I was going to write this either way. Win or lose.
Every year in March I go to the Mountain West Conference Basketball tournament in Las Vegas. My friends and I always have a good time drinking excessively, gambling recklessly and acting obnoxiously as we cheer for San Diego State. It makes for decent #content and is a nice way for me to recap the weekend as I pound kale smoothies on the following Monday, desperately trying to apologize to my body for the hell I put it through.
(You can read about last year’s trip here.)
But before we get to this past weekend, let’s go back a few months to the beginning of the 2017-18 basketball season. After three straight years of significant regression, I implored the SDSU basketball team to “Teach me to love again.”
When this season began in November, I could barely get myself excited enough to read a Mark Zeigler practice update (which is good because he blocked me on Twitter so I don’t know when they’re posted anyway). But here we are in March, and folks, I AM EXTREMELY BACK.
“PROTIP: do not drink alcoholic Mtn Dew Baja Blast or play craps and roulette. These are three bad things that are worse when combined.”
The run this team has gone on in the past four weeks has been one of the most impressive stretches in the 10 years I’ve been following the program. It was just one month ago that we were praying for a first round bye and a 5-seed in the MW Tourney. Now they’re in the goddamn NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed with a reasonable shot at making it to the Sweet 16. Holy shit!
And the best part is the story of the three seniors who got us here:
- Kam Rooks went from a 7-foot-1 punchline through the first 26 games of his graduate transfer season to Senior Night juggernaut hero, helping clinch that aforementioned first round bye.
- Malik Pope went from presumed one-and-done as a freshman to injury-plagued disappointment to physically dominant rebounding machine and senior leader.
- Trey Kell was a hometown kid of whom we were told was the “true shooter” unicorn we hadn’t had in years. What we got was a guy seemingly unaware he had teammates he was allowed to pass to and that you are permitted to shoot from inside the 3-point arc. Since returning from injury a month ago he became a pass-first distributor, capable of hitting clutch shots and getting to the rim when needed. He matched his career high in the MWC Championship game against New Mexico and led SDSU back to the Big Dance for the first time since his freshman year.
I won’t apologize for not being 100 percent in on a team that lost at home to Cal and gave up 35 points to a pile of PVC pipe brought to life by a mountain wizard’s curse. Other than the incredible Gonzaga upset, this season mostly sucked ass. But that just makes this turnaround all the more impressive.
Anyway, on to the debauchery.
Our flight left Wednesday night at 8:45 p.m. There were 50 people total on our Southwest flight. Our group accounted for seven of them. Between us we knew the punchline to every joke the flight attendant tried to tell in the pre-safety demo. Sometimes you can order an alcoholic drink on a Southwest flight and they’ll just give it to you no charge. This was not one of those times.
We arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel but not before the playing of our national anthem immediately upon landing at the airport.
As usual, we took it easy the first night, knowing we had a long couple of days ahead of us. By that of course I mean we stayed out til 3 a.m. as I pounded eight tequila OJs (there’s vitamin C in those so I’m really just making myself healthier).
The next day I rallied from a hangover that would kill regular me, but was a mere flesh wound for Vegas me. The Aztecs rewarded this inspiring effort by gutting out a win over recent pain-in-ass, Fresno State. We started a “UTEP! UTEP!” chant after their coach, Rodney Terry, interviewed for (UPDATE: and has now accepted!) the Texas-El Paso job. We looked good while doing it.
The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur of the Taco Bell Cantina, which featured alcoholic Mtn Dew Baja Blast, and doing poorly in craps and roulette. PROTIP: do not drink alcoholic Mtn Dew Baja Blast or play craps and roulette. These are three bad things that are worse when combined.
Friday we were up early for the famed Aztec Invitational Golf Tournament (please note that the Aztec Invitational is unaffiliated with San Diego State University in any official capacity and SDSU athletics does not condone absolutely any part of the stupid shit these idiots do).
I’m not much of a golfer but I DID get assigned cart # 69, which I drove with the most esteemed respect and quiet dignity.
I would later fall out of said cart at full speed. Only spilled half my beer, though.
After golf it was time for the annual trip to the Bellagio buffet. Frequenters of this publication will know my friend Jeff is notorious for eating approximately 11 pounds of crab legs every year. Did he live up to the hype again this year? Let’s go straight to the source to find out:
Then it was straight to the semi-final match against Nevada where SDSU
won a hard-fought nail biter BLEW THE DANG ROOF OFF THE BUILDING, leading the 2-seeded Wolf Pack by 30 at halftime and never looking back. It was a good time. We all had a good time.
Our night concluded with losing parlays and even losing-er blackjack hands. Fuck blackjack.
Saturday we pounded a few bottles of my favorite Vegas cocktail: CVS-brand unflavored electrolyte beverage. Think of it as water, but thicc. It really is a life saver.
The game Saturday was incredible. Both SDSU and UNM brought a solid group of fans, nearly filling up the lower bowl of the Thomas & Mack Center. It almost felt like seven years ago, when this conference was good and people came to the games.
Aztecs won a thriller (detailed, intelligent and beautiful breakdown of that by my colleague here). Trey Kell delivered a legendary performance prompting more than one “TREY KELL FUCKS!” chants. And first-year head coach Brian Dutcher cut down the nets as the Aztecs won their first MWC Tourney crown since 2011.
Hard to put into words what it felt like as I recorded that video. Pride, nostalgia, passion, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, hope. But for the first time in three years it really felt like Aztec Basketball™ was back.
As is customary (aka, it’s happened exactly one time before), SDSU fans met at the Bellagio fountains at
midnight 10 p.m. (we’re old and had early flights) for celebratory cigars and champagne. The soundtrack really captured the tough, hard-nosed attitude that propelled the team to victory.
As you can see, by this point in the weekend my camera skills were rapidly deteriorating and my writing ability had fallen to Incredible Hulk levels.
This is my favorite week of the year, every year. Usually, it’s because I get to spend time with friends I don’t see nearly enough. But the whole reason I became close with these idiots is bonding over our love for the Aztecs.
SDSU sports has brought us together for some of the best, most memorable moments of our lives. Seeing our team win a championship was a pretty poignant reminder of what made us friends in the first place. It was a weekend I’ll remember for a long time.
Anyway I have no voice and am still exhausted after sleeping about 17 hours on Sunday. I hope I never see those shitheads again.