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RaptorsHQ Final Four Diary: Live from Indy

Every hardcore sports fan has his/her list of the sporting events or stadiums that they would like to see before they pass. For years, the top spot was held by the Final Four.

That time has passed.

As I return home from Indianapolis and check the Final Four off of my sporting to-do list, allow me to recount the past four dizzying days.

Friday: Before I get into the recap, just typing “Friday” conjures up memories of Ahmad Rashad on NBA Inside Stuff and his weekly highlight packages, punctured by Rashad screaming out the day of the week that said highlights took place. But I digress…

The weekend in Indianapolis started when we (meaning my father and I. Renowned Ottawa sports personality Arash Madani would join us later) boarded a plane with 20-30 other hoops fans and made the short puddle jump to North America’s basketball capital (if only for this weekend).

We rolled into the hotel and immediately got a lead on two tickets for the weekend. The NCAA does a great job of projecting the image that Final Four tickets are nearly impossible to obtain. This couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. By the end of the night, we had secured two reasonably priced tickets 20 rows from the floor in the middle of the UCLA section. Being a Bruins fan, it didn’t get much better than this.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we hopped into a cab and hit up the open practice at the RCA Dome. This was one of the more incredible sights of the weekend. Not the fact that the practice was open to the public, but that nearly 20,000 people showed up. Think about that: There were more people at Friday’s open practice than at any Raptors game.

Since UCLA went on last, we stayed for the entire four hours of practice and then walked outside, where the weather had changed from cold and rainy to warm and sunny. It wouldn’t last for long.

As our cab driver said “If you don’t like the weather in Indiana, wait five minutes”. By the time we reached out hotel, the ominous rain clouds were back and were soon followed by sirens. No, not police sirens. Think air raid sirens. Except they were tornado warning sirens. A chilling thought, but one that soon passed.

After Arash arrived in his stretch limo, courtesy of A-Channel, dinner followed in what might very well be Indiana’s worst Karaoke bar. Even drinking the bar out of Rolling Rock couldn’t numb the pain inflicted upon our ears.

Saturday: Big day #1. The crew rolled downtown fairly early in anticipation of crowded bars and National Semi-Final action. As we exited the cab, the downtown core was awash in green, blue, orange and purple. Our first goal was to get Arash a ticket to the festivities. It didn’t take long. Within five minutes, he had found a ticket in the upper level for close to face value.

With our main task completed, we set off to find the best sports bar for the afternoon. Most recommended Champps, so that’s where we headed. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we were shocked to find that it was the LSU fan headquarters. Since I am a UCLA fan, there was no way that was going down.

Frustrated by our foiled attempt, we made roads toward Champions, which is located in the Marriott hotel. On our trek, we ran into Villanova’s Allan Ray. We should have known it wouldn’t be the only basketball personality we’d run into during the weekend.

Setting up shop at Champions, we ordered some brews and were about halfway through the first round when none other than Adam Morrison strolled right past our table. If that wasn’t enough, moments later, we brushed shoulders with UCLA fan Tim Robbins, in town to cheer on his Bruins.

And so it went all afternoon. Cavs/Heat featuring the LBJ/DWade battle was front and center on the big screen. Anticipation for the night was palpable. Anyone who ever had anything to do with George Mason was in town and were not shy about vocalizing their emotions.

In the Dome, you could sense the buzz 30 minutes prior to tip-off. Could George Mason continue its magical run? Was LSU as good as ESPN’s “experts” made them out to be? There were plenty of people who were anxious to find out.

If you had any doubts about whether Indianapolis was the place to be this past weekend, check out the list of sports personalities we saw: There’s Charlie Weis 8 rows in front of us. Sam Jones six rows behind us. The “Pizza Luva” himself, Mike Jarvis. Jim Calhoun. Tony Dungy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Walton. Phil Jackson. Reggie Miller. Ed O’Bannon.

Despite the fact that UCLA won, the games were a disappointment. George Mason couldn’t knock down the 3 and Florida’s Lee Humphrey hit six of them. “Big Baby” Glen Davis showed more baby than big and needs another year in school. Tyrus Thomas was flustered by the UCLA defense and saw Joakim Noah pass him on everyone’s mock draft.

In the end, the two games on Saturday were not close, meaning the Dome was relatively empty when the UCLA game finished.

In need of refreshments after the big UCLA victory, we headed back to Champions for some post-game pints. Soon, we were joined in the bar by Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. We chatted Raps ball, the tourney and Harbour Sports Grille and then we were out.

Sunday: Recovery day. Watched Suns-Pistons, Nuggets-Mavericks and the Maryland-UNC women’s semi-final game. Maryland’s Shay Doron has game but, for some reason, she’s getting no play in the mock drafts.

Even more baffling was the fact that, during the White Sox-Indians game, we heard more tornado sirens. Flipping over to the local news, we saw the destructive storm that left 28 dead across the south and Midwest. Fortunately, we were spared the storm’s wrath.

Monday: Big day #2. I really didn’t know what to think as we rolled downtown for the long pre-game festivities. I mean, this trip had been planned for the better part of a year. At no time, up until the past few weeks, did I think that I might get to see my beloved Bruins play in the national title game. Wow.

We hit up the UCLA fan bar for lunch. In reality, it was breakfast, but it’s probably not legal to consume that many alcoholic beverages with breakfast. It's also probably not legal for a bar in Indiana to feature a picture of Sam Etcheverry in an Alouettes uniform.

Midway through our afternoon at Friday’s, we ran into the man who recruited Rafael Araujo to BYU, Walter Roese. We spent a while chatting with him as he talked about how excited Hoffa was with his ten point, eight rebound performance against New Orleans the night before. According to Roese, Hoffa is confused with his role on the team, wondering why he didn’t see the floor Friday against Phoenix after a solid performance Wednesday against the Heat.

As you know by now, the game itself was a disappointment for UCLA fans. Florida played a complete game and Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer all showed why they are locks for the first round in June if they decide to throw their names into the draft. Noah is an athletic freak who can rebound and block shots with the best of them. Horford is your typical power forward who already has an NBA body. Brewer reminds some of Tayshaun Prince, with his long athletic frame and outside shooting ability.

The surprising thing to me was the reaction to the win from fans of both teams. Unlike a Leafs-Sens post-game where insults get tossed around like elementary school recess, fans of both teams were either congratulating or consoling fans of the other squad.

In the end, it was a heck of a trip. Great basketball, great times. RaptorsHQ was definitely represented in Indianapolis. If you are a true hoops head, you need to do yourself a favour and check out the Final Four at least once in your lifetime.

Start planning: it's in Detroit in 2009.