It’s Game Time

Jan. 16, 2012 4:27 p.m.

photos credit: Dylan Huebner

Darius Johnson-Odom stands a few feet behind

the three-point line at the Bradley Center, staring directly into his opponent’s eyes.

Dribble, dribble.

He is casually moving the ball up and down, draining a few more seconds off the clock so Marquette’s next shot is the game’s last opportunity.

Dribble, dribble. Dribble, dribble.

Off to the side, head coach Buzz
Williams is screaming instructions to no avail. His voice is hoarse. Johnson-Odom is in the zone, unable to concentrate on anything besides the man standing in front of him.

It’s Jan. 16, 2012 and Marquette’s men’s basketball team is down by one in the midst of a furious comeback against inner-conference rival Louisville. All 19,000 in attendance are on their feet. Toward the southern end of the stadium, students are jumping up and down with a giddy, childlike excitement.

Claire Karon and the other cheerleaders are crouched down in front of the student section, ready to pop up and cheer at a moment’s notice. The noise is deafening.

But still, Johnson-Odom calmly dribbles the ball. The players have tuned out everything around them. They are standing like statues at a war memorial, ready to strike. The crowd can barely stand it.

Dribble, dribble.

Finally, some movement. One of Marquette’s two forwards saunters up to set a right-side pick on the man guarding Johnson-Odom. Quick as a flash, Johnson-Odom jukes left and penetrates Louisville’s zone coverage. Two defenders step up to challenge Johnson-Odom as he jump stops, pivots and smoothly puts up a fade-away jumper.

The long, slow arc of the orange sphere eventually settles on a direct line for the rim. If this ball goes in, all hell is going to break loose.

Almost in unison, the crowd thinks to itself, “Oh my…”


——————————————–

Jan. 16, 2012 8:30 a.m.

… God, why is my alarm going off at 8:30?”

It’s the morning of Jan. 16, 2012. You’re tired and cranky. Last night was the first night back on campus for a majority of the students, and it was a late one.

However, this is no time to lie in bed pouting; there is a basketball game at 2:30 p.m.

So, you shower, meet your pals for breakfast and debate whether to walk it or bus it to the game.

You have an ambitious group of friends. Your buddies decide they want to get seats in the lower bowl of the student section, which requires a flirtation with frostbite by standing in line for an hour or two outside the Bradley Center.

It’s a miserable experience, full of standing up and shivering, followed by more standing and shivering. The doors won’t open until 90 minutes before the game, and the only thing to look forward to is the chance that Buzz might stop by with pizza or donuts beforehand.

Finally, around 1 p.m.,  a saintly security guard opens up the doors, an usher scans your ticket and from there it’s a mad dash to the south end of the stadium.

Your first hour in the stadium is pretty dull. Besides a few players warming up, there isn’t much for entertainment. The crowd slowly filters in.

A half hour before tip-off, the stadium starts to awaken. The sections are filling up quickly, and agitated conversation buzzes through the rafters.

Suddenly, the lights dim, conversation halts and inspirational music begins its slow buildup over the speakers. Attention is directed toward the Jumbotron, where Marquette’s basketball history is being displayed, highlighting everything from Marquette’s 1977 championship season, to its latest endeavor in the Final Four, to clips from last season.

Marquette’s fanatics know the drill: cheer Al McGuire, boo Tom Crean, cheer Dwyane Wade.

After the video, the band stands up. Students start draping their arms across each other’s shoulders. Hopefully, the person next to you isn’t too sweaty because Hail Alma Mater, Marquette’s traditional opening song, can last almost a full minute.

“Marquette!” You scream at the top of your lungs toward the conclusion of the ballad, “hear our song!”

Polite applause, and now it’s time to introduce the teams. The student section turns its back to the court, ready to scream.

“Now introducing,” the public address announcer says solemnly, “the visiting… Louisville Cardinals.”

Enter, stage south, the boo birds.

“Kyle Kuric…”

“Sucks!”

”Peyton Siva…”

“Sucks!”

“Chris Smith…”

“Sucks!”

