A Great NCAA Tournament Experience in Omaha

Yes, I know I sound like a broken record. As I have said before, attending the NCAA Tournament is special; occupying a spot on the travel party for a participating team is a career highlight. Just about 24 hours shy from returning to Myrtle Beach from Omaha, I am still on a high from the experience I had watching the Chanticleer men’s basketball team compete in the most well-known tournament on the planet.

It was a pleasure to travel with the team to Omaha. I took this photo after the public practice in CenturyLink Center on Thursday night.

It was a pleasure to travel with the team to Omaha. I took this photo after the public practice in CenturyLink Center on Thursday night.

But what is it that makes the NCAA Tournament experience so special? Well, let me tell you one thing that doesn’t make it special…the city. God Bless Omaha but I won’t be moving out there anytime soon. You see, there is something about the tourney that transcends geographical boarders and makes whatever town you are in irrelevant.

It is the respect.

Team charters, police escorts, hotel employees dressed in university apparel, school logo plastered everywhere, locals looking at you in awe, national media on location, and an organizational structure that is ten times better than what the phrase “on point” can ever express all convey a deep level of reverence. It is intoxicating.

This is the police escort that led our bus to the CenturyLink Center for Thursday night's public practice.

This is the police escort that led our bus to the CenturyLink Center for Thursday night’s public practice.

Personally, I had a wonderful trip. I had complete freedom and access to do my job but at the same time I also had fun. Throughout the duration of the trip, #CCUSocialMedia was able to give our audience a real time look inside the tournament experience through constant posts in addition to the release of four videos and three photo galleries. When I wasn’t sharing the sights and sounds with #TEALnation I was able to visit the site of the College World Series, eat an Omaha steak, check out a cemetery, and tour the downtown part of the city.

I got to see TD Ameritrade Park, eat an Omaha steak, and visit a cemetery.

I got to see TD Ameritrade Park, eat an Omaha steak, and visit a cemetery.

But let’s get real here, the trip was about the student-athletes and it was a complete pleasure observing them and following them. The team let me shoot everything from breakfast to the private shoot around at Creighton University to moments before the game when they were stretching in the bowels of the arena. From the time of the sendoff to touch down in Myrtle Beach yesterday, everyone on the squad was a complete gentleman. It was a joy to cover them.

I have a couple of personal highlights from the trip. First was attending the public practice/press conference at CenturyLink Center the day before the game. The minute the fleet of police motorcycles lead you into the private entrance of the arena you really realize what a big deal it is. The size of the media workroom, the hospitality area, the staging area, and of course the facility itself quickly remind you that you aren’t in the HTC Center anymore. Watching the team practice in high spirits while Marv Albert and other notables looked on was really cool.

This was me at the shoot around at the CenturyLink Center on Thursday night.

This was me at the shoot around at the CenturyLink Center on Thursday night.

Second, the game night experience itself was awesome as well. Once again, the prominence of the tournament hits you when you have schools like Oregon and Oklahoma State playing right before you. You feel like you have really made it when Barry Alvarez walks right by. You know your school is center stage when at halftime the TBS feed is displayed on the video board and Charles Barkley is talking about Coastal Carolina. Add that with a full arena with countless staff members/tournament officials in suits walking around and you can’t help but feel the pageantry.

Me on the court moments before Coastal and Wisconsin tipped off.

Me on the court moments before Coastal and Wisconsin tipped off.

Our men’s basketball team represented our university gallantly on the huge stage. The Chants played Wisconsin tough and registered the slimmest margin of defeat in the tournament between  #1 vs. #16 teams. The Badgers just had too much size. When the buzzer sounded, our student-athletes had nothing to hang their heads about.

Badou Diagne goes up against Wisconsin's big stud, Frank Kaminsky.

Badou Diagne goes up against Wisconsin’s big stud, Frank Kaminsky.

Our other students who came along on the trip didn’t either. The pep band, cheer squad, and dance team did a fantastic job at the game and conducted themselves with class the whole time in Omaha. It is really cool to observe them as well and see how much fun they have. They did a lot to earn their way on such a special journey so it is gratifying to see them enjoy it.

The CCU dance team, along with the pep band and cheer squad, did a great job representing Coastal.

The CCU dance team, along with the pep band and cheer squad, did a great job representing Coastal.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one final aspect that makes an NCAA Tournament trip so memorable…the relationships made. In addition to the ones I already knew, I got to meet and hang out with more staff members from the athletic department, many around my age. To talk with them and have fun with them was a great opportunity for me to connect with other young professionals who share the same interests as me.

Many thanks to Athletic Director Matt Hogue for allowing me to go on the trip. He understands the importance of having someone who specializes in social media covering such a major event. I brought back a lot of memories from Omaha and will always look back on this trip very fondly. Don’t Blink.

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