By Brett Rump (@BrettRumpSports)
The road is tough.
It’s not just the games played in front of thousands of hostile fans, but the travel for a mid-major with long bus rides and airport layovers takes its toll too.
It’s no excuse for losing games that could be won. It’s a challenge that most local fans don’t understand.
To make the point of the grind the road can present, here’s a glimpse at the Fort Wayne Mastodons schedule during the recent road trip to the Dakotas.
THURSDAY NIGHT, 10:00 pm – The team arrives at the hotel following a loss at North Dakota State. A post-game meal is available and then it’s some therapy for the heavy minute guys (HMG’s). There’s another game in less than 48 hours, so the recovery of the body begins before they even get to bed.
THURSDAY NIGHT, 12:00 am – It’s midnight and guys have made it to their rooms to settle down for the night.
FRIDAY, 9:00 am – Wake-up calls to the players to summon them to a prepared breakfast in a reserved section of the restaurant at the team hotel. The players eat and converse while gaining full consciousness. Most of the team has arrived by 9:45 am.
FRIDAY, 10:15 am – Preparation begins for the next day’s opponent, South Dakota State. Video study is a key to learning the habits and tendencies of every player. Who drives, who are the top shooters, where screens are set, offensive plays and defensive strategies are presented. Every opposing player has his own breakdown with a video showing his tendencies. This is the first of a few video sessions on each opponent.
FRIDAY, 11:00 am – The bus is getting loaded for the three-hour trip south to Brookings, South Dakota. A head count is completed (no one is left behind) and by 11:20 am, the bus is rolling down the road.
FRIDAY, 2:20 pm – The team arrives at the team hotel in Brookings. It’s a small college town with approximately 20,000 residents. Since the hotel isn’t “full service”, sandwiches are delivered for the guys to eat before a late afternoon practice.
FRIDAY, 4:00 pm – More video study before heading to a light practice on the South Dakota State campus.
FRIDAY, 6:30 pm – Dinner at a local restaurant. Most meals are pre-ordered to speed up the time at the restaurant. Tonight, it doesn’t seem to have mattered as players wait 20-25 minutes for the meals to be delivered to their tables.
FRIDAY, 9:00 pm – More video. The details of what has been prepared by the assistant coach assigned this opponent are immense. Assistants often work 2 weeks on one opponent, breaking down every play, set, and player from the assigned team. Getting two weeks of information into the players’ heads in 24 hours requires multiple, short video sessions.
FRIDAY, 10:00 pm – It’s the night before a game…so phones are collected as guys retreat to rooms. Yes, cell phones are collected from players on nights before games (they are returned in the morning).
SATURDAY, 9:00 am – GAMEDAY. Wake-up calls alert the guys that a breakfast is available in the small conference room. The players stroll down around 9:30 and have a breakfast with French toast, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and breakfast meat.
SATURDAY, 10:00 am – The team will forego a “shoot-around” and review the strategy and scout for today’s opponent, SDSU. The floor of the conference room has been converted into a basketball court after the team managers have taped the floor with the free-throw lane, top of the key, and a three-point arc. This serves as the stage for a “walk-through”.
SATURDAY, 11:15 am – A couple of red-shirts and a couple regulars will ride to the arena to get some work and take some shots. It’s a brief trip since there is a double-header with women’s basketball and court time is limited to about thirty minutes.
SATURDAY, 12:00 pm – More film review followed by a pregame meal. Pregame meals are generally the same…chicken breasts, baked potatoes, pasta, and green beans. Pregame meal ends at approximately 1:00 pm.
SATURDAY, 2:20 pm – The team is packing and checking out of the hotel. Immediately after the game, the team will go to Sioux Falls to be closer to the airport (and a 6 am flight). By 2:50 pm, the bus is boarded for the short ride to the SDSU Arena. The bus is a quiet place…almost silent. The game starts at 4:30 pm.
SATURDAY, 7:15 pm – Most of the players are on the bus as coach Coffman finishes speaking to the media. With the head count verified, the bus departs for the one-hour ride to Sioux Falls as coach Coffman boards and takes his spot (front row-right side) on the bus.
SATURDAY, 8:45 pm – Dinner arrives at the hotel. Mostly pizza and pasta. Some players are getting ice treatment and typical post-game therapy. It’s a pretty quiet night following a disappointing loss. The team retreats to their rooms around 10:00 pm.
SUNDAY, 6:00 am – On the plane to fly to Chicago. Today is the best connection of the season, just 35 minutes, so an “on-time” departure is critical.
SUNDAY, 10:50 am – Arrival at Fort Wayne International. There will be a study session this afternoon for the players (there is always study time at home and on the road).
The road is a non-stop grind…on the court and with the travel. Early departures, travel time (that limits the scout time), and plenty of bus miles are often forgotten when fans ask “what happened?” when the team drops a road game. It’s not charter planes and first-class seating. It’s 6’9” centers packed into a commuter plane for three hours.
You can follow the Mastodons men’s basketball team on Twitter @FortWayneMBB