Editor’s Note: The Wolfpack women’s basketball team spent their Thanksgiving break in Nashville for the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament, falling 77-71 to No. 16 Vanderbilt in the finals. In his second guest-blog entry for our “A Coach’s First Season” series, Patrick Kinas (the voice of Wolfpack women’s basketball) provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the team spent some of their time on the trip and what they ate for Thanksgiving. The team’s next game is Thursday at 7 p.m., when they’ll face Wisconsin in Reynolds as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
Just in case I’ve missed a Thanksgiving meal at some point along the way during my life, fortunately our travels took the basketball team to Nashville, Tenn., this past week.
Around this time of year, I’m asked annual questions from new friends or acquaintances who may not fully understand the scope of what working with sports teams entails. Are you going to see your family for Thanksgiving? Going home for Christmas? Hey, what are you doing for New Year’s? Well, invariably I have to inform them that my holiday seasons are typically encumbered by travel to usually exotic, bi-lingual, sand-supported locales to “work.”
Over the past few years, I’ve had to experience the aggravation early wake-up calls at 3 a.m. so that I don’t miss my “work-related” flights to Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Virgin Islands or my personal favorite Bahamas. I know, it’s a small price to pay. However, when you juxtapose that against not being with your family, for me it seems like a fairly justified reward. So when I found out a few months ago that our scheduled tournament in the Virgin Islands was a casualty of the economic downturn, and instead of the beach, the water life, tennis matches against club pros on the island and basketball games played in tiny gymnasiums while bands blare indigenous, island songs. . . . yes, instead of that we were heading to Nashville as a like substitute? It made me long to be nine years old again and heading to Milwaukee with my family to eat my cousin’s pumpkin pie instead and hang on to someone’s waist while snowmobiling on the flat Wisconsin country terrain.
However, after experiencing the Magic of Nashville, I sat back at my house on Sunday night thinking how worthwhile this trip was. Obviously, it was the first significant road trip with the new coaching staff, and plenty of bonding takes place much more quickly on the road than it does with any given home game experience. So thinking back to the dinners, card games, shootarounds, HORSE contests and actual basketball games, these kinds of trips are always treasured times. During a hotel shuttle ride on our first night in Nashville on Wednesday, the door shut and I hoped unfailingly that this was the Cash Cab. Now, the driver didn’t exactly look like Ben Bailey from the Discovery Channel’s game show, but I persisted nonetheless. I pleaded with the driver to ask us random questions and then give us money. Luckily for him, this was about a mile ride because I don’t think he could wait to get me out of the car. Ah, the things my friends have to put up with me on the road.
So back to Thanksgiving. We were all very fortunate this Thanksgiving to be with each other. Many people have come from very divergent pasts to have been on this trip with us. Some have been with the program for a few years. Some made the trip from Western Carolina University [where Kellie Harper coached from 2004-2009]. Some came from other locales. But now we’ve all come together like a confluence of rivers — merging into one — which is what you hope to have occur early in any given season. Many family members made the trip, with Lucy Ellison’s mom preparing a wonderful Thanksgiving meal for us following Friday’s game, and the great hosts at Vanderbilt for allowing us the usage of their Admiral Room inside Memorial Gymnasium to enjoy it. Parents, relatives, friends all gathered to be with us during a holiday when that’s typically Thanksgiving for most of America, but in college basketball, almost never a reality.
The Magic of Nashville, however, was something extraordinary. Who knew heading to Nashville that we would meet Magic? Nothing against Earvin “Magic” Johnson, but I’m pretty sure my family would rather meet Majid “Magic” Noori instead. You see, “Magic” is an executive chef. And not just any executive chef. He’s been fixing feasts in Nashville for almost a couple of decades, and while other schools and teams around the country have most-assuredly attempted to lure Magic away to other, more pop-music inclined cities with smaller belt buckles, he’s remained a fixture within Vanderbilt Commodore community (and more recently the Tennessee Titans) for 19 years now. Is there another chef in the world of college athletics who has an entire page devoted to him in their media guide? Not magically likely. He’s been featured on CBS’s The Early Show and in USA Today, while also been included in Sports Illustrated about a half dozen times. Yeah, most of us in the travel party at NC State have been college athletes and we’ve been in Sports Illustrated. . . about never.
So back on Wednesday night, a banquet was held by the host Commodores for the four teams competing, and here I thought my Wisconsin relatives could put on a Thanksgiving dinner. The image of one of my cousins holding a candle next to Magic keeps popping into my head, but my cousin keeps dropping it. She can’t hold it. Yeah, she couldn’t hold the candle to him. You get the point. There must’ve been 120 people at this dining hall affiliated with the tournament, and before we were released to the food lines, one of the Vanderbilt staff members told all of us to take a walk through to see what all was there and where it was. So we didn’t get lost, I figured. The assembly line was the most glorious Thanksgiving lineup I’d ever seen. Granted, my family isn’t known for overeating. However, in my next life, I think I’d like to be a Noori.
You think I’m overstating things? Check out this quote from the Sept. 25, 2003, Sports Illustrated’s list of “100 Things You Have to Do Before You Graduate (Whatever The Cost)”:
49. Sneak into Vanderbilt’s McGugin Center for a training table meal. Chef Majid Noori deserves his own Food Network show.
That’s our Magic. Turkey. Ham. Salmon. A full salad bar. At least 10 different kinds of sides. Six desserts — including my favorite blackberry cobbler. Ice cream with every possible topping imaginable. And no carbonated drinks period. All juices and water. This guy is all about nutrition. We piled up food on our plates like we were walking the Green Mile at midnight. It was a feast that has no rivals in the Kinas household. As we departed a couple of hours later, we were instructed not to even clear our tables anymore because of the infinite number of trays, plates and silverware that had mounted high enough where you might have been able to charge a quarter to peer out a telescope to see the sights on the ground. It really was the Sears Tower or soiled dishes. Now washing them? That’s a job I didn’t envy. Instant reminder of why I quit my first-ever job at Hardee’s when I was 16 because I was on dish washing duty those three days. No. . . .thanks.
So my personal thanks to Magic and the extra pounds he cast on my frame during my Nashville stay. Now I’m off to buy a new belt.
In the end, I suppose the only thing that could’ve made it a more satisfying trip to Nashville would’ve been if we could have magically found seven more points on Saturday.