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Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward

Photo by Mike Miller

I told my girlfriend I’d be home later than usual, not to wait up. A covert operation was taking place at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall that night and I was the mastermind.

It was March 26, 2019, Indiana’s basketball season was crawling to its merciful end, and two things were certain: That evening’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal between IU and Wichita State was to be the last basketball game played in the old ball hall for months. For myself, it would also be the final time I stepped through its doors as the Indiana beat writer for the Bloomington Herald-Times.

A few months earlier, my girlfriend and I decided to relocate to St. Louis. She received a job offer from Washington University just before Christmas, and while there was plenty she enjoyed about working at IU’s Kelley School of Business, this was something she couldn’t turn down.

So as I saw my time on the IU beat ending, I wanted to finally check off the one thing that had been on my mind since moving to Bloomington seven years earlier. I wanted to live the dream of so many others and do the only thing that made sense on an occasion like this.

I wanted to crush beers on the court at Assembly Hall.

This wasn’t going to be easy for me to pull off. I’d need some help, both with getting the beer in the building, and drinking it once it was there. I had to drive home, after all, and there’s nothing sadder than a local beat reporter drinking by himself after an NIT game. There was also no way I would be able to smuggle beer, that famously forbidden drink, into the arena before the game. Security at the door seemed to become tighter after the building was renovated; plus, it wouldn’t be possible to fit the appropriate amount of Court Beers into my modest computer bag.

How many Court Beers is the appropriate amount? Six? No. Eight? You fool. 10? Yeah, about 10 beers. To get those sweet, sweet beers into the building, I would require assistance. So I messaged a fellow scribe, whose name I will protect, to lay it all on the line. “I’ll bring the beers and you hold the door,” I told my colleague. That way, I could run to my car after deadline, haul in the drinks we all know and love and not have to worry about getting locked out of the arena. The plan, which was flawless, had been established.

You might remember that the game itself wasn’t all that interesting. Wichita State hit a ton of 3-pointers, IU … ummm … didn’t do much of anything especially well, and that was that. By 11:30 p.m., I had filed my story, filmed and uploaded my postgame video and, buddy, I was ready for that classic brew. The outlined plan — the retrieval and the return — was executed perfectly, and by 11:40 myself and several others were swilling that delicious ale that never fails.

We did some bullshittin’ in the press room, then shuffled onto the court. The cleaning crew was still going aisle by aisle to remove trash from the grandstands while the bunch of us sat and chatted. We hung out around center court and nursed our suds until well after 2 a.m., because you don’t let nights like that slip away so easily.

There were plenty of occasions when the only thing I wanted to do after deadline was to hurry out of Assembly Hall, go home and crawl into bed. But not on this night. As we sat on the court, and the late-night staffers finished their work around us, there was only one other thing I would have wished for: more time.

It was hard to leave town three months later. Chronicling the crests and troughs of IU athletics for the Herald-Times was a thrill, a privilege and an honor, and I’m still so grateful I was able to spend seven-plus years in a truly wonderful place like Bloomington.

So when the Crimson Quarry crew announced last month that they were stepping away, I saw a chance to come back. Not to Indiana — we’re quite happy here in St. Louis! — but to the world of IU athletics. As of today, I’ll be moving into Kyle Robbins’ old corner office on the top floor of CQ’s virtual paragraph factory. There are half-consumed bottles of Skrewball whiskey all over the place, old #iufb4gameday swag from 2015 strewn about the floor and a stash of what appears to be Iraqi dinar in the bottom drawer of my new desk. It’s weird, and I think I’m going to like it here.

This is a hell of a time to take over a college sports blog — seriously, what have I done? — and I can’t say with any certainty how this space will evolve. I think, in each of our own ways, we’re all a little lost right now. But I trust we’ll figure it out.

Almost a year to the day after I thought I’d never be back, here I am, yelling about The Kick That Was Good and looking forward to sharing a few more memorable moments with friends.