Editors Note: Join us as the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team embarks on their LONGEST ROAD TRIP in school history – A nine-day, four-game, nearly 6,000 mile journey from Los Angeles to Detroit, to Mt. Pleasant, Mi., to Minneapolis, Mn., Bozeman, Mt, Salt Lake City, Ut., and finally back to Northridge. Buckle up, Let's Go !!!
By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletics Director, Strategic Communications
Northridge, Calif. – Traveling on any basketball team, whether it's college or professional, is an enduring ordeal.
Long and tiresome air flights to faraway destinations, long and mundane bus rides to practices and games, different time zones, long lines at airport security, nice hotels and good food, but still not like the comforts of family, friends, home and home cooked meals.
For the Matador men's basketball team of 2013-14, this epic, nearly 6,000 mile journey will start on a cold, dark morning on the CSUN campus. A bus ride to LAX will be an easy trek compared to what lies ahead.
November 19, 2013 (Day One)
6:30 am – It's cold and dark, but eleven CSUN basketball players, five coaches, three administrators and the team's broadcaster, pile extra suitcases into the team bus and slowly march onto the bus that will take this 20-person group to LAX for a day long excursion to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. This will be the first stop for the Matadors who will compete in a four-day, three team tournament at Central Michigan University (Nov. 21-13).
6:35 am – Quiet is the norm on the bus. A 4:30 pm wakeup in order to pack their suitcases and head it campus makes the short bus ride to LAX a welcome comfort … a chance to get in a short nap. Each player is handed a detailed trip itinerary that explains the next nine travel days; airplane flights, study hall, practice times, game times, and meal times. Every minute of the day is spelled out in the itinerary.
6:45 am – The first stub of the travel toe hits the Matadors as the team bus hits gridlock, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405. A car accident has grounded the morning commute to a near stop. What was planned as a 30-minute trip to LAX, turns out to be nearly 90 minutes. Snails on the side of the road are moving faster.
8:15 am – Because of heavy traffic, the team arrives late at LAX. An extremely worried airline agent is not sure if she can check in more than 30 pieces of luggage and a party of 20 people onto the plane that will take the Matadors contingent from Los Angeles to Detroit, Mi. The long check-in line is compounded by the heavy people traffic and high-level security. Only minutes before the plane is ready to depart do the final members of the team make it on board. Literally minutes before the flight's departure, the Matadors finally settle into their seats.
9:20 am – A nearly full flight to Detroit will cover nearly four hours, 30 minutes and nearly 1,800 miles. Because of recent bad weather in the Midwest, the worry is this might be a bumpy flight to Detroit (Motown, the Motor City). Good news, no turbulence, a few empty seats to stretch the long, basketball legs and a great opportunity to take a four-hour nap. That's what a road trip should be about.
30,000 Feet – While the players sleep on the flight to Detroit, the coaches are busy on their IPads detailing scouting reports on their next three opponents, Montana State, Austin Peay and Central Michigan. No time for sleep. You know you're on the right flight; Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings jersey's, sweatshirts and hats are the norm.
4:15 pm – Detroit is on Eastern Standard Time. The team arrives at 4:15 pm (1:30 pm, pt). … on time, and a smooth landing as a bonus. Now the tricky part lies ahead. No one seems to know exactly where baggage claim is located in his massive airport. The team decides to head in one direction, but a friendly passenger politely tells the team – "not that way, THIS WAY."
4:30 pm – There is worry because the team arrived extremely late to check in at LAX and that not all the team bags will arrive in Detroit. Good news … after a lengthy wait, all heavy team bags and suitcases are accounted for. The outside march to the team bus awaits. Temperature – 39 degrees, but it seems warmer.
5:30 pm – Finally aboard the team bus, the Matadors head down the highway to Mt. Pleasant, a nearly three-hour, 130-mile journey to Central Michigan.
5:45 pm – This team is starving. Basketball players can eat anywhere at any time. Tonight's four-star restaurant will be either Wendy's or White Castle burgers.
