The Pregame Show

    I got the call at Tiverton High School. It was our boys’ basketball playoff game, so I couldn’t really respond at that moment. As soon as I could, though, I quickly called back.

    “Hey Dan.”
    “Hey Adam.”
    From then on, Dan Yorke and I started a long week of planning for the RIIL Championship games. Tiverton had just knocked us out of the playoffs, so I was available to do our entire state tournament. So was Classical head coach John Kavanagh, whose team made it into the state tournament as the very last seed, but would still likely be able to work with us for every game. Now, we had the same team as the year before- but this year, I would have more of a role. As Dan told me the night before, I would be interviewing coaches and doing our pregame show this time around.

    Our first game was on a cold February Sunday at CCRI. Right off the bat we had three championship games, starting with the Division II championship, Narragansett vs. East Greenwich. I quickly realized how tough my job was- Dan, having done this tournament for years, was experienced and knew all of the coaches. Likewise, Kav, having coached against pretty much everyone, could easily hold a long conversation with any of his fellow coaches. I had neither the experience nor the close ties with any of the coaches, and when Dan sent me off to get a two-minute interview with Narragansett head coach Kyle Boddington, telling me not to worry about any of the questions and just ask him simple ones, I returned with about a minute and fifteen seconds of interview time. Already I was behind the 8-ball.

    Then, however, I quickly realized I had to adapt. Before East Greenwich got there, I quickly came up with questions for their coach. That was easier said than done, never having seen their team play before. However, by the time they got there and I interviewed their coach, I had five questions lined up for him. The interview ended up going a couple of seconds over 2 minutes. I figured that would be a good benchmark for the rest of my interviews, and I managed to successfully recover from my first issue.

    My first pregame show went well, and I spent much of the Division II championship writing questions for the D-III and D-I championship. After the game was over (Narragansett won), I grabbed Coach Boddington and Player of the Game Thomaz Whitford. Watching Dan talk to him, I realized how far I still had to go.

    The Division III game went better- I was friends with Sean Kelly, Wheeler’s head coach, and Tiverton’s coach recognized me from our game a week ago. During my pregame show, however, I realized how stilted I sounded. So I started to go off-script a little. I sounded better, so I decided to stick with it. I kept myself busy during the D-III game by editing the scripts I was given.

    The Division I game, however, was going to be my toughest challenge yet. My first job- getting the interviews- proved to not be too bad, however. The challenge with Hendricken’s head coach Jamal Gomes was not interviewing him- it was simply getting to him. Coach Gomes proved to be my best interviewee- after 4 questions, we were two and a half minutes in and I actually had to cut the interview short. Meanwhile, Coach Kav had warned me about Mount Pleasant’s head coach, Charles Holliday. Apparently, at least according to him and Dan, he was known for answering questions shortly and had a bit of a temper. However, Coach Holliday, although intimidating, was a good interview (which was good, considering I was going to interview him more than anyone else over the course of the tournament). Dan looked impressed when I told him I had gotten my two minutes.

     My second tough task turned out to be keeping it together during the game. It was the best high school basketball game I had ever seen. With fifteen seconds left, Mount Pleasant forward Darren Robinson pulled off a reverse dunk to put his team up by 3. The Mount Pleasant fans, who had migrated from the stands to form a mass right behind Dan, Coach Kav, and I, went crazy. Seconds later, however, Hendricken guard Bobby Fiorito was fouled while shooting a 3, prompting outrage from behind us. He would hit all three free throws, and the game would go to overtime. It was a deadlock throughout overtime until eight seconds left, when Mount Pleasant guard Manny Roman hit a shot in the lane to put them up 78-76. The crowd behind us erupted. Coach Holiday shouted in jubilation into the crowd mic- “They don’t want us to win! They don’t want us to win!” They hadn’t won yet, though. Hendricken broke through the Mt. Pleasant defense on the other end and managed to get Fiorito for a wide open layup. Then, the unthinkable happened- he missed it. A mass of navy blue shirts stormed the court behind us, and I had to wade my way through the crowd to get to Coach Holliday and Roman. It was truly a thrilling experience.

