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Syracuse basketball road trip chronicles: Florida State edition

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Fun times from Hamsterdam but it was the Syracuse guys and its Netherlands native who walked out with the dub.

There comes a certain point in everyone’s life when you’re forced to sit with your emotions, take the temperature of your current surroundings and perhaps second guess what you’re doing to some degree. And if I’m coming at you hard in the paint on your Monday, you’ll just have to bear with me.

It’s one of those moments where you just stop to reevaluate in life, not because anything is going wrong necessarily but because the outcome and where we are isn’t what we expected. It’s a situation that probably sounds familiar to many in the last 20 months. But one of those moments came to me about five years ago. At age 25, I guess you can call it a quarter-life crisis if you want, but I think it was simply considering the idea that you’re only here on this earth for so long until you’re eventually stripped of your health.

What will you do with your precious life? How will you have hoped to spend your time? What will you have wanted to accomplish? Whose lives will you have hoped to make better?

I saw it then with some of my peers. Everyone thinks there’s still time to do it all, frivolously wasting time on meaningless activities. No way, not me. I decided — so self-serious and detrimentally driven to accomplish — that I’m going all out. I’m doing everything I can to get the most out of life. It’s probably the same for everyone who begins their career in their early 20s. You’re going straight to the top, incandescent and ready to spread yourself thin over everything. It’s only a matter of will and perseverance. Inevitably, other people’s priorities shift, they lose their ambition, things change. But not me. I’m going to get there.

Then something changed. I was gifted with a mentor, a high-ranking official (in my mind anyway) with a very successful career at a storied bank. The mentor was forthright, earnest and confided some things in me that I still reference and think about today. For a while we met every other week for an hour and each time the mentor gave me a nugget of wisdom that seemed to alter my thinking.

In one of those lessons, the mentor admitted the biggest personal regret of their life was not living enough in their 20s. All that person was interested in at that time was being a professional and climbing the ranks. At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was earn a seat on a trading desk. As an analyst at that point, I worked closely with the trading team but thought I wouldn’t be satisfied until I got into trading myself — I thought about it almost every night before I went to bed and was willing to work as hard as I needed to make that dream a reality.

So, when the mentor revealed that line it hit particularly close to home.

“Oh my God, am I working my life away? Am I going to be the guy that wakes up at age 45 and wonders where all the time went?”

It was an important intervention. All I could see through the vantage of my working class upbringing were hard times. Surely the ones who were accomplished, the ones with successful careers and family lives were the ones who were satisfied.

It’s easy to laugh now, but that’s how I saw it back then.

Part of what that person told me was to just live in your 20s and to not be so caught up with career growth. Just do a really good job and you’ll get there eventually, but don’t overdo it and enjoy your free time because you’ll never get the time back.

The mentor’s voice still rings:

“If you want to go to the bar on Wednesday night and get wings and a beer, go get wings and a beer. And if you want to go to on vacation over the weekend, just go. Don’t worry if your friends say, ‘Hey, didn’t you just go on vacation?’ Just go.”

It was a permission I needed to hear and one I deprived myself of.

The mentor continued, “You just need to bank away as many happy experiences right now as you can before life gets more complicated.”

“Of course!” I thought to myself then. “A happiness bank! Deposit these experiences away now and be able to withdraw them later in life.”

It made so much sense, one of those “aha!” life moments. That sparked a change in me and eventually led to some of what I’ve done here.

Instead of thinking about happiness and satisfaction as an ephemeral moment of joy, it made much more sense as a longer-lasting happiness — a more subtle kind. Have amazing experiences to remember when I’m in my 40s and miserable, when life has reached its nadir and running around with kids and dealing with aging parents becomes the reality, maybe (half kidding).

So, if you’re wondering why I’m sharing all of this out of place, it’s because that’s around the time when I told myself I kind of had a unique opportunity with this site and that I was going to get to as many Syracuse road games as possible. My retirement dream was always to buy one of those old school buses, trick it out and go around the country visiting the biggest college basketball venues in the country with friends. Why would I not do some of that now with access to see all the behind the scenes stuff?

