La Salle student journalists David Grzybowski, Rachel Finkbeiner, Mike McCoy and Andrew Albert at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. [Mike McCoy]
La Salle student journalist David Grzybowski interviewed ESPN bracket savant Joe Lunardi during the Atlantic-10 tournament and wanted to know the truth: Did La Salle have any chance to make the tournament?
“History would suggest and would suggest pretty loudly that [La Salle] can’t hold that spot,” Lunardi told them “On a list of nine or 10 things that have to happen, they all have to happen.”
Barely a week and a half after Lunardi said the Explorers were all but out, they are traveling to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16. And four dedicated student reporters: Grzybowski, Mike McCoy, Andrew Albert and Rachel Finkbeiner will be there to report the action after one memorable roadtrip and several generous donations.
When the Explorers were selected to play Boise State in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, Grzybowski exchanged text messages with Mike McCoy, Andrew Albert and the newspaper’s sports editor, Rachel Finkbeiner. The four had to make it to Dayton, Ohio by Wednesday night. They didn’t bother planning a return date, so they packed for at least five days.
La Salle eventually won three games by single digits: A First Four win over Boise State in Dayton and two-point victories over higher seeds Kansas State and Ole Miss in Kansas City. Though Florida Gulf Coast has usurped the Explorers’ national Cinderella story, John Giannini’s squad has captivated basketball-crazed Philadelphia and now has a realistic shot at making the Final Four.
And over the span of seven days, the four student reporters experienced the following:
The university's 150th anniversary celebration on Monday night (which Grzybowski filmed for the school), a six-state traverse in a cramped Hyundai Sonata, a lost wallet at an Ohio rest stop, multiple botched hotel reservations, a single hotel room with only a king-size bed (for the four of them), and over 100 hours together between the car, the hotel rooms and the arenas.
The four saw the “World’s Largest Cross” in Effingham, Ill., discussed shopping destinations with Craig Sager, heard both the boisterous roars and deafening silence of Kansas State fans, and witnessed Tyrone Garland’s “Southwest Philly Floater” to beat Ole Miss and extend the Explorers’ best postseason performance since winning the 1954 national title.
After all four finished their work at 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, they commenced the drive back, braving high winds and snow-battered roads for almost 20 hours to return to Philadelphia.
Now, the four are being rewarded with over $8,000 in donations and will fly to cover the Explorers in Los Angeles this weekend in the team’s first Sweet 16 appearance.
Meet the four student journalists whose dedication to La Salle basketball and 2,300-mile roundtrip journey made them local Philly celebrities.
David Grzybowski, senior, communication major, Daily Collegian staff writer, La Salle TV producer: Grzybowski is already somewhat of a known commodity in the Philadelphia sports community, having over 1,600 Twitter followers (perhaps I should ask him for advice) and is the host of La Salle TV’s sports show.
Grzybowski lost his wallet at an Ohio rest stop, but was unaware of it until the car arrived in Dayton. That’s when he received a phone call from a New Jersey couple headed to Lexington, Ky. The two found his number by cross-referencing him on Linkedin and called his parents. Grzybowski met the Good Samaritans outside of a Tim Horton’s in Monroe, Ohio, about 26 miles outside of Dayton and retrieved his wallet with $275 in cash, his credit card and both his driver’s license and school ID. The man accepted nothing in return, but asked Grzybowski that he remember to do the same for somebody else.
Superstition: Finding his wallet was good enough luck for the weekend, right?
Quote: “We honestly probably shouldn’t have even made the tournament but we won and then we won again and again. Saint John Baptist de La Salle is definitely looking out for the La Salle Explorers this March.”
Rachel Finkbeiner, junior, communication major, La Salle Collegian sports editor: Finkbeiner became the sports editor of the Collegian after previously working in the news department. Aiming to improve the Collegian’s social media presence, Finkbeiner figured that even one NCAA tournament game would help internet traffic toward the paper. You can read her recaps as well as Andrew Albert’s work at the La Salle Collegian website, visit the Collegian's Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.
While the three guys concentrated on appearance (suits, ties, shirts), Finkbeiner thought of bringing something that the other three didn’t think to: Food.
“They were all so concerned with getting a haircut,” Finkbeiner said. “My parents always taught me to be prepared for everything so food was the first thing that came to my mind. I bought bagels, apples, granola bars and other snacks.”
Finkbeiner not only willingly braved over 36 hours in the car with three guys, she probably saved them from multiple gas station meals.
Superstition: She also adopted arguably the most daring superstition of any of them –- not washing her hair for two days so it could stay straight.
Quote: “Wherever we went, people looked at me like something was wrong with me. ‘You just went across the country with three boys?’ they’d ask, but it’s been great. I have learned about the more about the sports world, it has really helped me.”
Mike McCoy, senior, Communication major, La Salle TV producer, Daily Collegian staff writer: It was McCoy’s Hyundai Sonata that braved the 2,300-mile venture through the snow and sleet, and he even finished an eight-page paper before taking the trip. Having never traveled west of Pittsburgh in a car before, this trip was McCoy’s first exposure to the Midwest in any capacity.
Superstition: McCoy forgot his belt at home, but the other three refused to let him buy one after La Salle defeated Boise State. McCoy survived the tournament with baggy pants.
Quote: “Seeing La Salle, a school that only has about 7000 graduate and undergraduate students be able to shock the college basketball world was great. I mean, we’re going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955. That’s a lot of generations of family and people. And we actually got to meet Craig Sager, man! … We were pretty much co-workers with other media outlets. It didn’t seem like we were the students and they were the professionals. It felt like we were working in the same atmosphere as them.”
Andrew Albert, sophomore, Communication major, Daily Collegian staff writer, CityOfBasketballLove.com staff writer, La Salle TV producer: Albert set up the page during the Ole Miss press conference that sourced the donations, and was initially assigned to cover Temple’s second round game in Dayton for CityOfBasketballLove.com. His editor understood when he decided to travel to go watch his own school. Albert (@AndrewJAlbert01) wrote his own piece about the trip for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Superstition: Albert wore a new shirt for every game and had to sit next to Rachel even if the assigned seating said otherwise.