JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — LSU point guard Tremont Waters grew up so close to the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, that he could easily walk to it.
Yet, it seemed a lot closer to his childhood home than two miles, he said Wednesday, when the Tigers met the media on the eve of the NCAA tournament.
“If I had a strong enough arm,” he said with a smile, “I could probably throw a rock to Yale’s basketball facilities.”
Years later, after playing informal pickup games against Yale players when he was in high school, he’ll play a much more important game — 1,098 miles from home — when the Tigers and Bulldogs meet Thursday in Veterans Memorial Arena.
As such, Waters, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick, won’t have time to be sentimental about where his career started many years ago.
“My dad got a membership to Payne Whitney gym, so that's where I started,” he said of the practice gym on Yale campus. “One of my (training) videos is actually in their gym. That’s when I wasn't being recruited by them, so it wasn't a violation or anything.”
Waters played AAU basketball for CT Elite, where he was a teammate of Yale players Azar Swain and Jordan Bruner.
“Growing up playing basketball, I didn't necessarily think about playing (Yale) in the tournament,” Waters said. “But it's a great feeling to be able to make it this far and be able to play against someone who's from back home.”
“I think we all knew who he was and some of us had played with him and against him at different parts,” Yale guard Miye Oni said. “He comes back home for the summer a lot. We know he's a quick point guard, really talented.”
We meet again
The LSU and Yale men’s basketball teams have played just once before, with that matchup coming nearly a half-century ago in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Yale’s 97-94 win, which came during Pete Maravich’s senior season, was in the championship game of the Rainbow Classic on Dec. 30, 1969.
Maravich, who a month later would become college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, poured in 34 points in that contest.
But Yale junior guard Jim Morgan, who will be in attendance along with three of his teammates at Friday’s game, one-upped Maravich with a game-high 35.
Belmont’s busy time
The Belmont Bruins rank second in the country averaging over 87 points per game, so they clearly love things up-tempo.
But these past few days have flown by even too fast for them.
Belmont snagged an at-large bid Sunday and was whisked off to Dayton, Ohio, for a First Four game Tuesday against fellow East No. 11 seed Temple. The Bruins won 81-70 and immediately left for Jacksonville, where they'll face No. 6 Maryland at 2:10 p.m. Thursday.
“We had 20 minutes to pack our bags and hop on the bus,” Belmont forward Dylan Windler said. “We got to the hotel (in Jacksonville) about 4:30 a.m., I was asleep by 5 and woke up at noon.”
Then it was time for breakfast, medical treatment and to the arena for a 4:55 p.m. practice session.
“It’s been nonstop, really, since we were selected,” said coach Rick Byrd, who won his first NCAA game in 33 years at Belmont.
UK’s Washington hobbled
Kentucky star forward PJ Washington is expected to play Thursday against Abilene Christian after spraining his foot in the Wildcats’ SEC tournament loss to Tennessee last Saturday.
Coach John Calipari said Washington, UK’s leading scorer, has spent time in a walking boot and went to see a specialist while the rest of the Wildcats practiced Wednesday.
“We sent him to the specialist to make sure that he can’t harm himself,” Calipari said. “But we expect him to play.”
All in the family
Yale guard Trey Phills, the son of the late Southern University and NBA star Bobby Phills, won’t be the only member of the Phills family playing in the NCAA tournament.
Kerstie Phills, the younger sister of Trey, is a redshirt sophomore and key reserve for Florida Gulf Coast University.
FGCU, which went undefeated in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which will play a first-round NCAA tournament game against Miami on Friday.
The last word
“Trey Phills is perhaps one of the better people on this planet. … He’s the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry. I don't know if you have any daughters, but if you do, try to get his (cell) number. You’d be happy to have him as a son in law.”
— Yale coach James Jones
The win for Yale over LSU in 1969 was the last time the Bulldogs defeated an SEC team. Their only other victories against current SEC schools came over Vanderbilt (1907) and Tennessee (1961). … LSU and Yale had one common opponent this season. LSU defeated Memphis 85-76 on Nov. 13 and Yale lost to Memphis just four days later in double overtime, 109-102.
Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.