Vol. 43, No. 2 January 2006 .pdf version
Tony Barnhart: Big O a big plus
Andy Katz: Courage candidates aplenty
Joe Mitch: Indy breakfast a highlight
Dick Jerardi: Press row model in Philly
Tech tips: Time to clean house

Dick Jerardi

Philly schools offer press-row model for rest of nation

By DICK JERARDI / Philadelphia Daily News

When I read about and listen to press row issues around the country, I feel a bit guilty. In Philadelphia, the Big 5 schools make certain we all sit courtside.

It has been that way forever. There has never been any talk of changing it.

With writers being moved into corners and, in some places, football press boxes, I really feel guilty when I think of the press seating at the Palestra. If you've never covered a game at Penn's legendary gym, find a reason. There is simply nothing like it.

Press row is between the benches, one row off the floor. If you are lucky enough to sit near the end of the first row, you feel like you are in the huddle. If a coach is screaming at a player during a timeout, you know exactly what he is saying and why. If a coach is setting up a last second play, you know what to look for because you know what is coming.

It is simply the closest any of us will ever come to being in the game. And it really helps you give your readers something unique.

Wandering coaches often carry on conversations with members of the press. Usually, it's about the officiating. Princeton's Pete Carril was the best. He knew everybody on press row. And they all knew him. Princeton's annual Palestra game with Penn always mattered, and Carril was on high alert for any questionable officiating. And when he saw something amiss, he would plead with us to make it right. We would just smile. He would not.

I was sitting there one Sunday when Temple coach John Chaney angrily picked up a chair during a timeout. His star guard Lynn Greer grabbed the old coach before he could make national news again. When he was asked about it after the game, Chaney said he didn't remember it. He probably didn't.

When Drexel coaches Bruiser Flynt and Geoff Arnold, both Saint Joseph's graduates, thought their team was getting the worst of it from the refs during their game with St. Joe's last season, they demanded during the game that I write about it. I nodded politely. Drexel ended up winning, so I guess they were happy I wrote about that instead.

You are looking down so an official or coach never obscures your view. You hear what is said to the officials when they make the mistake of standing too close to overwrought coaches. You hear what the officials say under their breath to the coaches as they run up the court after the ball.

There is nothing off the record here, but you need to use discretion. If you've been around long enough, you know what can be used and what can't. I try to stay away from the cursing and look for the funny stuff.

I will never forget one night when a poor assistant coach lobbied his coach for a long time to get out of their man-to-man defense. The defense was being blitzed by penetration and was more or less useless. Within seconds of the coach finally switching to zone, the other team banged in a wide-open three. With his team trailing by 20 and hopelessly overmatched, the coach blamed it all on his assistant who never spoke the rest of the game.

During the NCAA Tournament, some of the seats can be right behind the benches. I remember being in the Pontiac Silverdome for a 1988 Sweet 16 game between heavily favored Purdue and Kansas State. With Mitch Richmond, K-State was not only hanging in, it was about to pull off a big upset. During a timeout, Purdue's coaches kept screaming at each other: "What defense are they playing?" It took all of my professionalism not to scream, "Box-and-one, you buffoons."

At the Palestra, I have carried on conversations with coaches during games. Usually, it's an assistant coach, but sometimes a head coach will be looking for someone to commiserate with as a game is getting away.

No matter where you sit, the Palestra is simply the best place in America to watch a basketball game. And the absolute best seats are the ones all of us who cover the games are privileged to occupy.

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