pep band were loud and enthusiastic.
Who could forget VCU’s cinderella run in 2011? The Rams defeated USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on their way to the final four. I was there in 2011 rooting for the UConn Huskies and watched Butler take down VCU in the semifinal. There is a video homage paid in tribute to this team in the arena hallway.
Although Junior guard Ace Baldwin Jr., the Rams’ leading scorer this season, did not play due to a sprained left wrist, the VCU jumped out to a 10-point lead at half time and never looked back. Graduate forward Brandon Johns led the way with 16 points for the Rams.
I try to buy at least one team shirt on each of my trips. I was fortunate to get a yellow VCU T shirt which my wife thinks is ugly for 10 bucks. It will make an appearance in my bowling league this week.
If you are ever in the Norfolk VA area, be sure to check out the USS Wisconsin. This ship was there for the first gulf war firing tomahawk missiles. The lights you may see in the picture were for a nighttime XMAS event. The admission was $15 and well worth it. Next door is the free Naval Museum which was also interesting to tour. I do these museums trip on Operation 351 trips because the rest of my family hates museums and historical stuff.
I also toured the Yorktown Battlefield preserved as a National Park. I was miffed that I forgot my newly acquired senior pass for National Parks and had to pay admission. It was self-guided tour driving through the battlefields. Not quite on the scale of Gettysburg but it is still hallowed ground and served as a turning point of the revolutionary war. Be sure to visit the American Revolutionary Museum in Yorktown. There was an incredible amount of history learned on this trip.
This is the first game of a doubleheader today followed later at Virgina Commonwealth. I am greeted by a free non-garage parking lot next to the arena – my number one choice of parking scenarios.
As I stepped into the arena, there were plenty of open seats for choosing. I sat next to the pep band accompanied by dancing cheerleaders. I was in awe of the music and dancing by the Hampton students. It would be worth the price of admission just watching and listening to them.
Being from Connecticut, I remember Ricky Mahorn who played in the Hartford school system and later became a star for Hampton and the Detroit Pistons.
There could have been no more than 500 fans in the arena although the paid attendance figure was 2103. I am always on the lookout for unique situations in my travels. When a Hampton player is ready to shoot a foul shot, the PA announcer would say “Free throws win ball games”. The crowd would clap and wait the result. It had to be a recording because it sounded the same each about 100 times.
Bowling Green went on a 18-4 run at the beginning of the game. Although Hampton brought it down to single digits in the second half, it was never close.
In front of me, there sat a family with a man in the wheelchair. Incredibly, there was a stand in front of them surely blocking the view of the man and the kids. I wanted to say something, but I said that there has to be a reason for this. No one in the family seemed to complain.
I was impressed by Wilie Lightfoot a freshman guard for Bowling Green. He did make one stupid mistake by silencing the crowd with his hands after hitting a three pointer. The Hampton crowd full of spirit never let up on this poor guy the rest of the way.
I had miscalculated the distance between games. It was an hour and 20 minutes to VCU but the Hampton game ended at 6PM. The VCU game started at 7PM. Not finding my car in the parking lot at the end of the game added another 10 minutes. I sped toward the VCU arena but missed the beginning of the game as you shall see in the next blog post.
Here are pictures on my walk along the Virginia Beach boardwalk adorned with XMAS lights.
This is the first of a three-game set in the Norfolk area of Virginia. I flew for the first time on the discount airline Breeze from Hartford. Because of the limited schedule of Breeze, I flew in a day early Friday morning and basically had almost 2 days of touristy stuff till this Saturday night game. I did not fly home till Monday night leaving another whole day to find things to do. More about my travels later!
A multi-level free parking garage is next to the arena which always score points for me. The outside of the arena is very impressive. This a modern arena built for basketball. Although the concessions could provide a little more variety and the gift shop was lean (no large size tee shirt available), I was very happy with the fan experience.
Although the students were away for break, the fans around me were very into their Monarchs. This was defensive struggle to say the least.
The ODU sportswriter Harry Minium had contacted previously before the game. We met at my seat with a much-appreciated media pass. We proceeded to a food room for the media where I was interviewed for the ODU web site. I am looking forward to seeing the end result. To make things even better, I was given a courtside seat to watch the second half. Thanks Harry!
My view from the court side seat.
So how many times have you seen a chill area for the fans in an arena?
The coach for ODU is Jeff Jones. I remember seeing him play for the Virginia Cavaliers many moons ago. Jones took the helm of Old Dominion basketball in 2013. He previously served as head coach of the American Eagles and Virginia.
The hall of fame areas inside the arena were impressive. The women’s basketball program in earlier years were considered one of the top programs in the country and held a prominent place in the exhibits. Do the names Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan ring a bell?
The best-known men’s basketball player is David Twardzik. He was a second-round pick by the Portland Blazers in 1977 but elected to joining the ABA Virginia Squires. He now does color commentary for the ODU basketball network.
The unlikely hero in this game was guard Imo Essien who missed his first nine shots but sunk a three pointer with 41 seconds left for the eventual game winner.
