The Best of the Road to College Hoops

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – From a hotel room overlooking a LaGuardia Airport runway – not the most scenic view of the trip – trying to sort through the memories of 12 dizzying days of practice, driving and writing isn't easy.

We saw Kansas prairie, Illinois cornfields, West Virginia mountains, New Jersey tollbooths and Connecticut foliage, among other things.

Mainly we saw and talked a lot of basketball with a lot of basketball people. We broke bread and shared laughs and wine with coaches from the Big 12 to the Colonial Athletic Association.

We saw great teams and ones still in progress. We toured locker rooms and homes and even got to attend a St. Louis Rams game courtesy of the team owners. We caught up with fans and friends, players and parents. It was even more fun than we were able to relay in print.

But after more than 2,100 miles of driving, the Tour has to end. So if you are too lazy to read the series, here is your Cliffs Notes version, the Best of.

Best Restaurant: Merick Inn, Lexington, Ky.

A choice of horseman and Wildcat fan Thomas Gaines, who rarely fails to deliver when it comes to dinning spots. The Merick has a classic old-school feel to it (like real wood-burning fire places) and delivers some incredible steaks.

Runner-up: Bob's Steakhouse, Pana, Ill.

A different kind of joint, a different kind of steak, but after 25 years, Bob can really deliver. And as nice as they were at the Merick.

Best Bar: Krupa's, 27th and Brown, Philadelphia

No truth to the rumor that we tested every bar for 2,100 miles, but in our small sample we couldn't find any place better than your classic Philly corner bar. When the Eagles are playing, it is about the best place in the city.

Best Team: Connecticut

The Huskies have so much size, so much depth and so many ways to score that only a lack of chemistry could ruin their season. They have two player of the year candidates (Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon), yet freshman Charlie Villanueva is their best pro prospect. Oh, and that Calhoun guy can coach a bit too.

Second and Third-Best Teams: Missouri, Cincinnati

The Tigers are loaded with talent and experience. Cincinnati is rough, tough and terrific.

Most Scenic Road: Merritt Parkway, Conn.

Peak foliage in Southern Connecticut put the always-pretty highway off the charts. The hills, blasts of color and occasional overhang of trees sure beat I-95.

Runner-up: Rte 37, Southern Indiana

We didn't have time this year to stop by the Orleans Dairyland (although they emailed wondering when we were coming), but we did enjoy the rolling hills, pumpkin patches and broad views that this road provides.

Best Player: Ben Gordon, UConn

No easy choice but Gordon was tremendous in the practice we saw. This is a truly dynamic guard who will score, score, score this season.

Runner-up: James "Flight" White, Cincinnati

Forget what you know about the guy by the same name who used to play at Florida. White is content at UC and sensational when we saw him. He made the kind of throwdown during a Saturday scrimmage that gave him his nickname in the first place.

Best Valued Reader email:


I'm in the army deployed to Baghdad right now. Just wanted you to know that I enjoy your articles. I'm a diehard Kansas Jayhawk fan, but college basketball is the best.

When you were in Lawrence you should have eaten at Yellow Sub. It has two locations, one on campus and one in the city. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more articles in the future.

Brian Huey

Best Arena: Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas

A simply awesome basketball barn that never fails to inspire a bit of awe, especially when the sun is shining in through the end zone windows.

Runner-up: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler

Of all the basketball shrines of Indiana, this is the best of the best.

Second-Best River Crossed: Missouri

Wheelman Bret Bearup's choice because he is a big Lewis & Clark fan and this was an expedition.

Best River Crossed: Mississippi

Because I'm a Huck and Jim guy, and when he did it we weren't that far from Hannibal, Mo.

Best Skyline: New York

No offense to Zanesville, Ohio.

Best View: St. Louis skyline and Arch from the Clayton, Mo. penthouse of Stan & Ann Kroenke

You wouldn't think St. Louis could look that good.

Runner-up: Rams cheerleading squad from sideline of Edward Jones Dome.

Well, then again...

Best Coffee: Dunkin' Donuts

Once you get to New England, where it is inherently better, there is no other choice.

Best Interview: A.J. Moye, Indiana

Reporters throughout the Big Ten already are depressed that the loquacious Moye, who we bet becomes a politician one day, is a senior.

Best attendee to a fan event: Neal Walther of Indianapolis

He told his fiancee Kate he'd only be out for "one beer" but was seen an hour later doing a jager bomb. Our kind of guy.

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