Editor's Note: UNC Asheville Athletics Communications Director Mike Gore will be blogging as the men's basketball team is on the road for the next eight days as the Bulldogs play Ohio State, Northeastern and St. John's. Here is the sixth blog as Asheville spends its second day in New York preparing for St. John's.
We're actually staying in a suburb of New York City called Ozone Park, Queens. It's located pretty close to JFK Airport, and we can see the planes when they take off. We can also definitely hear them when they take off, as well. However, it's a cool neighborhood with at least six pizza parlors within a four-block radius. The place we've gone to for two nights for dinner is Aldos II Pizzeria which is right across from our hotel. They serve great food at reasonable prices.
Today is a day we rest for the most part. We sleep in a little bit and go to lunch about 2 p.m. at a diner that's about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The weather has gotten a little colder and the wind has picked up.
Practice was in St. John's practice facility last night, but today we practice at Carnesecca Arena. I've been here twice before, and I'm hoping for better results. In 1994, I came up with our women's team to a tournament here and we got beat pretty bad both games. Four years later, our men's team came here for the Preseason NIT. We would play one of the best teams that St. John's has ever had and lose 105-50. Ron Artest is on that team along with Erick Barkley and Bootsie Thornton. They go to the Elite Eight and are just a basket or two from going to the Final Four before losing to Ohio State.
St. John's is coached by Steve Lavin who was at one time the head coach at UCLA before turning to broadcasting for several years. He decided to get back into coaching a few years ago and has done a nice job turning the Red Storm program around. I've never met Lavin but corresponded with him with a letter due to a mutual friend. Jim Somers was a Bulldog booster for many years before passing away in 2001. We had a wonderful friendship as he was a retired salesman for Mobil Oil who lived near St. John's when he was working. When he retired, he moved to Asheville.
Jim was always a big UCLA fan and John Wooden fan. And this goes back to the 1960's before UCLA starting winning national titles. He coached an AAU team back then and called them the "Little Bruins." Jim told me back in 1964 they were picking the Olympic team at St. John's, and he would go watch practice. Coach Wooden was there to help pick the team. He was able to get a hold of Wooden and the two had breakfast.
Jim stayed a fan of UCLA. In 1997 when Charleston Southern won the Big South Conference championship, the Buccaneers were coached by former UNC Asheville assistant Tommy Conrad. Tommy and Jim were close friends, as well. As luck would have it, Charleston Southern would play UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first year Coach Lavin was the head coach at UCLA. Tommy has Steve Lavin call Jim Somers and the two have a 30-minute conversation about UCLA's team and Coach Wooden.
This begins a friendship between the two. Jim has some health setbacks over the years and somehow Coach Lavin always hears about and calls Jim to see how he's doing. He stays in touch right until the end. When Jim passes away in the summer of 2001, I write Coach Lavin a letter at UCLA to tell him the news. I receive a very nice letter from him as he expresses his sorrow about Jim passing away.
Steve Lavin could have had a lot of different jobs when he decided to get back into coaching. Something tells me that there might have been something mystical about him picking St. John's. Five minutes away from where Jim Somers lived most of his adult life. I wished Jim was alive today to tell him about this trip and Coach Lavin. Somehow I bet he knows.
Tomorrow is game day and then its home on Saturday!!! We have a flight out of LaGuardia into Charlotte. I've enjoyed the trip but now I'm really anxious to get home. I miss my wife Lisa a bunch and cannot wait to see her. I miss you Lisa!!!!
Hopefully, we're ready to go tomorrow night. St. John's is very athletic and will be a challenge. We'll be on the air at 7 p.m. on WWNC Radio or on www.uncabulldogs.com. Bam Jones is coming up to provide color on the broadcast.
We'll have a final blog tomorrow night or Saturday morning.