So that’s what’s led to all this, the getting to road games and engaging in a state of play, more curious to just explore, experience and see where things go. It’s softened me, made me a happier person and led to a lot of fun. Hopefully you’ve been able to experience that in the writing, in a positive way. It’s those lessons I think back to when I go on this trips, and it’s what I thought about on Friday night.

***

I drove to the Syracuse airport on Friday night and parked my car at Million Air, boarded the private jet and was greeted with champagne as I walked up the stairs into the PJ. My minions took care of my bags, I reclined my seat and put my feet up and was given a foot massage, which was just what the doctor ordered after a long week, getting only three hours of sleep after the double-overtime Indiana game on Tuesday night.

Of course, by that I mean I parked my car in the cold, damp parking lot, weaved through Hancock and TSA and got prepared to board my first of two flights with a layover in Atlanta all while trying to avoid contracting Omicron. By the time I made it into Tallahassee at midnight I checked into the hotel and passed out. This trip to Florida State would end up being a little less eventful than the Bahamas, but how could Tallahassee rival that?

Anyway, as I woke on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. I opened the blinds to be greeted with a view of fog and trees. Again, not quite Atlantis aesthetics but better than Syracuse snow.

Not quite Atlantis but it beats 32 degrees.

Time to eat. Out of the room, down the elevator and outside as the trek to Bruegger’s Bagels began. A place called Kool Beanz Cafe was closed on Saturday morning for no apparent reason, so without an apparent viable alternative I was forced into Bruegger’s. No idea if Kool Beanz is good or not but with a name like that you how do you not want to try it?

So, Bruegger’s it was for the most run-of-the-mill breakfast sandwich of all-time. After that it was on to the next adventure: a local coffee shop on the walk back.

RedEye Coffee it is.

I’m trying Jennifer! Perfect marketing for college kids and internet writers in the pandemic age.

As I walked in, college kids were everywhere with notebooks and laptops, studying presumably for finals. As someone who spent at least three and sometimes four nights per week at the bar in college, I was dumbfounded by this discovery (those Poughkeepsie pubs will get you).

You can actually wake up early on a Saturday and go to a coffee shop and study? Who knew? Had this information been available a decade ago, maybe I could’ve gotten a 3.5 GPA.

I laughed to myself and immediately dismissed that notion and followed it up with something that nobody has done in the history of mankind; I claimed generational superiority and decided these kids just don’t have what it takes to make it in life. What did these kids do on Friday night? They are certainly not having enough fun! This is Florida State, right? (I realize this contradicts my opening statement. College I did not take seriously with my 2.9, but I did with my career)

Kidding, of course. But I had hoped that the small sample size of intel from the coffee shop wouldn’t prevent the Florida State students from going to the game. As I ordered my iced coffee and walked back to the hotel, I noticed an arcade bar right around the corner from the coffee shop. True to my millennial vintage, I decided that’s where I’d be spending my time after the basketball game.

On the hike back, I did what anyone who has reached 30 years old does after walking a mile and parked my a** on a bench in an attempt to catch my breath. I stopped to be present for a moment, looked at the trees, the sky that is seemingly non-existent in Syracuse this time of year before gathering myself and walking to the site of the eventual game.

The entrance to the Tuck.

In what felt like a time duration of seven years, I finally made my way over to the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, did a loop around the building and realized the Florida State team was doing its shoot-around. I needed to see the action, so I did my best James Bond impression and climbed up a jagged and jutty wall. From there, an entryway from the roof made itself apparent. I found the hatch, solved the riddle on the lock code and quietly climbed down into the stands and observed.

Looks like Florida State legend Raiquan Gray is already a big time donor. He has his own building already!

And by that I mean I just sidestepped the metal detector and walked through the front door of the building which was wide open and watched Florida State prepare for Syracuse. Nobody seemed to care.

After that I went back to the hotel, squeezed in a workout as I missed the gym on Thursday (thanks, 2OT game) and got ready to walk back to the Tuck. As I walked back through the gate, Syracuse made its way to the loading zone with its two busses, one of which had an Atlanta Braves logo for some reason. Weird tomahawk chop energy here?

