Thursday, March 19
2:51 p.m. CT – First-round action at the Sprint Center is underway and it didn’t take long for the excitement to build in the arena. Cal State Northridge, accompanied by a small but boisterous fan base, gave #2 seed Memphis all it wanted and more in the opening game. The Matadors went up by as much as six in the second half, but Memphis’ veterans and a brilliant 35-point performance from sophomore Roburt Sallie put an end to the Cinderella possibility.
Obviously fans in this portion of the country take their college basketball seriously. Just about all 18,482 seats at the facility were accounted for in the opening game. It doesn’t surprise me, considering Big 12 programs like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri are all just a few hours away.
The team had its normal shootaround in the morning, where the finishing touches are applied to the scouting report. They then gathered for pre-game meal at 2:00, where the hotel staff set us up with grilled chicken, baked potatoes, pasta, and salad. Pre-game is generally a quiet time, where members of the team start to really focus in on the task ahead.
A large crowd is expected to again fill the Sprint Center later tonight, when the Tigers and Wolverines take the court at 6:10 PM Central time. The 7 vs. 10 matchup usually provides for quality entertainment, and tonight should be no different. It’s certainly an intriguing contrast in style, with Clemson’s full-court style of play compared to Michigan’s preference for deliberate half-court offense. Michigan is sort of in the same boat the Tigers were in last season. This is Michigan’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998, so you know they’re hungry for a win. Clemson is eager to erase the memory of last year’s first-round loss to Villanova. It should make for good television on CBS tonight.
Speaking of CBS, the announcers for tonight’s game are Tim Brando and Mike Gminski. The two broadcast multiple Clemson games throughout the season as part of Fox Sports Net’s Sunday Night Hoops package, thus there is quite a familiarity with this year’s Tiger team. There shouldn’t be anything that comes as a surprise to them, at least from a Clemson perspective, as they call tonight’s contest.
That’s it for our mid-day update. Be sure and check back with us late in the evening for post-game thoughts on our site.
12:50 p.m. CT – Here are some pictures from yesterday’s press conference and practice at the Sprint Center. (Photos are by Mark Crammer.) The team had breakfast and shootaround this morning and will have pre-game meal this afternoon before heading to the gym around 4:30 p.m. for the game! Go Tigers!!!!!
Wednesday, March 18
9:15 p.m. CT – Checking in from the NCAA Tournament for day #2. The Tigers are in Kansas City to play Michigan in the first round on Thursday. Clemson has a bit of history when it comes to the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City. In 1997, Rick Barnes’ team defeated Miami (OH) and Tulsa on their way to a Sweet 16 appearance. The Miami (OH) team featured current NBA player Wally Szczerbiak and Tulsa was coached at the time by Steve Robinson, now an assistant coach at North Carolina. One noticeable difference from the ’97 tournament is that the games were played then at Kemper Arena. This week’s action will be at the Sprint Center, which opened in 2007.
Speaking of the Sprint Center, today was the first time the team could actually take to the arena floor at the first-round site. Everyone from coaches to players to support staff were impressed with the facility. It’s simply a first-class venue, one that Coach Purnell called “perfect for college basketball” on our way back to the hotel.
But before the team had its 40-minute practice, Coach Purnell and players addressed the media about tomorrow’s matchup against the Wolverines. The underlying questions from the media centered on Clemson’s rise as a legitimate basketball program during coach’s tenure, as well as the tough 1-3-1 zone defense employed by Michigan coach John Beilein. Those of you familiar with Beilein know that he coached against Clemson in the NIT final two years ago when he was at West Virginia.
Trevor Booker, Terrence Oglesby, and K.C. Rivers spent about 10 minutes answering various questions in a formal press conference setting. It was a new experience for Booker and Oglesby, as they didn’t take the stage before last year’s tournament game versus Villanova. Rivers, a veteran of 133 games, knew what to expect. The players do an outstanding job representing Clemson University when dealing with the media, and today was certainly no exception.
