Arkansas (84) vs. Alabama (86) 02/25/2023

Game #119 of 362 32% complete

This is my final game of the Alabama trip and more notably the final game of the season for my Operation 351 travels. I was fortunate to get in 15 games this year compared to an abysmal 8 games last year due to Covid-caused cancellations. I arrived early at the Alabama campus to walk around and experience the excitement of a major football power school and now, this year, a candidate for the best team in college basketball.

I was hoping to get a bite to eat at the famous Rama Jama’s, as the place to be before an Alabama game. After waiting in a line that did not move 15 minutes and watching enviously patrons eating on picnic tables, I made the decision to exit and wait for the concessions in the arena.

Another reason that I came early to the Alabama campus was to visit the Paul Bryant Museum. I saw some folks inside and was glad that it was open. As I approached the front door, I was greeted by a sign “Closed for a Private Event”. My eight years of traveling on my Operation 351 trips have taught me to shrug off the unavoidable events and just “Breathe in, Breathe Out” as Jimmy Buffet sang in one of his hits. Now that I had plenty of time to kill, I hung out in front of the arena for a while because the doors did not open till 45 minutes before game time. It was nice day, so it was time to chill.

The song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared (what else?) as the white-shirted crowd settled in for a great game. These two rivals put on a show for the fans. I was fortunate to sit next to an elderly woman who introduced herself as Nita. She was the one who sold me her extra ticket on Stub Hub. We had nice conversations throughout the game. She was very knowledgeable about Alabama basketball. She joked that her second husband on their first date said that he was a holder of Alabama season tickets. She said that it was love at first sight.

Nita pointed out Alabama football coach Nick Saban sitting under the basket at the far end. Next to him was a man with a backwards sitting cap showing a movement in a golf swing. It turns out that this gentleman was Alabama alumnus golf pro Justin Thomas. Thomas came out during a time out to cheer the crowd on.

Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller had an outstanding game with 24 points with several key points down the stretch. Notwithstanding the current controversies regarding this young man, his quickness and shotting prowess for his size will make him a lottery pick next year. Nita mentioned that during one game, she sat next to Brandon’s agent and scouts from the Orlando Magic.

I hope that all my followers will have a healthy and happy year. Strap yourselves in for another suspense filled March Madness run! I bid you farewell for this season with a picture of myself adorning a free Alabama shirt handed out before the game. Till we meet again!

Jacksonville State (92) vs. North Alabama (83) 02/24/2023

Game #118 of 362 32% complete

After spending the day in Huntsville playing Topgolf and visiting the Space Museaum (pictures below), I made the hour-long trek to Florence, Alabama, right on the Tennessee border. Given that my hotel is in Birmingham, that made for a long two-hour drive back after the game. Making a three-game trip in a rural state like Alabama makes for some long drives. On a side note, I still cannot get over the fact that Jacksonville State is from Alabama.

The student section contained a line of young women dressed in different colors. They were one angry bunch arguing every call and letting the refs know about their displeasure. I could not hear them from across the court, but I am sure it was interesting. The band even started a “Refs you suck ” chant.

If the DJ working at the game is reading this, you need to take the volume down a couple of notches. I saw this elderly couple in front of me with their hands over their ears. That being said, kudos to you for being the first school in my travels to play “Welcome to the Jungle”.

North Alabama had quite a success as a Division 2 program before transitioning to Division 1 in 2018. The Lions also went to the Division 2 Final Four in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1984. UNA secured three Gulf South Conference championships in 1977, 1981, and 1984 and three league tournament titles in 1981, 1984 and 1988. 

It is rare that I see the visiting team win on my travels. The Gamecock’s outstanding play in this game made me question their 13-18 record. JSU guards Demaree King and Marcellus Bringham scored 29 and 25 points respectively. Outstanding freshman Jacari Lane scored 26 points for the Lions in a losing effort.

I was very impressed with the two high-def televisions playing the game from the ESPN plus feed. Given the very small gym, it was unnecessary to look at the TVs for a better view but helpful in looking at disputed calls and reviews.

I just saw that the 6th seeded North Alabama was defeated by 3rd seeded Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference playoffs, so their season has ended.

Earlier in the day, I spent about 2 hours at the U.S Space and Rocket center museum in Huntsville. If you are a boomer with any interest in our space exploits, this is the place to visit. You can see the Mercury, Gemini and Appolo capsules along with the lunar module. The Saturn rocket lies in the ceiling above, covering the length of the building. Many displays attempt to explain the mechanics and physics behind space travel. The history of our race with Russia was headed by a team of Germans. Wehner Von Brahm led this team and began the space program in the 1950’s. His life and mission are documented throughout the museum. I miss those days of watching launches on TV.

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.