Rice (57) vs. University of Alabama – Birmingham (85) 02/23/2023

Game #117 of 362 32% complete

This is the first game of a three-game trip to sunny Alabama. The Bartow Arena was named after legendary UAB coach Gene Bartow. He left UCLA in 1977 to start the athletic program at UAB becoming its first athletic director and coach staying on for 18 years before retiring in 1986.

It is rare that I see a coach twice in my travels leading different teams. This is the case with UAB coach Andy Kennedy who I saw coach at Ole Miss in 2017. Kennedy had a good run at Ole Miss in 12 seasons and became the schools’ all-time leader in wins. He resigned in 2018 when Old Miss refused to give him a contract extension; he took the UAB job 2 years later.

I cringe when I see a buffet for what I assume are donors or season ticket holders set up in the main concourse smack in the middle of fans heading towards their seats. I would feel foolish sitting there in an open space having fans look at us eat like we are somebody important.

This game on senior night was over at halftime with UAB leading with a score 55 -24. The press put on by UAB was stifling to Rice.

I was very impressed with UAB guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker who scored 32 points. Having previously played for Seton Hall and Tulane, Walker was named the Conference USA player of the year in 2022. Standing only 5’11”, his shifty moves and propensity to shoot gives him the look of a scorer. No one on Rice could guard him. Ironically, his 30 plus total broke the record for most 30-point games by a UAB player previously held by Coach Kennedy’s scoring record when Kennedy played at UAB in the early 90’s.

My nightmare parking scenario came through tonight. I parked in an outdoor lot when you had to pay upon exiting the lot. The line and wait were so long that I pulled over and listened to Jimmy Bufffet for a half hour before leaving. I was lucky that there was not a second game afterwards. I know better but I could not back out once I saw the ticket machine.

Here are some obligatory pictures of some Birmingham Zoo animals. I always visit zoos on my travels.

Finally check out the rental car – A GTO sitting very low to the ground. I am more of an SUV guy but this GTO was very cool to drive.

St. Francis Brooklyn (51) vs. Stonehill (62) 02/11/2023

Game #116 of 362 32% complete

Congratulations to Stonehill College for making the move to Division 1 this year. I have seen this before with other schools making the move. The arena is the size of a high school gym. The sound system needs to be upgraded to be understood. The concessions were run by students at a small table offering candy and a popcorn machine that could not keep up. However, given the exuberance of the students at the game cheering and the solid past history of Stonehill basketball, I am confident that the future bodes well for the Seahawk program.

Although both teams played hard, the poor play by both teams resulted in a 23 -15 halftime score that made it a difficult game to watch. My mood was boosted at the beginning of the second half after hearing the entrance song for Edwin Diaz of the Mets – “Narco” by Timmy Trumpet blaring over the sound system.

I do hate backtracking during my journey. I was done with Massachusetts and New England at one point, but Stonehill’s move to Division 1 necessitated a 2-hour ride to Easton, MA from my Connecticut home. The name “Operation 351” was derived from the 351 schools in Division 1 in 2015. We are now at 362 with Hartford dropping out this year.

Kudos to Seahawk forward Andrew Sims who scored 30 points in a variety of ways. He hit 9 out of 10 from the field and converted 10 of 12 free throws. His last second hand-in-the-face three-point shot put the game on ice for Stonehill in the final minute. His elevation on jump shots was impressive. He stood out this afternoon as the MVP of the game.

Stonehill is now tied with Merrimack for first place in the Northeastern Conference standings. Stonehill began competition in the NEC in the Fall of 2022 and will become a full member of the Conference in 2026-27 upon completion of its four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period. 

Furman (69) vs. UNC Greensboro (57) 01/29/2023

Game #115 of 362 31% complete

The Greensboro Coliseum is full of history for the ACC and March Madness. Often, the number one seed like Duke or North Carolina gets to play basically a home game here in the first round. I remember UNC defeating UCONN here in 1998 with UNC a number 1 seed and UConn a number 2 seed. I was not too happy with the home court advantage given to the Tarheels.

The arena is much too large for a program like UNC Greensboro that does not draw fans like Duke or UNC does. Black curtains were draped around the upper sections to hide the emptiness. However, the fans were very enthusiastic around me and very much into their team.

I was surprised to see no student section or band. I will assume that they were on break but that seems weird given this is late January. I was very impressed with Furman forward Mohammed Abdulsalam who was 9 of 10 from the floor and 5 of 7 from the free throw line finishing with 23 points.

