For the second straight year, the Gopher men's basketball team earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota earned a No. 11 seed and will face No. 6 Xavier on Friday afternoon. The game will be the first of four at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis. with the tip coming at 11:25 a.m.
The following is an account of Wednesday's travel day to Milwaukee by creative director Jeff Keiser:
12:30 p.m. – The Gophers are operating fashionably late this afternoon as they get ready to leave for Milwaukee. After a team practice, the team grabbed a meal in the Williams Arena club room before jumping on the bus. It's particularly busy at The Barn today with the Girls State Basketball Championships going on. The team bus is nestled up right at an exit to the building so the Gophers get load the bus and get on. There are bands, high school students and plenty of other people milling around the front of the arena.
12:42 p.m. – The Gophers are finally on the road, embarking on a 334-mile bus trip to Milwaukee. The Gophers will be stationed at the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee, just a few blocks from the Bradley Center. For those curious why we would bus to an NCAA Tournament game, there is an NCAA rule if the team is within 400 miles of the tournament site, the team has to bus or pay their own way on a plane. Seems to make more financial sense to ride the bus.
12:58 p.m. – As we pass Hudson on I-94 (which is also the exit for my favorite public golf course in the area, Troy Burne), I will point out some of the nice features of traveling on a comfortable coach bus. The bus has a nice strong wireless signal so staff and players are able to surf the web or do whatever work they please. There is something a bit more relaxing about riding the bus and it certainly has to be easier for the team managers. There's no loading the bus, then unloading onto the plane and then re-loading the bus. The weather is phenomenal in the Upper Midwest today, so it's nice to stare out the window on a sunny day in the low 60s. I am sure there will be some movies playing on the television screens in the near future.
1:02 p.m. – All of the players are talking about a Delonte West youtube video in the back of the bus. Apparently he is freestyle rapping in the video. All of the players, like most teams it seems, take over the back of the bus while staff sits in the front. The student managers sit in the middle, providing a buffer.
1:07 p.m. – The bus takes a stop on an exit ramp. Everyone is curious. Coach Jirsa and the bus driver get off the bus but thankfully, it must have been to just check if we were missing something under the bus. We are back on the road.
1:25 p.m. – The first film selection is More Than A Game, a documentary about LeBron James during his high school career. Most of the team seems pretty interested with the exception of Justin Cobbs and Bryant Allen, who are already fast asleep.
2:05 p.m. – This LeBron documentary is pretty interesting. Definitely good stuff as it details the ridiculous coverage that James and his team got, especially his junior and senior seasons of high school. The documentary is much more interesting than the boring Wisconsin landscape. It's been a while since I have made the trek across Wisconsin. It definitely hasn't gotten any better. Flat land and brown grass. Lots of it.
2:25 p.m. – Always nice to pass a landmark....bye bye Eau Claire.
3:00 p.m. – LeBron documentary is over. Really a fascinating piece. A few players clamored for a second movie but apparently Coach Smith has opted for quiet over cinema. Manager Andre Phillips is a popular figure on the bus. He has a cooler filled with drinks and sandwiches. He is visited often by players and staff. There is a large assortment of snacks making the rounds as well. Most of the players are surprisingly awake and social to this point despite a morning practice. Cobbs continues to sleep in the far back seat of the bus and Ralph Sampson squeezes in a few zzzs among his chatty teammates. Sampson is apparently the best sleeper in the group and can catch a wink anywhere.
3:12 p.m. - [Guest blogger Blake Hoffarber chiming in] Some guys are finally started to get some sleep while others are staying awake and making noise as always. VIP Johnson is dreaming about the best shrimp in Louisiana while Devron is eating a glazed donut enjoying his favorite song, "One Time" by Justin Bieber. I think everybody is really anxious to get to the hotel and relax for the night.
3:18 p.m. - [Hoffarber] The coaching staff is staying busy like normal preparing for Xavier on Friday. We should be fully prepared for the big game on Friday with the way these coaches are working.
3:40 p.m. – We figured this was a great time to catch up with manager Tyler Biwan who became an instant national celebrity after being caught in the middle of the Gophers' celebration in a suite at Conseo Fieldhouse during the NCAA Selection Show in Indianapolis. Biwan ended up in the middle of a large pile of players celebrating with his arms up in the air just as the CBS cameras went live to Minnesota announcing their selection to the Milwaukee site.
Q: How many phone calls did you receive?
A: "Four voicemails and 10 to 15 text messages."
Q: Is that a personal record for you?
A: "Within that kind of time, yes that would be a record."
Q: Is it true that furniture was accidentally damaged in the Conseco suite during the celebration?
A: "Yes. A couch was completely broken. The lower half was smashed. It completely buckled. I don't think they will ever invite us back to that room."
Q: Discuss the celebration.
A: "Part of the excitement was that we were playing in Milwaukee. As soon as we saw Pitt and the No. 6 seed Xavier, we had a good feeling that we could be the 11 seed. (Graduate manager) Nick (Janasik) and I getting excited since we are both from Wisconsin. We just jumped in the air. If you saw one of the pictures, I was jumping out the frame. I was jumping high. I grabbed Nick. Then Nick throws me over the couch and onto the pile. Then Andre (Phillips) jumped on top. I was able to turn over and just put my arms up in the air and that's when CBS went live."
Q: Were you injured during the celebration?
A: "My back hurt so bad. I cleared up back at hotel"
Q: Did you have to consult athletic trainer Roger Schipper?
