ANAHEIM, Calif. — After their 84-61 win over Gonzaga in the round of 32, the Arizona Wildcats boarded a 30-seat airplane at a small airfield in San Diego and took off for Tucson.
They were back a little before midnight and were able to spend about 40 hours in Southern Arizona. A couple of practices and two full days of class later, the Wildcats flew back to California on Tuesday night; this time bound for Anaheim in advance of tonight’s Sweet 16 game against San Diego State.
It’s the best — and most stressful — time of the year for the players and coaches.
And it’s the same way for the people behind the scenes.
“You’re on your toes 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Matt Brown, the UA’s assistant athletic director for event management. “It’s stressful at times, but you’re working with very competent people. It’s great to say that we’re playing a very small role to help these guys accomplish what they’re trying to do.
“With that said, we’ll definitely exhale when it’s all over. Hopefully that’s in Texas in a few weeks.”
Brown, who has been with Arizona for 14 years, is one of two team administrators traveling with the Wildcats to help ensure the travels go smoothly. His partner this time of year is assistant athletic director Mike Ketcham.
Ketcham travels with the Wildcats, and Brown travels ahead. Together, they tackle every logistical issue you can think of.
Organizing the travel
When Sean Miller huddled with his team on Selection Sunday to see who and where the Wildcats would play in the first round of the tournament, Brown and Ketcham did the same in a separate part of McKale Center.
Once it was revealed the Wildcats would travel to San Diego and open up against Weber State, Brown and Ketcham took to their phones and computers. They are in immediate communication with the NCAA and the host site.
The NCAA sends out a participant manual, which Brown said is “kinda like the NCAA bible.” It tells them when they will travel, where they will stay, when and where they will practice and other specific details of the trip.
Later that night, Brown was given a list by the UA of everyone that would travel with the Wildcats to San Diego and inputted it into a mandated NCAA portal, so they know who is coming and can share it with the travel company that handles postseason travel.
That brings up the first headache of the NCAA tournament.
Throughout the entire regular season, the Wildcats handle their own travel arrangements. Once the postseason hits, the NCAA takes over. All teams have to use Short’s Travel Management in Waterloo, Iowa.
Based on the location of the game, the team either takes a plane or a bus to the site. The Wildcats took a charter plane to San Diego. The plane consisted of players, coaches, staff, band members, cheerleaders and a few athletic department donors.
The UA was scheduled to leave Tucson around 6 p.m. Wednesday of last week, two nights before their opening game against Weber State. However, because of some confusion involving Short’s, the NCAA and the company that ran the charter plane, the Wildcats didn’t leave until after 10 p.m.
“There was a lot of confusion,” Brown said. “The plane didn’t arrive on time, so we knew that was going to be an issue. It originated from South America and then went to Texas. Once there, it had to go through a clearance deal and then the technicians got involved. It finally got to Tucson and we were able to get into San Diego a little after 11.”
On the ground in San Diego
The Wildcats stayed at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego, and Brown and Ketcham worked closely with them to make sure the UA had everything it needed.
Brown toured the hotel with a member of the Hyatt’s staff and checked where the UA would eat meals, watch film, get taped up and hold its walk-throughs.
During the postseason, the Wildcats make their own arrangements for meals. Rather than be out and about in San Diego, the team has most of its meals brought in to the hotel by various restaurants. They eat as a team.
Trainer Justin Kokoskie and the strength and conditioning staff consult with Brown on choosing the restaurants for the team meals to make sure they fit the players’ nutritional needs.
Before the game against Weber State, the Wildcats held a closed practice at San Diego State’s practice gym across the street from Viejas Arena. In Anaheim, they’ll practice at a local high school. Those are on top of the open practices the team holds at the main arena in front of fans.
The most challenging part of Brown and Ketcham’s duties came late Sunday night and early Monday morning.
With the Wildcats playing on Friday and Sunday on the first weekend and Thursday and Saturday on the second weekend, the turnaround was shorter than normal.
They had to get the UA out on a different plane than it came in on because of a San Diego noise ordinance that prevented the team from flying out of Lindbergh Field. Instead, they had to fly out of a smaller airfield on a 30-seat regional jet.
Brown then headed straight to Anaheim to meet with the team hotel personnel to go over the facilities as he did in San Diego. Ketcham returned with the team to Tucson.
The tricky part is the short time allowed for planning.
Not only did the Wildcats play Sunday, they had the latest game possible at 6:40 p.m.
“The late game Sunday put us behind the eight ball,” Brown said. “You try to do as much as you can without jinxing things. You want to see the outcome before you get into the nitty-gritty. You lose an entire day on the Friday-Sunday, Thursday-Saturday turnaround, and it takes you a little out of your routine.
That’s true for the players, too.
“I don’t remember it being this hectic last year,” sophomore Gabe York said. “It seems like we’ve been on the go every minute. But this is what it’s all about. I don’t think anyone is complaining.”
Brown certainly isn’t.
“This is a great experience,” said Brown, from a laundromat in Anaheim. “The last time I had to do laundry on the road was in Omaha when the baseball team won it all.
“So hopefully, it works out like that again.”