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.
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:
My wife and I made the 2-hour track between Ft. Myers and Tampa. I am amazed at the amount of shopping malls, housing developments and country clubs along the way. The area along Route 40 was fully developed for miles and miles. Aware of the number of Connecticut folks moving to Florida, I can see how this commerce can be supported. All the highways are designed to handle the amount of traffic unlike the choke infested interstates of New England.
We had an off day between games so we took advantage of the sunshine and 80-degree weather. First was an early morning trip to Sanibel Island to enjoy the Gulfside City Park public beach. Arriving by 9:30AM, we beat the traffic and found a great parking spot. The beach was a welcome respite from the cold Connecticut weather we left a couple of days ago.
I recommend visiting the Edison and Ford Winter Estates if you are in the Ft. Myers area. This was our afternoon destination. The mansions were interesting to look at although small compared to the Newport mansions. I was truly amazed at the number of inventions that Edison had invented. He was considered almost a God in his times. Many of his original inventions are there with lots of reading material.
You may wonder at this point why isn’t he talking about the game. I have made it a habit to do a UCONN away game as part of Operation 351. It is cool sitting there in my blue UConn shirt with some others cheering on the Huskys while the home crowd stares us down with dagger eyes. The tables were turned this time as the home crowd relished the thorough beating given by South Florida to my boys. All you can do is sit there and take it. The fans especially loved giving it to coach Hurley as he earned a technical foul for complaining about the calls. As I say to my fellow UConn fans, better days are coming.
Once again, we were treated to palm trees as we entered the Yuengling Center. It may or not have been a coincidence but many UConn fans were hanging around the Yuengling Beer Center at half time trying to down their sorrows. It was long game to endure for a Husky fan but nevertheless at a minimum, it represented one more notch in Operation 351.
South Florida was trounced by SMU the last game and was looking to come out with a vengeance. UConn was trounced by Cincy last game and was looking to do the same. One team was successful. One team was not. Considering the fact that UConn was 3.5-point favorites and that the Bulls were missing the best player Alexis Yenta with a season ending injury, the loss was unexpected and disheartening. The Bulls guards Laquincy Rideau and David Collins were overpowering for our defense leading the way with 17 points and 15 points respectively.
I will be back in Florida next year somewhere for Operation 351. Beaches and sunshine are hard to resist.
My wife accompanied me on this two game Florida run. Since she is not a fan of sports, I must include activities on this trip that are fun and non-sports related for her. This typically includes trips to TJMAXX, Marshalls and Home Goods. It is no problem for me since I get my steps in circling the store till she accomplishes her mission.
The trip to the arena started off badly with FGCU instituting a new clear bag policy which encompasses many regulations. One in particular limited the size of a women’s purse or hand bag or whatever it is called these days. The security guard had a wooden template of the allowable size which of course which was smaller than my wife’s bag. Mumbling that this game is not off to a good start, she walked the offending bag back to the car while I waited outside the entrance. You may assume that a true gentleman would have made the long walk for his wife but I will not be seen carrying a purse in public.
This was my second trip to Florida for Operation 351 visiting UCF last year. It is always a pleasant break from the Connecticut winter weather to be greeted by palm trees in front of a Florida arena. This was definitely an older crowd with many walkers and canes in sight. There were many times during the game where the announcer encouraged the fans to stand up and do a cheer but I am convinced that many did not bother because it was too much effort to stand. But as a 62-year-old seeing that great arena in the sky approaching closer and closer, I hope to someday adopt a D1 team like them and become a fixture at all the home games.
I try very hard to stay apolitical but it is worth mentioning that Liberty has drawn protests throughout the sports word for its association with its founder Jerry Falwell. I will only say this that I hope that the hard working kids I saw on the floor today for Liberty are insulated from the diversity and partisan politics (on both sides) spewing from social media. I did expect to see some protesters outside the arena but all was quiet.
FGCU earned the moniker “Dunk City” back in 2013 with an incredible run as the 15th seed in the 2013 tournament with upset wins over Georgetown and San Diego State. I saw only one dunk today by a FGCU player but the miracle lives on with the word “Dunk” displayed prominently in the arena.
Liberty came in with a 14-1 record and looked very strong throughout the game. I was very impressed with senior guard Caleb Homesly who scored 24 points from all over the floor. Liberty had four starters back from the team that beat Mississippi State as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament last year. They are currently No. 2 defensive team in the country (at 53.1 points allowed per game). Interesting to note that the start time was pushed back to 5PM for a nationally televised appearance on ESPNU. I have learned over the years to always double check the start times for last minute changes.
My wife is amused that I love catching thrown t-shirts from the cheerleaders. I have more t-shirts in the closet than I need but it is the thrill of the catch that makes it worthwhile. While I did snatch a FGCU t-shirt headed towards the women next to me (no shame at all), I was glad to see that she caught one the next time around.
I escaped the brutally cold temperatures in Connecticut to take in a road game for my beloved UConn Huskies. I have developed some strategies for planning my journey in the future years. The first is to hit the cold weather states early in November or in early March before the league tournaments start. Navigating blizzards and polar vortexes is not on my fun list of things to do. Next year, I plan to visit the last four schools in upper state New York to complete the entire state. Beyond that in later years, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and other north border states will be done early or late to minimize weather problems. Secondly as my old bones age, I will save the southern warm states for my later years. If I continue my current pace and continue to breathe, I will be hitting the last school in my late seventies. Florida, California and Texas shall wait for me! Thirdly, I hope to do one UCONN road game a year to add to my quest and get to see UCONN play.
I probably need to do a better job of checking distances to the arenas before heading out. My wife Linda accompanied me on this trip for her one obligatory game a year. As always, her attendance is predicated on extra curricular tourists trips as in Disneyworld this year. Before the game, we met up with an ex coworker who was retired and enjoying the Florida weather and cross country trips in a RV. I set dinner time at 6:30PM in a Disney Springs restaurant thinking I had plenty of time to see a 9PM game in Orlando. How big could Orlando be? As we sat down for dinner, one of us checked Google maps and saw that the arena was a freaking 45 minutes away much to my surprise. We made it with 10 minutes to spare but lesson learned!
To be greeted by palm trees entering the arena was a treat. The CFE arena is new and pretty spiffy inside. The overall effect is gold and black. There were many empty seats around me in the end section. Although the crowd was enthusiastic, I was surprised by the many open seats. I wonder if the tourist setting of Orlando contributes to a lack of fan interest from a transitory population. Pyscho babble at its best!
I have seen quite of few AAC games this year. I nominate B.J. Taylor of UCF as the player of the year. He has done the most to improve his club this year. Best known as a slasher, he has developed a sweet outside shot. He continually made the big shot tonight when needed. Conversely, I have seen little improvement of Tacko Fall over his career. A man of that size should dominate every night. The man is 7’6″ and weighs 310 pounds. It will be interesting to see if an NBA club will take a chance on him in the draft.
Now it is three days of fun in Disneyworld! Yeah I can still have fun there at my age.
Next game: Grambling State at Jackson State 2/23/19