Juan Bernal at the Final Four in Atlanta

This is my fourth Final Four and probably the most anticipated one I have ever been to.  For the first time, I felt like I was selling myself.  I was there to promote HoopExchange events, my professional event and gather some information on coaching and player opportunities. Also, for the first time in my adult life, I got the chance to visit Atlanta.  I remember going there as a young 5 year old, but the only thing I remember from it is walking by the Omni Arena.  So without further ado, I bring to YOU, the running blog of the 2013 Final Four.

Thursday April 4-
12:18 PM- Get through airport security in Atlanta (never a given, because I think I am on the TSA terrorist list).  I then realize I don’t have my ID.  Go back to security, the machine picks it up.  Lesson: No matter how many times the TSA says to take everything out of your pocket, DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKET.  Leave ID and boarding pass in your pocket.  If you read the capital letters and leave a knife in your pocket, not my fault.
1:30 PM- Plane departs on time.  Surprising given my luck.  It Takes an hour and a half to get to Atlanta… Surprising in itself.  New Orleans, Knoxville, Charlotte and (seemingly) St. Louis are all shorter flights.
3:10- Arrive in Atlanta, pick up my bags, and find my (long) way to the worst marked shuttle in the history of the NCAA.  
4:00- Off on the Gold route to the Hilton.  A usual 20 minute drive takes 60 because of traffic.  I always heard traffic in ATL was bad.  This weekend would not disappoint.
5:00- Get to Hilton and walk across to the Marriott, check bag and meet crew at High Velocity Sports bar.  It’s a culmination of crews as you have a few college coaches, Rollins crew and HS crew.
6:19 PM- After I eat my first meal of the day, Mark Jones (former NBA player and good friend), who I recommended come to ATL joins the crowd.  Make our way back to Hilton.  The next hour and a half consisted of him speaking to contacts, many D1 assistants and former NBA players who happened to be there in the Hilton.  Good way to make alot of connections.
7:47- Mark phenagles his way into NABC reception.  15 minutes later, I do the same.  Variety of hor d’oeuvres and not moving from a spot for another hour or so as I speak to more people.
9:12- Back to the lobby I go, another 2 hours of the same.
11:15 PM- Mark calls it a night and I head down to Gibney’s, a local watering hole in downtown ATL, a 2 minute walk from the hotel and conveniently located next to Benihana.  I find some of the crew in partial obliteration.  Bondo and Cousin Mike arrive, and within 10 minutes they are out $75 as they parked their car “illegally” on the street. Welcome to ATL boys. It isn’t long before I get something to eat and head back.  Being that it’s 40 degrees outside doesn’t help.
Friday April 5
1:17 AM- Getting ready to get some work done as I get a text to get some  food ordered to the room.  A bacon and a pepperoni pizza on deck for the crew back in the room.
3:30 AM- Sleep time.
10:30 AM- Wake up, get some things done.
12:15 PM- Meet Bondo and Cousin Mike at the lobby and then go to lunch at a nearby Food Court where we meet up with Kent Benson and Bobby Wilkerson, members of the 76′ Indiana championship team.  Gained some valuable insight on various guys who I knew from that team, and just caught up on where they are now.
2:00 PM- Meet with Mark and his buddy (local agent) and we head down to the convention by the Georgia Dome.
2:45- Get some passes to convention and find our way around there.  All the convention is a few discussions lead by coaches and a bunch of vendors/exhibitors trying to exhibit their products/services.  It’s very informational, but you’re not really missing a whole lot as a fan.
3:45- Ran into a few guys at the Convention, but we proceed to make way next door to watch the Reece’s College All Star Game.  Get some good seats at the dome and are entertained by a pre-game concert from Gym Class Heroes.
5:00- College All Star Game begins.  Nothing really special about it, except that Brandon Davies from BYU will be a really good pro.  Also happened to sit next to his mother during the game.
6:00- Leave game at the Half.  As Mark is running across the street, one of his two phones flies out of his front pocket and onto the road.  Out of that results a broken phone.  Also stop at a neighborhood gas station and get a case of water, which turned out to be a VITAL purchase.
6:30- Back in the room as I meet the Crew.  As we figure the plan out for the night, we decide to go catch the Hawks game.  Worst move of the tournament may have been deciding to take a shuttle down there in the Downtown ATL traffic.
7:45- Get to Philips Arena and get a 10th row seat in front of the 6th man for $20. Scalping not hard.  It’s Friday night, in Atlanta, during Final Four Weekend.  And there is nobody here!!! Even my people that were up in the Heineken Suite getting free beers left at Halftime!
