Author’s note: In case you haven’t been following this blog (probably a good decision) or seen the Twitter jokes (also a good decision), I have been writing a story featuring me, some Northwestern sports reporters, and the spectre of Tom Crean for the past two months. It’s essentially “sports-noir”, a genre of fiction I invented ten minutes ago in order to explain it to you properly.
Without further ado, and before I jump the shark and get bored of this, here is the final installment of my basketball previews.
Tuesday, February 23 – 8:42 p.m. – Ann Arbor, Michigan
As soon as I walked out of the building to meet the agents of C.R.E.A.N., they stuffed me into the trunk of a black Hyundai Sonata and drove away.
I wasn’t surprised. I was a liability at this point. Why would anyone bother to deal with me while I had no leverage or support? What an idiot I was, thinking they’d just hand over the Inside NU staff because I said so. I didn’t even have the money they asked for. Now they had me, the ledger with the proof of their existence, and my compatriots. At least I knew it was all real now.
We pulled in at a rest stop after about an hour and they took me out of the trunk. There were two agents, both white and wearing typical secret service stuff. Suit, hat, tie, sunglasses, etc. One was about three inches taller than the other. I went to the restroom. Then I was taken to the back seat of the car.
“You know, this is really coming full circle. This whole godforsaken adventure started when I trusted your people. Now it’s happened again. Full circle. Round, like a basketball…” I was cut off.
“What the hell are you even talking about?” the taller agent said. “Are you trying to make a joke? If so, that’s a terrible joke.”
“Look, I’m just trying to compartmentalize my situation into a complex metaphor.”
“But it’s not even a metaphor! It’s a simile! And it’s really, really stupid.” the agent replied.
“Look kid, you’re clearly a complete dumbass if you thought your friends were actually in Ann Arbor. Do you wanna know where you’re headed? We’re headed to Indianapolis. And you’re gonna be stuck there with the rest of your friends until we figure out what to do with you.”
Wednesday, February 24 – 10:00 a.m. – Indianapolis, Indiana
I was dropped off at a Motel 6 about 25 minutes away from Indianapolis. The agents of C.R.E.A.N. stormed into the hotel and deposited me in my own room on the third floor.
“Don’t you even think about leaving this room. We can’t actually imprison you jokers, but this is probably not much better. Nobody leaves this Motel 6. Nobody even walks outside the lobby. We will seriously injure you if you attempt to escape,” the shorter agent said.
They left, and I was left with my Motel 6 room. It was surprisingly new. The walls looked freshly painted, there was fake hardwood flooring, and the bathrooms were nice. The towel rack looked very futuristic. If this was my prison cell, I could get used to it. Then I heard some unintelligible shouting from the room next to me. Of course, the walls were thinner than the Knicks’ bench. After about two minutes, I walked outside and banged on the door.
Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell answered. Half the staff of Inside NU was lying around the room playing FIFA. Apparently C.R.E.A.N. was nice enough to get them an Xbox. There were snacks strewn all over the floor, cans of Sprite Zero and Diet Coke on the windowsill, and laptops with Inside NU stickers lying on the desk.
“Oh, hi Tristan. How’d you get here?” Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell said.
“I was locked in a frickin trunk of a Hyundai Sonata for the last 10 hours.”
“Oh, that sucks. Why were you in the trunk?”
“Because the C.R.E.A.N. people kidnapped me while I was trying to ransom you guys out of danger!”
“We’re not really in danger. They, uh, got us an XBox and we’ve watched all the Northwestern games on TV. It’s been a good bonding experience. We can’t message anybody, but we’ve been writing articles on the site.”
“They’re keeping us in Indianapolis until the Big Ten Tournament rolls around and then we’ll be released. They don’t want us poking around anymore. I guess you’re just stuck with us too. We’re getting together a Big Ten women’s bracket pool, you in?” Henry said.
“How have you been keeping up with classes?” I replied.
“As you know, my philosophy is that classes are highly overrated. We’re actually in the midst of an intense FIFA Tournament. I’m playing in the next round, so if you’ll excuse me…”
I suppose this wasn’t so bad. The Motel 6 was hardly the nicest place in the world, but at least they were doing a good job of limiting offensive waterboarding. At this point, I was done dealing with C.R.E.A.N. They wanted us out of the way for some strange reason, and I was fine with that. It wasn’t over yet, though. I was sure of that.
“They deliver Chick-Fil-A if you ask!” Ian McCafferty shouted. “Also, I hate Dexter Fowler.”
