Mountaineers Battle Travel Issues To Get To Boston
It’s normally a 3,044-mile one-way trip from San Diego to Boston.
Add in a 24-hour stop in Morgantown and West Virginia’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament journey has started to take on Oregon Trail-type feel.
OK, the Mountaineers have been flying on a charter jet, so a comparison to a cross-country journey in a Conestoga wagon may be a way over the top, but let’s just say the WVU basketball team has done a lot of traveling the past week.
It started with a 2,400-mile flight last Wednesday from the Northcentral West Virginia Airport to San Diego, which was the site of WVU’s first two games in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
After polishing off Murray State on Friday (85-68) and Marshall on Sunday (94-71), the Mountaineers were prepared to return to Morgantown for a couple days of rest and preparation for its Sweet 16 matchup with Villanova, which will take place at Boston’s TD Garden on Friday.
Because of noise ordinances in San Diego, commercial flights are not allowed to land or takeoff from the city’s airport after 11:30 p.m., so WVU’s late Sunday night contest against the Thundering Herd meant the team had to stay over in Southern California until Monday morning.
Head coach Bob Huggins actually jumped on a private plane with a friend after Sunday’s game so he could get back to see a recruit play on Monday. The charter plane carrying the rest of the Mountaineer travel party, which had an hour-and-a-half delay leaving San Diego to attend to a maintenance issue, arrived at the Northcentral West Virginia Airport late Monday afternoon.
The original itenorary called for WVU to spend two days in Morgantown before flying out to Boston after practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Then Mother Nature decided to throw a monkey wrench into the Mountaineers’ plans.
“I was coming back from a high school game, and I got a call from our travel coordinator,” said Huggins, who was alerted on Monday night by WVU’s Tammy Cavendar of the need change travel plans because of spring storm making its way up the East Coast with a bull’s eye set on New England. “She said that the NCAA called, and they were calling for all the snow (in Boston), and we had to leave on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
“So we were scrambling around to get a hold of our guys to make sure that everyone knew we were going to practice at 9:30 (a.m.) and then leave after that.”
Thus West Virginia’s flight to Boston was moved up a day. Everyone got to the plane OK, but that doesn’t mean it all went smoothly.
“I think an air conditioner went bad,” said Huggins, shaking his head, remembering the smoke that fill the plane’s cabin. “The worst thing of the whole deal had to have been (assistant to the head coach) Jay Kuntz sitting behind me. Jay was screaming like a little school girl. The air conditioning unit, something happened to it, and then we got smoke into the deal. People are saying Hail Mary’s and trying to think of all the bad things they did and ask forgiveness and all that. But it really wasn’t all that bad.”
The smoke in the plane may have terrified some, but not all.
When asked about the incident, WVU senior guard Jevon Carter looked on quizzically. “I don’t know anything about it. I must have been asleep.”
Carter’s two teammates beside him at Thursday’s NCAA press conference, Daxter Miles and Esa Ahmad, apparently hadn’t noticed either, because both just shrugged their shoulders.
In a season that opened in Ramstein, Germany, included a Thanksgiving tournament in Orlando, nine subsequent Big 12 trips and a 6,000+ mile round-trip to San Diego, the Mountaineers have flown in the neighborhood of 35,000 miles this season. One more charter, even with a minor mechanical problem, wasn’t a big deal to most of them.
West Virginia eventually arrived in Boston around 5:30 Tuesday afternoon. But then came a nice option. Some tickets were available for that night’s Celtics’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the TD Garden. Many of the Mountaineers jumped on the opportunity to attend the clash between the two NBA titans, which the home team won 100-99.
On Wednesday, West Virginia practiced at Northeastern University, and then on Thursday the team was back in TD Garden for a workout session and media interviews. The weather, which so many had feared, didn’t amount to nearly what the forecasters predicted. Nonetheless the Mountaineers were managing just fine with their extra time in Boston.
Of course, the reason for the whole trip is still to come. Friday evening WVU will return to TD Garden again for its Sweet 16 contest with Villanova … provided there are no more travel issues.