There is a truck stop right off of I-70 as you cross into Indiana that features a gas station, restaurant and country store that sells all sorts of knickknacks and miscellaneous items. It’s where you can stop, maybe pick up a souvenir for that hard-to-please family member who could really use a porcelain doll of a Native American child or some "fine" jewelry and chow down on a country-fried steak.
It’s also a great place to feel the entire college basketball world come lurching to a halt. When I left Columbus on Thursday morning pointed westward toward Indianapolis, I departed knowing that what I was going to find would be surreal at best and nonexistent at worst. Then, while I stopped just across the state line, came the email dropping the hammer on all of my plans: The Big Ten tournament had been canceled.
This wasn’t exactly a surprise. Through conversations with multiple sources throughout Wednesday night, this seemed to be the inevitable conclusion of a bizarre night of sports. You had announcements that fans would not be permitted to attend NCAA Tournament or Big Ten tournament games. The NBA announced that it was suspending operations indefinitely, bringing its season to a halt. Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg looked positively sick while coaching in what would be the final Big Ten game of the season.
It all happened so fast, and it felt impossible that there would be Big Ten games the next day. But with no cancellation during the overnight hours, I was still headed to town when the word finally came down. Thanks to the mobile hot spot on my phone and a fully charged laptop, there I sat in the passenger seat of my car and immediately churned out a story for BuckeyeXtra.com complete with perspective from interviews we had done with Ohio State’s coach and players not even 24 hours earlier.
Indianapolis was still an hour away, but it was time to press on. The Buckeyes would be leaving town soon, surely, but the hope was to get there in time to gather some reaction from somebody. That led me to the downtown JW Marriott hotel, where the 34-story façade was adorned with a message proclaiming Indianapolis as the home of this year’s Big Ten tournament.
A news conference was scheduled for 2 p.m. featuring, first, senior Andre Wesson and junior CJ Walker and then coach Chris Holtmann. The hope, at that moment, was that there would still be an NCAA Tournament, even as evidence mounted to the contrary. The players, coaches and support staff were milling around, grabbing a final meal together before departing to head home to their families. They woke up expecting to play a game against Purdue that night, and the disappointment was palpable and mixed with apprehension.
The story kept changing as fast as I could write it. After we interviewed Holtmann, news broke that Duke and Kansas both put out statements that they basically wouldn’t play even if an NCAA Tournament was held. Holtmann lingered, answered two more questions on that topic and made it clear that he expected the tournament itself to eventually be canceled.
Then, not even two hours later, it was. I was in room 202 of that hotel, having just finished my story on the hopes of still having an NCAA Tournament, when it was officially canceled. By that point, the Buckeyes were long gone. Time to scrap that last story, which had a shelf life of barely a half-hour, and rewrite.
This is the best time of year to have what I think is the best job in Ohio. Postseason basketball brings an exhilaration not found anywhere else, one where you have to live in the moment and write like there’s no tomorrow because there very well might not be for the team you’re covering. It’s an exhausting, jubilant event, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Now it was over before it began. The on-site, exclusive feature stories would never be written. It was raining in Indianapolis as I pointed the car eastward toward home and turned on the White Stripes.
I couldn’t wait to go hug my wife and kids.