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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Nearly 1,800 fans came to the gym for the crowning of the homecoming queen and the more raucous festivities. "The crowd was making so much noise at half-time, we came out of the locker room early, sat on our bench and had a great time watching," Neader said. To the delight of the homecoming fans, the Green Wave ended up playing with five guards because of foul trouble, lost an 85-82 lead in the second half and faded away to a 113-106 final.
Fatigue was becoming a major factor. A quick stop for dinner at Burger King after the game in Hammond was followed by a five-hour drive that night. The team grabbed some early morning sleep in a real hotel along the way, then drove four more hours to College Station, Texas, for the minitour's grand finale against A&M on Nov. 10. The term real hotel is used because it is not always thus, not with this team. To save time and money the team once spent the night at a Delta Airlines gate, following a loss to Baylor, so they would be able to catch a 6 a.m. flight home to Tampa. "It wasn't bad at all," said Savino. "It was the first time some of us had been camping in our lives. I even took pictures. My favorite is of Neader. Here's the guy who represents Doc Gooden, sleeping by a trash can."
The evening the Wave rolled into College Station was far more pleasant. The cool autumn air of the Lone Star State wafted through the windows as Savino steered the van slowly down George Bush Drive and onto the campus. Anderson announced with mock drama: "Expected crowd for St. Pete AAU—two hundred and fifty thousand!"
Well, not exactly. Inside the gym, about 250 people were watching the end of an A&M-University of Louisville women's volleyball game. Outside, a guard explained that, no, there weren't any parking spaces set aside for a team from St. Petersburg, Fla. Finally, though, a space was located. And within a half hour the stands were filling up for basketball.
Inside, the neon lights of the Aggie scoreboard flashed FIGHT. Paula Abdul's Straight Up blared from the sound system. At one end of the court, the Aggies, dressed in their slick maroon-and-white uniforms, were doing precision layup drills. At the other end, the Green Wave—in green, blue and white—was engaged in a fierce, five-man game of H-O-R-S-E. "Just trying to stay loose," said Neader.
But the Wave was too loose on this big night. With 1,500 fans cheering A&M's first appearance of the 1990-91 season, St. Pete squandered an early 14-12 lead with uncharacteristically poor shooting. The Wave eventually finished 4 for 29 on three-point attempts for the game. The Aggies—perhaps imagining that St. Pete was Arkansas, as assistant coach Kennedy had urged—pumped up the volume as the long night wore on, and won 104-67. "We could shoot better blindfolded," said Savino disgustedly after the game.
Neader was philsophical. "It's tough, all this driving and playing, and then taking on a Texas A&M," he said on the ride back to the hotel. Then he sighed. "At least we're out here doing it."
Early the following morning, drained and bleary-eyed, they were back in the van, racing that stretch of Highway 6 to the airport north of Houston. Within the hour, they would be jetting home, already thinking about the next day—Monday—when they would return to their various jobs, then get together again to play a Monday-night city-league game. Then they would set off on another roundball odyssey, meeting five more Division I opponents, schools scattered from Orlando to Colorado Springs. The Wave would go 0-5 on that East-to-West swing, but that was of little concern. "When you think about it," said Savino, "nobody plays nine games in 13 days in different cities around the country." When you think about it, the Green Wave does.
Inside the airline terminal in Houston, Williams and Brown, two of St. Pete's big guys who had once dreamed of pro careers, were leaning against a wall and talking about the game. They turned to the escalator. The Houston Rocket basketball team was descending into view, returning home from a road game in San Antonio. Akeem Olajuwon, the team's seven-foot center, walked right in front of the players from Florida, who suddenly felt less like players. "Man, did you see how big that guy is!" Williams said, awestruck. It was a strange, momentary crossing of basketball worlds. There, across the lobby, went the high-profile pros. And here stood the unknown amateurs, waiting for their plane. Both teams on the road, embracing a game they love.