12 Hours of Madness...
It was Thursday, March 12 when we last contemplated a real, live basketball game. Felt the pregame feels. It was THAT many days ago, though it feels like THAT many more.
My enduring image of that day: Marcus Evans wanted one more dunk. We stood for the national anthem prior to the A10 quarterfinals, and then we kept standing. In an attempt to figure out what was going on, although we knew what was going on, my eyes locked on the VCU senior.
Evans grabbed a ball off the rack, weaved through UMass players headed to their bench, shot past his own teammates, and with his battered legs, crippled with injuries, lifted off the floor and threw the ball down. He smiled the whole time, hanging on the rim a few extra moments to take it all in. Roughly 15 minutes later Evans sat motionless in the VCU locker room. He was staring into space with eyes that did not leak water but were full of water.
Marcus Evans gleefully dunking and then absorbing the reality of last season’s gut-punch ending seems fitting.
Fast-forward to Monday morning. The VCU coaching staff was breaking down film, preparing for the trip to Tennessee to play in the Volunteer Classic to open this season. The chaos created by covid from March 12 to Monday is well-documented. But those old feelings surrounded the BDC. If was different, for sure, but it was familiar. Watching tape. Packing bags. Handling media responsibilities. Practicing and preparing.
And isn’t that what we’re after? Those pregame feels. Plotting the next 39 minutes after someone scores the first bucket. Hanging onto those 39 minutes. We were all so very close.
Chaos struck yet again. Two days before VCU would open its season the Volunteer Classic was cancelled due to a covid breakout in the Tennessee program. Suddenly there were no games and we were back to that March 12 feeling. Thankfully that feeling lasted approximately two hours.
The VCU coaches and staff did what they always do: pressed forward. It takes what it takes, a common Rhoades-ism states. Here’s an abbreviated timeline of exactly how the chaos ensued that got us to tonight’s 9:30pm tipoff against Utah State in the Bad Boy Mowers Classic in South Dakota.
9:00 am: Film Breakdown
11:30am: Coach Rhoades Weekly Press Conference
12:15pm: VCU administrators inform Chris Kowalczyk of possible positive cases at Tennessee. Says retesting will occur. Everything TBD. Standby.
12:15 pm: Coaching staff meeting to prepare for practice.
1:00 pm: Practice begins.
1:15 pm: Jimmy Martelli informs JD Byers that Tennessee has someone in the program with confirmed covid case.
2:00pm: Kowalczyk heads home, hearing the Tennessee trip is most likely canceled. There is talk of the possibility of a weekend home game. Kowalczyk begins asking his staff for potential availability.
2:15 pm: During practice, Martelli confirms Tennessee has cancelled the event. The coaches inform the players at the end of practice.
2:30 pm: Kowalczyk is brought up to speed and told there will be a 3pm press release. Kowalczyk's wife and son are scheduled to leave for her parents house in North Carolina at 3pm. In a fluid situation, he has a stay/go decision.
4:00 pm: With all practice responsibilities cleared, Coach Rhoades and Martelli begin working on other possibilities.
5:30 pm: Kowalczyk, who chose to stay home, heads out to buy groceries since he is on his own and is a lousy cook.
6:00 pm: Coach Byers heads home and celebrates his wedding anniversary with his wife. The feeling was the team was not traveling for a few days, at best. (Narrator: Byers was right. For 30 minutes.)
6:00 pm: Kowalczyk avoids burning down his house and cooks dinner.
6:35 pm: Coach Rhoades texts the coaching staff that VCU is headed to South Dakota and would pull out of the Siegel Center the next day at 11am.
6:45 pm: Martelli texts Byers to start watching Utah State film.
7:30 pm: Coach Rhoades tweets that "Jimmy Martelli is a savage."
8:00 pm: Coaching staff conference call for scouting assignments and logistics.
9:00 pm: Kowalczyk fires up game notes, drafts a press release, and begins doing laundry and packing.
10:00 pm - Byers goes full bore into scouting Utah State, and Kowalczyk continues his prep.
2:30 am: Kowalczyk finishes his responsibilities and tries to get some sleep.
8:00 am: Kowalczyk begins receiving correspondence from tournament staff -and works to get them videos, logos, headshots, other photos, notes, other materials etc.
3:00 pm (Central) -- The team arrives in overcast Sioux Falls, drives to the hotel, and immediately go to COVID testing area.
3:30 pm: Everyone has a boxed lunch in their rooms.
5:30 pm: Arrive at arena, press conference and practice, meet with ESPN crew.
Byers credits Rhoades and Martelli for doing a phenomenal job in an unclear situation at getting the entire coaching staff organized and the players ready with such a changing mindset.
"Honestly though, it was so exciting just knowing that we would be playing games. This is why I love this job though! Fired up for tonight!"