This was the last thing I saw in the 2021-22 season -- the view from my seat at Wake's second-round NIT game.
If there’s anything to which I can lay claim in 10 seasons of spilling digital ink here at Digest, surreal moments have to top the list.
Chris Clemons – who’s currently lighting up everyone he faces in the G League – scored 51 in a tournament game five years ago and almost single handedly led Campbell to a win. Andre Smith hit a 30-footer at the horn to lead Winthrop past High Point in a 2014 tournament game. Towson’s Four McGlynn hit a half-court buzzer-beater literally a few feet from me to win a CIT game.
Multiple times – at least four, that I can recall – featured my seeing and/or talking to a coach one day, only for them to be gone the next. Some of them were even gone later that same day. One of those stories happened four seasons ago.
I walked into Kimmel Arena in Asheville for a day of tournament action. I saw legendary Winthrop SID Brett Redden in the media room, where he told me that Jayson Gee had stepped down at Longwood. My good friend Jeremy flagged me down as I was walking to my seat at press row, where he relayed the same news.
Here’s a snippet of what I said in that season’s epilogue:
Longwood coach Jayson Gee had experienced his share of on-court struggles, to be sure, due to depth, injuries and other concerns. His Lancers won three straight Big South games to get to 3-3, only to lose 12 in a row and finish the league season 3-15. Longwood then went on the road to High Point — more on them in a second — and won a tournament play-in game, before succumbing in a close contest to eventual league champion Radford.
Gee shook my hand as he left the dais following that game, thanking me for “everything through the years”. I got the sense then that he was gone. He resigned the next day.
He was the right man for the university at this stage of their program.
Four years and four days after Gee’s departure, I found myself standing on the floor at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte. The man who replaced Gee, Griff Aldrich, had just gone to his Lancers’ fan section behind the bench to celebrate a Big South championship with those who made the trip from Farmville. I walked over to congratulate Griff – first with a handshake, which led to a hug.
“How about this, Coach?,” I asked. “How about this?”
Griff’s a friend of mine. He gave me incredible support and life advice during a challenging time, which we’ve chronicled in a prior epilogue. I don’t root for teams – we’ve established this – but seeing Griff on the verge of tears, celebrating the most incredible season in his school’s history was a scene I will absolutely never forget. Griff, his lovely and kind wife Julie, and the rest of his family had smiles I thought may never fade.
Remember, though, the overwhelming theme of this piece every year. It comes courtesy of Kyle Whelliston of the dearly-departed The Mid-Majority. You can probably almost reflexively recite it.
“It always ends in a loss.”
That game ended in a loss for another group of people I’ve come to know and appreciate at Winthrop. The Eagles had won back-to-back Big South titles, then got within 40 minutes of a third in Mark Prosser’s first year guiding the club. Grad student guard Pat Good had transferred from East Tennessee – after COVID had robbed his prior chance to appear in the NCAA tournament in 2020 – to finally taste the postseason. Neither happened, as Winthrop fell by 21 against the Lancers.
It ended in a loss for Longwood, too, some 10 days later. Tennessee eliminated the Lancers from the tournament in Indianapolis in a 32-point result, but even still, that didn’t seem so much like a loss.
"Right after the game, I just remember looking up, just looking at how big the arena was, and there's people all the way at the top," Longwood guard DeShaun Wade said. "I was looking at the scoreboards, looking at my dad and my mom in the stands and the fans and how many people we've just impacted. I was like, 'man, win, lose or draw, it was a great season.'"
Another season of nearly 40 games began normally enough. Winthrop welcomed back two very familiar faces – former assistant and now-head coach Prosser, and former Winthrop staffer Matt Griggs. Griggs brought in his Division III Mary Baldwin Fighting Squirrels to start the season – along with their men’s varsity basketball voyage. The score ended up about as one might expect, but the handshakes, hugs, and postgame conversations were aplenty. It made for a pretty fun moment.
