Syracuse, NY – Covering a basketball game in the Carrier Dome was odd.
There are no spectators – for now at least – and only players, officials, staff and media are in the building. And of course, because of the coronavirus, there are masks, temperature checks, and social distancing.
But that doesn’t begin to describe how unique it is to be inside the Dome.
Syracuse.com Basketball writers Mike Curtis, Donna Ditota and Mike Waters have compiled some of their most memorable moments covering both men’s and women’s games this season:
‘SAINT SNAP, I AM REALLY STRONG’
With no fans present, the matches look like glorified scrums. The coaches shout instructions to the players as if it was a practice.
We in the media can easily hear the screams of League coach Jim Boeheim and his assistant coaches during games.
One game, in particular, stands out.
Syracuse hosted Miami on January 19. Marek Dolezaj struggled at first, forcing Boeheim to turn to Jesse Edwards, a seldom used sophomore.
The most minutes Edwards had played in a game was seven against North Carolina. He hadn’t played at all in the last five games.
But now Edwards was under pressure to play important minutes in a game Syracuse had to win. As Edwards took his place in the middle of the SU zone defense, a voice rang out loud from the SU bench.
“Move, Jesse, move! Shouted League assistant Allen Griffin, who works with the team’s centers. “Hands up! Raise your hands!”
Griffin was on all fours, begging Edwards to be active in defense.
“See the ball! Griffin shouted. “Move!”
Edwards played a career-high 23 minutes in Syracuse’s 83-57 win over the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-11 center scored seven points and picked up six rebounds, his career-best record. He also blocked a shot and had two interceptions.
Griffin laughed when asked about his sideways antics.
“I wanted to make sure he could hear me the same way he does in practice every day,” Griffin said. “What’s crazy is that I’m getting along even more this year. When the fans are around, your voice can mingle with the sound around you. But not this year. This year you can hear it all.
“Sometimes I think to myself, ‘My God, I’m really noisy! ” ‘
BELIEVE THE HYPE
Here’s a question: When an advertising video is shown in a nearly empty building, who is it aimed at?
Covid has prevented fans from filling the Carrier Dome for the men’s and women’s basketball games. But Syracuse has invested in a massive new dashboard. He concocted moving sequences of his players diving, sinking punches, looking fierce and intimidating after the big game. You would like it.
This hype video is shown before every home game on a large board behind the benches. But with no fans in the stands, the only ones left to enjoy the drama are the players themselves, a small cross section of reporters and other staff assigned to work on the match.
Game intros also continue. They look a little different. The new dome lighting situation allows staff to darken the building in a sort of orange-red glow. The starters introduce themselves. Same routine as before the pandemic: they wander through a tunnel of cheering teammates, exchanging their punches / hand gestures / etc. with John Bol Ajak, then wander through an area in front of their bench until all of the starting five are identified.
I guess this is all done to restore a sense of normalcy, a jolt of excitement for gamers in an otherwise oddly abnormal year.
– Donna Ditota
THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
Before the pandemic, the press row was located directly behind the chandelier at the southwest end of the arena. A small group of college girls sat in front of the media, often standing up to cheer on the Orange women at the start of games and during crucial moments.
Not ideal for covering a game, especially for someone like me who can’t see the scoreboard without glasses and lenses.
Reporters are now watching the game on the pitch, as if they were local businessman Adam Weitsman and his famous guests. Each reporter has their own table filled with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. The seats are separated by six feet of space.
Being so close to the action reminds me of covering basketball tournaments at Onondaga Community College.
Casual basketball bounces through curtained barriers during pre-game warm-ups. It actually happens in every home game, but one moment that stands out was December 6 when Syracuse hosted Penn State.
It was still early in the season so I wasn’t sure I could grab the ball and send it back to the players. A security member retrieved the ball and threw it at one of the team leaders, who wiped it down with disinfectant spray.
This happened again recently when the Orange welcomed Notre-Dame. The ball came towards me, but this time I got the nod from one of the players with just a glance, so I grabbed it and sent it back. This type of interaction was rare before 2020.
AFTER-GAME MEALS, AT A DISTANCE
They dripped into the Carrier Dome one or two at a time from the tunnel connected to their locker room. They carried post-game meals and chose seats separated by Covid precautionary distances. Their dinner was spread out on a corner of the ground floor of the large building, their chairs arranged much as they were for the game they had just played.
Virginia Tech had just lost a men’s basketball game to Syracuse. It wasn’t close. And yet, here’s the Hokies sticking around to relive the memories in a dark arena, the only other corner in the life of a small gathering of sports journalists completing their assessments of Orange Domination.
Coach Mike Young was seated on the far left of his team. Like everyone else, he participated in the post-game food. Covid rules state that ACC basketball teams cannot eat common meals. No snacking on the charter plane. No force-feeding on the bus to the airport.
Instead, teams like Virginia Tech are forced to take time out on their travel itinerary to lay out in a vast, underused arena and eat.
– Donna Ditota
BE CAREFUL OF PLEXIGLAS!
Along with the masks, the usual temperature controls and social distancing that come with sports coverage during a pandemic is the addition of plexiglass to separate the Syracuse radio team from the ACC network broadcasters.
I had a personal encounter with one of the sneeze guards after the Orange Women’s 80-57 win over Pittsburgh on December 28th.
After noticing that I didn’t have access to the post-match Zoom link, I stood up and ran to alert a team spokesperson. She accompanied coach Quentin Hillsman in his radio / TV interview as part of their post-game routine. I completely forgot my surroundings and smashed my knee against one of the sneeze guards and the loud noise that surfaced caused Hillsman and the spokesperson to stare at me as if I had lost my mind.
An embarrassing moment for sure, but it was a small price to pay as I was able to successfully log into the post-match Zoom session that night.
“I CAN CAUTION YOU IF YOU WANT”
Not having fans at the Carrier Dome for games this season has created a very strange environment for the players and coaches, and even for the referees.
No fans means no boo-birds and rowdy ones.
So during a game this year, I decided to help a referee feel a little more at home. When Syracuse hosted Northeastern on December 16, I had a fun exchange with referee Earl Walton.
There was a timeout and Walton was standing on the sidelines about 10 feet in front of where I was sitting. Normally he would have been right in front of a row of Syracuse fans with around 20,000 more fans showering him with boos.
I don’t really know Walton. But I think he recognized me after decades of game coverage.
“I can heckle you if that makes you more comfortable,” I yelled at Walton.
At first he didn’t quite hear me through my mask.
Again, I said, “I can heckle you if you want. “
Walton smiled and replied, “That would be great. “
I picked up my cell phone and used a tired old line, “It must be yours because it has three missed calls.”
Maybe one day soon he will hear worse from real fans. And he’ll probably like it.
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