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Patrick Kinas

Wolfpack dispatch from Puerto Rico

Posted November 17, 2012

When you have the great fortune of traveling with college basketball teams, it's hard to convey to those who don't work in athletics, what a 5-and-a-half day trip outside the country is really like. I'll try to provide a little insight into the experience of what San Juan, Puerto Rico has been like for those of us traveling with the No. 6 NC State Wolfpack.

First off, the travel is not like anything that I experienced with my family as a kid - jamming the Volkswagen hatchback with luggage stacked to the roof, and four kids stacked on top of one another like a game of human Jenga. The Pack had a 100-seat charter plane awaiting the group of players, coaches, support staff, Wolfpack Club personnel and a contingent of NC State boosters who bought a package to accompany all of us in pursuit of a Puerto Rico title for the Pack.

We all arrived at the General Aviation parcel of RDU, passed through security and walked onto the plane. Boxes of sandwiches and drinks were awaiting us as we boarded. In all, about 75 people eventually boarded the JetBlue flight, and we were wheels-up for a three-hour, direct flight to San Juan. N.C. State Logo More NCSU Stories

To pass the time, each seat had a TV monitor embedded into the headrest of the seat in front of them, and in JetBlue style, you had 50 DirecTV channels, 100 Sirius channels and a couple of movie outlets from which to choose.

The time flies as your flying. I spent some time joking, talking and just getting to know many of the boosters who made the trip with the Pack, including Wendell Murphy, who as we all know, is one of the most beloved members of the NC State family. After we landed, the first noticeable change was the humid 82 degree temperatures once we exited the aircraft. The weather was turning bleak when we left Raleigh, so we escaped just in time.

Two buses waited on the tarmac to take us to a gorgeous hotel, which is inches away from the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of you reading this blog may have those soothing CDs that play the relaxing sounds of the waterfalls, etc. Even from the 8th floor of the tournament hotel, the sounds of the nighttime waves rolling ashore are not done justice by any CD. I slept with my balcony door open that first night. Peaceful isn't a strong enough term to describe the sensation.

When you take a trip such as this, the biggest misconception by the general public is that there's a ton of free time to hit the beach, play some blackjack at the hotel casino, enjoy the nightlife, but it's really not the case at all. The stress of the coaching staff to the players is to block out the bevy of distractions, becuase in the end, this is a business trip for a Wolfpack basketball team that has a real chance to accomplish special things this season. This is an early-season opportunity for Mark Gottfried to present the Wolfpack to the nation on ESPN, pick up three wins, strengthen non-conference RPI and begin to walk this team forward toward the conference season. So their focus is on resting, staying hydrated, and preparing for practice on Wednesday.

With the tournament starting for the Pack on Thursday night, Wednesday was one that was similar for the Pack if they were back in Raleigh - outside of not attending classes.

Team breakfast, taping and heading to a full practice at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, PR, the tournament site this year. Interestingly enough, the previous five iterations of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off has been held at an arena in San Juan, but thanks to a mistake in scheduling, that arena was booked by Cirque de Soleil, which forced the relocation to a much sketchier area of the island.

At practice, a piece of the Durham Bulls appeared, with outfielder Jesus Feliciano stopping by during the Wolfpack's practice to catch up with me. Feliciano was just beginning his new winter baseball season in his homeland that night. After practice ended, the team headed back to the hotel for a couple of free hours before a tournament banquet for the eight competing teams. 

On Thursday, the Pack was in game-mode. Up early for breakfast and then leaving for shoot-around around noon. The Pack drew Penn State in the opening round, and had little trouble dispatching the Nittany Lions, and then completely overpowered UMass{{/a}} Friday.

The platinum freshmen class assembled by Gottfried - TJ Waren, Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis - have all had several moments of brilliance. Meanwhile, Scott Wood is as lethal on the island as he has been from behind the arc in the contiguous 48 states, Lorenzo Brown has distributed impeccably at the point while defending two very tough point guards in PSU's Tim Frazier and UMass's Chaz Williams. Richard Howell has shown how intimidating of a force he can be if he stays out of foul trouble, and CJ Leslie, well, he has been extremely efficient, totally unselfish and is playing like the NBA lottery pick he is likely to be in 2013. Observing this team, you can see the ACC  and Atlanta potential. That said, Gottfried is doing a fantastic job of channeling the focus of this team and insulating them from any of the hyperbole that the media and frenzied Wolfpack nation has been cultivating.

