Jet lag? Nah, Baylor's here to play ball
Friday’s Armed Forces Classic represents an exciting experience for many on the Baylor University men’s basketball team. After all, it isn't often a neutral-site game means a chance to go to Alaska.
The 16th ranked Bears face the University of Washington Huskies on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center. Host University of Alaska Anchorage will entertain the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Game 2 at 8 p.m.
While traveling is a big part of a major college basketball team's routine, Alaska poses a different, unusual and much farther challenge. It may not be a huge leap from Seattle for the Huskies, but Baylor is a different deal.
The Bears' campus is in Waco, Texas meaning they've trekked more than 4,000 miles over three time zones. Add in a local sunrise of 8:47 a.m. Friday morning and Bears Head Coach Scott Drew wants to ensure his team is ready. After all, even well-conditioned athletes can suffer from jet lag. But no special preparations were made.
"I think from them seeing the sacrifices our servicemen make, it's a lot easier for them to have a tough day of non-sleep and be able to get up and go," said Drew after the team's practice Thursday. "18- to 22-year-olds in the armed forces do it all the time, so there's no reason we can't do it."
When the GCI Great Alaska Shootout was played over Thanksgiving, teams would come to Anchorage from the Lower 48 days in advance. Part of it was the opportunity to see Alaska. But the other side was about acclimation.
And for some this week, the long journey had them feeling it.
"We got here at like 3 in the morning and then had to get up at like 8 or 9, so I felt kind of like I pulled an all-nighter," said senior forward Freddie Gillespie.
Essentially Baylor made its preparation before leaving Waco. The Bears played the University of Central Arkansas at home on Tuesday morning at 11:00. Afterwards, they departed for the airport.
But Texas to Anchorage is a long way no matter the route. The team stopped in Dallas and Seattle before the early morning arrival. It's that extra time that’s the key.
"Most games we get there the night before," said Gillespie who hasn't changed his sleeping pattern. The biggest preparation? "Drinking lots of water," he said.
His head coach agrees. The M.O. should be business as usual.
"We always want them to sleep. We always want them to stay hydrated. We always want them to eat right. A lot of things we want them to do," he said with a laugh.
And ultimately, the atmosphere sets the tone.
"A lot of joy to be able to play in this event. This is an opportunity for us to say thank you and for most of our guys this might be the last time they're ever in Alaska. It's a once in a lifetime experience."
Like many visiting teams who play in Alaska, Baylor will leave immediately after the game Friday with an arrival in central Texas Saturday afternoon.
They can sleep on the ride home.
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