Final Four: Name Droppings

By Jerry Palm - March 30, 2007

Dropping names isn't really my style, but there simply is no other way to describe day one in Hotlanta (high in the low 80s) without them.

Running into people I know (or who know me) began in my pre-caffeinated stupor at O'hareport while waiting for my 6:30 AM flight out. There, I chatted with David Kaplan of WGN Radio in Chicago, who does his show from the Final Four site on Thursday and Friday night every year. I'm a weekly guest on his show during the basketball season. It turned out he was sitting right in front of me on the flight, so we chatted the whole way down, probably to the irritation of the people around us trying to sleep.

Once I got to the hotel, it was time to get the lay of the land. It's very hilly and yellow. Everything is covered in a thin layer of pollen. I had to wipe it off my shoes at the end of the day. Good thing I'm not allergic. I also won't need to run out and get a stairmaster after a week down here. Everywhere you walk is up and down, up and down. Steep hills no matter which way you go. I may have to figure out the public transportation system.

At the Final Four, the press credentials have photos on them. We submitted photos to be used when we signed up, but my photo apparently didn't work, so they had to take my picture when I got here. They said it was pixelated. I told them that's what I look like, but they wanted to take another picture anyway. So, I held the number under my chin and within minutes my credential was ready.

That meant it was time for the 30-minute walk to the Georgia Dome (15 to the dome, 15 more to get down and around to the media entrance) for the Myles Bland press conference. Er, Brand. He's a pretty dry speaker. If Chris Berman gave him a nickname, it would be "Myles to go if I need to sleep." You can read about what he had to say and a little from the NABC presser that followed here.

During the time in between those two press conferences, I was summoned by former Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, who recognized me from the plane ride. It turns out, he was on our flight also. He didn't know who I was until he heard my name ('You run that RPI service, right? Did you know I was on the committee when we created that?"). I have an anonymous kind of fame - people recognize my name, but have no idea what I look like. It's like that at home too.

I went out on the floor to check out the setup and ran into NCAA Tournament Queen (not her real title, but it ought to be) Jeannie Boyd. She is one of the many people I correspond with during the season, but have never actually met, so it was nice to see her and chat for a few minutes. She was pretty busy trying to get everything set up for today.

After that, it was back to the hotel, where I read on this very blog that David Scott was here, in the coaches' hotel next door, and six beers ahead of me. I felt like Ohio St at halftime against Tennessee. So, I wandered over to the meet market that is the lobby of the coaches' hotel and one beer later, managed to find David perched in the lobby skybox blogging away. You can read about that below.

Since I can't sit still, I popped up to say hello to former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian (I'm on his radio show regularly, including today sometime), who was talking with TAMU-CC coach Ronnie Arrow. I also had a four-letter word with TSN writer Mike DeCourcy, who dissed my Boilers in a blog entry right after the selections, and talk more Purdue hoops briefly with coach Matt Painter. As I was leaving, I ran into Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery, who was coming in. I told him I was glad to still see him in an SIU shirt and we talked about the Kansas game a little bit.

Besides being a meet market, the coaches' hotel is also a haven for scalpers because the coaches all get game tickets as part of their NABC package. When the Final Four was here five years ago, you needed a machete to cut through the thicket of scalpers hanging around outside the hotel entrance. This year, there were only a few and they were being pretty discreet. I would assume the laws have changed on that around here or they are being much more strictly enforced.

Another law that has changed since last time is that you apparently can't smoke inside anywhere. I'm pretty grateful for that change.

On my way over to Ruth's Chris steakhouse for dinner and the WGN radio show, I ran into my agent, Dave Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who was talking with Hoops Weiss and John Feinstein. When Dave introduced me to Feinstein, he said, "John, do you know Jerry Palm?" Feinstein said, somewhat mockingly, "Sure, he's the most quoted guy in the Washington Post. There isn't a Post without him."

The WGN radio show is basically a parade of coaches (it's called "Coaches' Corner), so I got to meet Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, Kent State's Jim Christensen, Virginia Tech coach and CSTV analyst Seth Greenberg, Boise State's Greg Graham, Cal Poly's Kevin Bromley, and LaSalle coach Dr. John Giannini. who has his doctorate in Sports Psychology. Also on the show were former USA Today columnist Rudy Martzke, who is usually beating me up over the BCS, former Duke star Jason Williams, and CBS analyst Billy Packer.

Packer told the story of how the expansion of the tournament happened. It goes back to the 1974 ACC title game between NC State and Maryland, two of the top three teams in the country at the time. It was a classic game (NC State won 103-100 in OT), but because of the rules back then, Maryland could not go to the NCAA tournament, which was restricted to conference champions. NC State AD and Big Ten commissioner and basketball committee member Wayne Duke were able to join forces and convince the other big schools, who had long-resisted expansion, that things had to change. The next year, we had a 32-team tournament and teams being moved from their natural region to create a balanced tournament. Maybe that gives you football playoff advocates hope.

Ruth's Chris was packed with a ton of coaches, but also, it seemed, everybody who is here for CSTV's on-air group. Even Dick Vitale was there, although I don't know if he got to eat. Every time I saw him, he was posing for pictures.

That's about all the name dropping I can handle. I left a lot out (Tim Brando - oops, did it again), although you wouldn't know it by the length of this entry. Today brings the open practices and is when we start to see the fans arrive in force. I'll have more later on the Gators.

Posted by Jerry Palm at 09:20 AM on March 30, 2007

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