8:30- Halftime. Sixers up 12 or so.  Horford has stunk up the place.  Guys gettin buckets include: Ivan Johnson, Shelvin Mack, Terrence Holiday and Damien Wilkins.  Just your typical household names.  I saw Mack and Holiday in the Orlando Summer League this summer.  Johnson was undrafted and kicked out of the Korean League 2 years ago. Wilkins is an Orlando guy, and has found a way to stick around the Association for the last 8 years.  He has also found a way to stick on my fantasy basketball team playing for the title this week.  Notice this is a Final 4 post, and I’m talking about the NBA.  Sorry, can’t help myself.
9:47- Hawks climb back only to see the Sixers take full control and take the 101-90 victory.  Sat next to assistant coach for Kentucky Christian and Warner Head coach Sean Hanrahan.  
10:08- After Bondo and Cousin Mike head to Dantanna’s, I meet up with Coach Klusman and son Brian and we discuss Rollins basketball, players and other Federal Privacy Act information.
11:00- Walk to hotel begins,and I don’t make it up to room for another 2 hours.  Meet up with young UCF staff (a collection of video guys, GA’s,assistant coaches managers and sock mogul Rob Starkman, who runs Rock Em Socks (check it out, best socks in the business)). 
Saturday April 6
1:00 AM- Still lobbying it up, go up to room for quick change of clothes and then we head to Westin Lobby.
2:30 AM- Nothing really cracking in Westin.  After hearing a guy died on the street of Hilton, I decide to go check out the scene.
2:45 AM- No details emerge.  Order Mamma Mia’s and call it a night.
10 AM- Wake up to phone calls… am supposed to be up and moving to sell tickets, but one problem… Have 0 paper tickets this year, all electronic.  No black market buckets for me this year.
Noon- After much debate as to what to do, I start heading to the lobby.  I have hit a mental wall, so decide to take a nap instead.
1:30 PM- Wake up and go to resturaunt to get lunch.  Getting to the game was an adventure as the place was PACKED.  
2:45- After arriving to spot at about 2, I finally get some water and Sprite that I ordered when I arrived.  I order some food.
3:45- Food never comes.  Crew is bouncing.  Heading back to the hotel.
4 PM- I lose the crew, but find Grant Leonard.
4:01- Leonard talks me into walking to Taco Mac, a bar right next to the Georgia Dome.  Seems like the worst idea ever, as the line is out the door into the dome as we get there.  Grant’s coaching buddy has a table, but security not letting us in because of a fire marshal situation.
4:45 PM- Atlanta coach gets us in to Taco Mac.  Worth the 45 minute wait.  It is ATL coach, ATL coach’ son, coach at Lassiter HS, an Augusta HS coach, myself and Leonard.  Good times indeed as they have been holding the spot down since 10 AM.
5:30 PM- As games going to start, the ATL coach has a game we’re playing to make it interesting.  Don’t know what it’s called, but I’ll try to explain.  As the game is going on, you pick a # 1-10, and you get stuck with it for both games.  The significance of the # is that for every timeout, if the number of the total score is your number you get the “pot.”  Everyone throws $1 in the pot after every timeout.  My number was 4.  So for example, first TV timeout is called in Syracuse-Michigan game, score was 7-7.  Total 14.  I win the pot money.  I ended up winning 3 times and holding up a timeout signal about 398065670352069342 times during the games.  I’ll just call it “the pot game.”
6:07- The ball is tipped.
7:05 PM- Have lost about $8 in the pot game.  In other news, Wichita St seems destined to go to the Final.
7:27- First fight of the night (mind you we’re sitting next to the bathroom) 2 guys, one taking offense to a man putting his hands on a woman in a physical manner.  (Insert Bobby Brown reference here).
7:40- Wichita St. really destined to go to title.
7:42- Cops try to get the lowdown as to what happened during fight.  I would have none of it.  All I said was “I don’t know g, sorry.”
8:01- Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson leading the Cardinals charge.  Think about that for a second.
8:39- Louisville escapes.  See 8:01 status for headline.
9:40- Down $13.  Think about leaving and finding a less crowded spot for second game, but am talked into staying.
9:17- 7-7.  Down $14 to up $15.  Good decision to stay on my part.
9:56- Good game early, but just don’t see how Cuse gonna pull this one out.  Michigan has exposed seams of that zone.
11:32- Michigan vs. Louisville at the Dome on Monday.  Will be a pleasure to be there.  I end up winning 2 more times, but end up losing $5 plus spending $20 on food/drinks.  Not a bad night.  Plus I finally answered the question I’ve been waiting my whole life to answer: What is it like to spend 8 whole hours with Grant Leonard?? Great, need to do it more often.
Sunday April 7
12:01 AM- There are more people on the streets than the Million Man March.  Leonard going out, so I head back to the Hilton lobby.  Of course, I don’t make it back to the room for another hour or so because of everyone down there.
2:00 AM- Crew gets back, we lobby it up and call it a night with some Mamma Mia’s of course.
10:30 AM- Wake up and try to talk Cousin Mike and Bondo into delaying Evansville drive for a few hours and go to Turner Field as Braves playing the Cubs. Never been to Turner, so always down for another opportunity.
Noon- Bondo is a pussy and Cousin Mike decides to not walk back to Champaign, so they bounce.  Hixie and AT go to Philips for D3 title game, and I tell them I’ll see them there.
