On March 6, 2014, the West Coast Conference Basketball Championship came to the Orleans Arena right here in my very own town of Las Vegas. Which means that my beloved Cougars came right along with it. It just so happens that the Orleans Arena is about 2 miles from my house. Now how could my team be that close and me not be there? There was no good reason not to go, other than the rather high price for admission. Despite the cost, I have no regrets about going. In fact quite the opposite, if you factor the joy and merriment I experienced over the 5 day tournament, I got more than my money's worth. As part of the package deal, I had tickets to all 16 games that took place over the weekend.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that first and foremost I am a football fan. It is by far my favorite sport, but because of the ability to watch most of the BYU basketball games on BYU tv, I grew to love these players this season, as well as gain a greater appreciation for the sport of basketball.
I went to the first men's game on Thursday night even though BYU was not playing. The winner of this game would play BYU on Saturday, so it was good to scout out the competition. Of course I was wearing a BYU shirt, because pretty much 9 days out of 10, that is what I am wearing. When I first walked into the arena, with in 2 minutes someone yelled out to me "Go Cougars!" At first this caught me off guard. I walk around Vegas wearing a BYU shirt ALL the time and no one every says anything. I walked around for a few more minutes and at least 3 other people called out those wonderful words. Not having anyone else to attend with, I wondered if it would be any fun. But here is the thing, when you are a Cougar, you are never alone. I was truly with my people and it was awesome.
After wondering around, I found an empty seat by a large group of men all wearing BYU blue. I ended up visiting with them for much of the game. They were a family group who come every year as a tradition. Turns out one of the guys was graduating from BYU this spring in Accounting, just like I did. I had fun visiting with them and made some new friends.
After the game, I tried going up to the third floor to check out the set for BYU Sports Nation. This is a sports radio show that I listen to daily. And starting with this tournament, they were broadcasting on BYU tv as well. I was determined to meet Spencer Linton and Jarom Jordan. Unfortunately, a senior citizen security guard prevented me from entering the level where they do the broadcasts. I gave up, determined to try again another day.
On Friday I went to watch the BYU women's team play. Again I just sat in a random seat near some other BYU Fans. During half time I had a wonderful talk with a kind lady who noticed that I was sitting alone. She came over and introduced herself and just visited with me for a few minutes. Another kindred Cougar spirit. The lady Cougs played well and won the game. It was amazing to watch Jenifer Hamson play in person. You really don't appreciate how tall she is when watching on TV.
Some excitement happened when a distinguished man wearing a suit came in and sat right behind me. When I turned around and looked, it was none other than Elder Todd D Christofferson, of the Twelve Apostles. His wife is a huge fan and cheered almost as loud as I did. Of course, I could not resit the chance to take a selfie with him in the background. After the game I chatted with he and his wife for a few minutes. Much to my surprise, there were no other people around us.
When the game was over, I saw Spencer Linton finishing up his broadcast down on the floor. All of the arena security guards were trying to get the place emptied so they could let people with tickets back in. Instead of going up to the top and exiting like they directed me to, I went sideways and managed to avoid any of them forcing me to leave. Just as I was about to step onto the floor and call out to Spencer, a guard rushed over to me and told me I was not allowed to be there. Curses, foiled again. Again, feeling dejected I acquiesced and left.
Not yet ready to leave the party, I lingered with the other fans. Just outside the arena I ran into Kevin Worthen, who is a Vice President for BYU. I recognized him because of this video:
Earlier when I walked into the arena, he and his family were just in front of me. I kept thinking that I recognized him, and finally it hit me that he was in this video with the President of BYU, President Samuelson, and Tom Holmoe, the Athletic Director. So when I saw him again, I spoke to him and mentioned how much I enjoyed the video. He was very gracious if somewhat disturbed at my recognition. He introduced me to his wife Peggy and the rest of his family, and we visited for a minute about my love for all things BYU. They were on their way to Applebees and I gave them directions as it was near my house. Little did I know that just a few days later, it would be announce that he was the next President of BYU. My only regret is that I didn't ask him for a picture. That is so unlike me and I am sure it will be a lifelong sorrow.
Still feeling the rush of excitement in the air, I wondered around until I bumped into this amazing player:
Here name is Jennifer Hamson. If you can't tell, she is the starting center for the Women's basketball team. She is pretty good at basketball. She was named the best Offensive and Defensive player in the conference. She was very down to earth and fun to visit with. She also plays on the Volleyball team. I asked her which sport she wants to play when she graduates and she truly doesn't know. She loves them both. Oh, and by the way, she was just drafted to play in the WNBA, so yeah, she is kind of a big deal.
Next I found this flag hanging up and knew this picture had to happen:
I had to stop a random stranger to be my photographer. He probably didn't think I was weird at all, right?