    The next week, I started planning for the open tournament games, looking for leads to bring up during our next slate of games, starting with La Salle vs newly minted champions Mt. Pleasant. I quickly found one- Roman had recently transferred from La Salle to Mt. Pleasant- and I ended up weaving it and other stats into my pregame show. The result was my most listenable pregame show yet, and Dan remarked after my interviews with Coach Holliday and La Salle head coach Simonelli how much better I had already gotten. By that point, I had started using a formula for my questions- the first one would be about offense, the second about defense, the third about a particular storyline, the fourth about a star player, and the fifth about what the key to the game would be.

    The second game (Narragansett vs. South Kingstown) proved to be tougher, as despite having prepared for this one, my interview with Coach Boddington ended up being  interrupted by the National Anthem. Complicating matters was the fact that South Kingstown head coach Roland Fiore initially didn’t believe I was going to interview him. I had to show him my press pass a couple of times before he understood, and even then he was short with me. The game proved to be exciting, though, as South Kingstown pulled off the upset to move on. I didn’t get to see the end, though- I was in the locker room interviewing Coach Gomes again before the Hendricken- Cranston East game. Coach Gomes, as always, was a great interview, but I ran into a challenge with East’s coach, Isaiah McDaniel. McDaniel, a second-year coach, was the least experienced of any of the coaches in the tournament. He answered all of my questions quickly, not out of rudeness, but more out of nervousness. I could tell that my five prepared questions could probably get me a minute and a half of air time with him, but I would still be well short of what I needed. So I improvised. Coming up with two questions on the spot, I managed to extend my interview with Coach McDaniel to the required two minutes. As I shook his hand, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had been thrown a curveball- and I hit it out of the park.

    The two remaining games went by slowly. After watching Mt. Pleasant, the most entertaining team to watch in the tournament in my opinion, and a close battle between close rivals South Kingstown and Narragansett, Hendricken beat Cranston East rather easily. The nightcap was more of the same- despite star point guard Tyler Kolek playing with the flu, Cumberland handled Middletown rather easily. Dan, Coach Kav, and I remarked on the disappointing end to the day. We all knew, however, that it would get bigger and better from here. The games would move from CCRI’s gym to the Ryan Center. We would move from the smaller AM 790 to WPRO during primetime on the weekends. And we were headed for a historic rematch of an amazing game- Hendricken vs. Mount Pleasant.

    The Ryan Center was certainly easier to work with than CCRI’s gym. For one thing, we were able to get an internet connection. When we talked with the IT guy at CCRI, he told us he forgot the Wi-Fi password. We also had to sit at a little broad table next to the scorer’s table, and I had to frequently interrupt our broadcast and tell the subs checking in that they couldn’t check in with us- they had to move over a little bit to the scorers. The folks at the Ryan Center helped solve both of these problems quickly. Considering the massive size of the place, it was easier to find a quiet, secluded spot where I could interview coaches without being interrupted by music or the National Anthem like what had happened during my interview with Coach Boddington.

    I was a little bit intimidated by the sheer size of the place. The magnitude of the moment struck me. I made different notes for each of the coaches:

    Coach Holliday- Be straightforward with your questions. Don’t be intimidated by what other people say about him- he’s a good interviewee. Just ask typical questions.

    Coach Fiore- Prepare a ton of questions. Don’t ask him about his defensive gameplan unless you want him to get angry with you over the radio. Don’t focus on star big man Keegan Records- he won’t like that either.

    Coach Gomes- Great interview. Ask your best questions first- you might not get around to asking all of them. Don’t ask him about past Hendricken teams, though- that’s the only thing that gets him agitated.

    Coach Reedy (Cumberland’s coach)- Ask about the flu that’s going through his team at the moment. Ask about being the underdog. Prepare an extra question just in case, but otherwise a normal interview.

    The first game went well. After I got my interview with Coach Reedy, I went through a good part of the annals of the Ryan Center looking for Hendricken’s locker room. When I finally found it, I found Coach Gomes, along with all of Hendricken’s assistants. “Take a seat, Adam,” he said, pointing to one of the cushioned chairs next to him. At that point I realized Coach Gomes was the only coach who had taken the time to learn my name. The interview went really well, and I ended it (after turning the microphone off) by saying “Coach, I’m saying this not as a professional, but as a Lincoln guy. Beat the crap out of Cumby.” We both laughed, and as I assuaged some of the assistants that yes, my microphone was off, I left the Hendricken locker room.

