Notes from the Santa Cruz Warriors' victorious home opener

Olympic Mike and I had the opportunity to head down to Santa Cruz to check out the Santa Cruz Warriors' home opener against the Bakersfield Jam, which fell short of Slurpees but was successful overall nonetheless.

Normally when I cover Santa Cruz games I'd prefer to get the notes and recap up a little bit quicker, but as you'll read below there were a few circumstances that foiled those plans...and before heading home Mike and I waited out the flood warnings in a Santa Cruz bar instead of hunting down a cafe to write things up.

  • The ride down there was not particularly pleasant. It was pouring rain most of the way and then as I got to Route 17 I passed an electronic bulletin that informed me a rock slide had closed off all lanes at something called Sugarloaf. Although I had hoped that Sugarloaf was somewhere past where I was getting off 17, I found myself stuck in the backlog of cars on a two lane road on a mountain. Then my cell phone started giving me flash flood warnings, which I had never seen before and sort of caught me off guard given that I'd turned off the GPS. Needless to say, I was pretty sure that I'd miss the 5 p.m. tip-off.
  • After navigating around the site of a fallen tree due to the rock slide, I finally got off the freeway and followed the circuitous GPS directions to the designated parking spot. The parking arrangement was pretty convenient, in case you're thinking of making the trip down there yourself. You can park in the Santa Cruz County Government Center and then take a trolley to the arena, which minimized the headache of trying to find parking around the arena. The best part of that was the attendants: there were like 10 people holding up the signs pointing the parking lot and they must have been the happiest people on the planet. They also informed me that the game had been delayed until 6, which was perplexing but relieved some of the disappointment of showing up late.
  • In short, if you're going to be stuck in traffic on the way to a Warriors' game, it helps to be stuck with Joe Lacob. I mean, I wasn't really with Mr. Lacob, but apparently it helped that he was also stuck in traffic - the game was delayed in part because they waited for him.
  • After getting off the trolley, I headed toward the arena. And you could feel the energy from across the street. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I was acting on the assumption that no basketball was going on yet and they crowd was already loud. Pretty remarkable for a first game.
  • I entered the arena and saw Mike as the national anthem was starting and got my first real glimpse at the crowd. They weren't juking the stats to create the illusion of a sellout last night - the place was loud, packed tight, and humid.
  • Part of being filled to capacity: despite the fact that we were credentialed for the game, there wasn't a seat for every credentialed person to sit at a table. So we ended up squeezing into a seating area with a mix of media and fans. It was at that point when I just flipped into fan mode (it's not like Atma will get upset if we "miss deadline" around here).
  • The upside: we were unknowingly sitting next to Carina Moreno, a world class flyweight women's boxer. You can forgive us for not recognizing her immediately as a boxer: at 5-foot-0, she's not exactly an imposing presence just sitting at a Warriors game in street clothes. It wasn't until the family behind her whipped out a packet of photos and a permanent marker for her to autograph that Mike and I realized she was someone notable. It was the multiple shots of her knocking people out that tipped us off to her real profession. But this was a major Santa Cruz event: in addition to Lacob and Moreno, also present were Mayor Hilary Bryant, multiple local businesspeople, and then James Durbin of American Idol fame who sang the National Anthem.
  • We were told about 95% of the folks buying tickets were from the area rather than Golden State Warriors diehards making the trek from elsewhere. As someone said after the game, the folks around Santa Cruz have just wanted something for so long that this team is already a hot ticket.
  • The pre-game energy held up throughout the game and seemed to fuel both teams a bit in the first quarter. Or perhaps more specifically, distract the home team a bit while the visitors were going blow for blow with them. There were some defensive breakdowns early on that could be attributed to some combination of nerves, starting a lineup that had never played together, or Bakersfield just being a pretty good D-League squad.
  • We spent much of the second quarter finding food, which was the standard arena fare. The most interesting thing though: they sold Coors Light in cans. It's not often that you see that at an arena event. I suppose it beats the watered down Coors Light option that comes standard at normal arenas.
  • The second half featured a few nice dunks for the good guys and outstanding play by Kent Bazemore in the fourth quarter to help the Warriors secure the win. Jeremy Tyler had a bit of a rougher go of it in the fourth quarter, when he had two recorded turnovers and a few other bobbled balls.
  • There would have been Slurpees had the Warriors hit 100 points, but the Warriors fell 7 points short as they beat Bakersfield 93-88.
  • The player who really stood out to me was Chris Johnson, who as playing just his third game this season for Santa Cruz. He won 2011 D-League Defensive Player of the Year and you could immediately see why when he stepped on the court: excellent anticipation to block shots, great positioning in guarding post ups, and excellent recovery speed. He's 27 and already has a bit of NBA experience so it's not clear what his long-term upside is, but the normal post rotation of Johnson and Mickell Gladness figures to be imposing in D-League play.
  • Travis Leslie is another player who really stands out every time I watch Santa Cruz games in large part because he goes about his business so quietly and manages to put up impressive numbers. Last night, he was probably overshadowed by the presence of the NBA players and all the hoopla surrounding the event itself, but how often can you say that a guard put up a "quiet" 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and 9 rebounds with only 1 turnover?
  • After the game we got a chance to talk to Bazemore, Johnson, Tyler, and Santa Cruz coach Nate Bjorkgren. There don't appear to be many guys who appreciate the opportunity to play basketball for a living as much as Bazemore - the guy just seems to be having fun with every moment he suits up.
  • I also got a chance to catch up with Santa Cruz Warriors GM Kirk Lacob after the game. And he pretty much echoed the sentiment of everyone there who has been working to bring last night's moment to fruition: the reality of the home opener exceeded the expectations they had when they first embarked upon this venture. The community rallied around this team even before the team ever played a game and it's hard not to imagine them maintaining the momentum going forward.


For more on the game, check out our Warriors-Jam storystream.

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