I was in Tulsa last week. Some of my family lives there now, so the weekend before Thanksgiving, my wife, not-quite-3-year-old son and I drove there. Including food, gas and bathroom stops, it took about 20 hours from State College, PA. Perhaps, when I was in college and less sane and more likely to use methamphetamines, I would’ve tried to do the whole drive in a day. But I’m old now, and responsible for the health and well-being of others, and did not want to crash. So I split up the trip.
On the way there, we stayed at a Ramada just off Interstate 70 in southern Illinois, which is flat and rural in ways that make other flat and rural places feel inferior. I saw no Salukis.
We drove back this past weekend, leaving Tulsa around noon on Saturday. Unlike the first leg, I hadn’t made a hotel reservation ahead of time, planning to drive as long as I could stay awake (or until my pregnant wife got too uncomfortable to stand it any longer) and find somewhere along the highway. She started getting antsy around the Illinois/Indiana border. I pressed on. Her mood was ominous. I knew I’d have to give up sooner than later. Finally, around 1 a.m., somewhere between Indianapolis and the Ohio border, I caved. Signs for a Super 8 and one or two other bargain motels beckoned. I pulled off the exit for New Castle, Indiana.
The name did not ring a bell. In retrospect, it should have.
The Super 8 was the only motel right off the highway, but it looked shady; the others were a couple miles in either direction, but figured to be less likely to get my rental car stolen. You never know. I went left at the off ramp. A couple minutes of cold, dark isolated road later, I saw it.
Steve Alford is from New Castle. I probably knew this. I feel like I had a strong general awareness of Steve Alford when I was growing up, this despite not living anywhere near Indiana and not being particularly interested in college basketball at the time. My most compelling Steve Alford memory, by which I mean my only specific Steve Alford memory, is a feature Sports Illustrated did when he was playing at Indiana University. It talked about how he proposed to his girlfriend: She’d hang out in the gym while he was shooting, and whenever he hung the net with one of those pure-as-snow jumpers, she’d climb up on a ladder to unhang it. So he put the engagement ring up on the back of the rim so she’d find it.
Really, this is the only way Steve Alford could have proposed.
Anyway, Alford is from New Castle, and if he’s not the most famous player ever to come out of the Hoosier State, he’s almost certainly the most loved and most easily typecast: Average-sized small-town white dude grows up shooting trillions of jumpers; wins Mr. Basketball; goes to IU; wins a National Championship; wins an Olympic gold medal; makes it to the NBA.
The only weird part is that he hasn’t come back to coach IU, or at his alma mater, Chrysler High School, which apparently has the largest high school gym in the country. Also, New Castle is home to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Naturally.
Anyway, I was psyched. My wife was not; instead of some little independent motel in the middle of nowhere, she was hoping we’d stay at a Holiday Inn or Motel 6 or some other vaguely reputable chain, since those seem less likely to end with Anthony Perkins interrupting your shower. I wanted to explain that Steve Alford would never allow a psycho-killer night manager at his hotel, but we were both tired, and she wouldn’t have appreciated the explanation. I told her just to trust me.
The Steve Alford All-American Inn is not unlike its namesake: Physically unremarkable. No frills. Unfancy. Gets the job done. It was pretty comparable to a Holiday Inn or Motel 6, except that those places generally don’t have Big Ten MVP trophies sitting on a shelf behind the check-in desk.
Here is what else it had:
-A bunch of Alford’s jerseys, from high school, college, the Olympics and the pros, displayed in frames on the lobby wall.
-A workout room with white wallpaper that has basketball-related words on it: “Post-Up,” “Rebound,” and, yes, “Slam.”
-Two hoops—height adjustable, with glass backboards and everything—in the parking lot. I would have gone out and shot on one, except we got there at 1 a.m. and left at 8 a.m., and it was freezing, and I didn’t have a ball. But otherwise.
-A giant inflatable basketball shoe in the front. About 6 feet tall, to scale, looking vaguely like a Reebok Pump. And yes, it says “Lobos” on the back.
In my sleep-deprived state, I was thinking Alford had coached at New Mexico before he came to Iowa, and I was wondering why they hadn’t updated the shoe. But then I realized the Lobos had just hired him earlier this year. If you notice on the official Steve Alford All-American Inn website, they’ve still got a picture of the Iowa shoe. So the photo above may in fact be breaking news. I’m sure some other website will claim it shortly.
My stay at the Steve Alford All-American Inn was short and uneventful. We got a room. We fell asleep. We woke up. I took a shower, then went out to the continental breakfast bar, grabbed a couple of donuts and assorted beverages, and came back to the room. We packed and left. It was about 8 a.m. As you can see by this photo of the door to our room, we got out in plenty of time.
Checking out early? I think this was a very Steve Alford-like thing to do. We were well-prepared.
Anyway, you might be wondering: Did I come away enriched — as a basketball fan, as a father and husband, as an American — by my brief stay at the Steve Alford All-American Inn?
I don’t think I did.
Here’s what I came away with: About five hours of sleep, and a shower, and part of a donut, all of which allowed me to complete the eight hours of driving I needed to get home. So that was good. Also, I stole some stationary, and one of those tiny pencils like you get when you play mini-golf, both of which bear the logo of the Steve Alford All-American Inn. I did so thinking they’d be great souvenirs, but I’ll most likely lose them or throw them away before long.
Also, Steve Alford himself was not seen at the Steve Alford All-American Inn. I chalk that up to it being basketball season. I assume that, between April and October, he’s there all the time. Somebody’s got to change the sheets.