By Tod Lanter (Follow on Twitter)
What's going on, Big Blue Nation? Glad to get this opportunity to talk to you.
Since Big Blue Madness is fresh in everyone's mind, let's start with that. Although I was on the team last year, this was my first Big Blue Madness experience as a part of the team (more on that later). Growing up here, I had been to a couple as a fan, so it was obviously a special experience for me to actually be a part of it.
The build-up for it was pretty crazy. As all of you know, a lot of people were talking about what dances we were going to do, but we didn't know who was going to do what until we took the stage. The guys were joking around all week saying, "I should do this," but really they were just trying to see what everybody's reaction was to make sure it was good. The exception was Jarrod because he was the first guy who was going to be introduced and we wanted the lead person to do something different and get things started off right.
Honestly, we had no clue what to expect. The first time we saw the setup was Thursday night during our walkthrough. That was actually the first time we found out about those warm-ups with the lights on them. I was the first one to see them because my locker is at that first corner. I turned around and I was like, "Look at these sweat suits. Are those lights?" Right after that, one of the guys from our marketing department walked in and said, "Make sure your battery packs are working." He told us they would control the lighting and they would light up as we were coming up the lift and on to the stage. It was kind of relieving to us to wear those and see the setup because we didn't have to do much to make the whole thing exciting. (A big shout-out to the people in the marketing department for that because it was really exciting and made things easier for us.)
Anyway, when the night actually came, I thought I would be a lot more nervous then I was. I remember Jarrod telling us how he was still nervous even though he'd been through it three years already. He was the first to go, so it was understandable, but as I was standing there, I was expecting my hands to start sweating but it never happened. Julius was really nervous, but it was weird for me. I felt more excited than nervous when it came time to take the stage, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have danced.
I still didn't know if I was going to dance until I went up the lift and finally got up there. Once I did, I decided to go with it. You know how they say when you're young, if they can't see you then they think you can't see them? That's how I felt. I couldn't see anybody's face because it was so dark out there. At that point, I was like, "I'm going to do it." My dance was alright, but I've got to give Jarrod and Sam some credit. I didn't get to see Jarrod's live since I was the fifth one up the lift, but Sam's was pretty awesome.
Looking back, it all happened so fast for me. We did all that preparation for it and were excited about it all week, but before I knew it we were in the locker room taking a picture with John Wall and Anthony Davis and it was all over. I guess that's because we were having fun. Hearing my name called and rising up to see all those cheering faces is something I dreamed about for a long time. It was something I'll never forget.
It was also extra special for me because of my dad. He was actually part of the first Big Blue Madness here, when they held it in Memorial. I obviously wasn't there for that one, but he said they just announced the players and they ran out onto the floor. Now it's evolved into this spectacle where we've got light-up warm-ups with a rising floor and smoke coming out of everything. It's crazy.
It's exciting for him to see me get to go through this because he told me when I was growing up and working in the gym late at night that nothing comes easy without hard work. He said, "If I could take my experiences and hand them over to you, I'd do it, but that work that gets you there is what makes it so sweet." The fact that I'm getting to experience it and do it on a whole 'nother level than he ever did with this team is just an unbelievable gift.
One of the things I'm really enjoying about this year is just knowing what to do and what to expect. At this point last year, my head was kind of spinning. I was cleared to play the day of Madness last year, and my first practice was that next morning with another practice in the afternoon. Two days earlier I wasn't even a part of the team and all of a sudden I'm in two-a-days and eating lunch at Coach Cal's house that afternoon during our break.
I can remember my first practice last year. I specifically remember Coach calling "Two Circle" and thinking, I have no idea what that is. I think it was JP who told him, "Coach he doesn't know that play. He wasn't there for that play." I'm usually pretty good at remembering things by doing them, but I'd only done them a few days last year by the time I was playing in the Blue-White Scrimmage. I was sitting in the locker room before the scrimmage trying to remember where the ball went for certain plays and where I was supposed to screen. I was over-thinking everything.
This year I'm a lot more comfortable. I know the plays better than just about anybody outside of Hoody, Jarrod, Alex and Willie because I was in there last year and played just about every position at some point in practice. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there this year for the Blue-White Scrimmage and feeling comfortable with how to execute everything we've been working on.
One of my favorite things about this team is just how close we all are. Everybody got here in the middle of the summer and we went to a movie like six hours after meeting everyone for the first time. It was just like a random group of strangers at the time who had just met, but we all felt so comfortable with each other. And it doesn't matter who it is or what our role is on the team, we're all friends. Like the other day, Brian, Julius, Andrew and I all went out and ate together. We don't have a certain group of teammates that just hang out. We've literally done all kinds of different stuff with different kinds of people, and I think that's important.
The better relationships you build with your teammates off the court, the more you're going to be able to trust them on the court and mesh well with each other. The more that we can build those types of relationships, the more we can trust each other. Cal always says he wants to be able to hand the reins over to the team at some point during the season and run ourselves. A team that he trusts enough to be able to do that needs to start with trusting in ourselves, so that bonding stuff is important.
Things like going to the hockey and volleyball games together, going bowling and out to eat, it matters. We're having fun together. I know Marcus told you guys about the hockey game a few weeks back when we dropped the puck at center ice. Yes, I did almost fall. The first thing they told me was not to fall, but you don't realize how slick it is until you start sliding. I played it off with a move to act like I had it under control. (On a side note, I want to encourage everyone to go support them on Fridays at midnight. They're a lot of fun to watch).
It's things like that remind me we're just a bunch of kids getting to do something really special here. Before I got here last year, I didn't realize that all these guys I grew up looking up to and idolizing are kids just like me. Now that I get to be a part of this, I realize that we're all just a bunch of college-aged kids who enjoy the same things like everyone else. I strive to be a good influence for people who look up to me like I did to those players back then. I'm grateful for the opportunity
Alright, I've got to get out of here. I enjoyed sharing some thoughts with everyone. You stay classy, BBN.