Winthrop – and it should be reiterated that I set up shop there because it’s the easiest spot from which I can cover the Big South, but man, do I appreciate their continued hospitality – then put together one of the wackiest sequences witnessed in recent memory to come back from nine down with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to score 10 of the final 11 points and force an overtime period with Mercer. The Eagles eventually won the game in extra time.
The Eagles then knocked off Hartford, followed by a late defensive stand against Furman in which they held the constantly-tough Paladins scoreless over the final 2:19 to turn away the visitors from Greenville.
I then ventured to Boiling Springs to cover a game between Wofford and Gardner-Webb. The two programs now seem inextricably linked, what with the close proximity between the schools and the number of Wofford staffers who worked or played at Gardner-Webb. The game also marked the return of former Runnin’ Bulldog star Tyler Strange, who played a key role in the continued development of the program under coach Tim Craft.
Wofford won by eight in a game that should not have marked the last time I saw them this season; however, it ended in a couple of rather unexpected losses for the Terriers. Wofford accepted a bid to The Basketball Classic – the tournament formerly known as the CIT – and received a first-round bye after its first-round opponent allegedly had to withdraw due to COVID-19 protocols. The Terriers then could not come to an agreement on travel arrangements for their second-round game – which I was slated to cover – so Wofford withdrew from the tournament without even dribbling a ball. Then, guard Max Klesmit – who was the second-highest scorer for Wofford on that December day in Boiling Springs – entered the transfer portal.
Among some of the other December highlights:
I covered the No Room For Racism Classic in Rock Hill, which saw Winthrop easily handle Carver on the first night I was there. The next day, South Carolina bounced back from a 16-point deficit to hold off Florida State at the buzzer. Leonard Hamilton also seized the moment to take us through an incredible history lesson/soliloquy about his life, his upbringing, and so much more. (Note: It ended in a loss for South Carolina, too, as it dismissed Frank Martin at the end of the season, hiring Chattanooga’s Lamont Paris to replace him. Martin is now the head coach at UMass.)
I covered the Hall of Fame Shootout in Charlotte, which featured four games:
Liberty notched a 10-point victory over East Carolina. The Pirates had things end in a loss, as Joe Dooley was bounced – again – as the ECU head man, to be replaced by Tennessee assistant Mike Schwartz.
Virginia Tech absolutely throttled St. Bonaventure. Tech won the ACC tournament title and St. Bonaventure made it to the NIT Final Four.
Richmond clipped NC State. This was the first serious test for the Wolfpack after losing post defender Manny Bates to a season-ending injury. The ‘Pack would go on to struggle for much of the year, and Bates is now in the portal.
Wake coughed up a 14-point lead to Charlotte and nearly lost, before Isaiah Mucius ripped a corner triple at the horn to win it for the Deacs. More on Wake a little later.
Winthrop drilled Division II Converse on New Year’s Eve, leading us to 2022. Gardner-Webb turned away Hampton in the first Big South game I covered on the season – in front of 238 fans – in a decision that saw Anthony Selden notch a career-high 20 points. Winthrop scored back-to-back home league victories over Campbell – whom it defeated on that same floor to win the Big South title months prior – and Asheville, who was the lone victor over the Eagles in the Coliseum in the prior season.
And then, a revelation.
USC Upstate had been in somewhat of a basketball malaise, having gone 15-50 in four seasons of conference play that included a baffling final year of play in the Atlantic Sun before joining the Big South. That year, by the way, was the only year for Kyle Perry at the helm of the Spartans after he replaced the legendary Eddie Payne.
A brief detour, if you’ll allow: It ended in a loss in July for so many of us who knew and loved Coach Payne, as he passed away following complications from a stroke. Eddie was an absolute jewel of a man, a coach who could be seen by those unfamiliar as gruff or cantankerous, but was a kind and loving man to all of us who managed to work past the veneer.