The championship game is Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, with the one-hour radio pre-game show beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Oklahoma State (3-0) will be the opponent, the pre-season No. 3 pick in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Baylor, but they'll be playing very short-handed. They've lost several key players to injury, including one on Friday night in their semifinal win over Tennessee, but they do feature All-Big 12 swingman Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart, who has been rated as the Pre-Season Freshman of the Year in college basketball. It should be NC State's toughest test of the season, but one the Pack will be expected to pass.

Now for the Puerto Rican lightning round (In no particuar order):

My father made the trip from Chicago, and his jokes are just as lame here as they are back home.

Love seeing how Puerto Ricans try to help their homeless. Help vans stop at intersections to provide OJ, Honey Buns and while a nurse provides some quick medical attention to those less fortunate citizens.

People talk REALLY fast here. My six semesters of Spanish in high school and college are basically useless.

Lots of the Puerto Rican policia on the streets, and a high percentage of them are wearing iPods.

The dividing lines on the narrow roads of San Juan appear to simply be suggestions. I'm no longer surprised to see a flurry of bikers or even skateboarders weaving through traffic like Bart Simpson does in the opening credits of the FOX series.

Every day on the drive to the arena, we pass the stone foundation of the home that was being built for Ponce De Leon in the 1500s. It was unearthed evidently hundreds of years later as San Juan began to build roads throughout the city.

Rush hour here in San Juan starts at about 10 a.m. and again about 3:30 p.m.

At the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, where the tournament is being played, there are hawkers selling Pina Coladas to the fans. Even more startling is the bar in the corner behind one of the benches selling Puerto Rico's finest rum & vodka.

At halftime of the Akron-UNC Asheville game yesterday, three fans were selected to shoot half-court shots for a bag of prizes. The first, a long-haired, mid-20s guy, who looked more natural atop a surfboard than holding a basketball was up first. With a Jetovi-esque on-court guy on the mic, surfer-dude fired away. Swish. Four thousand stunned fans erupted. Surfer-dude had one more shot. Swish. Incredible.

Finally, seriously hoping that the T-Mobile guy I talked with on Tuesday before the flight was right when I called to confirm that my text/phone plan was covered by T-Mobile towers.

8 Comments

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  • PacknoPride Nov 19, 12:56 p.m.

    Hope they didn't bring all hotel towels back with them.

  • sportznut628 Nov 19, 8:02 a.m.

    can you change the title to Wolfpack dispatchED from Puerto Rico Mr Glennon?

  • Rapid Deployment Nov 18, 8:53 p.m.

    C. J. got mad, took his ball and went home.

  • Pops49 Nov 18, 1:10 p.m.

    "The reality is Puerto Rico is a small island south of Cuba that's closer to Venezuela than it is the United States. And if its unincorporated status is anything like the U.S. Virgin Islands, you'll need a passport to gain reentry back into the United States. So, yeah. Go suck a lemon. "

    No passport is required to return to the US mainland from Pr. I've done it many times.
    Re-enry would not be an accurate term for returning. Dummy.

  • buckets112 Nov 17, 8:01 p.m.

    *to going

    edit button not working

  • buckets112 Nov 17, 7:59 p.m.

    sounds like a good time for the folks that are attending. i'm looking forward to the going to the maui classic in a few yrs. pack bball, maui, and visiting family on oahu...winning trifecta.

  • shepherdofwolves Nov 17, 6:58 p.m.

    What was your major in college? Let me guess. Geography.

    Or am I wrong to think that PR is NOT... View More

    — Posted by Pops49

    Well, it's kind of like The Dude says,

    "No Walter, you're not wrong. You're just an a##hole."

    The reality is Puerto Rico is a small island south of Cuba that's closer to Venezuela than it is the United States. And if its unincorporated status is anything like the U.S. Virgin Islands, you'll need a passport to gain reentry back into the United States. So, yeah. Go suck a lemon.

  • Pops49 Nov 17, 6:40 p.m.

    What was your major in college? Let me guess. Geography.

    Or am I wrong to think that PR is NOT out of the country?

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