NCAA Tournament

NCAA Sights & Sounds: Teams travel up to 2,900 miles to Sacramento

The Iona Gaels take the floor during NCAA March Madness practiceThursday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
The Iona Gaels take the floor during NCAA March Madness practiceThursday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

The Iona Gaels hail from New Rochelle, N.Y., where it was a blustery 39 degrees with 21 mph winds on Thursday afternoon.

In Sacramento, temperatures topped out at 70 degrees with soft breezes of some 4 mph winds, so imagine the glee of the Gaels to experience sunshine without peering over banks of icy terrain.

“It’s good to get out of the snow,” Iona guard Sam Cassell Jr. said with a laugh. “It’s good to see some palm trees and sunshine.”

Travel is always a bone of contention for programs big and small that are forced to go across the country to first-round destinations in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the nature of the beast, a necessary juggling act to fill out brackets, though every coach prefers shorter plane rides.

Iona traveled 2,800 miles to Sacramento, Rhode Island 2,900, Kent State of Ohio 2,400, Kansas State 1,650 and Creighton of Nebraska 1,500.

The trips were short and sweet for Pacific-12 Conference entries Oregon (475 miles) and UCLA (384).

Local venues used for Wednesday practices included Jesuit, Rio Americano and Sacramento high schools, along with American River College. Teams held practices open the the public at Golden 1 Center on Thursday.

“That trip (from New York) is very long!” Iona forward Jordan Washington said with emphasis and a smile. “I was tired of being on that plane, but I had my own row and a little bit of leg room. I’ve never been here, but it’s nice.”

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin expressed disappointment earlier in the week after being placed in a bracket on the West Coast for the third time in four years, with stops in Spokane, Wash., in 2014 and 2016. Cronin said his team was “excited” to get started in Sacramento, not mentioning the distance.

Ball vs. Pop – If Lonzo Ball of UCLA hasn’t been making headlines, his father, LaVar, most certainly has, including recent claims that he would have taken Michael Jordan to task in a game of one-on-one back in the day. But could Lonzo take his old man?

“Yeah,” the younger Ball said with a laugh. “He’s old now. Back in the day, no. He was too big, too strong. But now, once we get up and down (the court) a little bit, he’d tap out.”

Cassell flashback – Cassell said he is inspired by his father, Sam, a flashy guard who played in the NBA from 1993 to 2008. Sam Cassell had perhaps his greatest pro outing against the Kings in the 2004 playoffs while with the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 40 points in a the opener of a Western Conference semifinal series his team would win in seven games.

“The crazy thing about that is before we came out here, I put (my dad’s name) into YouTube and that series popped up,” Cassell Jr. said. “I try to study his tapes to take his moves, so I’ve seen it a couple of times.”

And the last time father and son dueled in 1-on-1?

“Last summer. I got him. Beat him bad. Too slow, too slow now!”

Cassell Jr. added: “He always wants a rematch, but I don’t want to play him again. I’m good. I’m up!”

Prep showcase – With Saturday a practice day, some coaches may head to Capital Christian High School across town to watch a prep showcase billed as California vs. Canada with the top-ranked team in Canada facing a powerhouse from Napa.

Orangeville Prep from Ontario, Canada, is 31-2 and plays Prolific Prep of Napa, which is 31-2. Both teams have a wealth of underclassmen national recruit prospects. Prolific Prep players headed to college include Abu Kigab to Oregon, Paul Scruggs to Xavier and Gary Trent Jr. to Duke.

Altman tour – Oregon coach Dana Altman is familiar with the history of two other teams besides his at Golden 1. He coached Kansas State for seven seasons and Creighton for 16, and he’s been at Oregon since 2010.

“I’m getting old,” he joked, adding, “I really enjoyed Kansas State. Two of our children were born there. The 16 years (at Creighton) were really enjoyable. Those two places were really great to my family and myself.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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