Basketball Can't Keep Them Apart

Two longtime friends maintain long-distance friendship through Davidson basketball


Dec. 25, 2007

By Michael Kruse

Special to CSTV.com

 

It was late on a Friday night earlier this month, in the drizzle and the dark out in Southern California, and Bro Krift was speeding in his rented Dodge Caliber hatchback, away from Los Angeles International airport and toward San Bernardino County's Ontario International airport, from the 105 to the 605 to the 10, on his way to pick up Tripp Cherry.

 

Bro was, oh, 1,070 or so miles from where he lives, and Tripp was, oh, 2,400 or so miles from where he lives, and Tripp was set to be on West Coast ground for not even a full 24-hour period and for Bro not much longer than that. Just to see each other. Just to see the men's basketball team from their alma mater Davidson College play UCLA.

 

If any of this seems strange...

 

Well, you don't know Bro and Tripp.

 

Bro is 31. He is a reporter for the Odessa American in Odessa, Texas, and before that he lived in Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, California and Utah. He tilts to the left politically, he's the loud guy at games and he plays the pessimist.

 

Tripp is 30. He works for his family's t-shirt and sweatshirt business and has lived in the Charlotte area his whole life, same as his dad, same as his dad's dad. He tilts to the right, he stays quiet at games and he plays the optimist.

 

Tripp doesn't drink, never, ever, and Bro's been known to knock back a Shiner Bock or two. Tripp likes Nilla Wafers. Bro likes Krystal burgers.

 

But for a good dozen years by now, they've traveled America, together, watching the Southern Conference Wildcats from Davidson, N.C.

 

They've seen them play basketball in four NCAA Tournaments.

 

They've seen them play basketball everywhere from Spartanburg, S.C., to Boone, N.C., to Ann Arbor, Mich., to Albuquerque, N.M.

 

They've seen them play basketball in Amherst, Mass., too, even though it took driving through a blizzard in an '84 Honda Accord that had no driver's side windshield wiper.

 

"They could show up any time, anywhere," longtime Davidson associate head coach Matt Matheny said, "and I wouldn't be surprised."

 

Some folks might call them crazy.

 

But not those who know them best.

 

Those folks find lessons.

 

This is a story about being a fan. This is a story about being a friend. But mostly, this is a story about the sort of stuff that makes people do things like drive 25 straight hours to watch 40 minutes of college basketball.

 

The good stuff.

 

The stuff that matters.

 

***

 

The stuff starts here:

 

Bro: His mother was born in Georgia, his father was born in Ohio, and they met in the Azores, a group of islands off the coast of Portugal, where she was a teacher and an artist and he was a Navy pilot. His sister hiked through Alaska as a high school freshman, was a Fulbright Scholar and is now a professor of international relations at Lynn University in Florida. Bro was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in St. Louis and different towns in Ohio, came south for school and has been all over the place ever since.

 

Tripp: His granddad drove a bread truck for 40 years. His dad started his shirt-selling business out of the back of his van in 1967 and it's now the biggest company of its kind in the Carolinas. For his high school graduation gift, Tripp and his dad went on a 10-day, cross-country driving trip, out to Missoula, Mont., down to Flagstaff, Ariz., and then back home.

 

Bro and Tripp: They both came to Davidson as freshmen in the fall of 1995. Sophomore year, they lived on the same hall, and Bro got two Duke game tickets from the Wildcats' point guard at the time, a squeaky-talking Turk named Ali Ton. They drove to Durham and sat just a few rows up from the bench.

 

They were in.

 

In the department of Davidson fandom, there's a funny but not altogether untrue test: The merely casually interested are separated from the truly totally committed by weeknight trips to spots on the map of the South like Statesboro, Ga., and Johnston City, Tenn.

 

Bro and Tripp passed the test.

 

In 1998, their junior year, Davidson made the NCAAs for the first time since 1986, and Bro and Tripp and six other guys made the trip to the game in Atlanta in Tripp's mom's minivan.

 

Then, they graduated in 1999.

 

In 2002, though, Davidson made the tournament again, this time in Albuquerque. Bro and Tripp drove. They stopped at a Subway in Seminole, Okla., and the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, and to urinate, presumably, in a place or two.

 

The trip took 25 hours. Straight.

 

In 2006, Davidson made the tournament again, this time in Dayton. Once again, Bro and Tripp were there.

 

And last year, once again, Davidson headed to Buffalo. Bro and Tripp were there.

 

Then last summer, when Wildcats star guard Stephen Curry was playing in exhibition games for the U19 national team in Dallas, Bro and Tripp...WERE THERE.

 

They've seen Davidson play basketball in California, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

 

In Anaheim, earlier this month, other Davidson friends came, too. Brian Mayerhofer flew in from Boston -- Mayerhofer was in the car on the '02 Albuquerque trip -- and John Hong and Kurt Davis flew down from San Francisco.

