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|| News Item: Posted 2008-04-01

Thirty Years Between Dates: Behind The Scenes With Cal State Fullerton's Trip To The Big Dance
Matt Brown traveled with the Titans to the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska.

By Matt Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

The Cal State Fullerton basketball team rides to dinner on the team bus during the first night in Omaha.
(Matt Brown is the team photographer for Cal State Fullerton. Thirty years ago the Titans were the darling of the NCAA Tournament, making an improbably march to the Sweet 16. He accompanied the team to their 1st Round game against Wisconsin in the Omaha Regional.)

She is Going to Kill Me
Around 9:30PM on March 15th during the finals of the Men's Big West Tournament, I knew I was going somewhere with the Cal State Fullerton team. The beating that this team was giving UCI left no doubt in my head. I just came from the Sports Shooter Academy V two weeks ago. Now I was finishing up the Big West Tournament that eats up 15 hours a day for four days. So telling my wife Antoinette I was leaving again for 4-6 more days was no easy task.

Sunday afternoon my site was picked for me: Omaha, Nebraska. Wait a second, I have gone to Omaha with the Cal State Fullerton's baseball team 5 out of the last 7 years and now and the NCAA committee is sending basketball team to Omaha and my summer vacation spot.

Bring on the steak!

The Trip
As I left home on Tuesday my two youngest sons were sick. Not just sick, really good and sick. Great!

Something I started doing a long time ago was sitting in the back of bus with the team. I have found it helps me get an "in" with them. If their are comfortable with me now, than better for me later when I'm taking photos in a small and quiet setting. We talked about the Big West Tournament and Wisconsin. Every player wants to know if I got this photo or that photo during the Tournament. We leave Fullerton and thank God we fly out in a chartered Allegiant 727 from Ontario direct to Omaha on Tuesday afternoon.

I spent the time on the plane planning my game shoot. I might never pull out a flash during the whole trip. Working with Nikon D3's and my beloved 28mm f1.4 who need s a flash. The strobe takes away any moments after the first frame. I'm here to document the trip, not just to shoot the game. I'm covering the team for Orange County Register as well. I have a photo gallery on the first night for Fullerton's website.

I would be doing an audio slide show for both the paper and Fullerton website. I read a little and listened to my iPod of an audio book, It's Not the About the Bike, by Lance Armstrong. The 2-1/2 hours moves fast and we land at Eppley Airfield after a bumpy descent through the cloud cover.

We got to the hotel and drop off gear and back on the bus for dinner. We hit the Lone Star steak house with the team for some eating. Back to the hotel and do the photo gallery, nothing great. Photos of guys putting gear on the bus, players in front of the plane and on the plane acting like guys who have never been on a chartered flight. I call home around 1AM Central Time to see how everyone is. It's not good, kids are sick as dogs.

The "Day Before"
Photo by Matt A. Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Andrew Green get his bro-hawk before the big game.
Up at 9AM and off to breakfast, I ran into the happiest man around the Regency Lodge, guard Marcus Crenshaw, who learned that he is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated - along with 64 other players and coaches in a montage. Marcus asked if I took the photo. I told him I had, during a game at Long Beach State earlier in the year. I got the big thanks from him, not a bad way to start the day. On the bus and off to a closed practice at a local high school. I worked the practice looking for few moments for the beginning of the slideshow and record some sound.

After an hour of that, it's back on the bus and back to the hotel. I did a quick edit of what I have, eat lunch and off to players rooms. I work a couple of rooms of guys playing games and surfing the net and of course watch basketball on TV.

Time to head over to Qwest Center. We had a police motorcycle escort in the massive exhibition hall. I just follow the herd stopping here and there to take a photo. I saw an old friend, Matt Miller from the Omaha World-Herald before moving with the team to the locker room.

The players got really quiet in the locker room. It's much bigger than the one at Fullerton. I saw Frank head to the trainer's room for something. I wait and see him move to another room. I slowly follow him this time as he lay down and places a heat pack on his lower back. We never talk, I just take a few photos of him and move on.

Scott Cutley, Frank Robinson and Josh Akognon head over to the mass press conference with me in tow. Fullerton might have one, maybe two reporters at a game during the regular season. For the first time ever in their lives these guys sat on a stage with NCAA blue everywhere and in front of 40 people and live TV cameras. This is a must for me to cover for both Fullerton and the Register. Fullerton can use it next year for the media guide and some good photos can be used from it for the slideshow. I placed the digital recorder next to the speaker and record the whole thing. As the player finish up and head coach Bob Burton move in, I get my recorder and hold it during his turn. I take more photos and back to the locker room and got more photos of players with press.

It is time for practice, the players make their way to the court we me in front walking backwards to take photos. You can see the eyes of some the players get wide. It's a huge place bigger then anything they have ever played in. I have an idea of what I wanted.