    Coach Gomes held up his end of the bargain, and Hendricken moved on to the finals rather easily. My job from there, however, got a bit more stressful. Now that we were at the Ryan Center, it became much harder to reach the players and coaches. I beat a guy carrying an ABC camera to Coach Gomes and managed to get him and Player of the Game Ty Weeks to Dan for the postgame interview before everybody else got to them. After all, as Dan pointed out, this was more important for us than it was for them. They had all the time in the world- we were live. Now I was worried about getting interviews for the remaining games.

    I had gotten a recent boost of confidence, though. My dad emailed Dan the night before the games asking whether he had made scripts for me. Dan emailed back, “I’m not worried about that. He makes great scripts. He’s got this.”

    At the same time, though, I was intimidated by the interviews of the second game.. Coach Holliday, although nice and a good interview, was still an intimidating figure. Coach Fiore was my worst interview at the games at CCRI. telling me when I asked my typical questions that he didn’t want to give his gameplan away and being very short with me. However, I got through both interviews easily. The first game proved to be a good one. Mt. Pleasant was simply the most fun team to watch in the tournament, and South Kingstown kept it close enough to make the game entertaining, although they were never a real threat to win. I grabbed Coach Holliday and point guard Charles Martinez quickly, and the tournament continued to be a success for me.

    My excitement at getting to watch a rematch of the D-I title game, though, had to be put aside for the new challenge of calling the girls’ championship game. I had spent enough time watching the boys in the tournament that I could come up with questions rather easily. I had just learned the names of the girls’ coaches moments before I was supposed to interview them. Additionally, I couldn’t really go into the girls’ locker rooms for obvious reasons. Although it was a bit more of a challenge, I did what I thought was a good enough job and got ready for my interviews with Coach Gomes and Coach Holliday.

     The good thing about interviewing Coach Holliday is how approachable he is. Coach Gomes, as nice as he is, was almost always surrounded by assistants and almost never left the Hendricken locker room until a couple of moments before gametime. Coach Holliday, on the other hand, was sitting courtside watching the girls’ game- he and his team had gotten there early enough to watch the games before theirs. I interviewed him again, but finished it off with a bit of a personal question- “How do you want your departing seniors to remember playing for Mt. Pleasant and playing under you?” I got a better response to that than I had to any question I had asked previously. Although he stayed calm, you could tell he knew how big the moment was.

    Coach Gomes, as usual, was still in the locker room. Eventually I asked Hendricken player Sebastian Basilio, who I had once played on the same AAU team as, if he could get Coach Gomes for me. Sebastian told me to just come on in, and when I went in, Coach Gomes was eating a salad. When he saw me, he put it down, and I ended up getting a three minute interview with him. However, I figured it was appropriate to let him talk for as long as he wanted. It was, after all, the championship, and Coach Gomes had treated me more nicely than all of the other coaches.

    As much as Coach Gomes doesn’t like to talk about Hendricken’s past teams, however, the title game proved to be more similar to the 2017 championship than anything. That year, an overachieving Shea team made it to the title game against Hendricken. While Shea took a big lead early, Hendricken stayed composed and came back to win rather easily. Halfway through the first half, Mt. Pleasant was up by 9. Hendricken, however, clawed back, and by halftime had a lead. The rest of the way was similar to the D-I championship game- an absolute dogfight between the two best teams in the state. Down the stretch, however, Mt. Pleasant faded, and Hendricken claimed their third straight open tournament title.

     Two weeks later, I got a check in the mail. The $400 that I ended up getting was only the icing on the cake of what was an incredible experience. And next year, if you want to hear what’s going on in the state tournament, just tune in AM 790 or 630 WPRO. You might just hear me.

    Covering the tournament was absolutely exhilarating. It was an incredible experience to be talking on the radio with every basketball fan in the state listening. It was a lot of fun to watch the best teams in our state courtside. It was also great to be reunited with some people that I hadn’t seen in many years. My old AAU basketball coach, Ramon “Bones” de los Santos was filming the state semifinal games. After two years of not seeing him, it was great to be able to talk with him again after all of the games. I also got the chance to catch up with some guys who were playing after not seeing them since I finished playing AAU.

In short, the tournament was an incredible experience.

This proved to be my longest piece yet, and might be the most detailed account of the 2018 Rhode Island Interscholastic League boys’ basketball playoffs out there. To listen to the actual pregame shows (which are from the 2019 tournament, not covered in this story), click the link here.

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