6:30 pm – Content with a dinner of burgers, fries, and tasty desserts, the team climbs back on the bus, down the freeway; destination, Mt. Pleasant, Mi. Boredom can quickly settle in so head coach Reggie Theus challenges the assistant coaches and staff to a game of "Name That Tune." Theus picks musical hits from the 70's and 80's on his IPod. Some coaches and staff answer nearly every tune. Some other coaches need a little help.
9:30 pm – The long, long day is just beginning. Shortly after checking into the hotel, the team heads to a spirited practice at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan. The workout is a needed chore. After a sluggish day of a long plane flight and a lengthy bus ride, the one-hour practice is a good idea.
11:30 pm – Lights out … Good night !!!
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 (Day Two)
All Day – No excuses. Practice time is at 6:00 pm so the day offers the team a chance to sleep in along with a two-hour study hall, a healthy breakfast and lunch, and to watch video on Thursday's opponent, Montana State.
Thursday, November 21, 2013 (Day Three)
11:00 am - It's game day. The intensity has picked up dramatically. A morning shoot around at McGuirk Arena is a high-octane, non-stop get-go from beginning-to-end. Coach Theus directs the one-hour practice with non-stop coaching, direction, and positive reinforcement.
1:00 pm – Several hours before the game, the players enjoy a healthy meal that often consists of pasta, chicken, vegetables, salad, and plenty to drink to keep hydrated during the game.
4:30 pm – Game time. CSUN leads by as many as 13 points in the second half before Montana State mounts a serious comeback to take a one-point lead. However, two free throws in the final 43 seconds give the Matadors a 74-73 nail-biter over the Bobcats.
7:30 pm – CSUN stays for the first half of the second game to scout the Central Michigan vs Austin Peay (Friday's opponent) contest. An old Central Michigan football coach strikes up a conversation with a CSUN staff member. The old coach relates a story on how when he was a young coach at another school, he coached against the Matadors football team during the 1960's at Matador Stadium. The mostly Central Michigan crowd offers its congratulations to the Matadors. Many fans recognize Reggie Theus because of his many years in the NBA including his six-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
Friday, November 22, 2013 (Day Four)
9:00 a.m. - Up early and on the bus to McGuirk Arena for a shoot around. For most of the players who hail from California, the temperature outside doesn't win their approval … The temperature has dipped to 35 degrees with snow in the forecast … As one player says as he boards the bus, "thank goodness basketball is an inside game in a warm gym."
9:30 am – The 15-minute bus ride from the hotel down Bloomfield Road to McGuirk Arena is interesting for those people who love to travel. Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, is an agricultural area where you can see vast acres of cornfields and pumpkin patches. Housing prices are nearly perfect if you desire to live in a small, remote area of Michigan. A new, five-bedroom, two-story home with acres of surrounding area can be purchased for $125,000. As one staffer says, "what does $125,000 buy in California?"
9:45 am – A film session is on the agenda as soon as the team arrives at McGuirk Arena for today's game against Austin Peay. CSUN has never played Austin Peay, a university located in Clarkson, Tn.
10:30 am – As CSUN's shoot around ends, the team files out of the arena to light snow fall. For the majority of the players who live in California, the snowfall brings a curiosity and a smile.
9:00 pm – Huge win … Cal State Northridge battles back from a 10-point deficit to take its first lead of the game late. A 73-73 tie sends the game into overtime. CSUN finally prevails over Austin Peay to record a hard-earned 80-77 victory. Cheers of victory and a thunderous applause in the winning Matador locker room can be heard from Mt. Pleasant to Flint, to Grand Rapids, to Saginaw and down to Detroit.
Saturday, November 23, 2013 (Day Five)
Daybreak … Snow has fallen overnight in Mt. Pleasant, Mi. A bright sunshine highlights the fallen snow, but attempts to take a short walk or get some fresh air by some of the players, coaches and staff is quickly erased. The biting, windy cold easily cuts through layers of warm clothing. As one player says, "Call me when the weather gets warmer."
1:00 pm – Activity on the Central Michigan campus is alive as the Matador team bus arrives for its afternoon shoot around before tonight's game against CMU. It's football game day. CMU is hosting UMass in a Mid-American Conference game at Kelly/Shots Stadium. It's bitterly cold outside and snow has fallen overnight, but thousands of CMU students and fans don't seem to mind as they enter the 30,000-seat stadium. It's Game Day !!!
