My travels as a broadcaster for the Indianapolis Indians takes me to some quality cities. I spend several summer nights in Columbus, Louisville, Norfolk, Durham, and it might surprise you to know that Scranton PA isn’t all that bad. All of the cities in the International League offer up unique things, but over the years my travel with the IUPUI Jaguars has taken me on some more memorable trips. My first season the team participated in a three-day pre-Thanksgiving invitational in Daytona Beach. It was an unbelievable set-up with the Arena across the street from the hotel which was located on the ocean. (Can we get the Summit League to move the tournament to Daytona? Sioux Falls is a nice set up and the people are wonderful, but let’s be real. It’s 15 degrees in early March…everyone can get a flight to Orlando and then make the short drive to Daytona Beach. You want students and fans outside of North and South Dakota to show up? Take them to the beach.) Later that season the Jags flew to New York City to face Hofstra in the CBI tournament. We arrived early on a Tuesday for the Wednesday night games and flew out late enough on Thursday the team could spend nearly 9 hours in the heart of Manhattan. That remains my only trip to the Big Apple and it was a blast. Last season the Jaguars played in a Christmas invitational at a Las Vegas casino and just this past weekend we enjoyed a full 48 hours in Washington DC.
The business part of the trip to DC was a game Monday night vs. the Georgetown Hoyas, the pleasure part of the trip included trips to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and a tour of Capitol Hill. The educational sight-seeing part of the trip was the brain child of Todd Howard. “First of all when you schedule the game you look to see if you will have a chance to see Washington DC. We got our here early enough on Sunday and the weather was absolutely perfect so we decided to take the student athletes to see the area.” The team hotel was just two blocks away from Ford’s Theatre and three blocks away from Constitution Avenue. Senior Alex Young figured since the team made the trip you might as well get out. “It was pretty cool where we were staying and I’m glad we got a chance to see the Lincoln Memorial. I mean we are out here so we might as well see DC.”
The Vietman Memorial is indescribable and it is hard to explain, but you can feel each and every one of the names. As we stood in the middle of the 58,000 names I text my dad to see if he knew anyone on the wall. Less than 20 seconds later he gave me the names of three high school friends who died in Vietnam. His next text was very simple and to the point, “Do you think you could find them for me?” I don’t know why, but his text hit a nerve and I got a little choked up. It’s not often my dad asks me for something and here he was asking me to find his lost high school friends. It was an incredible 20 minute experience finding their names in the book, looking up their names, seeing the date they died, and then finding their names on the wall.
On game day the players took a morning bus to the Capitol to get a tour and meet Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. Not until the team and the staff met the Senator did it dawn on them how important he was to their education. IUPUI was built thanks to the vision of then Indianapolis Mayor Lugar and eventually becoming what he called “a great state university in Indianapolis.”
Senator Lugar shared a few stories about the ground breaking ceremony in the late 60’s and how proud he was of what the university has become. I stood off to the side and watch the players and they were locked in on every word and were appreciative he took time out of his morning to spend 15 minutes with them. Coach Howard presented him with a Metros jersey and a Jaguars sweatshirt. He was touched and gave them a few pointers on Georgetown.
From there it was a tour of the Capitol and off to shoot around. After seeing all that Washington DC had to offer it was time to focus in on the task at hand…the Hoyas. I thought IUPUI played one of the best 20 minutes of the season in the 1st half against Georgetown. They led for most of the half and trailed by only one at the break. The ball movement was there, the shots were falling, and they played excellent team defense. In the end if was not enough and the loss dropped the Jaguars to 2-5.
The loss on Monday sent the Jaguars to 2-5 and now they will step out of non-league play and face two Summit League foes in the next 72 hours. The league gives you an early taste of league play in December and then after a three-week break it’s all league play beginning in January. IUPUI will enter Thursday game with South Dakota State 2-5, but a clean 0-0 mark in league play. When you are a mid-major there is nothing more important than winning league games.
Are the Jags ready to step into league play? They do not have much of a choice and the good news is they get SDSU and North Dakota State at the Jungle. The Jaguars are 4-0 all-time at home vs. the Jackrabbits and they have had success vs. NDSU. It is only the 1st game, but Thursday game with SDSU will be a big boost to the winner. In the preseason rankings the Jacks were picked 3rd and the Jaguars were picked to finish 4th. Both teams boast All-Summit League players who have the eyes of NBA scouts. For South Dakota State it’s Junior PG Nate Wolters and of course for IUPUI it’s Alex Young. Here is where the winner gets a boast…both teams lost important perimeter players and so far have struggled to replace them. (Wolters has really struggled from behind the arc this season.) IUPUI and SDSU are going to battle for a spot in the top half of the league, but do they have what it takes to grab one of the coveted top two spots in the league? I know it’s only one game, but which star will deliver a win and more importantly an important 1-0 start in league play? We will find out tonight beginning at 7:00.
PAGING CHRISTIAN SIAKAM:
There is no doubt that the Jags have struggled early in the season and playing 4 of your first 7 games on the road can be tough, but IUPUI needs to get something from Senior C Christian Siakam. Siakam finished the ’10-’11 season with a double-double in 4 of his last 5 games. He entered this season as one of the top bigs in the league, but has not found his rhythm through 7 games. That may change over the next two games. For the first time as a starter Siakam struggled early, but turned it on in league play. The hope is this season is a carbon copy of his Junior year. A season ago he averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds in non-league games and 11 pts and 7 boards in league play. His minutes were way up in league play and he was one of the league top offensive rebounders. So far this season he is averaging 8.4 ppg (boosted by a 21 pt effort in the opener) and less than 6 boards per game. Once you get into the league the days of battling 6-11 big men stops and that will be a big help to the 6-7 Siakam.
“IT’S A DIFFERENT GAME:”
That will be the message Senior PG Stephen Thomas delivers to the Freshman. “The games really matter and you are playing an opponent who knows you inside and out. The intensity level picks up and many times coaches bench will shorten so you have to give your all for a full 40 minutes.” Newcomers Lyonell Gaines, Marcellus Barksdale, and Ian Chiles have been impressive at times during non-conference play. Each player has had a double-digit scoring game with Gaines collecting 1o rebounds in a win against Texas Southern. Now they will play league games and see a more physical style and perhaps a shorter leash. Coach Howard knows how important league games are and often the 10 man rotation you see early in the season will shrink to 8…and even 6 to 7 depending on how close the game is down the stretch. Seniors Young, Thomas, and Siakam need to bring this team together for the next two games to make sure the Jaguars get off to the right start in Summit League play.
I hope you can tune into tonight’s broadcast beginning at 6:50 on 1260 am. You can also listen on your smartphone by downloading the free iheartradio app and finding 1260 am in Indianapolis. As always I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow my tweets at twitter.com/ScottDMcCauley.