HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Pioneers are in Hot Springs, Ark., exactly where they want to be.
Denver beat South Alabama last night and heads into the semifinals against Western Kentucky tonight. It was a strange day yesterday, as DU was the only higher seed to advance.
The team actually headed down on Friday afternoon, stayed in Little Rock that night and practiced at UALR on Saturday morning before making the hour-long drive to Hot Springs.
The players and coaches were in good spirits during the trip. The Pioneers generally travel in khakis and polos, or the equivilant, so when freshman forward Marcus Byrd walked to the bus wearing a tie, head coach Joe Scott asked him what he was doing.
"Looking good, Coach," was Byrd's smiling reply, and he kept walking onto the bus.
When you travel as much as we do, you expect to run into hiccups every once in a while. Fortunately, it doesn't happen too often, but both junior guard Chase Hallam and trainer Pat Hoxsey spent a little extra time clearing security at DIA. Hallam is wearing a back brace, which required some extra screening. With as many medical supplies as Hoxsey carries, it's surprising he doesn't get pulled aside more often. This time, it was a thorough screening, but he just made the flight.
The Sun Belt Tournament makes things a little different for the participants. Since so many teams are playing in one place, practice times are often a little creative, and the teams do what they can. Generally on the road, the team heads to whatever court they're going to play on and shoots around for an hour or so.
This morning, like yesterday, the Pioneers went to the arena, where they were allowed exactly 20 minutes to shoot around. The moment the first player walked on the court, the timer starter, and right when the buzzer sounded, everyone was ushered out.
Everyone returned to a nice breakfast at the hotel, and in a few hours they will load back onto the bus and ride to a local high school to work out for another hour.
About Hot Springs - It seems like we've covered everything in Hot Springs over the past four years.
Of course, it's the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, and it has numerous bath houses that utilize the natural hot springs (hence the name). And there's a horse track a few miles down the road.
It's also in the middle of Hot Springs National Park, filled with trails throughout the surrounding hills. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, "In 1832, President Andrew Jackson made Hot Springs the first Federal Reservation. It was the first piece of America protected for future generations. Hot Springs was, in essence, America's first national park."
Walking through town, it's nearly impossible to ignore the gangster influence of the town in the early 20th century. From the Gangster Museum, complete with an "escape tunnel", to the Ohio Club, where Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel were known to gamble and enjoy libations during Prohibition, there are references to gangsters just about everywhere along Central Avenue.
In fact, the Pioneers have stayed every year at the Arlington Hotel, a favorite of Al Capone, who was known for booking the entire fourth floor when he would come to visit.
These days, the town is considerably tamer with more family-friendly entertainment.
And Hot Springs does an excellent job of hosting the Sun Belt Tournament. This is the last one for the Pioneers, as the team moves on to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) next season. That postseason tournament is played in Las Vegas.
While it's exciting to think about playing there next year, everyone with the Pioneers are enjoying their time in Hot Springs and their final days in the Sun Belt Conference.
Denver's goal is obvious, and the Pioneers will be playing tonight for the priviledge of staying in Hot Springs for one more day. Right where they want to be.
Yearly travel totals:
Total Flights - 29
Total Mileage by Air - 17,161
Total Mileage by Bus - 1, 543
Total Number of Hotels - 16
Total Number of Different Airports - 13
Total Number of Airline Delays - 9
Total Number of Cancelled Flights - 0
Total Number of Bags Lost - 4
Total Number of Extra Pat Downs This Trip - 2
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