His name is on the arena at the Hodge Center now, a loving tribute to Coach Payne and his wife Ann. I was there the day they unveiled the honor. I’ll miss Coach Payne. What a great man.
Upstate coach Dave Dickerson was really high on his team at this year’s Media Day, despite the pronouncement of the preseason vote. Dickerson lost three key starters and top scorers to the transfer portal, but felt he had a strong leadership council in seniors Bryson Mozone, Dalvin White, and Josh Aldrich. That faith was quickly justified.
Mozone scored 23 and snared 12 rebounds in a 13-point victory at Gardner-Webb that night, the first time I had seen them this season. The Spartans took over second place from the Runnin’ Bulldogs with the win, and Upstate would remain in the top five for much of the season.
It ended in a loss for Upstate – and for us all – in just a couple short months. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Winthrop kept winning. I saw Charlotte again – this time, though, the 49ers charged back from a deficit to knock off Old Dominion, 71-67. It was great to see old friends Jeff Jones and SID legend Jim Heath – though from far away, with the media having been moved into the stands – and meet new Charlotte SID Dom Palumbo. It ended in a loss for Charlotte, too, though. The man Dom dubbed a “20-piece machine”, star guard Jahmir Young, ended up in the portal, leaving the 49ers without their team’s rock.
Did I mention that Winthrop kept winning? Well, we gradually arrived at the period in which the Eagles were dealt both of their regular-season Big South losses. In the span of five days, Winthrop fell at High Point and at Longwood. I was there for the latter game, a heavyweight fight of an affair in Farmville that was made all the more exciting by the boisterous crowd that seemed to never sit down. The Lancers won, 92-88, knocking down an eye-popping 22-of-23 from the line.
I ran – literally – out of Willett Hall and hopped in my car, fought to regain the feeling in my extremities from the incredible cold and made the hour-long trek over to Lynchburg. I took my seat beside my good friends Damien Sordelett and Jon Manson, then covered my first game in the new Liberty Arena. That night, Liberty’s 45-game home win streak that stretched back to the Vines Center next door fell. Jacksonville State – who would end up representing the ASUN in one of the strangest courses of events in recent memory, where it would end in a loss for them, too – took down Liberty, 77-67.
Star Flames guard Darius McGhee turned in 25 on that night, but Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper told me after the game about the Gamecocks’ method for combating the Liberty star.
“We were just keeping him uncomfortable, just giving him some different looks, using some length on him at times, trying to swallow him up at the rim, making him score over us. I thought we did it,” Harper said. “We had two or three possessions in a 40-minute game where I thought we relaxed. Every time we did, he banged a three. Other than that – he’s gonna make some tough ones. He banked one in late. For the most part, I’d say his night wasn’t easy.”
It ended in a loss for McGhee and Liberty, too. The Flames suffered a stunning conference tournament loss to Bellarmine, and after Liberty was not selected for the NCAA or NIT, the team decided not to participate in any other postseason play. It was quite the abrupt end to a season for a great young man and – Damien and I agree on this – an incredibly strong candidate to have the first retired jersey in Liberty Arena.
Don’t feel too sad for Darius and the Flames, though. He announced he’ll use his remaining year of eligibility – though, not without causing a bit of heart failure for Flames fans in the announcement.
That tough week for Winthrop turned into a stellar February. The Eagles went 8-0 in Big South play, doing so in pretty much every possible way. They won defensive slugfests against North Carolina A&T, Radford, and Presbyterian. In the latter, the Blue Hose never trailed by more than five points the entire second half. They won a physical battle in Boiling Springs against their rival, Gardner-Webb. They ran past Asheville. They clobbered Upstate. They turned away an incredible effort from Charleston Southern – more on them in a bit – in the final regular-season game. The Eagles won the South Division of the league, but their 14-2 record still proved inferior to Longwood’s 15-1 season mark. Still, Winthrop finished the campaign unbeaten at home, a feat it had not pulled off in 15 seasons.