Wednesday, March 2 – 3:00 a.m. – Motel 6 Indy
And so we waited. In a movie, this would be the part with a dissolve to show the passage of time. But there wasn’t a dissolve in real life. Outside of downtown, Indianapolis is fairly miserable. I tried to break the boredom by exploring the local area but gave up pretty quickly. I played hours of FIFA. I wrote several articles about the women’s basketball team. I slept. The Motel 6 was not a prison, but it was also not a luxury confinement suite. Spending a week there was bad enough, but the other staff members had been there for weeks. But there wasn’t anything I could do. I was out of ideas.
I lay awake in my slightly uncomfortable Motel 6 bed when there was a huge crash outside. I quickly opened the curtains.
“Holy crap, this cannot be happening,” I muttered.
It saw Eddie Jordan screaming orders from the front seat of his Hummer. I saw the WNUR staff and two writers from the Daily Northwestern sprinting into the building. They had just smashed through the front entrance of the Motel 6. I opened my window.
“I DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS THE GAS PEDAL!” Eddie Jordan shouted.
The escape crew rushed through the vestibule and quickly climbed up the stairs.
“All of you, get up, we’re going to Bankers Life Fieldhouse! It’s the last safe place!” Ben Goren shouted.
The Inside NU staff spent 20 minutes getting on proper reporting attire. Only assholes with laptops cover a sporting event without respectable clothing.
The Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament was starting, and clearly the tendrils of C.R.E.A.N. had not infected women’s basketball. In Bankers Life, as long as we had our credentials, we were members of the press and C.R.E.A.N. couldn’t come after us. At least, that’s what Eddie Jordan explained at the McDonald’s we stopped at on the way.
“Look guys, I’ve been seeing things in the Big Ten and across college basketball for years. C.R.E.A.N. is real. What they want to do is destroy college basketball as we know it. All of the good power conference teams want to merge into one 32-team “Super League”. The NCAA Tournament will die, relegated to a pitiful scrap between mid-major sadsacks. The NCAA will just become an NBA farm system. C.R.E.A.N. wants to restore equanimity by destroying everything we hold dear about this sport.”
“Coach Jordan, loved your work with the Nets, but shouldn’t you be coaching the Rutgers men’s team right now?” asked Josh Burton.
Eddie Jordan stared at him with a confused look…
“Alright, here’s the deal guys, that pink sheet of paper you saw is the disguised provisional list for C.R.E.A.N.’s plan. Thad Motta and Ohio State are obviously in, so that’s why agents were meeting with him to get the list. Harbaugh plans to turn Michigan into a football-only school complete with an altar to worship at his khaki-clad ankles, so Ann Arbor was a complete ruse. Indiana is the last remaining safe place. Here, among the mid-major darlings like Butler and Valpo, we can be assured C.R.E.A.N. won’t risk anything here,” said Goren.
“But what about Tom Crean? He’s in Bloomington!” I asked.
“Actually, my good friend Tom Crean is one of the biggest opponents of C.R.E.A.N.. The names are just a coincidence,” Eddie Jordan said.
“Alright Coach Jordan, why do you need us?” Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell asked.
“You guys have to break the story! Even though Indiana is tough for C.R.E.A.N. to operate, they’re putting together the final plans for the Superleague during the Big Ten Tournament. They want to be on hand to quash any uproar in the Midwest,” Eddie Jordan said.
“I’m going to take a guess and say Rutgers is not invited into this new ‘Superleague’?” Josh Burton remarked.
Eddie Jordan ignored him entirely.
We had to stop the Hummer to find some gas in Indianapolis. The first gas station was condemned for hazardous waste. The second did not take Eddie Jordan’s credit card. We ended up trying six different gas stations until Eddie Jordan got fed up and stole a can of gas from the seventh gas station.
“Hey, I bet that’s more steals than Rutgers has had all year!” Josh Burton remarked.
Eddie Jordan seethed.
Wednesday, March 2 – 10:00 a.m. – Bankers Life Fieldhouse
“Alright, everybody have their credentials? Anyone who has a press pass here should be on our side, as far as I can tell,” Jason Dorow said. “And we just have to hope Northwestern keeps winning games, because otherwise some of us can’t justify staying the Marriott.”
“The Marriott is way out of our price range Jason,” Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell said. “I’d probably book us a room at the Motel 6. Or the Bates Motel.”
We all walked into Bankers Life and took our seats. We took up an entire press table. The WNUR guys started on the radio call for the first game of the day, Northwestern vs. Wisconsin.
The game was close. Northwestern was down by 10 points in the third quarter. But Nia Coffey led Northwestern to a huge comeback. Wisconsin lost the game 74-70 in overtime and Northwestern was staying another day. So were we, apparently. We stayed to watch Illinois/Penn State. The arena cleared out after the games were over.
