Weary Warriors and a ‘92 hoops reunion

Bobby Curran
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Friday - March 14, 2008
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Life on the road can be a strange business. The University of Hawaii men’s basketball team had an uneventful trip to Ruston to play Louisiana Tech. The journey from Rustin to Las Cruces was anything but. The team had a 5 a.m. wake-up call to depart the hotel at 6 for a bus trip to Shreveport. At Shreveport, their 8:20 a.m. flight to Dallas was cancelled. After working the airline folks for several hours, it was determined that they’d be best off renting a bus and driving through the snow to Dallas (it snows in Shreveport in March about once a century).

The bus was late and after a four-hour journey to Dallas they couldn’t get a flight to El Paso. So they took hotel rooms and scrambled to find a gym where they could practice. No go. They get to the airport Saturday morning to find their flight delayed. Finally, they board for the nearly two-hour flight to El Paso.(Fun fact: El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Dallas). Then an hour bus ride to Las Cruces. No time for shoot around. Just eat, try to rest and then play. Total travel time from Rustin to Las Cruces: 32 hours. Considering the state of air transportation, it’s surprising this doesn’t happen more often.

Every now and again, former players will show up at a road game, and at Louisiana Tech four members of the 1992 team showed up for a reunion. Tim Shepherd is in his first year as director of basketball operations at the University of Hawaii. Tim is married with two children. Chris Walz works for AOL in Washington, D.C. He’s married and has a daughter, who was with him on the trip. Rodney Washington lives in the Dallas area, where he is a high school teacher and basketball coach. John Spanogle is a U.S. Army major in Special Forces. He lives in Tennessee near Fort Campbell. The Green Beret team he commands is about to make its fifth deployment to Iraq. Spanogle was 6-foot-4 and 170 pounds at UH. He is now a buffed 235 pounds. “Wish he’d looked like that when he played with us,” said Shepherd.

It was fun to listen to the old stories reliving the past. I had the strong sense that what you remember from your playing days is not the scores of the games. It’s all about the practices, the road trips, the coaches and the bond of shared experience. We spent a couple of hours over some cold beverages, tempered by watching video of Iraq that Spanogle brought. When he told us that the content was not what we’d see on CNN, he wasn’t kidding. Very intense.

This week’s WAC tournament represents the only chance for either of the UH basketball teams to get to the post season. Many of the coaches expressed displeasure about the school sites for the tournament. It’s a huge home advantage. In fact, it’s as likely as not that both of New Mexico State’s teams will win and advance to the Big Dance.

We’ll do this in more depth next week, but a couple of teams I expect to do some damage in the NCAA tournament: Georgetown, a fabulous defensive team that gets after the backboards, and Vanderbilt, an SEC team that ehind Shan Foster can handle anyone in the country when they’re sharp.

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