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on the Road:

Burgers, Blowouts, and Barkley
By Howard Gensler

IT'S A LITTLE PAST 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time on the day after Christmas, and the Penn Men's Basketball Team traveling party has just touched down at Tucson International Airport. The hungry, road-weary Quakers, having been in the air for nearly five hours without benefit of an American Airlines meal, are in town for the Fiesta Bowl Classic and a first-round matchup against Florida -- whose basketball team travels to road games in their own private chartered jet.
Usually, holiday basketball tournaments mean a few nights in a noisy airport motel, but the Fiesta Bowl group does things first class. Our accommodations are at the fabulous Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, with two championship golf courses, a Conde Nast Top 100 restaurant and Hershey's Kisses (accompanied by a Native American inspirational message) on your pillow every night.
And every day is sunny and 75 degrees with no humidity.
Basketball? What's basketball?
Basketball is what the Quakers play in the first-round game as Penn belts the Gators 71-63, in the warmup to host Arizona's 60-point massacre of poor Robert Morris. Two nights later, freshman Michael Jordan and sophomore Paul Romanczuk get named to the all-tournament team, but Penn as a team is named Arizona whipping boys as the Wildcats go on a second-half blitz to turn a close game into a 93-51 rout.
But did I mention that it was 75 and sunny?
After two days of golf and sitting by the pool ("May I have the grilled eggplant, please"), it's off to Houston via a Dallas-based puddle jumper with a wing span no bigger than that of freshman center Geoff Owens. How small is the plane? Although it can wedge in all the Quakers, it can't carry all the Quakers' luggage.
The flight, however, is a breeze (the plane's primary form of propulsion, by the way) compared to check-in at the Medical Center Holiday Inn, where out-patients seem to be manning the desk when we stagger in at midnight. Room keys? What are room keys? Food? Oh, there's a Burger King two blocks away.
Morning brings a trip to the Houston Rockets' practice facility hosted by Rockets guard and former Penn star Matt Maloney and a lengthy talk from Rockets superstar Charles Barkley. Barkley even agrees to be interviewed by Penn subs Mike Melcher and Mike Dzik for Melcher's late-night UTV talk show, and the 5-10 Dzik gets to play Barkley a little one-on-one.
The next day, an alumni admissions reception before the game and a strong showing by the Houston Penn Alumni group leads to a Quaker crowd of nearly 300 at Rice's Ivy-like gym, but the support isn't enough to help the Quakers to an upset victory. By this time, everyone is pretty much exhausted, Coach Dunphy has a cold, and we have a 4 a.m. wake-up call the next morning for our pre-dawn flight back.
Although it would have been nice to return home with a win at Rice, the 10-day trip allowed the young Quakers to get to know each other and help prepare for the coming Ivy season. It also gave alumni, parents, and Penn administrators a chance to mingle, exchange ideas and relax by the pool, at dinner, and on the golf course. It's hard to beat a trip where you get to watch Penn play basketball and the weather is 75 and sunny.
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 7/7/97