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March 11, 2008

SCS.comI experienced life as a media member this weekend at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

For the first time in my life, I was given media credentials for a sporting event. As I walked into the entrance of the media area at the Scottrade Center to pick up my press pass on Friday night, I had no idea what to expect.

Where do I sit? Is there any proper etiquette I need to be aware of? Will anyone give me any trouble because I’m just a lowly 17 year-old high school kid? What parts of the stadium are off-limits, and what places am I allowed to visit?

These were the questions I asked myself as I approached the woman handing out the credentials. After giving my name and giving photo ID, I received my press pass. As I opened the metal door and entered the media area, I was officially a member of the media.

I wandered through the bowels of the arena for a few minutes, following the signs that said “Working Media Room.” I was trying to figure out just exactly where I was supposed to be going. Missouri State and Illinois State were playing in the quarterfinals, and I had arrived about a half hour after the game began. I could hear the game taking place on the court - the screaming fans, the whistles, the sounds of the game - but I couldn’t really see anything. All I could see were the stands and a glimpse of the basket.

Finally, I arrived at the working media room. I had no idea what it was, but I didn’t see any signs for any other rooms. I thought maybe I was supposed to be in the working media room. Right when I walked into the room, I realized the “working media room” is exactly what it sounds like, which is a secluded place for journalists to work without the distractions of the game. There was obviously more to the media area than this room.

After walking around a little bit more, I asked one of the security guards if there was any type of press box at the Scottrade Center. Sure enough, he told me to take the elevator to the 5th floor, where the press box was located. After making my way up to the 5th floor, I found the press box. I sat down, opened my laptop, alerted the blog that I had arrived at the arena, and watched the beginning of the second half.

For the rest of the second half of the MSU/ISU game, I stayed in the press box, blogging occasionally, and watching the action on the court. As I looked down, I noticed dozens of journalists sitting at courtside tables. I wondered if I was allowed to go down there, and although I thought to myself that I probably wasn’t important enough to sit there, I decided I would go down after the game and see if I could score a seat.

After Illinois State defeated a pesky Missouri State squad and ended Barry Hinson’s tenure as the Bears’ head coach, I took the elevator to the first floor and followed somebody into the interview room, where Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich was addressing the media in the post-game press conference. I know for veteran journalists a press conference is no big deal, but I could barely contain my excitement. Since the room was full, I was standing in the back, and after a couple of minutes I exited the interview room and explored a little bit more.

I found a Scottrade Center employee and asked him if I was allowed to sit courtside. To my surprise, he was pretty confident that I had a seat out there. We walked over to a chart that I didn’t even know existed, and apparently I did have a seat courtside - seat number 47, to be exact.

I eventually found seat 47, and there was even a nametag with my name and media affiliation. It was almost too good to be true. I had a front-row seat about five feet behind the bench, and this was easily the best seat I had ever had for a basketball game.

Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois tipped off shortly after I arrived in my courtside seat. I was sitting right behind the UNI bench and could hear what Panthers’ players and coaches were saying. Once the action started, neither team could find a way to score. Of course, solid defense by both teams contributed to the offensive futility, but even when both teams got open looks they could not make shots. The game was played at an extremely slow pace, which was expected with the two teams' styles of play. Southern Illinois led for a good portion of the game, but UNI never trailed by more than a few possessions.

Down by five points, Northern Iowa ended the game on a 13-3 run and pulled the upset of 3rd seeded Southern Illinois. UNI’s Eric Coleman went to the line 15 times in the second half alone, and Adam Viet was 6-9 for the game from behind the arc. After the game, I headed to the interview room to hear the two teams’ players and coaches speak in the post-game press conferences.

I wanted to ask a question, but couldn’t figure out how to get the attention of the moderator. It seemed like every time I wanted to shoot my hand up, another person was talking. I didn’t get to ask a question but I enjoyed listening to UNI’s coach Ben Jacobsen and Coleman and Viet, and I was also interested in what SIU’s Chris Lowery and some Saluki players had to say.

Day one was complete, and for Saturday’s semi-finals I was back at the Scottrade Center, sitting in the actual stands with a friend of mine. As fun as it is being a media member, there’s still nothing like sitting in the upper deck and soaking in the atmosphere of the crowd.

Saturday’s first game between Drake and Creighton drew an energetic crowd, and a run by the Bulldogs at the end of the first half gave them a lead they would not relinquish. Creighton never let the game get out of reach, but Drake held off the Bluejays to advance to the finals. Adam Emmenecker is not relied on as a scorer, but he served as the primary scorer in Saturday’s game, giving the Bulldogs a huge lift offensively. Later, Northern Iowa lost to Illinois State in the semi-finals in a game that I would classify as a snoozer. ISU broke out of a slump early and jumped on UNI, and led by double digits for almost the entire second half.

For Sunday’s championship game, I was back to my courtside seat as a member of the media. I arrived at the Scottrade Center two hours before tip-off, and I was actually inside the arena before the gates opened for the rest of the crowd. Only some other journalists, cameramen, photographers, arena employees, and other coordinators were inside the stadium. I sat in my seat for most of the two hours, and by 1 PM, the title game between Drake and Illinois State was about to begin.

At first, the two teams battled back and forth, and Drake led just 18-17 with 7:30 remaining in the first half. That’s when the Bulldogs began to dominate the game, as they were able to shred Illinois State’s pressure man-to-man defense and knock down open shots from the perimeter. In other words, the Bulldogs started playing typical Drake basketball. A 19-0 run gave them a 37-17 lead in the final minutes of the first half, and Drake led 40-19 at the break. The game had turned into a blowout and Illinois State never recovered. A few nasty dunks by ISU’s Osiris Eldridge were the only highlights for the Cardinals, who received a complete whooping at the hands of the Bulldogs.

Afterward, I didn’t stay to watch Drake’s celebration. Instead, I attended the post-game press conferences. Tim Jankovich and the few Illinois State players present at the press conference were dejected, but seemed proud of the season they had. Plus, I sensed they felt they had a great shot at making the NCAA tournament, even though they would not speculate on why they deserved an at-large bid. After the ISU press conference, Keno Davis and five Drake players - Jonathan Cox, Josh Young, Adam Emmenecker, Lenoard Houston, and Klayton Korver - walked in and began the Bulldogs’ press conference.

The moderator finally opened up questions for Keno Davis, and after a few minutes my hand shot up. He motioned to the woman holding the microphone that I was next in line for a question. I asked Davis how he would conduct practice this week without having an opponent to prepare for. Again, for any other person in the room, asking a question was nothing major. But I had never experienced anything like that before, and I was pretty excited that I had actually asked Keno Davis a question in a press conference.

The basketball was great this weekend, but I could appreciate it even more with all the perks that came with my media credentials. Who knew a press pass could make things so fun?

I would like to thank the Missouri Valley Conference and its media relations staff for allowing - and me specifically - to cover what was again a very exciting "Arch Madness" event in St. Louis, just one of several league tourneys staff members are attending around the country this March. I enjoyed the opportunity and look forward to more in the future!

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