One of the heart-warming stories on this year’s team is freshman Tanner Smith, whose story of forming a non-profit to deliver goody bags to cancer patients was documented in a wonderful article by Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com last month. Smith will be the subject of a CBS feature story at some point during the tournament, and he had a one-on-one interview with network personnel this afternoon prior to practice. His parents, Craig and Kathy, were interviewed for the piece last week around the time of the ACC Tournament. Tanner is an outstanding young man, and his parents are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Tiger fans are encouraged to tune in to CBS as the tournament rolls on to hear more about the evolution of Tanner’s Totes.
Clemson chose to use its 40 minutes on the court to spend a lot of time shooting, unlike last week at the ACC Tournament when coach put the team through a game-like simulation. A decent crowd was on hand to see the Tigers, and freshman Bryan Narcisse rewarded them with a sick windmill dunk to end the session. A smattering of applause soon followed.
The team ate out in Kansas City tonight, and then the players and coaches settled into the routine of preparing for their opponent. Thursday will feature a shootaround early in the day, then pre-game meal at 2:00, followed by the game at 6:10 PM (Central time). This is as good as it gets for college basketball junkies, with games throughout the course of the day Thursday and Friday. Check back on our site for Thursday’s blog update following the conclusion of the game against Michigan.
6:25 p.m. CT – The team went to the Sprint Center this afternoon for a press conference and a chance to practice in the arena prior to tomorrow’s game. Here are the links to the interviews with Coach Purnell, Trevor Booker, Terrence Oglesby and K.C. Rivers.
Oliver Purnell Press Conference Video | Clemson Player Press Conference Video
The Tigers are heading out for a nice dinner tonight and then will have a team meeting and watch film at the hotel prior to curfew. Check back late tonight for some observations from the day along with additional video footage from practice.
2:56 p.m. CT – Here are a few lost scenes from yesterday’s airplane interview with Jerai Grant. Be on the lookout for his Air Saxophone Performance.
9:57 p.m. CT – Here’s some video footage from the team’s visit to The College Basketball Experience on Tuesday afternoon, as well as a Photo Gallery. Photos are by Mark Crammer. The team will practice and have a press conference at the Sprint Center this afternoon, so check back for updates on that later today.
Tuesday, March 17
7:25 p.m. CT – Clemson basketball began its journey to the 2009 NCAA Tournament early Tuesday morning. Coaches, players, support staff, Tiger Band, rally cats and cheerleaders all made their way to GSP Airport at 9:00 AM to board a charter plane to Kansas City. It was hard not to notice the team’s coaches and players upon arrival, as they sported all-new travel gear. The team has custom-made Clemson basketball jackets and pants in Nike’s newest LeBron James style.
Getting airborne wasn’t the quickest process due to GSP personnel having to move everyone’s luggage from buses onto the plane. After about an hour wait, the trip was underway. It didn’t take long for sophomore Terrence Oglesby to find a way to entertain himself. With the help of Chad Lampman from Clemson’s video services department, Terrence put his Communication Studies major to work and interviewed several teammates for what he called “The Air Up There Hot Seat.” Fans are encouraged to check out the team’s video diary on our website (by clicking on the link above), where you can see him ask questions ranging from `How many teams make up the Big Ten?’ to `What two states does Kansas City border?.’ After watching the video, I’d have to say big men Jerai Grant and `Bobo’ Baciu will provide fans the most entertainment. I can’t say I’m surprised, because those guys are two of the funniest characters we have on this year’s team.
We touched down approximately 11:20 AM Central time. From there, the travel party boarded two buses and headed down the interstate to Kansas City in what amounted to about a 15-minute drive. My initial thought when crossing the Missouri River into the city was that the Upstate of South Carolina wasn’t the only region suffering from a drought. The water level appeared very low, but after researching it further, I found that the river beds have dropped several feet throughout the course of the last half-century and engineers are still trying to figure out why.
