James Wikman / The Basketball Mavens
This is actually a nomination for the "Basketball Mavens" which include James (Wik) Wikman, John (JR) Ries, and Tom (Opie) Bowen. We consider ourselves the ultimate fans of the NCAA's March Madness.
The Mavens have completed our 30th consecutive year of attending NCAA men's basketball tournament games. Although this includes 26 Final Fours, (including the last 17 consecutively,) probably more interesting is that in most years it also includes traveling to all three weekends of the tournament. This has allowed us to attend almost 400 games in total. Many times we attend 18 games in one month, by going to two different first weekend sites (and driving back and forth to attend all 4 days of games), a regional site the second weekend, AND the Final Four.
How long have you guys been doing this?
Although Wikman and Ries each went invidually a few years before meeting each other, it's been 30 consecutive years that the two have gone together to games. Bowen, the "rookie", has been there for the last 24
How many games is that?
Close to 400 total games, including 26 final fours, the last 17 FFs without a miss. Our goal each year is two 1st/2nd round sites (which we have done 20 times), a regional and a Final Four.
We try and do 18 games a year (which we have done 7 times.)
For example, where did you go this past year?
Spokane, WA, San Diego, CA, Indy and Dallas. (This was a year with no first/second round sites geographically close enough to do all games.)
How did you get started?
All three of us are lifelong basketball fans, and we all attended unversities with powerful basketball programs.
Wikman and Ries had both attended the tournament a few times starting right after college. They both moved to Indy and became friends while working together at GTE. In 1985, they decided to attend a first and second round in Dayton, where they saw a scrappy 4th place team from the Big East, (Villanova) squeak by a number 9 seeded Dayton (playing on their home court) by two points. They also saw a sophomore center for Navy named David Robinson go for 18 points and 18 rebounds to lead his 13th seeded team to an upset over the number 3 seed LSU. Finally, they saw the number 16 seed Farleigh-Dickinson lead by 6 at halftime over Roy Tarpley's number 1 seeded Michigan team, only to run out of gas and lose by 4. After that first day, we were hooked. That same year we saw those same Villanova Wildcats upset Georgetown in Lexington, Kentucky to win the national championship. Bowen was a few years younger, and met the two after he later came to work at GTE. He joined the travels in 1991, and has been a fixture ever since. However, he is still considered the "rookie."
When did you start doing the 2 first round and regional and FF?
1993 was the first time we did two first round sites (Indy and Chicago) over the course of one weekend, but 1997 was the first time we managed to do two first round sites (Winston Salem and Charlotte, NC), a regional (San Antonio) and the Final Four (Indianapolis).
How did you come up with that?
In 1987 we were in our third year of going to a first/2nd round site. In this case, it was in Indy on a Thursday/Saturday. When we were back at work on Friday we realized that games were going on in Chicago, and we could have been there too. A lightbulb went on, although it wasn't until 1993 that the NCAA scheduled games on alternate days that were close enough to go both sites. (Indy and Chicago again.)
Sometimes when the first rounds are too far apart we miss the Saturday session (2 games.) In many years, we will go to 12 games the first weekend by going to a site, seeing 4 games the first day (Thursday), driving to the other site the next morning and seeing 4 more games on Friday, on Saturday driving back to the first site for 2 more games, and then on Sunday. This has worked for Indy-Chicago, Wichita-OKC, Indy-Milwaukee, Winston-Salem-Charlotte, Cleveland-Buffalo, St. Louis-Chicago, Indy-Nashville, Lexington-Columbus, Louisville-Columbus, and Lexington-Dayton. We limit ourselves to driving no more that 300 miles between cities, which adds up to 1,200 miles of driving in one weekend (combined with our flights.)
How do you decide where to go, and how do you get tickets?
First consideration is to be able to see as many games as possible. After that, it is based on cities/locations we like, good weather, or just a chance to go somewhere we haven't been. We have seen games in 37 different cities. We plan our trips a year in advance, and try to book hotels and flights early. We buy our tickets as soon as they go onsale, and look for presales if we can. For the Final Four we all enter the lottery, and in most years have been lucky enough that one of us would hit. When we didn't, we look to Ebay or StubHub, or now the NCAA has their own resale site. On a very few occasions, we have dealt with scalpers at the site.
Haven't your jobs gotten in the way?
We were lucky enough to have long careers where we have had lots of vacation time, and have had bosses who have been flexible with us. After getting an early out package from his corporate job, Wik worked for the Dallas Mavericks for 8 seasons. (If they don't understand a basketball obsession, who will?) Bowen has his own company, so he sets his own hours.
What about your wives/families/girlfriends, other obligations?
Anybody who knows us knows this is something we really enjoy and is a priority to us. Wikman and Bowen like to kid our wives that this is part of our pre-nuptual agreement. Ries is single, so he has the most flexibility.
Who are some of the great players you've seen?
We have been lucky enough to see almost all of the greats who have come through college basketball over the last 30 years, including Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose, Ray Allen, Sam Perkins, Len Bias, Patrick Ewing, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Grant Hill, John Wall, Tim Duncan, Rajon Rondo, T.J. Ford, Joakim Noah, and many, many others. We've even seen players that went on to great NFL careers: Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Julius Peppers.
Who had the best performances?
We saw Stephen Curry go for 40 and 35 in one weekend in 2008. We saw Tayshaun Prince get 41 points and 9 rebounds in 2002. Danny Manning had 31 points and 18 rebounds in the championship game in 1988. Ed O'Bannon had 31 points and 17 rebounds in the championship in 1995. We have only seen one player have a triple double, and that was Draymond Green of Michigan State. Interestingly enough, the highest scoring game we saw was by a virtual unknown. Elijah Allen of Farleigh Dickinson scored 43 points, (to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists) on 14 of 17 shooting in a 1998 first round game vs. UConn. (Just this year we saw Adriean Payne of Michigan State almost tie that mark, but he was called for traveling as he sank a shot that would have given him 43 vs. Delaware.)
What legendary/great games did you attend?
It probably starts the the "perfect game" in the 1985 Championship game where 8th seeded Villanova upset Patrick Ewing's number 1 seeded Georgetown. Villanova shot 22 for 28 as a team! (We scored tickets for the game at 3 pm the day of the game!) Keith Smart's last second shot for Indiana in the 1987 championship game to beat Syracuse. Princeton's first round upset (13 over 4 seed) over defending champion UCLA in 1996. In 1997 we saw Dean Smith break Adolph Rupp's all time wins mark with his 877th win in a second round game vs. Colorado.
Have you met any interesting people?
Many, in fact we have started to award our own "MOP" each year. (No, not the Most Outstanding Player that the NCAA awards.) Ours if for the "Most Outstanding Personality" as determined by our interactions throughout the whole month. Past winners include both the famous and not-so-famous, including ESPN announcer and former coach Dan Dakich and Mavs player Jae Crowder, to an assortment of parking lot attendants, omelette chefs, and just other fans.
What's the plan for the upcoming year?
Of course, we already have next year planned out. For the first and second rounds we will be in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. For the regional, we will be going to Houston, TX, and the Final Four is in Indy. This is a year where we WILL be attending 18 games! We can't wait for March!!!
Although other fans may have attended more Final Fours, we believe that we are the most dedicated college basketball fans for the entirety of the March Madness tournament. We believe we are truly deserving of Fan Hall of Fame status, and appreciate your consideration.