I also took my first trip to Boone, N.C., in a decade this season. I had been meaning to get back to the Holmes Center ever since my good friend Dustin Kerns took the App State job, and it finally worked out this season for that to happen. The Mountaineers did battle with South Alabama, with App State claiming a 69-51 result. Donovan Gregory dished double-digit dimes to the Apps’ four senior stars, who accounted for 55 of the 69 points.
It was great to just see DK again and say hello. It’s been a while. His Mountaineers have, to borrow his program’s motto, taken the stairs in his time there, though it’s more like an express elevator. On that day, the Holmes Center enjoyed its largest crowd in a decade. The club finished with a third straight winning season for the first time this century. In an incredible piece of synergy, both schools that played that day made the postseason – where they both played Upstate. It ended in a loss for DK and his club, though incredibly bright days are ahead in Boone.
It also ended in a loss – of breath – for me that night, after walking a mile back to my car and climbing three flights of stairs in sub-freezing temperatures with high winds at elevation after having worn my mask for six hours. My dad had called me as I was walking out, and he asked me if I was dying. Not my finest hour.
Then, there was the Big South tournament. The league went to a true neutral site for the first time in 20 years, moving to Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte. The event was not without its hiccups – some weren’t happy with the event moving away from the home site of the top seed, others posted about ticketing issues, and still others thought the size of the arena didn’t suit the crowd size. The biggest complaint – which I have brought up many times and will again here – centered around the courtside seats sold to fans that ended up blocking our ability to see what was happening on the floor.
Despite those things – which I’m hoping will be taken care of next year – the venue didn’t disappoint, and neither did the action on the deck. As with every tournament, though, there’s far more that happened than just what everyone saw between the baskets. Let’s try to recap, shall we?
Darris Nichols’ first season at the helm for Radford ended in a loss, as the Highlanders were achingly close to overcoming ninth-seeded North Carolina A&t in the first game of the tournament. Radford held A&T without a basket for 11:37 of the second half, and had a great look from Josiah Jeffers refuse to fall at the horn, which sent the sides to overtime tied at 60. A&T took off from there, using an 11-0 run to clip Radford, 78-71. The future is bright for Darris and his Highlanders, though. Radford closed the season strong and can defend with anyone. Look for Radford to be an upper-half team next season.
It ended in a loss – though not just yet for Asheville. Charleston Southern battled all day with the Bulldogs, playing to a chaotic final few seconds. Silas Mason collected a foul from the Bucs, then calmly strode to the line and drained both free throw tries to put Asheville ahead, 78-77, with just under seven seconds to play. CSU then came up the floor and took a jumper that would not find the mark. Taje Kelly was in a perfect position for the putback, giving the 12th-seeded Bucs a 79-78 win over the Bulldogs.
Asheville went on to play in the CBI in Daytona Beach, where they won by 11 over Stephen F. Austin and were a good look at the horn away from taking down Northern Colorado. “I hate it for the guys but this was a great experience for us,” Asheville coach Mike Morrell said after the final game. “(It was) a great experience to advance, especially after the way we lost in the conference tournament." Bulldog star Tajion Jones announced shortly after the tournament that he would be back for his final year, which provides a huge boost to Morrell’s Bulldogs for 2022-23.
It ended in a double loss for Hampton. The Pirates fell, 84-77, to High Point in yet another overtime battle in the first round of the tournament. The decision both eliminated Hampton and ended its run as a Big South member. The Pirates will venture to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) next season, bringing to a close a four-season run in the Big South that saw the Pirates play for a Big South title at Winthrop just before COVID-19 arrived. Pirates coach Buck Joyner is an absolute class act, and his Pirates battled until the final horn, as always.
