It is a uniquely American pursuit – played at the highest level in 47 states, in tiny windswept towns and enormous cities, in mountain campuses and at beachfront colleges.
Which is why, perhaps more than any other sport, college basketball is perfect for this kind of enterprise – an 11-day (barring breakdown), 11-team (at least), 2,000-plus-mile road trip across half the country to preview the upcoming season.
This weekend in the prairie town of Lawrence, Kan. the college season kicks off with a midnight practice called Late Night in The Phog. We'll be there.
By the time we are done, nearly two weeks later, we'll be in distinctly East Coast Connecticut, not far from the fog of the Atlantic and home to nearly everyone's preseason No. 1, the UConn Huskies.
In between we'll file daily reports from each team we visit along the way. There also will be a Traveling Violations notebook describing the people we meet and hijinks we find on the road.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because it is. The then-Trippin' Tour was first mounted in 2000 at the immortal (now defunct) HoopsTV.com, the great hip-hop hoops site. For the past two years it lived at SportsLine.com.
Now it is here at Yahoo! Sports, where it will reach a far bigger and, of course, better audience.
It remains an experiment in sportswriting, a daily diary of what happened with little pause for perspective. You don't have to be a die-hard college hoops fan to enjoy the ride.
And, yes, it is all a ride. Bret Bearup, the former Kentucky Wildcat and now financial planner extraordinaire, has once again signed up for wheelman duty. We aren't driving his H2 this year (going with a Lexus instead) because we still feel guilty about the time a year ago we passed the hybrid electric car in Ohio while getting all of nine miles to the gallon.
"This is why we have to invade Iraq," Bearup surmised.
Now that Iraq has been conquered we are thinking a bit more globally, although not so globally that we'd drive a hybrid. I mean, come on. We have standards here.
We will be all over on the map the next couple weeks. From the Great Plains to central New York, St. Louis to southern Indiana.
Along the way we'll eat in top-notch places and some true hole-in-the-wall diners. Most likely there will be at least one stop at the Club Waffle (House). A bar or three is assuredly going to be involved. Too many last calls will be followed by too-early wakeup calls.
If past history is any indication – and we are going through Kentucky again – there will be at least one run-in with moonshine.
This won't be one of those stuffy Sports Illustrated journals where the writer whines about how grinding life on the road is when the Grand Hyatt's room service is overcooked. It isn't one of those New York-centric GQ journeys to "find America."
You'll hear no complaints, because what could you possibly complain about when you are being paid to drive around and watch college basketball practices?
You'll hear no pontificating, because we don't portend to be that smart. Or that pretentious.
What you'll get is a lot of basketball, and generally a lot of fun.
We'll stop in and see Rick Pitino in Louisville, catch up with mighty, mighty Butler the year after it got famous and find out how winning it all has changed Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara at Syracuse. We'll visit with Mike Davis and Bob Huggins, find out about the Detroit Tigers of Missouri and sit down with Tubby Smith in the middle of his Big Blue Nation.
No, we aren't getting everywhere. And yes, we understand there is plenty of country west of Kansas.
But you try driving it.
The trip is unique because we eschew easier modes of transportation. No planes and no trains. Just back roads, big bridges and long, long interstates. Getting there is half the fun.
Sure, we'd love to hit, say, Gonzaga and then Oregon and then Utah and then UCLA. But we'd be driving forever. And ever. Don't blame us; we didn't map out the country. We just live here.
Anyway, in three years we've been to 28 campuses in 16 states. This year we add four new campuses and three new states. So perhaps one day we'll get to everyone.
If you do happen to live in a town we will be passing through, please keep an eye out for us at the local tavern.
Otherwise, keep reading. We assume you would probably love the opportunity to take a couple weeks off work to drive around, drink beer at night and talk sports.
But you have work, school, a wife, a life, whatever. So we are hear to serve. Come along with us. Check back every day, starting Sunday.
Year four of the trip promises to be the best of them all.
- college basketball