 

They talked about John's wild wedding. They talked about Kurt's very symmetrical bald spot.

 

Bro used coffee creamers in a wee-hours trip to IHOP to demonstrate Davidson's guard play.

 

And the next day, at the John Wooden Classic inside the Honda Center, they watched the Wildcats build an 18-point first-half lead before losing to the Bruins, 75-63.

 

Tripp had his head in his hands at the two-minute mark.

 

"Hey," Bro said.

 

He hit Tripp, soft, on the arm.

 

"It's okay," he said. "It's alright."

 

***

 

Their friends use a lot of words to describe Bro and Tripp, who they are, why they do what they do, but one always comes up.

 

Loyalty.

 

There's no easy, singular explanation for where that comes from, but maybe you should know a couple things here and now:

 

Bro was an all-area high school baseball player and came to Davidson to give it a Division I go. He played one season, and in that season he had one at-bat. Four pitches, three strikes, his Moonlight Graham moment. Bro took his cuts.

 

Tripp was a skinny kid in high school, more of a stats guy than a superstar.

 

But when he got to Davidson, said his dad, Jim Cherry, he just came out of his shell. "It was a wonderful experience," he said.

 

That's what their alma mater gave them then. Here's what it gives them now:

 

Head coach Bob McKillop's basketball team is what got them together. It's what brings them together. It's what keeps them together.

 

"Davidson basketball," Tripp said, "is the reason I see Bro, when he lives however many hundreds of miles away, three or four times a year."

 

They like the intimacy.

 

"We can talk to Coach McKillop," Bro said. "Not because we give millions of dollars. Because we care."

 

They like the continuity. The college has had three presidents since '95 but just one basketball coach.

 

They like the underdog story.

 

Davidson is unique in Division I basketball -- a tiny school, 1,700 students, a No. 9 national academic ranking in the U.S. News & World Report and a location that puts it in the middle of all the attention-getting ACC schools.

 

It also has a history uncommon for a mid-major program: In the late `60s, Lefty Driesell took the Wildcats into the national spotlight: big crowds, the cover of Sports Illustrated and to back-to-back regional finals. That it has happened before gives the program's fans the hope that it can happen again.

 

The Davidson basketball story is that chance.

 

And the chance never ends.

 

Under McKillop, the Wildcats have gone from 4-24 in 1989-90 to two-time defending Southern champs, and are favorites this year, too. The Wildcats even made a cameo in the Top 25 earlier this year.

 

Bro and Tripp have watched the program's rise.

 

They were there way back then, and they're still there now.

 

***

 

Things change, you know? Jobs, addresses, cell phone numbers. You make friends in college, really good friends, and you think they're going to be there forever, and then people get married, people have kids, people move.

 

Life. It gets harder and harder.

 

But Bro and Tripp have stayed friends, real friends, not Facebook friends.

 

Everyone's looking for the same basic stuff, right?

 

"Davidson, to me, feels like home," Bro said.

 

His mother calls it his "magnet."

 

Tripp makes photo albums for every one of his friends when they get married. The pictures chronicle the friendships from freshman year on. That's his gift. Bro calls Tripp "everybody's groomsman."

 

Other friends come along with Bro and Tripp, too, depending on the game, the season, the timing of the trip. There's Hong in San Francisco, Mayerhofer in Boston, John Bell in Atlanta and Steve Cefalu in Flat Rock, N.C.

 

"But Bro and Tripp," Cefalu said the other day on the phone, "are at the core."

 

Hong calls them sincere, honest and open-hearted.

 

"You don't find too many grown men," he said, "who are sincere and open and warm with each other."

 

Last year, for the NCAAs, Cefalu rode with Bro and Tripp on the 13-hour drive to Buffalo. He calls it "one of the greatest experiences I've ever had."

 

The Wildcats played Maryland and suffered another close loss.

 

"But it was that ride, the day before, the anticipation, that still stands out as most memorable, and the most worthwhile," Cefalu said. "You're sharing a passion, all together, in one car, non-stop.

 

"You're on the eve of it all."

 

"Those 25 hours to Albuquerque," John Bell said, "they don't spend the entire time talking about Davidson basketball.

 

"They have so much else to say."

 

Bro once watched an Internet feed of a Davidson game in Sonora, Texas, in the lobby of a Best Western.

 

Tripp once bought an old recruiting letter from Lefty off eBay.

 

Bro was in Kalamazoo, Mich., last month, the night before Thanksgiving, to watch Davidson play Western Michigan.

 

And Tripp? He's married to a former Wildcat basketball manager, Carrie Porath, who approached Tripp at a Homecoming event at a bar in Davidson in October '02.

 

"So," she said, "you still going to a lot of Davidson basketball games?"

 

Love.

 

Michael Kruse, a Davidson Class of 2000 graduate, is a staff writer for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com and CBSSportsline.com and in ESPN The Magazine and The Sporting News.

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