The opening night ended in a loss for Presbyterian. The Blue Hose played an absolute knock-down, drag-out affair with Campbell – Camels coach Kevin McGeehan called it “awesome, exciting – just an absolute war” – before finally succumbing, 75-72, in double overtime. Star Rayshon Harrison got hurt in the contest, and between that and attrition from fouls, the Blue Hose eventually ran out of steam. It was, however, arguably the best the Hose had played – even counting close losses to Longwood and Winthrop at home and a victory over the Camels in the Templeton Center earlier in the year.
Harrison, who was selected to the All-Big South second team, announced after the tournament he would be transferring. Several Blue Hose players joined him shortly thereafter. Presbyterian has a fairly solid base coming back next year, along with star guard Crosby James II, who will be transferring in from Division 2 Anderson (S.C.) University. Next season will be pivotal for Quinton Ferrell’s club – the Blue Hose won more regular-season games (12) than they had in any of Q’s three seasons after taking over for Kerns, but had their fewest conference wins (four).
Two days later, it ended in another double loss for A&T. One round after being on the right side of an overtime result, the Aggies watched Justin Hill put up double figures in extra time to help guide his team to a 14-point quarterfinal win. The Aggies and coach Will Jones will be missed in the Big South, despite having spent just one season in the circuit. The CAA will get to experience Aggie Pride beginning next year.
And then, there was without a doubt the biggest loss for us all. USC Upstate took the floor just days following the tragic passing of coach Dave Dickerson’s wife, Laurette. Dave coached “remotely” during the COVID year in an effort to help keep his family safe while Laurette battled breast cancer. Dave is an absolute giant of a man – literally and figuratively – but Laurette was clearly his rock and meant absolutely everything to him and to the Upstate community.
The Spartans rallied around Coach Dickerson, putting away Charleston Southern in a game that was never really close. The final in that game really wasn’t the story, though. The friendship between Dave and Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh took center stage. The two embraced as the teams met at center court following the game, and Barclay – as usual – expressed his emotions with us in the media scrum after the game.
“My heart is broken for the Dickerson family,” Radebaugh said. “I texted Dave two days ago that Hope and I had already prayed for him and that we love him and will be there to support him all the way through this. We’re not just gonna say it. Hope and I are gonna be there.
“I have so much respect that he coached this game. If anybody criticizes that, that is beyond me. The courage that man had to coach this game … I know his wife would have wanted him to coach this game. I have so much respect for that. That’s incredible.”
I also asked Barclay a question after that game – no, it wasn’t why he still inexplicably has me blocked on Twitter, though if someone can help with that, I’d appreciate you – that drew an answer that shook me a bit. Barclay talked about his team and about seeing seeds planted getting the chance to grow, and his answer was so wise, thoughtful, and caring, as usual.
The not-so-usual part happened after that scrum.
I was approached by Charleston Southern AD Jeff Barber – someone I already somewhat knew from his time at Liberty – and we shared a nice conversation about my question, the program, and the future. All I’ll share was that- Jeff commented, “(Barclay’s) ticked. I’m ticked.,” when thinking of the season record. I got the feeling from talking to Jeff then – and the confirmation the next day – that Barclay still had another chapter to write in his tenure at CSU.
A quick departure, if I may: I know CSU fans are upset. I get it. They expect more – especially if they saw the Saah Nimley/Arlon Harper years. All I ask is that you consider that you have resource challenges within the program, but you’re led by two great men and a solid group of teachers on Barclay’s staff.
I walked out shortly after that conversation, but not before a hug and more kind words from Barclay, and a wonderful comment from Barclay’s wife, Hope. I appreciate Barclay as a man. I always will.
Later that night, Winthrop throttled High Point, taking home a 17-point win that was almost as notable for our having spotted Jim Harbaugh in the crowd – he was there to see High Point walk-on John-Michael Hughes – as it was for what happened on the floor. Harbaugh was not the only star in the building, of course. Legendary coach Tubby Smith sat by himself in a corner of the lower bowl, watching his son G.G. guide the Panthers. If G.G. can keep the core of the Panthers around next season and add to what’s already there, they should have a fun squad.
