Boise State Basketball

Boise State basketball working on a fifth win, and 9,000-plus miles of travel

Boise State forward Zach Haney, left, relies on free game apps to kill time while the Broncos are flying to road games.
Boise State forward Zach Haney, left, relies on free game apps to kill time while the Broncos are flying to road games. The Associated Press

Every trip to the airport is a race against time for Zach Haney. He lost that battle Friday.

The Boise State basketball player downloads between five and 10 free games from the app store before each flight for road games. He plays anything from golf, racing and some “little block” games.

As the Broncos (4-3) prepared for a flight to Chicago on Friday morning, the first leg of a trip to Evansville, Ind. for a game against the Purple Aces (3-4) on Saturday (noon, ESPN3 and 630 AM), Haney ran out of time. He got through four downloads.

On a trip that lasts upwards of three-and-a-half hours, that wasn’t going to be enough. So the redshirt sophomore improvised.

“I watched half of ‘Concussion,’” he said with a sigh. “I ran out of games on this flight.”

The season is three weeks old but, at the rate the Broncos have been on the road, Haney might download every game in the app store by next week.

When Boise State returns from Monday night’s game at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, the Broncos will have traveled 8,921 miles through the air this season, and 9,138 miles with stops and bus rides.

They made trips to South Carolina last month and to Eugene, Ore., for Monday’s game loss to the No. 23 Ducks. The Broncos beat SMU on Wednesday in Boise before heading to the Midwest on Friday.

“It’s one of the hardest things to do in sports. So, we have to have the right mindset this trip. If we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble. We have to have a sense of urgency. We have to attack the travel,’’ coach Leon Rice said.

“Attacking the travel” sounds like cliche coachspeak. But for Boise State, which had many players make their first significant road trips over the last month, it’s a term that resonates deeply.

“We embrace the fact we’re going on a mission to get some things done in enemy territory,” assistant coach Mike Burns said. “The way college basketball has evolved in this day and age, the multi-team events and some of the opportunities those present in getting your nonconference schedule put together, unless you can afford to buy eight games, you’re going to have to travel a little bit.”

Travel does, however, have its negatives. For one, throwing a bunch of players upwards of 6-foot-5 onto a plane is problematic. Haney, at 6-foot-11, and David Wacker, at 6-10, frequently find themselves asking if the seats around them are occupied. If leg space is at a premium, it benefits to plan ahead and try to get an aisle seat.

Flight attendants don’t always find the subsequent obstacle course of legs and shoes endearing, though. On Friday’s flight to Chicago, the complaints came over the loudspeaker, specifically aimed at Haney. The attendants were unable to bring passengers food and drinks.

“We tend to get talked to sometimes,” Haney said. “But hey, what can you do?”

Wacker, who never considered himself much of a reader, enjoys diving into books. He’s currently reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, a book he says is among the best he’s ever read. With his new pair of noise-cancelling headphones, time in the air allows Wacker to zone out with podcasts and music as he gets lost in literature.

Flying also has its perk for coaches. While players watch film sporadically on flights in between rest, Rice’s staff consistently watches upcoming opponents. The more time in the air, the better.

“On our last trip, we were going to Oregon and coach (Phil) Beckner switched seats so he could sit next to Paris (Austin) and watch film,’’ Burns said. “That definitely happens on the longer flights.”

Wacker particularly enjoys those trips when the team is able to fly Southwest. Because there is not assigned seating, players can often spread themselves out throughout the plane and sit next to shorter passengers who aren’t with the team.

That allows Wacker a chance to do what he enjoys most: meet people and talk.

“They’ll start asking what’s it like being tall. I like being able to talk about that a little bit. And I like to be able to ask them about their lives. People love to share,” Wacker said. “I (once) got to sit next to a CEO of an earplug company.”

Burns doesn’t get to see Wacker talk to earplug CEOs or Haney play games he’s downloaded. He does, however, pick up on how the team interacts with strangers, behaves on flights and treats people at airports across the country.

Seeing players improve from tough road games is crucial for Boise State’s coaches and the team’s success moving forward. But moments of personal development for players brings a smile to Burns’ face, too.

“The thing that we’re most proud of is that we have a great group of young men, and so when we travel, they’re very polite, they treat people the right way, they carry themselves in a fashion that I’m sure Boise State fans would be proud of,” Burns said. “They’re a wonderful group and great young men.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz

Boise State (4-3) at Evansville (3-4)

▪ When: Noon Saturday

▪ Where: Ford Center (8,930), Evansville, Ind.

▪ What: Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge

▪ Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler). The broadcast is also available at BroncoSports.com

▪ Broadcast: Streamed on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.

▪ Series: Boise State leads 1-0

▪ 2015-16 records: Boise State 20-12 (11-7 Mountain West), Evansville 25-9 (12-6 Missouri Valley)

▪ End in sight: Boise State plays at Loyola Marymount (Los Angeles) on Monday at 8 p.m. After that, they will not be on the road again until Dec. 28 (Utah State) and will not leave the Mountain Time Zone until their Jan. 4 matchup with UNLV.

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