While most college seniors spend their final spring breaks sipping piña coladas on beaches from Miami to Jamaica, I found myself in a city that makes Boston look like Sodom and Gomorrah.
As the men’s basketball beat writer for The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, I travelled to Salt Lake City to cover Harvard’s third-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.
To my surprise, I encountered a number of neighbors from up North when I arrived in The Crossroads of the West. Jermain Franklin from Canada’s The Sports Network was one reporter in town to cover the Gonzaga Bulldogs—a top seeded team with a pair of Canadian stars.
“Obviously Gonzaga isn’t even based in Canada but the fact that there’s two Canadians on the team, they’re kind of the adopted son of the nation right now,” he said.
On gameday I arrived at EnergySolutions Arena early enough to catch the No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup between Gonzaga and Southern.
Within minutes of arriving at the arena, I had my first celebrity sighting—sitting directly me one row behind me was Pat Riley with a shiny championship ring worthy of a Lil Wayne music video. I decided to try for a quick interview.
But even after wishing him a happy belated birthday, my request was denied.
Dejected, I returned to my seat. Luckily, I met some friendlier folks in the stands at halftime of the Gonzaga-Southern game. Glenda Llorens, perhaps the most vocal fan in the arena, was one of them.
“My husband is chancellor of Southern University Baton Rouge, and there was no way that I was going to miss this game,” she said. “It’s been wonderful, a wonderful trip.”
With her team trailing by three at halftime, she believed an historic upset was in the works.
“We will not take no for an answer,” she said. “We will keep moving forward. And I will keep cheering as loudly as I can.”
But Southern ended up falling just short, 64-58.
Despite the loss, there were still more upsets in the works. In the nightcap, the 14th-seeded Crimson took on No. 3 New Mexico. And to everyone’s surprise, Harvard sent the Lobos packing with a 68-62 victory. Co-captain Christian Webster addressed the media after the Crimson’s first postseason win in program history.
“This right here is the No. 1 moment of my basketball career, by far,” he said.
Call us pessimists, but The Crimson sports staff had not planned on staying in Salt Lake for another game. So after filing our final stories by 2 a.m., we poured into the empty streets of Salt Lake in search of a place to sleep for the night.
But with all the nearby hotels filled with disgruntled New Mexico fans and people in town for the tattoo convention (no, I’m being serious), we ended up trekking a mile to a spot eerily similar to the Bates Motel. And with six reporters and only two beds, not everyone got a good night’s sleep.
Things got better for The Crimson’s sports staff the next day. While walking through City Creek Center, we encountered a group of Arizona cheerleaders. No phone numbers were exchanged.
“I just panicked,” one writer remarked. “They were too pretty.”
Luckily for our REM cycles, Harvard’s tournament run soon came to an end. The Crimson met its match against six-seeded Arizona, and the Crimson sports staff returned to Cambridge with enough time before classes started back up to enjoy a pina colada on the Charles.