It ended in a loss for Campbell, too, in incredibly heartbreaking fashion. Gardner-Webb held a 54-52 lead over the Camels on the final possession, only for the Runnin’ Bulldogs to draw a foul call on a wild sequence with :00.1 remaining on the clock. Jordan Whitfield connected on just 1-of-2 from the line, though, and Gardner-Webb escaped with a 54-53 win. Jordan has been such a rock for the Campbell program during his time in Buies Creek, and he amazingly came in to do media with us after that finish. He answered every question asked of him. I’d expect nothing less from Jordan. He’s a top-shelf kid. Campbell will dearly miss him.
Upstate had it end in a loss – for a couple of weeks, anyway – in the semis the next day. Longwood battled back from the biggest deficit it had faced in conference play, doing so with a slow heart rate and a sturdy resolve. The Lancers turned away the Spartans, 79-70, in the day’s first semifinal. It didn’t end quite yet for Upstate, though. The Spartans accepted a bid to The Basketball Classic, where they claimed their first postseason win since a 73-72 result over JMU in 2015. Upstate beat Appalachian State in the Holmes Center, before finally falling in the next round at South Alabama.
It ended for Gardner-Webb shortly thereafter. The Runnin’ Bulldogs drew the unenviable task of having to do battle with their regional rival, Winthrop, after the emotional win the night prior. Tim Craft’s side led 30-29 late in the first half, but would never again lead before finally succumbing to the Eagles.
Prosser said it best about the Runnin’ Bulldogs when speaking with the media after the game.
“That’s a hell of a good basketball team in that other locker room. Really, really good.”
The ‘Dogs lost stars D’Maurian Williams (Texas Tech) and Lance Terry (Georgia Tech) to the portal shortly after the season. Guard Jordan Sears soon followed. Tim has already drawn two transfers to the program, and anyone who counts out that staff and their ability to develop talent would be foolish.
And then, we found ourselves back at the championship game, where we started. You surely know the story by now, but I took the great advice of my friend/podcast co-host/sometimes boss Alex Zietlow and told the story from both Longwood's and Winthrop's side. I’d never done that before, but I’m glad I did. Both of these stories are worth being relived.
After the confetti fell, the fans celebrated, and all the words were written, I ventured back onto the floor. I made the mistake of trying to get up some shots while wearing a tucked-in button-down. Don’t ever do this. It’s akin to trying to shoot in one of those casts that holds your arm in place. I don’t get to shoot all that much anymore, and it showed. I used to play a little ball. I was okay. I promise.
Finally, I took the life advice I always got and continue to give, ending on a made shot. Alex and I then made the instantly regrettable decision to walk all the way to the top row of seats in the coliseum and record the season finale of our podcast. It was a fitting way to end a year that was a bit more normal, even if we both had to stop and catch our breath a bit before we turned on the microphone.
I walked out of the building that Sunday, got in the car, opened the sun roof, and pulled away to enjoy the sunset and the 75-degree weather. One of the interesting, maddening, or whatever other word you want to use aspects of this job is that we almost never know when we’ll cover our last game of a season. Mine could have been that day. It could have been at the NCAA regionals in Greenville – it wasn’t, since I didn’t get credentialed there, for reasons that still annoy me, but I won’t discuss here. It could have even been in The Basketball Classic, whether at Wofford, where I’d planned to go before they withdrew, or at Coastal Carolina, where Fresno State thumped the Chants to win the title.
Instead, I closed the season with a first. Yes, they still happen after a decade.
This year’s final game was a second-round NIT game between VCU and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. I don’t know how I’ve never made it to an NIT game, but this was the first. The game was largely forgettable – Wake won by six to advance to a quarterfinal matchup at Texas A&M, where it ended in a loss for them – but it served to bring to a close another long season for your humble correspondent.
