Thursday, February 23, 2017

On The Bus

TigerBlog drove onto Nassau Street on his way to Jadwin Gym yesterday when he saw a bus on the other side of the road.

Usually the sign above the driver says where the bus is going. You know, like "New York" or "Philadelphia." When Princeton teams travel, there is a sign that flashes "Princeton Basketball" or "Princeton Tigers" or something like that.

Princeton Athletics used to own two buses of its own, back when TB was still in the newspaper business. Even though he wasn't technically a University employee, he'd still travel on the men's basketball bus when the team would go on the road.

In all the time he's actually been at the University, he's almost never traveled with a team on the bus.

Back on those old University-owned buses, though, TB remembers the bus driver, a man named Steve Gandy. It's possible that nobody has ever been better at a job than Steve Gandy was as a bus driver.

Of all the trips he took on the bus with the men's basketball team all those years, the one that stands out the most was the ride back from Dartmouth in 1991 after the team clinched the Ivy League championship. It was a ride with singing and celebrating, and TB is pretty sure that Steve got the bus from Hanover to Princeton in 4:50.

And what did the 1991 Ivy League men's basketball champion Princeton men's basketball team chant as it neared its home campus, well after midnight? It wasn't "Ivy champs" or "we're No. 1." Nope, it was "Steve is the Man."

TigerBlog remembers it like it was yesterday, not like it was 26 years ago.

Anyway, the bus that TigerBlog saw on Nassau Street yesterday didn't have a specific destination in mind. Or maybe it did.

The sign above the driver said "Last Stop." Last stop? A tad spooky, no? Why not just put "Twilight Zone" on the sign?

As TigerBlog processed that, he drove a few more seconds and saw Mitch Henderson, the head men's basketball coach, as he got out of his car on Nassau Street. It made TB wonder if Henderson gets recognized as he walks around town.

That thought made TB remember something that happened in the airport in, of all places, Des Moines, Iowa. Princeton had just played at a tournament at Iowa State and was preparing to fly home, when an Iowan walked up to Carril, who happened to be standing next to TigerBlog.They had this actual conversation:

Iowan: "Coach, it was a real honor to have your team out here. We love the way you play basketball. Good luck the rest of the way."
Carril: "Thank you."
Iowan: "You must get that everywhere you go."
Carril "Everywhere except Princeton."

When TB first started writing this every day, he thought that if he ever ran into a day when he couldn't think of anything else to write, he should just tell funny Pete Carril stories.

As for the current men's basketball team, this is another big weekend as the team chases a championship. There are all kinds of outcomes possible for this weekend, which will see the Tigers at Columbia tomorrow and at Cornell Saturday.

It's possible that Princeton could earn the Ivy League championship and No. 1 seed in the Ivy League tournament - or it could come end the weekend tied for first with Harvard heading into its home game against the Crimson next Friday.

Oh yeah. Here's today's reminder. The Princeton-Harvard game next Friday is a 5:00 start, not a 5:30 one.

Princeton is 10-0 in the league. Harvard, at 8-2, is home against Yale (6-4) tomorrow and Brown Saturday. The math is far from complicated. The magic number is two for at least a tie and three for the outright championship.

Princeton plays like a team that really likes each other. How much of that comes from all the time they spend together away from the court, especially on the road?

Each team has its own traditions for bus travel. Who sits where. Who decides what movies to watch. What the protocol is when they arrive at the hotel. It's actually a fascinating dynamic.

The bus rides for Princeton teams - or all college teams - are a huge part of the experience that the athletes have while they're here. It's their chance to get away and be together, for hours at a time. It's as big a bonding experience as the teams have, honestly.

No matter what happens on the court this weekend, it'll be a long ride back from Ithaca after the game Saturday.
 This is how travel works in the Ivy League, especially for sports who play back-to-back. It's a lot of bus rides in the middle of the night.

It might seem like it's annoying.

In reality, friendships that last forever grow out of those rides, as much as they do from anything else.

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