Here's what you need to survive not one, but two seasons of junior-college basketball in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference:
A good cell-phone plan.
A comfortable jumpsuit.
An iPod full of Lil Wayne.
A stomach for really bad food.
A high tolerance for traveling by bus.
Got all that? Then you're officially in league with Eric Hardyway, a Wichita East product who has been the starting point guard for Coffeyville Community College the last two years and is trying to make an extended weekend out of playing in the Region VI Tournament at Koch Arena.
"It is kind of crazy how much time we spend on the bus, how much time we spend together," Hardyway said. "But I've got my Jordan sweatsuit and some Lil Wayne on my iPod, so I get by pretty good. It's not as bad as you might think. Except for the food."
The life of a junior-college basketball player is anything but glamorous, and Hardyway and his teammates are the walking, talking definition of the grind-it-out nature of a junior-college athlete. They are a band of brothers, a hive mentality that distinguishes itself through dress (baggy jumpsuits and tilted caps), equipment (iPods, iPhones and Blackberries) and an almost unbelievable gift of passing information to each other almost simultaneously.
Take this tete-a-tete from Saturday at Koch:
Reporter: Do you know where I can find Eric Hardyway?
Player 1: I don't know. He's from Wichita, so he might be with his parents.
Player 2: E is with his parents.
Player 3: You're looking for E? We will find him.
(Players huddle together for a moment then go off in different directions.)
Player 4: You're the one looking for E? I think we found him. Don't move.
You could write sociology textbooks on this stuff. But I digress.
Saturday, the Red Ravens gutted out an 84-80 win over Dodge City in the Region VI quarterfinals, and will play Hutchinson today in the semifinals.
It's the payoff for a season of traveling to places like Chanute, Parsons, Great Bend, Iola... and Fort Scott. For some particular reason, Fort Scott — just the name of the town — brings a look of disgust to Hardyway's face.
"I just hate it there," he says. "It's just country, small... there's nothing there."
Hardyway, who is 10th in the Jayhawk in assists at 4.38 per game, will likely end up in an NCAA Division II program next year. He's not sure where, but that he's even considering moving to a place like Hays, Pittsburg or (gasp!) Omaha is a huge step for a kid who was born at St. Francis Hospital and reared on his mother's hip.
You know the story: Boy loves mama. Boy gets really good at basketball. Boy leaves mama to go to college to play basketball. Boy and mama suffer major separation anxiety even though boy is only two hours away.
Yes, at one point Hardyway thought that Coffeyville — all of two hours from Wichita — was too far to be away from his mother, Jeri.
"I am a mama's boy," Hardyway says, a faraway look in his eye as his teammates clamor around him to take a picture. "(Coffeyville) still seems pretty far away sometimes."