Road Trippin’

I am often asked what it’s like to travel with the Georgia State men’s basketball team. Most road trips are rather simple – travel to city, play game, travel home. Add in a couple of nice meals, some great company and that is pretty much it.

This week’s three-game, eight-day road trip has been far from the normal, so rather than giving another Men’s Basketball Gameday Nugget (I know, I forgot on Saturday, but we still won, so I would like a bye), here is a quick recap of the trip so far:

The Panthers headed to the airport last Wednesday with one goal in mind…clinch the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title before coming home. Georgia State had a three-game lead with four games to play over Western Kentucky entering the trip and did not want to come home (this Saturday, March 8 is Senior Day, if you didn’t know) without the title.

After flying into Dallas on Wednesday, the Panthers got in a nice shoot-around on the campus of UT Arlington. Thursday was another normal day – breakfast, shoot-around, pregame meal. And the game that followed what has become normal protocol for this team: trail early, this time by five points at half, and then blitz the opponent in the second half. This time, after trailing 34-29 at half, the Panthers opened the second half on a 30-5 run and came away with a 77-49 victory, clinching no worse than a share of the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title.

On Friday, before heading south, it was a quick stop to Jerry World, also known as AT&T Stadium and the home of the Dallas Cowboys. I am not a Cowboys fan, nor were any of the players, but we are now all fans of the stadium. It is amazing what $1.3 billion can buy as every detail of that stadium is incredible.

After lunch, the Panthers loaded up the bus for a three-hour drive to Austin, Texas, which is about 25 minutes from San Marcos and the home of Texas State. Another pretty normal trip and on Saturday, after leading by just one at halftime, GSU shot 72 percent in the second half to earn a 66-55 victory over Texas State and secure the Sun Belt regular-season title. Mission Accomplished!

Coaches, players and staff enjoyed a nice celebration on Saturday night. Sunday morning would normally have been the end of the trip – play two road games and go home – but this has been no ordinary trip.

Due to a scheduling quirk, the Panthers were set to fly from Austin to Memphis, Tenn., on Sunday to prepare for Arkansas State on Tuesday night. With all of the winning, everyone has been in a great mood (like normal) and there was nothing that could stop that; however, Mother Nature decided she wanted to at least try to sour the Panthers’ mood.

While at breakfast on Sunday morning, we were looking at the weather in Memphis and Arkansas. We knew that some snow and ice were forecasted, we just didn’t know how bad. At about the same time, I got a notice on my phone (thank you Delta app) that our flight had been cancelled. Trying to reschedul and rebook tickets for 20-plus people is not easy. We didn’t know how interesting things were about to get.

Plan A was to stay in Austin for an extra night, get on a plane on Monday morning at 11 a.m. and be in Memphis by early afternoon. Great plan!

About three hours later, we realized that plan was not going to come to fruition. So sitting with the coaching staff we came to the best conclusion – road trip.

At 4:30 p.m. CT on Sunday, the Panthers loaded the bus to drive from Austin to Shreveport, La., about halfway to Memphis. Seven hours later (and a dinner stop along the way in the middle of nowhere), the bus pulled off at our exit, just seven blocks from the hotel . . . and then it died. Yes, the bus died.

I have been on a bus when it died before, ironically on our way from Wilmington, N.C. to Atlanta after the Georgia State baseball team won the 2009 CAA Championship. It really isn’t a good feeling and I am starting to wonder if it has to do with me being around championship teams.

Anyway, we were in luck. The cops arrived to divert traffic around us and our new bus was already at our hotel as it was going to take us from Shreveport to Memphis. The new bus arrived and all we needed to do was pull our luggage off the old bus and be on our way.

”Not so fast my friend” as Lee Corso would say.

Because the bus was dead, two of the three luggage door compartments would not open. So for most of us, our luggage stayed on the old bus and we moved on. Many of us are creatures of habit and after sitting on a bus, I really wanted to put on something else, but it was not meant to be and I still went to bed smiling and why not, we are Sun Belt champions.

Monday morning our luggage arrived and then we hit the road for about six more hours on the bus. I can say the Panthers safely arrived in Memphis and had a very nice practice in the University of Memphis’ practice facility. Despite 13 hours on two busses, it was a great practice as the team seemed loose and ready to go.

So with that said, Georgia State is ready to go for Day No. 7 and the third game of this road trip.

So your Men’s Basketball Gameday Nugget for today: If you are going to have to ride a bus for 13 hours, make sure you win a championship first. It will lead to a lot of smiles (and movies watched) along the way. Your Panthers are champions and there is nothing that can take away from that fact.

Until Saturday (when I promise another nugget),

–Mike Holmes

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