I was able to sit in the presser after the game. Harry said there was mix up and he was the only one asking questions. Still it was cool to be there. Coach Jones did mention that he was not happy with the change of game time from 7PM to 8PM due to high school football games. He made the point that this would not happen again.
I usually post a picture of the scoreboard with the final score here, but I forgot to take a picture because I was wondering when it would be time to go to the presser.
I did many tourist visits on this trip but I will include pictures of just one visit in each of my three game blogs.
As always, zoos are a favorite mine to visit. Here are some pictures from the Virginia Zoo.
As I start my seventh season of Operation 351, my hope is that normalcy returns from the COVID days allowing me to schedule games without the fear of cancelations. I had some good trips planned last year that fizzled while impending news of COVID ravaged teams. I had to guess when and where this would be happening in hopes of getting my money back on flights and hotels. I still hurt from the canceled 4 day- 4 game trip to Wisconsin which would have completed the state and done a good run of the University of Wisconsin schools and Marquette. Oh, the lost trips to the breweries also were painful.
It is unusual to have only one game on a trip. However, this was one night out of a weeklong family trip to Key Colony Beach which is a 2-hour ride from the arena. It was a chance to spend time with my daughter Hope, son in law John and two grand kids, Jack, aged two years and Lily, 3 months. John, although not a huge basketball fan, was kind enough to accompany me on the trip considering that he had spent a few sleepless nights with the young ones. Hopefully, Jack will push my wheelchair to my seat as I complete my last game in the year 2050. 🙂 That is if the NCAA will stop adding teams each year to Division 1.
We were very impressed with the campus on the way to the arena. With palm trees and a modern architecture look to the buildings, John remarked that perhaps he should have come here instead of Wake Forest 10 years ago. Since this a was buy in game and with many of the students away for the Thanksgiving holiday, the atmosphere was very subdued with no band and a smattering of students.
St. Francis held their own for the first 10 minutes, but the athleticism and height of the Hurricanes was too much for the Terriers to handle. Miami was hurting from their thrashing from Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten matchup last game, so I guess playing the small Terriers squad was a welcome sight.
Seeing Miami coach Jim Larrangna on the sidelines brough back nightmares when George Mason beat my beloved UConn team in 2006 on the way to the final four. Miami player Nijel Pack, the transfer from Kansas State, led the way with 23 points. At only 6 feet tall, he was very proficient in finding room for his smooth jumper.
Ted Wilcox led the Terriers with 18 points. I think that they will make some noise in the Northeast Conference. Many of the kids are from the playgrounds of New York City and showed some impressive moves.
Throughout my travels, I see so many players coming from the private academies in Connecticut. Putnam Science Academy and St. Thomas More each had a player on the squads tonight. My guess is that these players need to bone up on the academics in order to qualify for D1 basketball.
I have two pet peeves here from tonight that I would like to point out.
Having cheerleaders throwing t shirts into the crowd and your seat is not in within 10 rows of the court. Bring in the air gun!
Not having real ice cream for sale. Dipping Dots are not real and don’t make sense.
I will conclude with some photos from our excursions in Key West.
A view from the back of our rental:
A sunset cruise with Minny the boat dog:
The Dolphin Research Center:
And of course, to the spot where it all began for us Parrot heads:
So why is he in Missouri now? My daughter and husband along with my grandson moved from Manhattan to Joplin for a career move. What better way to visit than to go to an Operation351 game on my visits to see the family!
As I walked up to the stadium, I saw a statue of a woman basketball player which a first for me. Jackie Stiles was the darling of college basketball in 2001. She led Southwest Missouri State (the old name) to a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears made it to the final four eventually succumbing to Purdue in the semifinal game. Unfortunately, her pro career fizzled after numerous injuries including 13 surgeries. In her brief time in Camelot, she was a superstar bringing big time notoriety to a small school in the Midwest.
I was very impressed with the JQH arena. Spacious and modern looking, I was surprised to see such a sleek place for a small school like MSU. One feature that I liked and have not seen before was a digital scoreboard at the scorer’s table thus saving the old necks from continuously looking up at the scoreboard.
Isiaih Mosley finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting. I was looking up on my phone to see if he was related to Mosley brothers from UCLA. A man in front overheard me mumbling and stated that they were not related. He did say that Mosely will wear an NBA uniform in the future. He was smooth and an excellent shooter. It could happen.
I am all for free swag tossed into the audience by the cheerleaders. Free shirts with a team logo are cool in my book. During this game, the cheerleaders tossed capes into the crowd. Capes? Where are you going to wear a cape?
The ride from Joplin to Jefferson took about an hour. Beforehand, my son in law, John, took me on a brief tour of the city. As you may know, the city of Joplin was pulverized by a tornado in 2011. 158 people were killed and some 1,150 were injured. I asked to see where the tornado had landed in the city. The path today can be determined by the path of new buildings and the absence of trees in a mile wide path through the busy downtown area as you can see below. Their new house has a safe room surrounded by steel should this ever happen again.