The team headquarters for the NCAA Tournament are the Hilton President, located just a block or two from the Sprint Center, which will host first and second round action on Thursday and Saturday. After grabbing a sandwich and relaxing for a few minutes, the team headed off to practice. Today’s practice was at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, home of the Kangaroos. To be honest, I had no idea UMKC’s mascot was a kangaroo and I’m not sure I would admit it even if I did. But to no one’s surprise, Pete Yanity, the voice of the Tigers, knew their mascot was a kangaroo without hesitation.
After seeing all the people dressed in green on the nearby streets, it’s obvious Kansas City takes this St. Patrick’s Day thing pretty seriously. In fact, it probably rivals that of Savannah or New Orleans. An event known as Shamrocks & Shenanigans, which features live music and games, has been going on about a block from our hotel since apparently 6 AM this morning. I went out to eat lunch with some other support staff members and, needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb in our orange & purple.
Following a brief break after practice, the team walked over to the College Basketball Experience, which is adjacent to the Sprint Center. It was a fun experience for everyone involved. Coach Purnell was prominently displayed in several capacities at the exhibit. First, the players gathered in an elevator to head up to the second floor when coach’s voice came over the intercom. Needless to say, the players were caught off guard hearing his voice describing coach & player relationships. The exhibit also had a Mentors’ Circle, where coaches past and present described their coaching idols. Coach Purnell was featured in the room’s centerpiece, a video showing each coach talk about their mentor. Of course, coach’s mentor is Paul Webb, who gave him his first job as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Old Dominion.
The exhibit includes all sorts of games, including free throw & three-point contests, a vertical leap test, and an EA Sports video game center. Trey Meyer, a senior manager from North Augusta, worked up quite a sweat as he put on an impressive dunking exhibition on a 9-foot goal. Oglesby, along with Trevor Booker and others, took part in the ESPNU broadcast event where you are given a highlight to read off the teleprompter. There was a lot of surprise on the guys’ faces when a replay of their highlight call was shown on the big screen behind them. Athletic freshman Bryan Narcisse used his freakish wingspan to hit the top of the vertical leap test. Even the coaches got involved in some of the games, including former Dayton guard and current assistant Josh Postorino who was money in the three-point shooting court.
The team spent about an hour at the exhibit, which included a Hall of Fame room honoring all the inductees throughout college basketball history, before heading back to the hotel to call it a night. Video of the team at the College Basketball Experience will be available on our site late Tuesday night.
Wednesday is when you really start to feel like you’re a part of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Purnell and selected players participate in press conferences, and then the team takes the arena floor for the first time in a 40-minute practice. Clemson’s practice, which is open to the media and the public, is scheduled for 4:25 PM Central time. So be sure and check back in Wednesday evening for updates on how day #2 in Kansas City goes for the Tiger basketball team. I’ll also take a look back at Clemson’s last NCAA Tournament appearance in this city.
5:27 p.m. CT – After encountering a few technical difficulties at the hotel, we are now up and running and ready to present the first video update of the trip. Terrence Oglesby during the two-hour plane ride as he held some brief, impromptu interviews with members of the team, spirit squads and pep band.
Click on the link to watch Terrence Oglesby host the self-titled show, “The Air Up There Hot Seat.” (Click on the Event Library tab if the link does not take you directly to the video.)
7:58 a.m. ET – The team bus has just departed from Clemson and is en route to the airport to catch a 9:00 a.m. flight to Kansas City. Check back in a few hours for an update from the flight.
ClemsonTigers.com will go behind-the-scenes with the Tiger basketball team at the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Fans will be able to follow along via a video diary of the trip as the team travels to Kansas City, MO for the opening round of the tournament.
The footage will provide fans with an inside look at the Tigers during their down time, including team meals and other activities, with comments from different players along the way.
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