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Mike Lopresti | | November 24, 2014

Coppin State defines road warrior lifestyle

Digger Phelps with Coppin State basketball team The Eagles met Digger Phelps during the team's stop in South Bend, Indiana, to face Notre Dame.

And on Monday, the Coppin State Eagles rested. At least when they finally got home.

They are 0-4, but never mind that. These are a few numbers that tell what the early season has been like:
• 10,195 -- miles traveled
• Four -- time zones played in
• Nine -- Interstates used
• Eight -- commercial flights taken
• Seven -- airports seen

“It’s rough out here, man,” coach Michael Grant said over the phone from ... well, wherever he was at that moment. “But this is the hand we’re dealt, and this is what we’re going to go with it. This is a challenge to our guys.”

A lot of teams face heavy travel in the non-conference season, but seldom like this. Oh, and did we mention the weather? Let senior guard Jahvari Josiah explain.

Nov. 14 at Oregon L -- 107-65
Nov. 16 at Illinois L -- 114-56
Nov. 19 at Notre Dame L -- 104-67
Nov. 23 at Denver L -- 80-54

The opener in Oregon? “Cold and rainy.”

The next game at Illinois? “Super cold.” That was the stop where they landed in Chicago, but with no charter buses available, the team had to take a 22-seat minibus (with 21 people, plus luggage) two-and-one-half hours to Bloomington. Which is not where the University of Illinois is, but there were no hotel rooms in Champaign. Dad’s Weekend.

And then Notre Dame? “The snow was unbelievable. A blizzard,” Josiah said. That was the stop where the wind chill factor was so low, the players didn’t even want to leave the hotel. Assistant coach Jake Morton sent out a text with dinner plans. Only one player responded. College guys not wanting to go out and eat. Unimaginable.

Or as Grant said, “Every region that we’ve been in, from the West Coast all the way back here, has been cold and snowy and rainy. We have basically seen it all the last eight days.

“I’ve already told my coaches, 'Any games that we schedule now, just make sure they’re south.' ”

He was speaking from his office back at Coppin State last Thursday. The Eagles actually had gotten to go home to Baltimore for two days. But they had another trip during the weekend. To Denver; back Monday.

“Right now I’m in the middle of turning in a week of paperwork. Hotel receipts and van receipts and bus receipts and meal receipts,” Grant said. “I’m just piling this stuff up and now I have to turn it all in, and then turn around and do it again.

“It’s my wife’s birthday today. I called her from the airport and said, 'Look, we just landed. I’m going directly to the office and I’m going to try to get some of this work done. I don’t know how long it’ll take but I’ll eventually get home to take you to dinner.’

Coppin State waits in airport Coppin State waits in airport for departure.
“Anywhere she wants to go, we'll go.”

Good idea.

Eleven of the Eagles' first 13 games are on the road. By the end of December, Coppin State will have played teams from 10 different conferences. Ahead are December games at Connecticut and Michigan, where it won’t exactly be easy, or balmy.

For the Coppin States of the world, early season travel to the big names is a reality. Money is to be made for the program, and teams journey where they must. This is Grant’s first season as coach, and when he took over last spring, the non-conference schedule was nearly non-existent, so he had to take what he could find. For example, he called everywhere in search of a second game in the West while at Oregon, but no go.

Hence, the past week’s coast-to-coast hop-around tour of the United States, with wake-up calls before dawn (4 a.m. one day), study halls at hotels, practice in a high school gym that was handy, and lunch trips to Steak 'n Shake.

Such a trek is not without its upside.

“That’s the best part of it, going to play in all these arenas you saw as a kid,” sophomore Christian Kessee said.

“The most fun is being on the court,” Josiah said. Plus, at Notre Dame, the players heard a talk from Digger Phelps, who told them to enjoy the moment, because how many times will they have the chance to play on television against the likes of Oregon, Illinois and Notre Dame?  “Definitely cross that off my bucket list,” Josiah said.

It also has a downside. “Luckily, all our phones automatically changed with the time zones, or we’d have been lost,” Kessee said. As it was, Josiah called his mother one night from Oregon, forgetting it was three hours later, and woke her up. “I felt bad about that.”

Then there was the grind that any traveler knows and feels.

Coppin State coach Michael Grant Coppin State coach Michael Grant
It was Josiah who mentioned, “Through all the places and time changes and knees aching on the pane, you just have to fight through it, be tough and stay mentally focused.”

It was Kessee who said, “Physically I feel great. Mentally, I’m just drained.”

And it was Grant who added that he had hoped having so many seniors would help. “But it wore down the seniors, too.”

With road-weary legs, no wonder the Eagles are shooting only 34 percent. The scoreboard was not gentle -- Coppin State is being outscored by an average of 101.3-60.5 -- but Grant believes the miles and the games will have his team hardened by conference play.

“When we’re able to play at our own level, I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “We just need to learn from this and play as hard as we can and compete. I think once we get to the point where we’re competing, and we’re not laying down and we take losing personally, that’s when everything will click for us.”

But for the moment, campus never looked so good. And on Dec. 1, they’ll actually play on their own court against Goldey-Beacom College.

“White,” Kessee said of the thought of home uniforms. “Finally.”

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