The student section twists back around as the band starts up Marquette’s fight song. The PA man pumps up the crowd with an inspired tone of voice he uses to introduce Marquette’s starting five.

Whoops, you almost forgot to sing the fight song.

“Gooooooooooo, gooooo…

————————————————————————————————————

Jan. 16, 2012 2:24 p.m.

ooooooo, GO! MARQUETTE! GO GO GO GO!” Sophomore Claire Karon chants with the crowd. “Gooooooooooo, goooooooooooo, GO! MARQUETTE! GO GO GO GO!”

Although she is still an experienced member of the veteran-heavy Marquette cheerleading squad, a sold-out crowd still gets her every time. There’s nothing like being surrounded by 19,000 screaming people.

Cheerleading is far more work than people give it credit for. Earlier this morning, Karon and the other girls spent more than an hour, getting both mentally and aesthetically ready for the game.

The squad had to be at the Al McGuire Center at least two hours before game time for a pregame practice and stretch-a-thon. They practice their pyramid routine and stunts. They go over their gameplan. They adjust their hair and reapply their makeup.

After a while, Karon and the cheerleading squad make their way over to the Bradley Center. They stretch and warm up again. They put the final touches on their hair and makeup. Karon marvels at the size and the intensity of the crowd.

The students are loud, and the pregame festivities today are particularly exciting.

It’s so loud, she can barely hear herself as she screams, “Let’s go…”

————————————————————————————————————

Jan. 16, 2012 8:00 a.m.

Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom wakes up feeling good. He’s ready to play. Though it’s one of the biggest games of the season so far, Johnson-Odom is not nervous. Anxious? Yes. Nervous? No.

It’s just another day, and a pretty monotonous one at that. Before the game, it’s all almost exclusively shooting and stretching.

The first warm-up of the day, referred to as shoot-around, begins at 9 a.m. sharp. For DJO, there are no strategy sessions, no conferences with coaches about how to best defend against Louisville, nothing like that. Johnson-Odom just wants to get warmed up and find his shot.

Besides, Johnson-Odom isn’t the “read the scouting report” type of player. He already knows the man he’s guarding on Louisville. He knows his tendencies, his strengths and his weaknesses.

Johnson-Odom is a scout in his own right, a self-described “basketball fanatic.”

He is worried more about his game than his opponent’s, which is why Johnson-Odom is practicing his jump-shot for the 100th time today instead of watching film.

Shoot-around is followed by a shower, a quick meal and more stretching and shooting.

He listens to music, jokes around with his teammates and continues to shoot and stretch.

He’s still not nervous.

After all, it’s just another…

————————————————————————————————————

Jan. 16, 2012 5:56 a.m.

…sleepless night.

Buzz looks at the time on his alarm clock. It’s early.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, he tries to convince himself he’s not nervous. It’s no use. That feeling of foreboding and nausea is entrenched firmly in the pit of his stomach, slowly making its way toward his chest.

He has to move. Williams walks into the kitchen. He glances at the fridge. Breakfast ain’t happening.

So, like before every home game, he works out. He plays with his kids. He goes over the scouts’ tapes and reports, anything to keep himself busy.

Shoot-around starts at 9 a.m. sharp, but Williams is there long before that. He maintains that the custodians at the Bradley Center are his best friends in the state of Wisconsin. They see him a lot.

He chats with a few of his players during shoot-around, but mostly they leave each other alone. Williams has his routine. The players have theirs. He tries not to interrupt either.

Shoot-around runs until 10:30 a.m. When the players leave the stadium to go get a quick bite to eat, Williams reviews the gameplan and thinks over his strategy. He knows all of this information by heart, but still, he likes doing it. It eats up a lot of time.

Like his team having a lead late in the second half, Williams is just trying to run out some clock. The goal is to keep himself busy until 12 minutes before his pregame address to the team. Not 13 minutes, not 11, but 12.

Twelve minutes before he speaks to his team, he begins to formulate his speech. He knows what message he wants to convey, which points in the scouting reports are crucial and which will distract his team.

He takes a deep breath, exhales and steps into the dressing area.

“Gentlemen…”