While some of us may fancy ourselves as being dedicated fans of UT Basketball, there's being "dedicated" and then there's Ryan Clark. After tonight's victory, Ryan has attended 114 straight UT Basketball games--both home and road--in a streak that has spanned over three complete seasons. Blogging about his travels on his website Longhorn Roadtrip, Ryan is the most dedicated UT basketball fan on the planet.
As a primer for Ryan's accomplishments, including how he does it, make sure you check out his FAQ Section, a summary of his story, and an map tracking all of his trips during one season. After the jump, we have a Q&A with Ryan, as we are both in Greensboro awaiting the showdown with Duke.
Q. What was the closest you've ever come to missing a game during your streak?
A. I had to watch the last 18 minutes of the Villanova game this year in a bar, since we got thrown out of MSG after my friend poured his dip can on another fan. I'm still not happy about that one.
Another close call was when I had to drive from my UT graduation on Saturday morning to the Toyota Center to watch the game against Rice, which was that evening. I ran inside and watched the first four minutes of the game from a random section because I didn't want to miss any of the hard-hitting, high-flying action that typifies Rice Owl basketball.
Q. Regarding your travel, what was the toughest stretch of back-to-back games you've ever attended?
A. The very first season was pretty rough. I drove to Oklahoma State during an ice storm for the Tuesday night triple-overtime showdown with Boggan and Durant. Then I flew to Villanova for a Saturday game, came home, then had to make an overnight flight to Nebraska. I was completely dead at the end of that stretch.
This year, I drove up-and-back for the Nebraska game, stayed home for the Missouri game, then drove up-and-back for the Colorado game, then had to head straight to A&M. That was a nasty stretch, but the first year of games was harder on me.
Q. What was the most rabid fanbase you've ever encountered? The most docile?
A. The most docile fanbase is Nebraska. UCLA was also pretty docile, but I think that has to do with how their arena is constructed. The most rabid fanbase might be Kansas State, and I don't mean that as a compliment. I was really surprised by the hostility from the fans in Manhattan. Oklahoma State and Kansas fans are really passionate about their teams, but they aren't mean-spirited like the KSU fans.
I don't want to talk bad about the Villanova fans, since my friend was also an idiot, but I saw Villanova fans involved in several fights. While we were at MSG, I saw a Villanova-Davidson fight, a Villanova-Villanova fight, and multiple Villanova-Texas fights. Then, after the game, we saw even more fights at a bar. I like that their fans are passionate, but people should be able to drink alcohol without being complete idiots.
Q. What is your personal highlight and lowlight during the streak?
A. The lowlight was getting escorted out of MSG this year during the Villanova game. The other lowlight was having to drive 30 hours back to Austin after we got manhandled by USC two years ago. That was rough.
As for highlights, I went cliff-diving with AJ, Chapman, and Harrison Smith while we were in Maui. The team came over to our beach from a different hotel and we climbed up the cliff together. Dexter didn't go, but the cliff wouldn't have been wide enough for him anyways. The famous Kenton Paulino shot against West Virginia came during the third game of my streak. That game was what March Madness is all about. I got interviewed after the game and said how happy I was that Texas now has its own highlight that can be replayed every single March.
Q. I've written several times about how it takes a marquee game to raise the Erwin Center to another level. This season, that really only occurred during the OU game and the last 8 minutes of the UCLA game. During other games, "The Library" monicker is well-deserved. At its best and worst, where does the Erwin Center crowd noise stack up against other crowds across the country? How about the facilities?
A. Denton Cooley Pavilion is up there with any facility in the country. UCLA and Oregon also have great facilities. The Erwin Center is a different story, and I don't like it very much. It's not a very good basketball arena. You are correct in that our fans can get loud, but, on the whole, they aren't very intelligent basketball fans. First and foremost, our fans won't cheer unless the team gives them a specific reason. They are very reactive fans. An opposing coach who calls a timeout during a UT run will effectively kill our crowd noise. Even at Iowa State, the crowd will cheer the team even when they are struggling or will go berserk when the team backs out the ball when trying to kill clock with a big lead. Further compounding the problem is that the upper level of the Erwin Center is too far away from the floor.
Q. This season, the OU game was clearly the top home game experience, but there have been several marquee games over the last few years. What was your favorite home game during your time on campus?
A. Probably the Villanova game from a few years ago. We were both ranked in the top five and Texas pulled out a big win. My favorite home game of all-time is when we nearly choked away a big lead against North Carolina when I was a little kid. We had no business winning that game, and it was a huge upset.
Q. While we were at the OU game in Norman, we talked about the in-game player commercials and the nifty pre-game video package. These would both be welcome additions to the Erwin Center. Based on all your trips, what tactics used by other schools would you implement to improve the in-game experience for Longhorns fans?