A: "I didn't need to see Roger. Wasn't brave enough to tell him how I got hurt."
Q: Is it safe to say that this was the single largest athletic celebration of your career?
A: "Yes. Nothing compares to it."
3:52 p.m. – The Gophers take a pit stop at a rest area in somewhere Wisconsin. The weather is 68 degrees and sunny. The entire bus empties and guys stretch and enjoy the weather. Coach Smith is spotted working on his golf swing on the walk back to the bus.
3:56 p.m. – I am presented with a variety of travel brochures on the tourist attractions in Wisconsin by Milwaukee native and graduate manager Nick Janasik. Over the next couple of hours I can catch up on places like Hayward Lakes, the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, Cascade Mountain and several attraction in Wisconsin Dells. It's nice to be educated.
Janasik is one of several on the trip that can call this trip a homecoming. Janasik is a Fox Point native. Racine native Devron Bostick will enjoy playing in front of a hometown crowd. Manager Bryan Bender, strength coach Kevin Kocoss and athletic trainer Roger Schipper are also Wisconsin natives.
4:00 p.m. – Janasik is mobbed after opening an industrial size bag of variety candy as the team re-enters the bus. Janasik fends off the crowd like a father in a busy neighborhood on Halloween. The players seem happy about the variety of sugary treats.
4:02 p.m. – Lawrence Westbrook throws out some love to former Gopher All-Big Ten basketball player Emily Fox by wearing a 2008 Sport Stacking Championship t-shirt. He says to make sure he says hello to Emily, who is playing professionally in Europe. The bus is back on the road after a nice rest stop.
4:05 p.m. – Another basketball-themed movie has started however, I have no idea what it is.
4:15 p.m. – We have passed Wisconsin-Dells. I am informed that this is apparently a nice vacation spot. Plenty of waterparks. VIP Johnson is holding court in the back of the bus. Still haven't figured what basketball movie this is. It has Forrest Whitaker in it however.
4:22 p.m. – Coach Jirsa and team physician Dr. David Olson are in a second detailed discussion about fly fishing. They are perusing several catalogs with the 2010 equipment line. With the weather, it's hard to blame them. I am informed that Roger Schipper does not hail from Wisconsin. Apparently he is from Worthington, Minnesota. Apologies to the entire Schipper family.
4:40 p.m. – This movie is "Hurricane Season" starring Whitaker, Isaiah Washington and Lil' Wayne. Apparently, it went straight to DVD. Seems like a compelling plot line with high school basketball and living in Post-Katrina Louisiana. Also in this movie is Robbie Jones, who played Quentin on a season of One Tree Hill. He plays the controversial basketball star in both circumstances. This is pretty meaningless information with the exception that Gopher sharp-shooter Blake Hoffarber bears a strong resemblance to One Tree Hill character Nathan Scott, played by James Lafferty. Anyone who has seen this show, has to agree.
4:52 p.m. – Apparently there's still two hours left in this trip. Everyone is pretty quiet and just relaxing.
5:05 p.m. – Justin Cobbs wins the award for the largest head phones on the team. We just passed the Marshall/Deerfield exit. Graduate manager Bryan Bender is very excited to announce this as his hometown exit. I am presented with more Wisconsin tourist information by Janasik as he passes me the latest issue of Milwaukee Lifestyle Magazine.
5:20 p.m. – Sign for Milwaukee less than 50 miles away. We passed another "premium outlets" center. Amazing how no matter where you are in the country driving in the middle of nowhere, there will always be a premium outlets center. I feel bad for student manager Andre Philips who is the only passenger on this bus who does not have his own row of seats. Andre, who is the tallest of the managers, is sharing seats with a pair of stacked coolers. Not sure how he drew the short straw.
5:50 p.m. – We are deep into the Milwaukee metro area. We just passed the exit for Wisconsin Lutheran College where the team will have a closed practice tomorrow afternoon following their media and open practice obligations at the Bradley Center. Banter has picked up in the back of the bus as the anxiety for arrival increases. Westbrook, Iverson, Hoffarber, Cobbs, Allen, Sampson and Williams stick to their music devices. The mac laptop battery is at emergency levels so I will have to check back later.Next stop, the Hilton downtown where we wil hopefully be staying through Sunday.
5:55 p.m. – We have approached some of the more interesting sports landmarks in Milwaukee, beginning with Miller Park. Quite an impressive stadium at first glimpse. We also passed Marquette University. During this time, some players and managers are giving Hoffarber a hard time for apparently stating that there isn't much difference between Lake Calhoun and Lake Michigan when comparing them. When I thought I didn't hear this correctly, several people confirmed it. Great coming from our honors Carlson School student-athlete.
5:58 p.m. – We have arrived in downtown and our hotel is right around the corner. After the managers and bus driver took all of the bags off the bus and onto the curb, the players and staff took the usual too much time finding their bags and standing in the doorway before walking down this long hallway which leads to the main lobby of the Hilton. This place is really fascinating. I am assuming it's a historical landmark. It looks to be built some time in the 1930s or 1940s and they have managed to maintain the historic feel inside. My first feeling is that it reminded me a bit of the architecture in New York's Grand Central Station.
6:10 p.m. – Everyone is in the hotel. The team will have dinner and a late film session at around 9:30 or 10. That's all for today. We will see you tomorrow. The Gophers have the first open practice and media session tomorrow. The media portion, which includes an open locker room for media and a press conference with Coach Smith and two players starting at 11:20.