Friday, November 28, 2014

Triple Threat Position: Paradise Found II

By: Christopher West - WSS Senior Islands Analyst
So, here we are after the first day of action in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and 
surprisingly, only one of the four top-25 teams have managed to win a game.  
Fortunately, that one team is the team I came here to watch--Wisconsin.  This 
changes some of the expectations for the week, but that's okay.  The most 
interesting aspect of things for me was the ways in which I found out about the 
surprising outcomes of the other games going on.  They went as follows:

North Carolina vs. Butler:  I was sitting on the beach and decided to do a quick 
score-check using the resort wifi.  The front page on ESPN gave and alert to a 
potential Butler upset.  And after a couple of minutes of being that dude on the 
beach who stares at his phone instead of the beautiful, crystal clear water in 
front of him.  I think it was worth it.

Oklahoma vs. UCLA:  I watched the latter part of this one on TV in my room after 
a day in the sun.  I was sort of rooting for UCLA, as Milwaukee native Kevon 
Looney appears to possibly be the Burins' top player during his freshman year.  
And a meeting with Wisconsin in the finals would have been fun.  I'm ultimately 
okay with Oklahoma winning this one, but more on that later.

Florida vs. Georgetown:  While wrapping up my evening out, I checked my phone to 
see that Florida and Georgetown were in overtime.  I high-fived my pal Samip 
after learning that Wisconsin was the only ranked team to win today.  Lots of 
rum may or may not have been involved.

As to observations on the day and the game, here's what I've got for you:

--Yesterday I briefly mentioned that the winners of the beauty pageant of each 
state represented by a team in the tournament are all here for some reason.  
Today, while I was sitting at the pool, the pageant winners were out offering 
Starbucks samples to patrons (I felt sorry for Miss Florida for being 
pigeon-holed into serving the orange juice-based drink.) Two thoughts on this: 
a) If part of the duties of being Miss Alabama includes peddling frappachinos to 
random folks, it may not be as great a titles as one would think; b) Today I 
literally started my day by sitting poolisde and having beauty queens bring me 
free drinks.  So yeah, life here is good.
--I was intellectually aware that the Battle 4 Atlantis games take place in a huge huge hotel ballroom, but it's impossible to understand how that will look until you're there. It's pretty great. If not for the fact that they're able to put seats behind the hoops here, the "arena" would be about the size of a moderately sized high school gym. If you'd like to put that in perspective, I was in a corner in the seventh row and there was only one row behind me. Technically, I was sitting in the bad seats, which is to say that there are no bad seats here. --Also on the arena, I can pinpoint the moment I knew I wanted to someday attend the Battle 4 Atlantis to the first moment I saw it on TV two years ago. Aside from the great field they had that year (the Duke-Louisville final was awesome), I was drawn to the crowd being awash in accent lighting. A word to anyone planning an event--you may not think it's worth the cost, but always pay for the accent lighting. It makes everything cooler. --Watching the UAB team warm up was a unique experience, as a significant portion of warm ups was led by a bald, beardless man barking out directions with the intensity of a stereotypical high school football coach. My independent research seems to indicate that this dude is the team's strength and conditioning coach, which begs the question of why the strength and conditioning coach is allowed on the court prior to the game despite there being no shuttle runs to complete or heavy objects to lift. --Every year it seems that there is a player that you read about being vastly improved prior the the season starting. And I'm always skeptical of those reports. While I can make the case for big improvements by several of Wisconsin's players (all the top guys, for that matter), the one who received the most hype this year was Duje Dukan. And I'll be damned if the talk about his improvement isn't absolutely correct. The drop off that comes when Dukan subs in for Sam Dekker these days feels super minimal. While part of that is because Dekker has yet to have a truly outstanding game this season, there's no denying that Dukan has taken a pretty nice step forward. That's always a cool thing to see from a fifth year senior. --College fight songs are contagious. They're designed to get fans up out of their seats and clapping. So it was no surprise when a sizable portion of the Wisconsin crowd started clapping along to the UAB fight song before realizing halfway through that they were sort of cheering on their opponents. It was nonetheless pretty funny to watch people recognize their error, though. --Just to confirm for everyone, I did spot David Gruber in the crowd before the game yesterday. An absolute basketball junkie, Gruber is as ubiquitous in hoops arenas as his ads for his law firm are around Milwaukee. If there's a ball and a hoop there, I'm giving you good odds that you'll see Gruber somewhere. It's kind of amazing. --In case you had any doubt about the apprehension that I had about Frank Kaminsky being able to keep up his stellar play, I think it's safe to say that any concerns I may have had have been erased. He's moving as well as I've ever seen a 7-footer move this year, and playing with a confidence that I didn't see out of him even during last year's awesome run. I almost hate myself for doubting him. --The only downside to having games in a hotel ballroom? Getting in and out of the arena is not a seamless task. It took a good 10-minutes of navigating bottlenecks to finally get back to where we wanted to be. Getting into the arena also looks to be a bit of a chore, as they have to clear it out prior to the start of each game. We'll find out later today, though, as unlike yesterday, there's no break in the action before the Wisconsin-Georgetown matchup. --As yesterday's activities proved, the Atlantis is a small enough spot that it's almost impossible not to run into players, commentators, and other people of note while roaming the grounds. Ground zero for these type of sightings seems to be in a bar just outside of the Royal Towers, the largest hotel on the grounds. My wife, my friends and I closed out our evening enjoying drinks at said bar and just watching people go by. I think we saw members of every team at some point. The losing squads walked by mostly without incident. The winners (particularly Wisconsin, due to the high concentration of Badger fans) had rock star status, though. --Nigel Hayes is a total pro. I've not been shy about my fandom for Hayes since he burst onto the scene last year. But last night and off the court moment pushed my appreciation of Hayes to another level. Post game, Hayes was walkng the corridor beside the bar that I just mentioned and was approached by several fans requesting photos. You could tell from his body language that he was tired and just wanted to get back up to his room to relax. But he graciously granted every photo request. My pal Samip and I were the last ones to get a photo with him (I'd have left him alone, but the others in my party convinced me that not approaching my favorite player would have been regretful). See the smile on Hayes' face in that photo? He's totally faking it. About the last thing he wanted to do at that moment was take a picture with two middle-aged dudes who were keeping him from collapsing on his bed. There's no doubt that Samip and I were the jerks in this scenario. But in spite of all that, Hayes was completely cool to us. I cannot possibly respect him more for that.
--Want my prediction for who will make the finals of the tournament here? It's got to be Wisconsin and Oklahoma. These are not bold calls, as those two teams are the favorites to make the finals, but the reason that I like them both has more to do with observing the teams on the grounds here. Both Wisconsin and Oklahoma, at least from my limited observations, appear to have the players who are having the most fun. I don't mean that in an out-all-night-going-wild sort of way. I mean that you can tell from the smiles on their faces and the spots where you see them that the Sooners and the Badgers are all completely loose. Some of the teams here look like they're all business. And while there's nothing wrong with that, I kind of prefer the pressure-free aura surrounding Wisconsin and Oklahoma right now. --There's no getting around this next point, as my wife and friends have video evidence of it, so I'll just say it: I was invited to participate in an on-court contest at halftime of the Wisconsin game last night. When the on-court promotions people were looking for volunteers, I sat quitely in my seat while my much more outgoing wife effectively volunteered me. I shrugged and figured that I could credibly bank in a few layups or doing some goofy dribbling things. Then my wife asked what the contest was and I got the worst reply possible. It was a dance-off. Thankfully, I had a few minutes to think about how to approach this. And it occurred to me that, ironically, the only way to look stupid in a basketball halftime dance contest is trying not to look stupid. No one likes the guy that's too cool to bust a move to Cotton Eye Joe. So I just decided to go for it. The results were not pretty, but they're not supposed to be when you're the token middle-aged white guy in a dance contest.

In the end, I amused the powers that be enough to finish third in the contest.  
That was pretty much my ceiling, as a) there was another middle-aged white dude 
from UAB that pretty much stole the show with his lack of inhibitions, and b) 
the contest was basically just a set-up for one woman to win and receive a 
wedding proposal from her boyfriend at midcourt.  It was a fun time, and was 
ultimately probably the first time I've ever had anyone compliment me on my 
dance moves.  But I won't lie--it was a relief when I re-established internet 
service and could see from the lack of messages from friends that our halftime 
contest had not ended up somewhere in the background of a shot on ESPN.

Back with more tomorrow, presuming that the abundance of rum at this place 
doesn't put me out of commisson.  Happy Thankgiving to all!