I have to show this picture of an Alaska Waffle. Ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream makes an awesome combination.

I made a trip to the North Carolina Zoo earlier in the day. This zoo is the largest zoo in the world comprising 2600 acres. As I was walking toward the big cat area, someone came up to me and asked if I worked in the zoo. They said that the cougar was watching me from the time I entered the area. I went over to him, and he snarled at me a few times. Not sure what emotions I brought forth from this animal, but I am an animal lover!

Arkansas State (51) Vs. Appalachian State (63) 01/28/2023

Game #114 of 362 31% complete

The trip from the Wake Forest game to this game took about an hour and a half. I was overjoyed to see that I would make it in time for the opening tip but to my dismay, I saw the dreaded parking garage. The garage was about a 10-minute walk after I found a spot on the top floor. I entered the game with about 10 minutes left in the first half. I was very impressed with the arena, as I was not expecting something that big.

As I walked to the arena, I heard loud rap music blaring through the air. Next to the arena, there was a frat house with occupants on the roof with speakers greeting guests as they entered the arena.

The ride from Wake Forest was mostly uphill. I could tell that we were hitting higher elevations because my ears started popping. As evidenced by this board in the arena, I was 3,333 feet about sea level.

The Arkansas State coach went ballistic a few times during the game, going at the refs and sometimes his own players. The assistant coaches had to hold him back from killing someone.

I have only known Appalachian State through its football program, incurring huge upsets of national powers. The Mountaineers had a 17–14 victory over 6th ranked Texas A&M in 2002. The Mountaineers also shocked the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in 2007. The football team has won three national championships in its division.

Appalachian State led for most of the game against the last place Red Wolves in the Sun Belt Conference. This was the ninth loss in a row for Arkansas State.

I was hoping to catch dinner in Boone after the game. The roads were a nightmare which seems obvious when a basketball game happens on a Saturday night in a small town. I caught dinner on the road a couple of towns over. I swear I was on Candid Camera when the waitress brought over chicken noodle soup instead of tomato basil, gave a me a big glass of water when I haven’t even touched my first glass and finally gave me a bill from the wrong table. The restaurant will remain nameless.

North Carolina State (79) vs. Wake Forest (77) 01/28/2023

Game #113 of 363 31% complete

This game was extra special for me because I was able to take a self tour of the campus. My daughter graduated from Wake in 2011. Some of the buildings brought back some good memories. Of course, I had to buy a Wake shirt. I visited the Collins dorm which was her home for freshman year. The campus with old buildings is reminiscent of the IVY leagues schools here in the northeast.

One of the major differences between a major p5 game and a mid-major school is the pre game festivities. Wake puts on an impressive show. I was shocked to see the Deacon mascot ride a motorcycle onto the court for the player introductions.

With North Carolina down the road in Raleigh and being a major ACC rival, there were quite a few fans from NC State. This was the 168th meeting between the two rivals. I was sitting next to three young enthusiastic fans who took an interest in my Operation 351 mission. As the game progressed, I slowly turned into a Wolfpack fan and cheered along with them.

Former Deacon Mugsy Bogues made an appearance to participate in a half time presentation. He was waving and smiling towards the cheering Wake fans.

So I need to talk about Wolfpack player D.J. Burns. To date, I have never heard of this gentleman. In all my Operation 351 travels, I have never seen a player so dominate the game as Burns did today. At 6’9″ and weighing 275, he was fed the ball every play and bulled his way to the basket scoring with whirling moves and quick footwork. Burns ended up 31 points and nine rebounds and was basically unstoppable down the stretch.

Burns is receiving the ball in the above picture.

The hallways of the arena were filled with Wake memorabilia. Two notable displays were a tribute to coach Skip Prosser who died of a heart attack in 2007 in his office after jogging on the Wake campus. Also honored was Tim Duncan who is perhaps the best-known Wake graduate.

Damari Monsanto led Wake with 24 points with many long range three pointers. Tyree Appleby from Wake also put on an impressive show with 19 points. The transfer from Florida has been compared to Alan Iverson in looks and style of play.

Wake Forest led for most of the game and had a 10-point lead in the first half. The Wolfpack whittled the lead down and took the lead with minutes left in the game. Although the ACC is having a down year, it was fun to watch a heated ACC conference game.

The final score above did not include a final three by Wake that was added late.