Right after I took this picture, I met a very nice young man who asked if he could interview me about being a fan of BYU. You can read his blog for the Deseret News here. It is pretty hilarious and I want to know if I get a sash and crown to go with my title of "Biggest BYU fan in Las Vegas." I may or may not have frightened him a little bit. But if he was looking for a fan to interview, I am kind of gold when it comes to being passionate about my team.
After that, I renewed my quest to meet the guys at BYU Sports Nation. I returned to the third floor where I knew they were getting ready to do a broadcast. For one of my jobs, I have a picture ID on a lanyard. Realizing that these security guards were really not scrutinizing things that much, I put it around my neck. With an attitude that I knew what I was doing and was supposed to be there, I walked right past the guard without giving her a second glance. The third time was the charm, as I was not stopped.
I had fun visiting with Ben Bagley, the voice of BYU Sports Nation. He didn't seem to think it all that strange that an old lady would bamboozle security. We chatted about being a fan, until Spencer showed up and this picture happened:
All of these events made me feel like the tournament was a success and the men's team had not even played yet. Saturday I arrived early for the game and again found an open seat next to some other fans. My previous experiences were repeated as I found a camaraderie with some fellow Cougars. We cheered and yelled at the refs together. The team won and all was well. Here is a blurry shot of the guys warming up:
And here is one from my seat at that game:
Someone told me that I would not want to miss watching Gonzaga play nor seeing how passionate their fans are. Sure enough I was not disappointed. Again I found some BYU fans to sit by. I ended up sitting next to two lovely elderly couples. It turned out that one of them was the sister of my Stake Young Women's president in Seattle. It really is such a small world in the church. Her husband sat next to me and it was like watching the game with my Grandpa. He was very friendly and we had fun visiting while watching the game. It was a very close game and it looked like Gonzage would loose for most of the game. It was only with a buzzer beating coast to coast move by John Stockton's son, that Gonzaga managed to win. The BYU fans around me were going crazy thinking that Gonzaga might get eliminated in their fist game, but they pulled off the win.
On Sunday, we had many visitors at church who were in town for the tournament. Most only stayed for Sacrament meeting, but one couple did stay for all three meetings. Of course I spoke with the wife in Relief Society as any good RS president would do. It turns out that her husband is another VP at BYU, Brother Webb. I also shared about the blog written about me as my good news minute, and the whole RS laughed about what a big fan I am. Afterwards, I met Brother Webb and he said "Oh, are you the big BYU fan that they warned me about in High Priests?" Well, yes, that would be me. I visited with both of them and made two more new friends.
Monday night finally arrived, and I was back to the arena for the evening of games. Gonzaga played first. I arrived early, hoping to find a good seat down close. The good thing about going alone, was that you can always find one open seat just about anywhere. As I was looking around, I noticed that Danny Ainge was sitting near by. So of course I took a selfie with him in the back ground.
It was finally time for the tip off. BYU struggled back and forth through the whole game. Those of us in our section really thought the refs were missing a bunch of calls, and we let them know about it.
It turned out the Tom Holmoe had the seat the was directly behind me. BYUtv caught him on camera yelling at the refs. And who do you think was right there with him? Well that would be me, wouldn't it. We are both outraged at the no call mugging of Tyler Haws at this point.
But then in the next moment, Matt Carlino sunk a three and we took the lead. We both celebrated in our own way. That game was so exciting and had the happiest of endings. I loved every minute of it.
The next morning, Tom Holmoe was interviewed on BYU Sports Nation. Imagine my surprise when they played this video and there I was right in front of him. Even though the above still shots are pretty great, you have to see the whole video to fully appreciate the moment.
Tuesday night, I returned for the championship. I was full of hope, but cautiously optimistic about how that game would go. When I arrived to my seat, I met Sandra Rodgers who as sitting right next to me. Well actually I already know and love her well as she is in charge of Women's Conference every year. We had a wonderful visit before the game. I am sure I only scared her a little with my fanatical following of all things BYU. She was worried and hopeful as well. She mentioned that she figured if they won, she would go out for ice cream to celebrate, and if they lost, she would go out for ice cream to drown her sorrows. So either way, there would be ice cream. Sounded like a reasonable plan to me.
Here are some pictures from my seat. I was very close to the team.
Although they fought hard, it was not in the cards to win that game. The injury to Kyle Collinsworth did not help and in the end Gonzaga was too much for the Cougars.
Right after the game, I witnessed the most tender moment between Coach Rose and his wife. He sat on the bench and looked at her until someone tapped her and she made eye contact with him. He just gave a smile like "Well we gave it all we had, and I know you still love me." It was evident of their caring relationship. I don't know if we give the coaches families enough credit for their sacrifices. I felt blessed to be there for that.
It always amazes me when I am present for losses. Everyone is so sad and disappointed. I was also, but at the same time, I am so grateful for the chance to be present and be a part of all the atmosphere, that I can't help but feel happy about that. I experienced something similar at the Oregon St loss at the black out football game. Anytime I get to be with other Cougar fans, it is a great day for me regardless of the outcome.