An overall is first on the list. I knock that out and hundreds of kids wait for autographs. That is one thing that never happens at Titan gym. One more thing on my list for the day. Back to the locker room and then back on the bus for dinner. Dave's Famous barbeque in downtown was the spot for the night. I gave my camera a rest during dinner. After getting back to the hotel I sit down with Frank Robinson and did an interview for the slideshow.

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Frank Robinson gets his fifth and final foul for his college career.
It was nice to be working on west coast time. I had an 11:30PM deadline for the photos and 1AM for the slideshow. Everything went well because I had edited early during the day and knew just what I wanted. I made both deadlines with no trouble. I called home and the boys where now both sleeping with my wife and still sick as can be.

Getting to The Madness
The team was playing in the last game of the night. 8:40PM So we had breakfast and the team went through a pre - game meeting and a walk through in a meeting room at the hotel. I worked that as much as I could and started on another pre-edit. I went from players' room to players' room looking for something good. Being the team photographer has its advantage. No way in hell would the team have other photographers just move from room to room.

This is where talking to them all year long, doing shoots with them pays off. I found two players watching basketball and surfing the net. In another room I hit the jackpot as Andrew Green was getting a hair cut by Gerard Andrew with two other players playing video games in the room. Andrew was talked into getting a bro-hawk. I shot photos and recorded while being in the rooms. You never know what might be said and make great sound.

I worked it for sometime and moved on to get ready for ride over. I knew with a late start it was going to be a tight deadline with both print and the slideshow. At Qwest Center I found my spot on the floor and thanks to fellow So Cal photographer and friend Terry Pierson from Riverside Press-Enterprise for letting me use his chair for the game.

I couldn't be in the locker room before the game because of NCAA rules. I tried 3 times to get in, all 3 times I got kicked out by NCAA people. They take the fun out of everything. I knew from sitting in on meetings the Badgers were going to be big. It was evident to the naked eye when they took the floor.

My smaller Titans would have their hands full all night. I had to show this in my photos. At one point during the game, Wisconsin had 4 players on the court taller then the tallest Fullerton player. Yikes! When I would shoot a game at Fullerton for the school, I shoot it as if I was shooting stock photos. Getting photos of every player, coaches, dance team, cheerleaders and fans. Here in Omaha I'm shooting it as if I was telling a story.

Fullerton held tough with the Wisconsin at halftime, being down just 2 points, 30-28. I down loaded at the half to help with my deadline. I started off the second half recording ambient sound from the game, about four minutes worth. The Badgers started to pulled away five minutes into the second half. Frank Robinson picked up 4 fouls at the 7-minute span.

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

The Fullerton trainer Mike Martinez and Frank Robinson leave the court after being beat in the first round.
I was all over his fifth fouled that made for a nice photo. (it didn't run in the paper) Every time the Badgers looked as they had the win in hand, Josh Akognon keeps Fullerton in the game with his 31 points. I worked the bench for the crying photos you always get during a NCAA tournament. For some of these guys it's the last game they will play.

I saw Scott Cutley hiding his face in a towel in the finals seconds. As the seconds ticked down I moved close to the bench and followed the players on to the court as they shook hands. I saw that must players got off the court quickly, expect for one, Frank. He looked around at the fans waving to him and he slowly made his way off the court. I stayed in front of him the whole time. After some many years of doing this you get really good at shooting your subject while walking backwards.

As I follow him through a black tunnel I knew I might have my closer photo. I could not wait for the 15 minute NCAA cooling off to get in the locker room. I had 25 minutes to get the Orange County Register its photos by 11:30PM my time. I made that deadline easy. I returned to the locker room to find it was cleared out. I went back to work on the slideshow, which was done at 1AM. The pre-edit I had done early in the day help me make deadline. I had a ride back to the hotel with Fullerton Sports Info Director Mel Franks. I called home and someone was very happy I would be home tomorrow.

The Day After
After being eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament the Titans were quickly provided the services of a Delta Boeing jet for a direct flight back to Ontario. I would be home by 2PM. On hindsight, if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have wasted the time transmitting to the paper.

The Register ran just two photos in the paper because UCLA and USC had played that same day. The print deadline made me miss photos in the locker room and not get an interview with one of the players for the slideshow. I had more than 50 emails about the slideshow the next day, not one person said a word about the photos in the paper.

I walked in the door of my house and found two boys who looked great and a wife who looked like she need a 24-hour spa treatment. It was great to be home.

(Matt Brown is the team photographer for Cal State Fullerton and a freelance photographer based in Southern California. He is also the co-founder of the Sports Shooter Academy. An audio slide show of his work at the NCAA Tournament can be viewed here: You can see Matt's member page here:

Related Links:
Matt's member page

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