On short notice, they drove 13 hours from Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio to Lawrence, Kan., to spend a few hours on the Kansas campus before returning home. In a span of 32 hours, the two childhood friends from Oak Harbor, Ohio, spent 27 hours on the road.
They did it all for the chance to meet Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, John Wooden and 26 other coaches. It was an incredible journey to discuss basketball and life with the biggest coaches in college hoops and a pair of analysts. It ultimately became the book Destination Basketball. It's a journey made all the more incredible when you consider it was pulled off by a couple of college kids.
"They had a quality about them that was very engaging," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who is profiled in the book. "When they started telling me that they were sleeping in their car and driving these insane distances, there was one word that stuck out to me and that was 'hungry.'"
Fittingly, this hoops dream all began while Dave Bensch and Andrew Hemminger were shooting hoops in the driveway. It was June of 2006 and the two BGSU seniors-to-be were looking for something special they could do together before they graduated and had to enter the work force, when it hit them.
"We thought 'Man, this would be a pretty cool project. But we don't really have any way to pull it off and we don't know if any of these guys would talk to us, but if they did it would be pretty cool,'" Hemminger said.
They put out calls and e-mails to coaches, but had difficulty finding anyone to give them their initial interview. "Everybody wanted to know who we had met with at that point and when we didn't have anybody, we'd say 'Well, we want your coach to be first' and that was tough," Hemminger said.
But they received a boost from Vinny Tatum, executive assistant to Louisville's Rick Pitino, who said the coach would try to squeeze them in during a camp for high schoolers. Five days later, they were sitting outside Pitino's office, trying to calm themselves at the prospect of meeting with a coach who has a national title and five Final Four appearances on his résumé.
"We were like little school kids getting sent down to the principal's office waiting to meet with him and our hands were sweating and we were really excited," Bensch said.
As they would with every coach they interviewed, they asked Pitino about his greatest influences and what lasting impact he hopes to make on his players before snapping photos for proof of the meeting, getting a few autographs and heading back on their way.
"We got out of the interview and we were just going nuts," Hemminger said. "The whole drive home from Louisville, which was about five hours was, like 'You've got to be kidding me, we just got to sit down with Rick Pitino!'"
More surreal moments would follow. Six days later they were at Wake Forest to meet Skip Prosser, who died a year later of a heart attack and prompted the pair to change his entry in the book to reflect his life's accomplishments. The next weeks would see them add then West Virginia, and current Michigan coach, John Belein, Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Illinois' Bruce Weber. Theyeven spent four hours with in Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan'shome.
Bensch and Hemminger had just finished their interview with Weber and made one last-ditch effort to get face-time with Ryan, who was readying for a week-long trip to Italy with the Badgers. They spoke to Ryan's oldest son, Will, who offered them a tour of the Kohl Center. But in transit to the UW arena, they received another call.
"We got a call back and we thought he was going to cancel on us," Hemminger said. "Will said 'You guys can come over to the house if you want, but only if you guys got time. We don't want to hold you guys up.' It was so crazy, it was like a joke 'if you guys have time.'"
They spent more than four hours with the Ryans, talking basketball with Bo on a deck looking out into woods, and at the urging of Bo's wife, Kelly, joined them and their sons for dinner, before finally leaving after 10 p.m.
"For him to open his house to two complete strangers, for him to give us four hours of his time before he was leaving for Italy the next day, is remarkable and says a lot about him and his family," Bensch said.
Ryan was the first, but not last, coach to open his home to the two road-weary college seniors. Former Purdue headman Gene Keady invited them to his place in West Lafayette, Ind. After saying they were the first strangers to come to his home, Keady warned them his wife had a .38 revolver under her pillow, "just in case." They visited legendary UCLA coach John Wooden in his Encino, Calif., home, spending more than two hours with Wooden, who asked them to take his sportsman oath and read them poetry by former Bruins center Swen Nater
"To sit down with coach Wooden one-on-one, and once we got done with the interview, to just sit there for an hour and a half and talk to him about nothing in particular, just the game of basketball and life issues in general, was crazy," Hemminger said.
Incredibly, they only ran into one bump in the entire process. Bensch and Hemminger drove to Lubbock, Texas, and were scheduled to meet with Texas Tech's Bobby Knight the day after he passed Smith for the all-time wins record with a win over UNLV on Dec. 28, 2007. Problem: The Red Raiders lost 74-66. Knight declined to meet with them, and Bensch and Hemminger made the 1,400-mile drive back to Ohio without the interview.
"It was disappointing but it was the only time we had a disappointment, really, which was amazing to us because a lot of coaches could have pulled out on us," Hemminger said. "We say we went 29-1 with coaches -- and we'll take that."
In all, Hemminger estimates they spent $6,000 in travel expenses, but says "Some of these coaches get 20-, 30-, 40- or 50-thousand dollars to do speaking engagements with big corporations, so $6,000 to sit down with 29 of them, including guys like coach Wooden and coach K was well worth the cost."
Now graduates, Hemminger with a degree in sports management and Bensch with a mathematics degree, they are on the road once again. But this time they are out promoting their book until the Final Four in San Antonio. They are now earning the help of some of the coaches they sought out, like Self, who recently did a signing with them at Kansas.
With the journey behind and despite the heady names they held court with, Dave Bensch and Andrew Hemminger never lost their every-fan perspective. "We're just too ordinary fans that had really an extraordinary trip," Hemminger said.
To learn more about Destination Basketball, or to purchase of the copy of the book,click here.