It occurs to me that the word “long” could have negative connotations. Before I wind this down, let me take (yet another) quick detour.
I love writing about hoops. That needs to be said before anything else.
I said right around the time of the Final Four that it was great that some of the rising stars in our business were credentialed for the event, had the chance to tell stories, and getting the recognition they all deserve. However, I also mentioned at the time that there were still a lot of us who were busting our asses for independent outlets, who still get the “blogger” pejorative, and who largely toil in obscurity.
In a moment of transparency, I’ll admit this is a terrible line of thinking, but the whole episode left me questioning a lot of things. Every year, the drives get longer, the money – such as it is – gets shorter, and the thoughts on those long drives grow heavier. I say all this not to solicit cash, sympathy – or anything, really. I don’t know what this means for me – or even if it was worth sharing – but there it is.
In the spirit of ending on a make, though, I was forced to change my Twitter bio this year. It was for a good reason. After years of joking about not being an award-winning journalist, I won my first award from the SC Press Association. Joke though I may, it was a tremendous honor. I’m indebted to Alex for thinking to nominate my work, and just as much to our community for the privilege of telling their stories.
Now, my new gimmick will be that I’m a one-time award winner.
That – much to everyone’s pleasure who’s still reading this – brings to a close my tenth season at Digest. This was our first season as part of House Enterprise, so I should first thank Will and Jake for welcoming us with open arms and helping take us to the next level. More than anything, though, I need to give my annual thanks to Josh, our managing editor. Josh and I are the real OGs at Digest – he more than I, because he founded the place – but I appreciate his support from afar and willingness to let me tell my stories however I choose. I serve as my own editor, and that’s largely because Josh trusts me. Thanks, my man. Here’s to the future.
I mentioned Damien and Jon earlier, and I should therefore mention the unfortunate souls who are dealt the blow of sharing press row with me. Alex is my partner-in-crime – not competitor, as he may have joked on the podcast a time or five – and my most regular press row cohort. Alex covers Winthrop from his post, while I cover the Big South as a whole – unless he needs me to pinch-hit on Winthrop coverage, which I have done and will continue to do – from my seat. It’s a shame I couldn’t have Photoshopped myself out of the pic his incredibly kind parents took of us at the tournament, but it did turn out well.
There’s my pseudonymous buddy Scotty Lombardo, who I had the privilege of talking to everywhere from press row to standing on a city street outside a Charlotte parking garage as midnight approached this season. I hope to see him again next season – however, I also hope I don’t, because that means he will have gotten another job somewhere else that keeps him occupied. My great friend Jacob Conley is a staple on the Gardner-Webb beat, and though I missed him during some of my GWU games this season, it’s always a joy to see Jake and his mom. They’re two of my favorite people.
Then there’s my buddy Hunter Bailey, who is killing it for the Charlotte Observer after taking over the 49ers beat from my legendary friend David Scott. I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked this year, thanks to the odd layout of the media seating in the stands at Halton Arena, but I’ll again say to support Hunter’s work. The same can be said for David Cunningham from Tech Sideline, who I also don’t get to see much because of proximity, but is such a talent.
I also got to meet – finally – Nick Lorensen from Mid-Major Madness at this year’s conference tournament. Nick has a really bright future in this business if he chooses that path. He knows the game, he’s great with social, and he has skill. I hope it won’t be so long before we get to hang out again. Maybe I can convince him to bring me some chocolate cookie butter from Insomnia Cookies.
My good friend Jaden Daly from Daly Dose of Hoops gets the clean-up spot in my writer mentions. He and I have followed similar paths in this business – even to the point where we both write these similar season post-mortems every year. I need to catch a game with him in the same spot sometime soon so he can experience the overwhelming disappointment known by everyone who hangs out with me in person.