A. I think the player commercials would be a big thing. With our reactive crowd, commercials involving the players trying to pump up the fans would be a huge help. If Damion James was telling everyone to get up and be loud, it would probably work.
I won't even get into all the things that UT could do to reach out to students. However, it's painfully clear to me that it will be a long time before anything ever improves regarding marketing towards students. The Stampede and Varsity Rewards programs were both great ideas that have gotten off-track and lack focus. Just for one example, we found out that Minnesota students had the option to buy a $600 travel package to come to the games tonight. Davidson did something similar last year for their Regional. It's very frustrating that I personally have to put together my own groups of students to attend road games. By myself, I got 30 students to go to Baylor a few years ago, and I also got 20 students to go to A&M two years ago. I know that if UT Athletics would lend their support, then we could get more students to go to road games at a lower cost. It's really not that difficult.
Q. What's your top piece of advice for UT fans who want to travel to a road game?
A. Number one, be prepared for the fact that everyone hates Texas. It comes with the territory. Second, if you are on a budget, try to cram as many people as possible in one car or hotel room. Finally, if you happen to go through Norman, make sure you stop by Big Red Imports and say hello. Or do the Gator Chomp and tell them that Rhett sent you.
Q. From my own personal experience, I know that I've learned a lot about the individual players by watching them during warm-ups and timeouts. You see these players more than any other UT fan. What have you learned about this team-and its individual players-from seeing every single one of their games in-person. Essentially, what is the story-within-a-story over this season?
A. I think that this season is a testament to the fact that Rick Barnes isn't a system coach. I mean that in a positive way. He recruits the best players that he can, and he tries to play a system that best fits their talents. Unfortunately, this year's team has less talent than some other UT teams in recent memory. As a result, we've seen him tinker with the line-ups and roles for specific players. We've gotten to watch Dexter Pittman and Varez Ward grow as individual players right before our very eyes. Balbay has improved, too, but he still needs work before next season.
The body language of some of the players is also easy to pick up on. I'm not a collegiate coach, but I think Rick Barnes might have a quick hook with Damion James. When Rick yells at him and puts him on the bench, I don't think Damion responds to it very well.
Q. Your post-game recaps effectively combine personal observations with statistical analysis. Do you have to rewatch the games on DVR before analyzing them in the recap? If so, do you find yourself remembering things from watching the game live that don't show up on the TV broadcast?
A. Honestly, I don't have time to rewatch games. The traveling and writing for my website are very time-consuming. I have my real job, and I also try diligently to keep up with the rest of the college basketball landscape. Sometimes, I think my best postgame recaps come after a long trip home, where I can talk things over with my friends. We'll all break down the game from several different perspectives and that can be really helpful.
Q. Have you gotten any donations for your trips from readers of your website?
A. I've earned a grand total of $40 from ads on my website in three seasons. I haven't really tried to market my website or my travels. This is something that I enjoy doing, so I don't really look for any additional compensation or exposure. A sponsor would be nice, though.
Q. In general, what is your opinion of Rick Barnes? Any good anecdotes over watching him on the road?
A. I love Rick Barnes. I'm really glad that we brought him to Texas. Great recruiter, really nice guy. My favorite Barnes stories are actually from two home games. In the first one, we were killing some tiny directional school, there was two minutes left, and Connor accidentally fouled someone. Rick walks onto the court and screams "Connor! Don't (freaking) foul!" That was pretty hilarious, and I think a Facebook group actually got created because of it. Less we forget anything else on Saturday against Duke, we need to remember "don't (freaking) foul." The other good Barnes story is when he told all the students in the South O-Zone to STFU when we started the NIT chants for OU back when his buddy Sampson was still there.
Q. What are you going to take from this experience?
A. I'd like to hopefully get some contacts out of this experience. Honestly, I'd also really like to help draw more attention to Texas Basketball. If I could get anything out of this, I'd like for Gus Johnson to commentate a day of my life. A Final Four trip would also be nice.
Q. Are you going to try for a fourth straight season? Any specific milestone you want to reach?
A. I know fans always say "Wait ‘til next year", but I really like how the pieces are all coming together for next season. Even if I cant keep the streak up--we'll see about that--I'll definitely be at all the big games. I'm really looking forward to our tilt against North Carolina next season.
Q. It's that time of the year, so I gotta ask. What's your official prediction for UT in this tournament?
A. I'm glad that we got the draw that we did. Michigan State or Duke were the best match-ups for us on the #1 or #2 line. Duke doesn't have an interior presence, but they could burn us from the outside. This is our best chance to get to the second weekend, but we have a puncher's chance.