WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — I could give you a lot of excuses for why I've never been to Mackey Arena for a Purdue basketball game, but none of them would be any good.
I've just never been. Shameful, isn't it?
There really is no good reason, either. I'm a senior at Purdue, and I've had many of my friends try to get me to a game. I mean, it's right there. I've walked past Mackey Arena a million times in four years. One thing or another always got in the way, for going on close to four years now.
It's weird, too, because I love basketball. I grew up on a farm south of Terre Haute, and as a small-town girl — a very small-town girl —I watched a lot of basketball with my grandfather growing up. Full disclosure, we watched a lot of that team in red and white in our house, but I have converted him lately. A little.
My days are running out here in West Lafayette, and getting to Mackey was something I had never done. My roommate Alexie, who's a crazy Paint Crew girl, has been begging me to go to a game. So have lots of my other friends. One night after the Iowa game — I know we crushed them! — we were at Harry's for postgame, and it turns out that Harry's is the official postgame stop for Tom Brew, too. He runs this Sports Illustrated Purdue site, and he's been a sportswriter for a long, long time.
I was telling him how I had never been to Mackey. My roommate went on and on, too, about that great social injustice.
"Totally unacceptable,'' Tom said. "You can't go to college at a basketball school and not EVER go to a basketball game. We have to fix that.''
So fix it he did. And on Feb. 11, when Purdue played Penn State at Mackey Arena, I got the full Mackey experience.
I can sum it up in one word — AMAZING!
From small things ...
Most of my classmates would agree with me that the game day experience at Mackey is amazing because they've actually BEEN TO MACKEY, not just heard about it like I had. I have to admit, my first couple of years at Purdue, I never went to games because I went home literally every weekend. I was crazy homesick all the time, and much preferred being home on the farm than hanging out in West Lafayette. (My IU friends can insert their joke here.)
And it's not because I don't love sports, because I do. I've been to a lot of Purdue football games, and I was an athlete myself in high school at North Central High School. Not the big one in Indy, the little one south of Terre Haute near Farmersburg, which I'm sure you've never heard of. We're the OTHER North Central, and we only had a couple of hundred students in my tiny little school. But I played softball in high school, and we even won a Class 2A state championship. Pretty impressive, right?
And I can TELL you about Purdue basketball. I follow, and I pay attention. I watch games, and I meet my friends out after they go to games. I can tell you who Nojel Eastern is or who Matt Haarms is. I can tell you who Sasha Stefanovic is. He can really shoot!
And I know all ABOUT Mackey ...
... I've just never been.
Getting the full game-day experience
Tom has probably been to a thousand basketball games during his newspaper and media career, so he was kind enough to give me the full tour and let me shadow him for a game while he worked covering the game for his Sports Illustrated site. And when we walked out of the tunnel — "TIME TO PLAY HARD'' — I was stunned. It was so cool. We walked right out to the edge of the floor, and I couldn't believe how big the place was. You can't really tell that on TV. It practically took my breath away.
We sat over on the Purdue bench, and checked out the students in "The Paint Crew,'' and walked all around the court. Tom even introduced me to some of the players' parents, which was really humbling. Mr. & Mrs. Stefanovic, Sasha's parents, were kind enough to talk with me a for a long time and take a picture with me.
We were right in the tunnel when the Purdue players came out, and I was like 5 feet away. Matt Haarms is really, really tall!
I sat up on press row with Tom and it was amazing at how loud it gets in Mackey Arena. We didn't play well that night and we lost, but there were some moments where the crowd was really into it and got pretty loud. Tom told me he's heard it TEN TIMES louder and he said it's the loudest arena in the Big Ten. I believe it. I was into it, too, and it was kind of hard to follow that "no cheering in the press box'' thing that Tom told me about. But I got some claps in, kind of under the table.
After the game, I got to sit in the media interview room with Tom and listen to all the postgame interviews with the Purdue players and coach Matt Painter. They were like 3 feet away!! Tom even put me to work recording videos while he was adding quotes to his story. I was amazed at how fast he was able to write a whole story about the game in a matter of minutes.
I also thought it was very wild that the video I took was part of his story!
When we were done, we went back out on the floor and recorded a few more videos. The arena was just about empty by then, and it looked even bigger looking around. I was still bubbling with excitement over my night, and just so thrilled that I finally had made it to the game.
It was an amazing experience, and now I'm kicking myself that I didn't go to games sooner. I had so much fun.
But I did check it off my bucket list, and I'll go back again before I graduate. Everyone should go at least once. And I'll come back after I graduate, too. I'm an agriculture major and I'm going back home to work in the farming business. But I'll come back to Mackey for sure now. I'm hooked! Game days — like today — are great.
It was nice of Tom to make sure I got to experience all of this. I'm glad we post-gamed at the same spot, and, of course, we did the same thing after my Penn State game, too. It's tradition, Tom said. So Harry's it was. We had fun and told a lot of stories, and I even got to meet a few more of Tom's writing buddies. It was a great night from start to finish.
So thank you, Tom. And thank you, Mackey Arena. You were both awesome.
Our house, without a doubt. Boiler Up!!
Related Purdue basketball items
OK folks, help me out here. Sports Illustrated's coverage of Purdue is really good. So follow along on social media and on their website. (And tell Tom I sent you!!)
- TWITTER: Follow all of their great Purdue basketball, football and baseball coverage on Twitter @sports_Purdue
- FOLLOW TOM, TOO! Tom covers Purdue AND Indiana sports for Sports Illustrated, so you get double the stuff when you follow him on Twitter @tombrewsports
- FACEBOOK: Follow the Purdue Facebook page to see EVERY story that gets posted on the website at Facebook.com/SportsIllustratedPurdue
- SPORTS ILLUSTRATED PURDUE WEBSITE: All of the content from Tom and his team is free right now, so while you're here on the site, click that FOLLOW button on the top right of the home page and sign up. There's no charge, and you'll get some free stuff later. www.si.com/college/purdue