I went to the bathroom again and as I was walking out, I noticed a woman with her credential on backwards. It appeared that no one was checking whether that person was really supposed to be in the media area. Clearly, this was a great injustice. I asked her to turn the credential around.
“No,” she replied, clearly a bit startled by my question.
“I just need to–”
She punched me in the face and immediately started signaling to members of the crowd and other media members with backwards credentials. The surprise punch knocked me over, and as I got up I realized we’d been betrayed.
“Alright, that’s quite enough. Did you really think Eddie Jordan was going to come up with a competent plan…?” said a voice on the PA speaker. “Breaking you out of the Motel 6 was ingenious, I suppose, but taking you to Bankers Life was just a terrible idea. We all know the press can’t be trusted anymore. Just look at the latest Gallup Poll!”
The Northwestern sports media was quickly apprehended. Austin Miller had been watching Brazilian soccer at the time and forgot to resist. Michael Stern attempted to talk his way out of capture by referencing college baseball players. Josh Burton and Max Gelman tried to take out one of the agents with an illegal takeout slide.
“Whatever you do to me, just remember this, SCREW DEXTER FOWLER!” McCafferty shouted.
“That sentence you said on the speaker was written very poorly!” Cole Paxton shouted while was handcuffed by a random guy in neon tights and a Pacers jersey.
“If you send us back to the Motel 6, we better get Chick-Fil-A at the very least!” Will Ragatz screamed uselessly.
I quickly got up and started running for the exit. And then I saw. The boss of C.R.E.A.N. was coming in to inspect the damage.
It was Mike Krzyzewski. Of course, I should have known all along.
“Look, kids, this is ridiculous. You’ve been meddling in my plans for too long. It’s time to go home. If not, we’ll be forced to remove all of you from the premises. Including you Eddie Jordan, shouldn’t you be coaching your basketball team?”
“How could you do this to college basketball? I thought the only grade you need is K!” I pleaded.
“Son, I’m getting old. I want to go out a winner, like Peyton Manning or Jahlil. If I can’t coach in college basketball anymore, than no one can. I AM THE SPORT! DUKE IS THE SPORT! YOU CANNOT STAND IN MY WAY! This year’s tournament has been rigged so that this ragtag Duke team will win back-to-back titles and cement my legacy as the greatest coach of all time. Don’t you love a good underdog story?”
“You…you’re not the f***ing underdogs…” I replied.
“Yes, perhaps your point is correct, but I know you happen to support some underdogs. Ah yes, the Northwestern Wildcats. A miserable program that marvels at getting to the NIT. I would say you’re underdogs, but I think that word suggests you have a chance. You’re under…kittens. Yes, underkittens. But how would you like if Northwestern made the tournament for the first time? Sure, you’d have to win the Big Ten Tournament, but that can be arranged. You’d get to watch your entire school celebrate. You’d get to go to a basketball school for once in your miserable sports lives.”
“It’s not worth it.”
“And you can all go home. Yes, I will offer that as my consolation prize. Forget all of this happened. Forget about the Committee. Forget about everything. Just enjoy the sweet bliss that will come over all of you once Chris Collins and Alex Olah are celebrating their school’s first-ever tournament bid.
Of course, it will be the last tournament, but that is no matter to you, surely.”
“Not like that!” Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell shouted. “That’s not what sports are about!”
“Childish talk. Sports are about money, Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell. It has taken me a long time to see that, but I had to embrace the NBA-ready talent at some point. All of this nonsense is a sham. In fact, in the Superleague, perhaps we can give a minimum wage stipend for our poor players too. Better than what the pissant NCAA gives anyone.
Anyhow, that is my offer. Go home, Northwestern makes the tournament, happily ever after…or you all face the consequences. We’ll even let Bill Carmody and Holy Cross make it too, if you want to be sentimental. Tristan Jung, since you started this whole mess, do you accept the offer?”
Coach K offered his hand to finish the deal. I didn’t know what to do. I had to accept. I reached out my hand…
Coach K slumped over and shouted in pain. Someone had tasered him from the side.
“Who the f*** just tasered me? ARRGHHH”
It was Joe McKeown. Northwestern women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown. He just shot Coach K. Oh my gosh.
McKeown walked over and stood over Coach K. He said nothing.
The C.R.E.A.N. agents lining the walls started taking out guns.
“Had to use the stunner, you know. Too much respect for the guy,” McKeown said. “Anyway, you know kid, I had a friend at Texas A&M who had a great defense he called HTM. Won a couple national championships, you know.”
I looked around and saw the glint of loaded firearms.
“Uh, Coach, is this really the time?” I replied.
“You know what HTM stands for?” he muttered.
“No, Coach McKeown, I do not.”
“Hope they miss.”
Photo Source: USA Today