January 13, 2009 11:30 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
NASHVILLE -- I'll be honest with you: I don't know which time zone I'm in, what time it is, what I'm doing here, who I am or who I work for. After last night's Davidson-App State game, I drove 340 miles west (with two hours' worth of sleep, in 30-minute increments, taken in rest areas), back to Nashville to drop off this rental car and go on to the next episode -- which is a flight into snowbound Cleveland and a week in the MAC. I had difficulty explaining myself to the ticket counter agent, so I'd have an even worse time putting together coherent paragraphs for you here today.
So we'll resume tomorrow -- I had a big followup to Monday's post planned, and we still have to crown the winner of last week's Bally contest and start another one (hint: it's a research project that has nothing to do with stats). We'll have Conference Calls and a U'useless Stat. Today, we'll dispense with the normal routine and share a wonderful mid-major story from our inbox, about a wonderful player, his wonderful mother, and a wonderful place (in this very state) that we've visited ourselves.
Take it away, Ben from Cincinnati.
Good Morning Kyle, This is Ben from Cincinnati with a great story for you.
As you might recall, I mentioned on Friday in the ESPN Chat that I was traveling to Tennessee-Martin to see Lester Hudson play on Saturday, and you said that I was 'in for a real treat'. Well, you weren't kidding about that. I got to the Elam Center early while the women's game was still going on. Being a relatively small school in the middle of nowhere, I wasn't really sure what to expect.
At the small ticket booth in the dimly lit hallway just outside the court, I ignorantly asked for the best seat available. I was presented with a ticket that said 'General Admission - Good at any 2008-2009 home game'. Surprised, I walked down a little further to the concession stand, (er, table) to find that the options consisted of popcorn and beverages that were served from 2-liter bottles. I asked one of the ladies working behind the counter if they sold any programs anywhere. Her reaction was priceless; though she only said "no we don't have any", her underlying tone was more like 'who the hell is this guy, looking for a program? To a Martin game? Ha!'
I proceeded into the arena with roughly 10 minutes left in the women's game. I saw that there were only a couple of people sitting behind the T-Martin bench. I couldn't believe that I had arrived early enough to secure a bleacher seat directly behind the bench!
I went down and secured my spot, camping out there during the entire 25 minute break between games. I would have gone to get something to drink, but didn't want to chance someone taking my seat. While the stands somewhat filled up, to my surprise, I was the only one sitting in my row 10 minutes into the game.
There were so many empty seats. (The official attendance was 3,736, but I assure you there weren't nearly that many people there - I have the pictures to prove it). While sitting there, still in disbelief that I'm actually sitting this close to Lester Hudson, watching him rack up almost another quadruple-double (30 points, 10 boards, 7 assists, and 8 steals), I couldn't help but wonder why the stands weren't full.
Doesn't everyone know just how good this guy is? Do they know what they're missing out on?
Now don't get me wrong, I've been to small venues before (IUPUI), but I suppose I didn't expect the same from Tennessee-Martin, especially when you have the second leading scorer in the nation and a future NBA player. With roughly 5 minutes left in the game, a lady sat down next to me in the first row. I hardly noticed her. When I took a picture of Mr. Hudson, she turned and engaged me in conversation.
She asked if I was taking a picture of 'Les', and when I said yes, she said that she was his mother. I laughed at first in disbelief, but when I looked back at her, she looked just like him in the face - it really was his mother. She wore a T-M vest and a ball cap with an airbrushed Lester Hudson #5 on it. When I told her how I had traveled from Cincinnati to see Les play, she was shocked. After talking with her for just a few minutes, one of her daughters came down and pulled her aside.
She came back and said how her family thought I was some sort of recruiter or a scout for Les, and they were worried that she was hurting his chances by talking to me. I assured her that I was nothing more than just a fan that wanted to see him play before he graduated. I proceeded to have a conversation with her for the rest of the game.
We talked about everything from Les' home life growing up back in Memphis, his time at "Southwest" (SW Tennessee Community College), his time at T-Martin (he has his own apartment; no roommates), and his future in the NBA. She must have asked me on 10 occasions if I really thought that he was going to the NBA. I don't know if she really wasn't sure or if she just got enjoyment out of hearing someone tell her repeatedly that he was.
When the game ended, she asked if I wanted a picture of her and Les together. We went out on the court and I took the picture. She then asked if I wanted a picture with Les, so we did that too. Then, she said, "how about a picture of you, me and Les".
So after the picture, I turned and introduced myself to him. I told him how I traveled from Cincy to see him and how I read a lot about him through ESPN writer Kyle Whelliston. I then told him how he was the player of the week last week and asked him if he knew that. He smiled and said that he did know and said he appreciated the support.
Before leaving, Lester's mother attempted to give me her vest as a souvenir (as Les had given it to her) or even her hat. I refused, but she insisted that I take her telephone number. I'm still not exactly sure why she did as I have no reason to ever call her. But she insisted that I call her anytime to talk about Les and she made me promise that I would.
She again said "Do you really think he is going to the NBA?." At that point, I said "I'll tell you what, on NBA draft day, when Les gets drafted, I'll give you a call and say 'I told you so'". We then parted ways. I left the Elam Center with an amazing experience and made the 5 Â½ hour drive back to Cincinnati.
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