I am closing this season out for Operation 351. Due to family obligations and a new kitchen occupying my time, I am unable to take any more trip this season although I will be attending a couple of UConn home games.
After waiting years so that I could get Bucknell and neighbor Penn State playing back-to-back, I am finally here. I spent a little time walking the impressive campus and looking like an old professor among the bustle of college kids heading to classes on this Monday afternoon.
I had a difficult time finding a sports bar and restaurant open along the College Ave. The recommendations from my cousin Brian who is a Penn State alumnus were for closed businesses unbeknownst to him. I ended up downing a burger and fries at Mr. Bistro. I was not sure if the dearth of restaurants open was due to COVID or because it was Monday night.
What write up about Penn state would not be complete unless it had a picture of the famous Nittany Lions football stadium which was right next to the basketball arena.
So on to what has been the most exciting game so far in my journey. A double OT win by the underdog Penn State team was a major B10 battle to say the least. Iowa’s Keegan Murray’s miracle tip in sent the game into the first overtime. Penn State’s Myles Dread hit a 3 pointer with nine seconds left to send it into the second over time.
The many empty seats shows that Penn State basketball is a stepchild to the football team. However, the student section was very active and vocal throughout the game.
I was especially looking forward to seeing Keegan Murray play for Iowa. As one of the leading scorers in college basketball season this year, he is a future NBA player. Penn State held him in check tonight with Murray showing outward signs of frustrations at times. He has a smooth jump shot but I don’t see the aggressiveness and leadership displayed tonight that would make my Knicks want to draft him. His passivity out there tonight would raise a red flag in my opinion.
So here is a first for me. Iowa has two brothers Patrick and Connor McCaffery playing for their father Fran McCaffery who is a coach. The team also has two other brothers Keegan and Kris Murray. I can’t imagine as a father coaching your own kids in a high pressure Big 10 league barnburner. When they make a mistake, does the coach feels bad for his son or does he want to wring his neck?
Connor McCaffery had 4 three pointers in the first half but had to leave late in the game because of a separated shoulder incurred from a scramble of a loose ball. He came back to watch the overtimes with an ice pack and harness around his shoulder.
The Bryce Jordan arena also serves as home for musical acts. They have a wall set up where each performer leaves a personal message along with their picture. The above is just a small section of the hundreds displayed in the arena hallway.
In all my excitement about the amazing ending to the game, I neglected to take my traditional picture of the final score on the scoreboard.
I must comment on a couple of side trips before the game.
I visited the Little League World Series stadium in Williamsport. Having watched the series since I was a youngster, curiosity got the best of me. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but I took a picture of the snow-covered iconic field. I can picture the kids sliding down the hill behind the outfield during the game.
I also visited Reptile World in Lewisburg to look at snakes, alligators, frogs and birds. I captured this reaction from these owls when I told them about my Journey to 351 mission.
This was my first game back after a long layoff from my last game on December 12th. I had trips to Michigan and Wisconsin planned for the month of January. The news of canceled games was happening so frequently, it caused me to put a temporary hiatus to my journey. As it turned out, the majority of the planned games in January did get canceled. I cannot imagine flying somewhere, getting a hotel room and waking up to find the game is canceled. Because the two PA schools were within driving distance, I was able to do a 4-hour drive to Pennsylvania from Connecticut after waiting ’til the last minute to ensure that the games would be held.
The Loyola players (men and woman) stayed at my hotel, but they were checking out just as I was checking in. The trip was extra special because my cousin Brian who lives near Philadelphia joined me for this game after a 2-hour ride from his home. It was great to catch up with him after two years when we went to a game together at Delaware State. Brian is my official backup to Operation 351 should I meet the great basketball god in the sky before the mission is accomplished.
The arena was mostly empty which is a shame because it turned out to be a thriller right to the end. A girl’s dance school performed at half time. Once that was over, half the arena emptied out because the parents who only cared about the dance went home.
I have seen many contests during time outs over the years. Here was a first for me. The woman is sling shotting a rubber chicken across the court to her partner who is trying to catch the chicken in a bucket. They did get 3 out of four so kudos to them. The other stupid contest was a trivia contest between two teen age girls. They were asked very difficult trivia questions about Bucknell basketball that only a sports information director may know. They looked at each other after every question with ” How the hell would I know that” look. Fortunately, it was a multiple choice (A, B, or C) answer so they did get some correct with a little luck.
My only recollection of Bucknell basketball is their stunning upset of Kansas on March 18th, 2005. The 14th seeded Bisons won with Chris Mc Naughton’s jump-hook in the lane with 10.5 seconds over Kansas’s Wayne Simien winning 64-63. The arena was filled with many memorabilia and hopefully this attractive place gets more fans in the future.
Kudos to Bucknell player Andrew Funk who was unstoppable most of the evening as he scored 34 points from all areas of the floor. For a final note of trivia, my cousin Brian noted that a successful foul shot by a Bison player elicited a note resembling Mario popping a coin out of a box. I will have to take his word on this one.
If you are looking for a good burger, visit Matty’s Sporthouse in Lewisburg.