I knew I was in for a surreal, unforgettable experience when I saw Seth Davis walk in the room. I knew Malcolm Moran, who created this opportunity, knew a lot of people in the business, but seeing the well-known college basketball analyst sit at our table for dinner was still surprising to me. He wasn’t the only famous sports aficionado in the private room that Thursday night. He was far from the only person I met in the six days I spent in New Orleans covering the NCAA Men’s Final Four for the Sports Capital Journalism Program website.
The six days were long and very much work-filled. One of Malcolm’s colleagues jokingly told him during one of our first days there, “I hope you’re putting these guys to work and have them writing.” Well, rest assured, we earned our place there and did not rest on our laurels. The media workroom in the Superdome became kind of our second home, as it did for dozens of media members. Being in the same room with sports writers that were probably covering their 20th or so Final Four never really hit me at the time because I was so focused on getting my writing done. But I knew I was in good company, I knew that I was around people that had the same dreams as me when I was younger.
When we weren’t writing, there were plenty of press conferences to cover. And these opportunities, like the first night at dinner, also left me a bit in surprised shock. I sat in the same room as Coach K, Bill Self, Hubert Davis and Jay Wright. I also had the pleasure to cover the press conference of the 2022 Class for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and that included Bob Huggins, Tim Hardaway, George Karl, and the list goes on. I just couldn’t help thinking to myself, “How on earth am I here with these people?” I knew they existed but they always seemed to be in a different world, a world I only saw on TV. But now I was in that world, and I was doing my best to hold on to my sanity.
Fast forward to Saturday night when it was game time, and my sanity went through another test. The Superdome was complete bedlam, 70,000-plus fans at full volume, with the decibels reaching their peak during the North Carolina-Duke game. I didn’t fully realize until later that I attended and covered a game that fans around the world might have given their pinky finger to attend. And if anyone did in fact give up that valuable appendage, it might have just been worth it. The game was an instant classic and came right down to the wire. I admit, I am proud of myself that I was able to not only witness that game, but also Coach K’s last-ever press conference, and I was still able to write a story. Shout out to adrenaline and my improvement in writing over the years.
Then came Monday night, and that’s when the biggest surprise was in store. Thanks to the generosity of the NCAA staff I found myself courtside, right behind the CBS broadcast crew, pretty much the best seat in the house. I witnessed the preparation that goes into a broadcast, I witnessed the teamwork it takes to put it on, and I witnessed the great Jim Nantz, Grant Hill and Bill Raftery from a location that I never thought I would occupy. I allowed myself to be enthralled because how could I not? At the same time, similar to Saturday night, when it was time to work I worked. And at 3:30 in the morning, with my story filed and a cup of confetti in my backpack, I left the Superdome for the last time.
The trip had one more moment for me, however. While at dinner on our final night in New Orleans, Bill Raftery happened to be dining at the table right next to ours. I was introduced and I shook his hand. In that brief moment, I became 12 years old again and told him simply, “You’re the best.”
If you’re reading this and you’re thinking to yourself you would have been more mature and would have simply said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” think again. You know you wouldn’t have — it’s the Final Four after all.
By Owen Kaelble | @OwenKaelble