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Hooping it up on heavenly trip

Four games in one night a journey of a lifetime.

The opening tip-off between La Salle and Hartford at Tom Gola Arena. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The opening tip-off between La Salle and Hartford at Tom Gola Arena. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

THREE GAMES in 26 hours and a few more on TV to start the season simply were not sufficient. Why not four games at four city venues in 3 hours?

That was the plan as I arrived at the Conshohocken Marriott yesterday afternoon. Could photographer Yong Kim, driver Jen Barkowitz and me make it happen? Read on.

Old friend John Gallagher, whom I met at a La Salle practice in 1989 before a game at Notre Dame, invited me to start the journey with his Hartford team as they spent the final hours at the hotel before heading to La Salle. Gal was 12 then, 36 now, a member of the 1997 Saint Joseph's Atlantic 10 championship team, an assistant coach and a head coach for four seasons.

So, here is what went down:

Arrive at 2:30, walk into the hotel and see Hartford players all over the lobby staring at laptops. I see no video games on the screens.

"That's why we have a 3.2 team GPA," Coach Gal says.

While hanging in Gal's luxurious suite, he gets a call from Brown coach Mike Martin.

"Who you got tonight?" Gal asks.

Before Mike can answer, he says: "Gal, I got to call you back."

That passes for coach conversation during the season.

Love to compare phone number contacts with coaches. I have never won that game and I don't win this one. Gal has 1,728.

Team meal at 3, bus leaves for La Salle at 5. Food is very good, especially since there is no chance I am seeing anymore food until the morning.

There will be 78 Gallaghers - parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins - at Gola Arena.

We are watching ESPN and the Auburn announcer comes on to relive the field-goal return call. Did that really happen?

There is a debate on the best route to La Salle. The traffic maps say I-76 East, Route 1 North and the back roads past Wayne Junction to 20th and Olney.

But it is 5 p.m. Incredibly, we roll smoothly down the Schuylkill and pass City Avenue at 5:17.

"Hope the game goes like that," Gal says hopefully.

A Mega Millions $219 million sign beckons on the Boulevard. Maybe we can stop at a Wawa.

We cruise in front of Gola Arena at 5:35, a major travel upset, hopefully a good omen.

Meet up with Jen and Yong to go over the plan. We are going to see parts of four games, but just parts.

I hear my only national anthem of the evening at 7 p.m. At 7:06, the ball is in the air. Tyreek Duren is streaking to the hoop. My busmates are in trouble. La Salle may not have started the season well, but all but one of these players were in the 2013 Sweet 16.

The clock stops for the under-16 media timeout. La Salle leads, 7-2. We are out the door at 7:12, heading for Broad Street, the Boulevard and tempting fate with another Schuylkill run downtown.

Listening to Kale Beers and Steve Degler on La Salle radio, we are off at 30th Street Station and behind the DAC at 7:35. Drexel and Cleveland State, the other 7 p.m. start, is nearing halftime as we walk in.

The Dragons lead, 24-17, with 3:38 left. I see Damion Lee sitting forlornly at the end of the bench, his season over with that torn ACL. With Lee, this had a chance to be a very special Dragons team. Maybe they still can find a way.

Without him, they lead 30-20 at the break and the DAC Pack is roaring. There will be a lot more hoops played in this gym tonight.

As we roll down 34th Street, Kale tells us Duren hit a shot at the halftime buzzer to give La Salle a 33-26 lead.

I insist on a short detour down 34th and then back up 33rd to roll through Penn's campus and pay homage to the darkened Palestra. They could have made this a lot less challenging if all the games had been there.

On to Temple for a game that starts at 8. We get off I-676 at Broad Street. John Baum is introducing the starting lineups for St. Joe's and Temple. Harry Donahue tells us the ball is in the air at 8:03.

We pass the old Daily News building. Where is everybody? What is up with that casino?

We were told a parking spot would be there for us under the Liacouras Center down that chute off North Broad. We cruise in. They have no spots and no clue who we are. Yong explains the deal and we are good.

We walk into the arena and SJU leads, 7-2, with 14:30 to go in the half. I sit down for the first time since the bus. I am determined to watch a little basketball.

Good game. Back and forth. Temple hits long shots. SJU's Ronald Roberts throws down another of his ridiculous dunks, the kind that makes buildings shake.

The buzzer sounds for the under-8 minute timeout. Jen has her car pointed up the ramp and we are back on Broad Street, headed south. It is 8:27. Feel bad we didn't make the earlier women's game at McGonigle Hall between Temple and SJU, but schedules are schedules.

We switch to Matt Martucci and Joe Lunardi on the SJU radio network as we pass the former Daily News building again, back onto 676 and one final Schuylkill run. We are headed for the Main Line. The Owls are leading, barely.

We get off at Montgomery Drive for the ride through Fairmount Park and the back way to 54th Street. We need to drive by St. Joe's to make this official.

Hagan Arena is lit up, but silent. We are heading up Lancaster Avenue to Villanova for the Wildcats and Penn.

I want to stop by Merion to play the 18th. I decide to wait for better light.

La Salle is now comfortably ahead on the way to a 75-62 win. Drexel is in a dead heat nearing the finish line.

We walk into the Pavilion just before halftime so, technically, we have seen part of four games in barely 2 hours, a record that may be unchallenged for decades.

Villanova leads by many. Drexel heads into overtime and then another and another, finally winning its second consecutive three-OT game, 85-82. That has to be some kind of record.

Watch a few minutes of the second half. Villanova is missing every shot. Penn is gaining, but way too slowly.

Start writing while checking out the score from Liacouras. Temple's young team beats St. Joe's older team, 77-69. I have no particular idea what happened, but I shall watch the tape.

Villanova finishes off Penn, 77-54.

I see about 20 minutes of basketball while riding 9 miles from La Salle to Drexel, 3 miles to Temple and then 16 miles to Villanova.

So, 28 miles, 20 minutes and 1,186 words.

There must be meaning to all this. Surely, it will come to me when I wake up.