9:00 pm – An enthusiastic crowd, a lively pep band, and spirited cheerleaders file into McGuirk Arena (5,300) to cheer the home team, Central Michigan University. There is a healthy college atmosphere about the game. Among the spectators are THREE Northridge fans. They have flown from Los Angeles to Saginaw and driven one hour to cheer on Cal State Northridge. The Matadors jump to a 17-8 lead, but CSUN runs into foul trouble. The Matadors play hard and fight to the finish, but the home team prevails, 90-76. The three Matador fans are true fans. They will travel to upcoming games in Texas in December. As the team heads to the locker room, head coach Reggie Theus turns back to thank the three CSUN fans for their enthusiasm and support.
Sunday, November 24, 2013 (Day Six)
9:00 am – What day is it? … What's the date? … Where are we? … When you're on a road trip this long, times and dates start to merge. For the CSUN basketball team and the travel party, it's time for study hall, breakfast, pack heavy suitcases and prepare for the two hour bus ride from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to Detroit to catch a plane flight to Bozeman, site of Tuesday night's game at Montana State.
Noon - On the bus, head coach Reggie Theus and his staff grade the players' performance on video tape vs Central Michigan, and prepare a game plan for Montana State. The players sleep, listen to music, chat amongst themselves or read Sunday's Lansing Journal or the Midland Daily News about Michigan State's 23-6 football victory at Northwestern, or Michigan's 23-20 overtime upset loss to Penn State.
2:00 pm – The weather in Detroit is bitter cold at 21 degrees. No one is complaining when the team learns the temperature in Bozeman, Montana, has been hovering between ten and 19 degrees.
6:07 pm – The team boards the plan for the flight from Detroit to Minneapolis and a connecting flight to Bozeman. However, a mechanical problem prevents the plane from departing. The plane is packed with passengers, many cranky with the news. Hey people, Safety First !!!
8:30 pm - The two and one-half flight to Bozeman seems like 20 hours, but the team arrives safely in the Montana city, tired but in a good mood.
11:45 pm - The team checks into its hotel. The trip from Michigan to Montana has taken more than 14 hours. Life on the Road … Good night !!!
Monday, November 25, 2013 (Day Seven)
All Day – What a wonderfully, beautiful day in Bozeman, Montana. It's 43 degrees with sunny skies, crisp, fresh air and snow on the ground. They call Montana "Big Sky" country. The name fits. Bozeman is a college town in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains including the Big Belt and Tobacco Roots mountains. Yellowstone National Park is only 90 minutes away. Breakfast, study hall, practice, and a team dinner occupy the day. This is a great day for the team to get some much rest in preparation for Tuesday night's game at Montana State.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 (Day Eight)
Tough night for the Matadors. Montana State is hot from the third-point line. The Bobcats hit 12 shots from behind the arc to record a 90-76 victory at Worthington Arena. Disappointed, the team braves the cold weather to board the bus back to the hotel
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 (Day Nine)
11:00 am - It's time to GO HOME. The team flight will leave in the afternoon from Bozeman, Mt., to Salt Lake City, Ut., then home to Los Angeles. At the airport, the coaches are again huddled to discuss the team's next opponent, La Sierra University on Sunday afternoon. A reporter from a Bozeman television station is at the airport to report on holiday travel at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. The Matador team will be on the 6:00 pm news. Head coach Reggie Theus finds time to call family and friends, and to do media interviews with the Los Angeles Times and Fox Sports.com. Theus is in a good mood knowing his entire family will be home for Thanksgiving. His son, Reggie, Jr., is a freshman at the University of South Carolina, while a daughter, Raquel, is a producer/reporter for a television station in Reno, Nv. They will be home for the holidays to join Reggie's wife, Elaine, and another daughter, Rhyan.
4:30 pm – Cal State Northridge arrives back in Los Angeles. HOME, HOME, HOME. The last ordeal of his grueling road trip is the team bus ride that fights through heavy holiday rush hour traffic. Ninety minutes later, the CSUN basketball team arrives at the Cal State Northridge campus. The players, coaches and staff exchange holiday greetings.
Homeward Bound, Home Cooking, Home Sweet Home !!!