BYLINE: Robert C. Jones Jr.

Newswise — They play in empty arenas. Perhaps a roommate, a family member, or a friend might be cheering from the bleachers. But for the most part, nobody’s around—no fans, no pep bands, no officials patrolling the sidelines to call a charge or a blocking foul. 

Tip-offs are typically late at night, after most people have already bedded down. And the only media reporting on the outcome are the players themselves.

Such is the underground world of Manager Games—full-court, 40-minute, five-on-five basketball games in which the basketball team student managers from one school play their counterparts from opposing schools, usually the night before their institutions’ Division I squads square off on the hardwood. 

“We like to call it the game before the game,” Aydin Melamed, head manager for the Final Four-bound Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team, said of the nationwide league. 

This season, he and the other Hurricanes student managers have advanced to the Elite Eight of the Manager Games tournament in Houston, where they will face defending champion Notre Dame on Friday. 

“A tough challenge ahead of us, but we’re ready,” Melamed said. 

Their Elite Eight appearance is icing on the cake for a season in which the group played a critical role behind the scenes supporting Miami’s Division I squad, from rebounding for players during shooting drills to cleaning the locker room and doing the team’s laundry to packing equipment for away games. 

“And that’s just a small part of what we do,” said head manager Kameron Whiteman, a junior majoring in sport administration. 

Indeed, their schedules seem almost impossible to manage. Just imagine attending and studying for a full load of college-level classes, tending to the needs of Miami players and coaches, and squeezing in a few practice sessions for manager games. 

“One of our games tipped off at 10:45 at night,” Whiteman recalled. “I remember getting out of the Watsco Center at 12:30 in the morning and then having to be right back in the arena for managing duties at 8 a.m.” 

While the games between the University of Miami student managers and their counterparts from other schools lack some of the atmosphere of NCAA Division I hoops, they are no less competitive. The Hurricanes managers’ game against Florida State last January in Tallahassee, for example, went down to the wire, with Miami preserving a one-point victory after the Seminoles missed a last-second jumper that would have won the game for them. 

“We take our games very seriously, and they do get a bit heated and intense at times,” Whiteman said. 

Whiteman, whose father played for Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga at Bowling Green State back in the 1980s, competed in junior college basketball in Quincy, Illinois, before transferring to the University of Miami. Other members of the managers team also have high school and college basketball experience. 

“We’re a little bit faster than most of the teams we play, so we try to get out in transition as much as we can,” Whiteman said. “We have good shooters, and most of our guys shoot the three-pointer extremely well. I think we’re a lot like our men’s team this year.” 

Being a team manager and participating in the Manager Games tournament has been “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Melamed said. “It’s been a whirlwind year, and I’m embracing every single moment of it.”