12:45 PM- I go to eat lunch with Bobby, Boz and Wilcutt as they’re flying out in a few hours.  Run into Coach Klusman and his family who just happen to be going to Turner Field.  Perfect.
1:10 PM- Arrive at Turner Field.  Wait 40 minutes to buy tickets.  $24 for some nosebleeds, which ain’t bad considering there are 80,000 people there.
2:00- Sit in 411L with Tom and the Gang.  Braves would go on to win 5-2.  Jeff Samardzjia and Tim Hudson pitched beautifully.
4:00- Leave the Braves game at the end of the 7th and head down the street to Philips to watch d2 title game between Metro St. and Drury.
4:14- Arrive at Philips.
4:47- Figuring it won’t be much of a game- Hixy and AT leave to go to concert at Centennial Park at Half.  Metro St up 39-22 at the Half.  
5:12- Bad decision on their part- Drury goes on 21-6 run in first 5 minutes of the second half.
5:50- Great up and down game.  Notice that their is a Sunshine State ref officiating this game. There is more people here than at the Hawks game by the way (78% serious).
6:09- Drury wins 74-73 winning schools first national title. One of the best Division II college games I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few) Can anyone name where Drury is or how many students it has? NCAA doesn’t make many great decisions, but they made the right call here.  Keep the DII and DIII title games in the Final Four City on the day before.
6:30- Hixy and AT begging me to meet them at the concert, so I reluctantly oblige.  I get in and there are about 20,000 people inside, most of them corralled outside stage by security line.  There are also about another 40,000 people waiting outside.  There is 0 way to get around that line.  
7:10- After thinking of trying to phenagle, jump, bite, kick, scratch my way through that security line- I see about 7 people try to do it.  They all get arrested.  Crazy.
8:09- After unsuccessfully getting to them, or getting a VIP band, the mission is aborted.  I head back to the lobby of the Hilton.
9:00- Hilton lobby dying down early as everyone has skipped town or is not there. I head up to the room, eventually order food, get some work done and pass out.
Monday April 8
10 AM- Wake up, get stuff picked up as I have to switch rooms.  
1 PM- Hixy and AT bounce, I head over to Westin to activate room key.  Key doesn’t work and all of a sudden I don’t have a place to stay.  After getting some work done for a few hours, I find a hotel in Zone 6 for $50 that night on my phone and decide to stay there.
6:30 PM- Check into Savannah Suites in Zone 6 (East Atlanta, the hood that Gucci, T.I, Jeezy, etc. all rap about).  Have some pictures on my phone, but let’s just say the dope boys out in full force that night.  There were alot of fans at the hotel, and the area consisted of the fans drinking with the security guard.
7- Make the 20 minute walk downtown, get something to eat and walk about 10 mins to the Ga. Dome.
9:09- In my seat for the game.  Section 131, one of the worst seats to watch the game, diagonally across, behind the basket.  Still, I am in the lower bowl, so I won’t complain.
9:23- The ball is tipped.  Michigan.  Louisville.  All of the lights.
9:40- The legend of Spike Albrecht is born.  I was live tweeting 34 of the greatest college basketball minutes we’d ever see.
10:15- Halftime.  Both teams are 20 minutes from a title.
10:30- Michigan has no answer for Gorgui Dieng.  Blackshear and Behanan (Louisville’s bigs) are just a little more effective around the basket on both ends of the floor than Michigan’s bigs.
11:53- Louisville wins the national title.  Rick Pitino nearly gets assassinated.  Trey Burke has played his last college game.  Luke Hancock wins the MVP and the Cards win it for Kevin.
Tuesday April 9
12:30- One shining moment- Always a joy to watch live.
1:22- After a 30 minute walk to the shuttle,it takes off for the Hilton.  Arrive there at 1:35, and get to hotel by 1:50.  I made it unscathed through Zone 6.

1:23 AM- After checking Twitter i discover that Jenna Shea has made sure Peyton Siva has the shortest championship celebration of all time. It’s funny how Siva thanked The Lord and his girlfriend right after game and she just put him ON BLAST. Pretty incriminating stuff for both in my opinion. But she certainly got what she wanted out of it.

 3 AM- After watching Sportscenter, I am thankful that the best basketball has still yet to be played.  Only 10 days until the NBA Playoffs.

10 AM- Wake up.  I have a noon checkout, but I get a Taxi to the Greyhound about 1:30 PM.  They didn’t even come check to kick me out of the room.  More hotels should do this.  I debate making the 20 minute walk to downtown to buy a shirt but decide vs. it.  I’ll be back in 3 weeks and I can get them half price.  I sit outside and people watch prior to getting cab and I hear 2 girls talking about a MySpace beef.  This is 2013.
1:45 PM- Arrive at Greyhound station right next to Magic City strip club, and get on bus to leave for Knoxville.
Atlanta was the best time I’ve ever had at a Final 4.  Logistically it was a nightmare, but got to meet a lot of great people.  I once again survived not falling victim the obliteration train and learned valuable life lessons, as I always do when I go to an event like this.  Looking forward to Dallas next year, should be a great one.

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