My journey to the 2015 NCAA Final Four started in 2010, the last time the event was held in my home state of Indiana.
Although we didn't have tickets to the games, we drove three hours to Indianapolis to walk around and feel the excitement in the air, attend the practices, and get some Final Four souvenirs. We enjoyed it so much that my family decided then that we would get tickets for the tournament scheduled to be in Indy in 2015.
Back then, I expected to go as a fan. But when the Final Four returned to Indianapolis, I was going to cover it as a journalist.
It was a thrilling opportunity, and I dreamed about it for weeks, sometimes feeling a little nervous about the unknown. What would I ask the players? Where would I sit? Would I get lost in Lucas Oil Stadium looking for the media room? Luckily, everything came together and I had a great time!
My trip began with a stop at the hotel to pick-up the credential I would wear around my neck for the next four days. A reporter must have a credential to get into any place closed off to non-media members, like the locker rooms and press conferences. I felt like a king when the lady handed me my badge, along with a Final Four souvenir cup and pin, which all of the reporters received upon check-in.
The first day, the security officers wondered what I was doing there because of my age, and took a close look at my media credential. It wasn’t long before I was roaming all around the stadium and feeling comfortable with the job I was there to do. My fear of getting lost in this enormous place quickly disappeared.
I spent lots of time in the media room, which is the epicenter for journalists at the Final Four. This cavernous room is full of computers, cords, phones, and tables and chairs. It was also always hopping with busy reporters typing their stories about the events and games while attempting to stay ahead of their deadlines. I assumed there would be a lot of socializing going on. Wrong. It was all business.
But you never know who you’ll meet in the media room. I ran into my favorite writer, John Feinstein, and he told me about his new book. I enjoyed learning more about him. He, along with the players and other reporters, made me feel welcome.
I was floored by how big the court was. Although it was regulation, it felt bigger because it was elevated by 29 inches. The players sat below the level of the court. The coaches sit on the court level, giving them the ability to follow the game.
There was an army of workers available to answer questions from the 72,000 fans visiting Indianapolis. Final Four staffers walked around with illuminated question marks above their heads letting fans know they were there to help. The NCAA and city of Indianapolis tried hard to make the fans from around the United States feel welcome. They even had phone-charging stations in the arena hallways for guests to use.
There were plenty of Final Four activities to do in Indianapolis. Fan Fest was an event open every day where visitors could test their basketball skills at shooting, dribbling, and dunking. The Final Four Dribble took place on Sunday, giving kids a chance to dribble a basketball around the city. My brother, sister and I received a t-shirt and basketball and joined 3,200 kids bouncing basketballs through the streets of Indianapolis.
When it was game time, I viewed the action from the press box high above the court. But that didn’t mean I missed the energy of the stadium. On Saturday, after the national anthem was performed, fireworks exploded from the ceiling. Tens of thousands of crazy fans wearing their team colors screamed loudly and with a deep passion for a win. A chant would begin in one section, and within a few seconds, the entire place would erupt with noise.
The national championship game between Duke and Wisconsin provided a nail-biting atmosphere, with fans draped in Badger red or Blue Devil blue sitting on the edge of their seats — when they were actually sitting. Duke defeated Wisconsin, 68–63, and I was courtside for the championship awards ceremony.
I was 9 the last time the Final Four was in town, and figured out I would be 13 when it rolled around again. But I never dreamed I would be attending as a Sports Illustrated Kids Kid Reporter. After five years of anticipation, this is an experience that will never be erased from my memory.
Photos: Matt Collins, Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Krzyzewski)