From there, I did what any undiscerning idiot would do in that situation and pulled out the camera to record the Syracuse team going through the metal detector as if they were crossing through the wardrobe into Narnia.

It wasn’t quite that.

From there I walked into the Tuck and lapped the lower bowels of the arena. I found my footing and eventually, a meal. For the uninitiated, they feed you at these arenas. Sometimes that can be a mixed bag. The food at the Carrier Dome is usually okay (defer to Tommy Hogan here though).

School lunch style.

Appreciate the hospitality, but the food wasn’t quite dome dog level, which is saying a lot. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, though?

Before Syracuse tipped off I walked around the arena one last time. I crossed paths with Quincy Ballard of local Henninger high school at one point, which reminds me that I was supposed to ask the Florida State communications official if I could get an interview with him to see how his time at FSU is going. I’m sure readers would’ve loved to get an update from a local kid and now I’m kicking myself.

When you’re trying to do a million things at once, like shooting video, edit video, watch the team warmup to glean anything of interest, walk around the arena to discover other areas of interest, eat, get settled, write a recap, do post-game interviews and write of whatever storylines emerge, you can’t get to everything. It’s almost inevitable that one or two things will fall through the cracks. If that sounds exhausting, it is and I would implore you to try to understand how it is to live your entire life with unrealistic expectations because the results are always devastating.

Ready for the action. Or whatever.
The Syracuse team gets ready to take the floor just prior to tip.

Eventually I made my way over to media table and watched the action commence. Everyone reading this is probably already aware of what happened in the game so no need to rehash the details.

Florida State has some interesting players. Leonard Hamilton has a roster with four seven-footers and an average team height of 6-foot-6. If you knew nothing about basketball and saw this team out in public, you wouldn’t have to be Dick Tracy to determine that it was in fact a basketball team.

As for one of those members specifically, none seem more interesting than Wyatt Wilkes, who goes by ‘Vanilla Sniper’ and is the grandson of long-time Stetson basketball coach Glenn Wilkes.

Now, I don’t know Wilkes personally, but if you told me he drinks Naturdays, smokes cigarettes, wears a leather jacket and drives a 1988 Ford Thunderbird, I’d believe you.

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat
Wyatt Wilkes definitely forgot to follow through on Saturday. He went 0-5.
Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

Wilkes must’ve partied too hard with these characters on Friday night. They weren’t drinking coffee on Saturday morning.

Wilkes had a rough go of it which can only mean that he’s going to have a great game when Florida State comes to the Carrier Dome on Jan. 15. He has all the potential in the world to be the Random Dude-Who-Makes-Eight-Threes-Against-Syracuse guy.

After the game I ducked out, had a meal and got back to the hotel around 10 p.m. with an early flight looming the next morning.

“If I go to bed now I can get seven hours of sleep,” I thought.

No way, you have make the most of this trip. You gotta go to the barcade.

I went upstairs, put my feet up in the bed and googled the barcade which was 1.2 miles away. I’d already walked eight miles on the day. No way I’m making it over ten. The reality was beginning to set in.

Not how tired I was but how old you feel and how much your knees hurt when you’re 30. Time to compromise.

“Fine, I’ll go to the bar across the street.”

I thought about it again and it didn’t take much more convincing... to go to bed.

“What are you going to do, sit at the bar and stare at your phone?”

Good point.

Instead, I passed out, woke up at 5 a.m. and went to the Tallahassee airport. There I was, thinking an early flight home would lead to an early arrival in Syracuse well ahead of NFL Sunday.

Of course, the flight was delayed. Guess I didn’t factor in the Tallahassee morning fog.

After a few hours passed the first flight went out and I prepared to spend the day in the Atlanta airport writing. What can you do? All I can say is it’s a good thing the Bills play on Monday night.

Thanks for the mems, FSU.

Next stop

Luckily, Christian asked to do the Villanova game at MSG on Tuesday. As someone insane passionate enough to drive down to New York City from Syracuse and back the same night for the Champion’s Classic on Nov. 9, I honestly considered doing the game. But thankfully for your readership and my wellbeing, Christian will be on site.

Me and my old a** knees will see you at Georgetown this weekend. See ya then.