Day 9: Syracuse | Traveling Violations
PHILADELPHIA – This is the best college basketball big city in the nation, a major metropolitan region with four professional sports franchises that still has a deep passion for the college game.
Philadelphia is home of The Palestra, the Big Five, Tom Gola, Daddy Mass, John Chaney, Hawk Hill and on and on and on.
So when Syracuse decided not to practice on Sunday – an event we had hoped to catch – we decided to get Jim Boeheim on the phone for an interview and then head fake the Tour so we could come here.
Philly presents a more direct route to Connecticut – our final stop – anyway. And in the spirit of its rich history, this may turn out to be a big year for Philadelphia college basketball.
There is too little time and too many teams to delve into the details, but the city's six top teams all appear on the uptick.
At Saint Joseph's, the return of super guard Jameer Nelson makes the Hawks a preseason top-20 team and sets up one of the most anticipated seasons in school history.
At Villanova the vaunted freshman class of a year ago now are sophomores, poised and ready to assert themselves on the Big East.
Temple, which had a rare NCAA tournament miss last season, returns four starters and has John Chaney confident that the Owls will return to their winning ways.
Penn, the class of the Ivy League, again will be the team to beat in that great league as Fran Dunphy's program rolls on.
La Salle had freshmen start a combined 100 games under coach Billy Hahn, and the potential is obvious. Get to know Steve Smith, a 6-foot 9-inch, 225-pounder who is going to be a star.
Drexel, which reached the finals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament (one win from the NCAAs) a year ago, continues to improve under coach Bruiser Flint.
Philadelphia should easily have multiple NCAA tournament teams again this year. Maybe four or five entries even.
Each of those teams boasts the kind of fan base that makes college hoops great and the game in this city unique.
• By the time we got to Philly it was just before 2 a.m. Sunday morning. With a long, long day and some long, long highway miles behind us, let's just say the Tour crew wasn't going to turn down a cocktail before bed.
But last call is at 2 a.m. We were in trouble until wheelman Bret Bearup, a lawyer who attended the University of Kentucky law school ("It's the Harvard of Central Kentucky") made an impassioned and compelling argument that because Daylight Savings Time had ended, providing us with a single beverage would not violate any known city ordinances. Two was actually one, or something like that.
It was enough to get us one savored drink. Who says lawyers are all bad?
• Valued Reader email of the day (concerning Big Bone Lick State Park and the "Florence Y'all" sign in Kentucky):
I get that same giggle every time I pass Big Bone Lick. I would counter what Bret said though: I think it took tremendous gall to give it the name they did. My hat's off to them. We ought to laugh more in this life.
Also, the "Florence Mall/Florence Y'all" water tower is the way it is, not because someone got up there and painted it one night. It's that way because the mall was forced to change it due to a state regulation about not having such blatant advertising on a public utility. So they took the M and turned it into a Y. Not a great leap once you think about how the letters are formed, is it?
I enjoy reading your work.
• Sunday afternoon we hooked up with old friend Brian Gorman, who is with Drexel and is as good as they get. He took us to the ultimate Philly neighborhood bar (not to mention his neighborhood bar): Krupa's on the corner of 27th and Brown to watch the Jets-Eagles game.
Krupa's is the best not just because of its great bartender Joe Ferry, or because Joe provides complimentary sandwiches during the game, but because this is the kind of place that drives the NFL's engine.
Mercifully the Eagles won, saving the assembled fans any additional anguish. Passionate doesn't begin to describe these guys, who seem split between whether Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb is to blame for the Eagles woes.
Best line of the night on the subject? "Next time they show Reid, notice he is looking at a menu, not a play sheet."
Ouch. And they think the media in Philly is tough.
• Total Mileage Thus Far: 1,718.9 miles
• Next stop: Storrs, Conn.
- John Chaney