I owe my largest debt to the people who make possible so much of what I do. Sports information directors are heroes. Brett Redden at Winthrop has probably had to put up with me more than anyone else over these 10 years, and I greatly appreciate his professional courtesy and friendship. Fellow Winthrop SID Preston Elwell joined the fray this season, and between watching games with him on press row long after Winthrop’s games ended and just talking about whatever was going on, I always enjoyed those conversations.
Gardner-Webb also added a new SID this season in Jordan Parry, and Jordan is far kinder to me than I deserve. He’s done such a great job this year and been a tremendous boost to SID emeritus Marc Rabb. Rabb was as relaxed this year as I’ve seen him in a decade, and that’s completely to Jordan’s credit. I also got to meet Wofford’s Carroll Rich over at GWU, which was a pleasure. He’s a kind dude and a total pro. (I do feel bad for telling him I didn’t need to talk to coach Jay McAuley after they played in Boiling Springs, but I didn’t want to hold up their team bus.)
I got to meet Charlotte’s Dom Palumbo this year, and I’ll never look at 20-piece chicken nuggets the same. Long story. Dom stepped in for Brent Stastny, who became the lead man at Presbyterian this season. Brent is another long-time friend, and I’m glad to see him at the helm at PC. Getting to see him more often is a nice byproduct of Brent’s well-deserved promotion.
The legendary Sam Hovan took over the sports information duties at Longwood to go along with the incredible radio coverage he does, his teaching, and the 77,528 other things he does. Sam got to chronicle the Lancers’ March Madness trip this year – along with the outstanding photographer Mike Kropf, who I also got to meet at the tournament – and I couldn’t be happier for Sam and Mike to get that privilege. It’s always cool to get a random DM from Sam about a game he’s watching, a call he saw, or whatever else comes to mind.
It was also great to see my wonderful friend Steven Gonzalez from Liberty multiple times this season. I think he may try to have me banned from Liberty Arena following the events in Lynchburg that I chronicled earlier in this piece, but you can’t do that to a guy in his hometown. Phil Marcello at Asheville was also – as always – so good to Alex and me this season. I hated that I couldn’t get to Kimmel this season, but that needs to happen at some point. It was also cool that Phil got to help chronicle Asheville’s CBI run. I also need to thank Radford’s Nate Wise and the absolute king of sports information directors – and people – Campbell’s Stan Cole.
There are also the same two people without whom I couldn’t do a thing – Mark Simpson and Brandon McGinnis of the Big South. Their continued kindness toward me is such an honor. Along with that, they are the absolute best at what they do. They and all of the Big South staff possess talent only matched by the way they treat all of us ink-stained wretches. Mark said something to me at the tournament that I’ll keep with me for as long as I do this. Oh, and Mark said something to me about being on the podcast sometime, so we’ll need to hold him to that.
I also appreciate the head coaches – Griff, Mark, Tim, Ritchie, Dave, Barclay, Darris, Q, Will, Buck, DK, Mike, G.G., Kevin, and Ron, in no particular order – and the assistants I regularly see (Rack, Monty, Mitch – I appreciate the regular fist bumps after games, by the way – Vic, and Longwood’s Ronnie Thomas, who I finally had the pleasure of meeting this season) for the kindness and trust they’ve shown me. It still trips me out to get a DM, a kind word, or a hug – twice this year! – from a coach, but I appreciate them all and their friendship.
Finally, there’s all of you. I’m still taken aback by every tweet I get from a player’s family, a reader, or anyone else who happens on what I do and offers anything from encouragement to how I help them stay in touch with their family member who’s playing miles away from home in college. I also had someone randomly stop me at the Big South tournament and tell me how much they liked the podcast. I probably appeared to shuffle away from that conversation – not because I wanted to leave it, but because I was flattered. Every handshake, retweet, DM, story, or kind word all means something. I hope they never fade away.
Thus ends a decade. Until we meet again…
So many faces in and out of my life
Some will last, some will just be now and then
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again