Any time a team enters a new conference, there will be plenty of new opponents, but usually, traveling will be similar.
In the case of App State’s men’s basketball team, this season has led to long weekend trips and many frequent flyer miles logged since starting their inaugural season in the Sun Belt Conference.
Under new head coach Jim Fox, the nine-game non-conference portion of the schedule was amped up this season as the team faced all Division-1 opponents.
“I think getting the experience on the road against better competition is really helping us now that we have played Division-1 opponents earlier in the season,” junior guard Frank Eaves said.
The Mountaineers played seven of their nine non-conference games on the road against tough opponents in Ohio, Furman, Jacksonville and Charlotte. The other three games were against power-conference programs Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Alabama.
“We wanted to challenge our guys and give them every experience possible,” Fox said. “We wanted them to play and execute in venues that are tough to play in.”
In Sun Belt conference play, there is no rest for the weary as most games require a flight plan – something the program had never been forced to consider in the SoCon days.
Just like a family road trip, there are always bad and good aspects about being on the road.
“One time, we had a layover at Memphis or one of those airports and we were delayed for three or four hours,” Eaves said. “We were there all night which was rough.”
The closest road game on the season was the team’s matchup with Georgia State in Atlanta, which was a five-hour bus ride from Boone while Texas State was the furthest away for the Mountaineers, requiring a flight to San Marcos, Texas.
Fox said the entire team has spent the season learning all about traveling.
“Everyone in the league has that travel aspect,” Fox said. “We are learning about hotels, pre-game meals and when to have shoot-around.”
App State has no more road games left in the season, but ended road play with a tough February stretch that included two sets of three-straight road contests.
The tough road stretches have been made more fun with some funny memories, Eaves said.
For Eaves, it was a case of being left behind that led to his most vivid memory.
“Going to Alabama, we stopped at a rest stop and team about left me,” Eaves said. “I was in the parking lot chasing down the bus and had to call somebody so they could back up before they got on the highway.”
Obacha said the Eaves incident was just another example of why he loves to travel.
“We stopped at a rest area and everyone was on the bus and we counted and thought everyone was there so the bus driver just started driving off and someone realized Frank wasn’t on there,” Obacha said.
During the long road stretches, the Mountaineers have been able to get their name out in new cities and work on recruiting new fans.
The players and coaches have taken that challenge head on, said associate sports information director Ryan Bower.
“When we were at Arkansas State this year, some of our players were in the lobby the night after our game and there was this little kid down there probably eight or nine years old who wanted everyone’s autograph,” Bower said. “Our guys got texted by our coaches to come down and he got everyone’s autograph including players, coaches and managers.”
The boy’s name was Woody, and he was from Little Rock, Arkansas.
After meeting the Mountaineers, however, he may have a non-local allegiance as he grows up.
“I said to him, ‘next week we are going to be in Little Rock’ and I asked him if he wanted to come to the game,” Bower said. “He told he did, so we got his parents’ names and we sent him tickets.”
The Mountaineers didn’t need to wonder for long if they had been met by Woody after traveling to Little Rock.
“Sure enough, next week he was at Little Rock and he has got his App State hoodie on and I asked him where he got it from and he said his dad had ordered it just for that game for him,” Bower said. “It was a pretty cool story from the road where we made a fan because our guys our just so good about interacting with people.”
Story: Bryant Barbery, Sports Reporter