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Athletes are often described as having ice water in their veins. Travis Hackert, NC State’s Director of Basketball Operations, has ice cream flowing through his.
Not literally, of course.
Back home in Luddington, Mich., Hackert’s father Jeff served as president of House of Flavors, an ice cream manufacturing plant that also operates a 1950s-themed ice cream parlor.
It’s a connection that had nothing to do with Travis getting his job with the Wolfpack. It certainly comes in hand, though, when it comes to performing one of his most important duties.
That’s because Hackert is the man responsible for deciding where coach Kevin Keatts, his players and the rest of State’s traveling party go to get their celebratory ice cream after every road win.
“I kind of understand the ice cream business,” Hackert said.”So I know the kind of places not to go just based off how they can serve, because we want to be as fast as possible to get on the plane that’s waiting for us.
“You know if they only have one person working in there and you’ve got 30-40 people, it’s going to be a long time. That’s kind of how I scout it out.”
Hackert has been busy so far this season, with the Wolfpack having already won five times on the road. Two of those victories, at Miami and Syracuse, have come in the last 10 days with another potential opportunity on Sunday at Boston College.
The practice of stopping for ice cream after road wins predates Keatts’ arrival at State three seasons ago. He began doing it in his first year at UNC Wilmington in 2014.
“When I took over the Wilmington job, they hadn’t won many games the previous year,” Keatts said. “I had to find a way kind of reward those guys after we won some road games. So we did it every game at Wilmington for three years and it’s a tradition we carried on here.”
And Hackert has been there for the entire journey.
His connection with Keatts began when he was still an undergraduate at Louisville serving as the team’s student manager. When Keatts got his first head coaching job, Hackert came along as basketball operations director.
Over the years, he has helped Keatts’ teams celebrate the sweet taste of road victories all around the world – from Italy during State’s 2017 preseason exhibition trip and the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis to snowy upsate New York late last Tuesday night.
While eating the ice cream is always a treat, finding a place that can serve a bus full of customers – often late at night – can be something of a challenge.
That’s why Hackert, whose primary responsibility is handling all the logistics of travel on road trips, usually tries to do some advance intel on every trip, just in case.
“After a win, Coach will always ask me ‘Okay, where are we going for ice cream?” he said. “I’ll tell him I’ve got a few spots. I’m a planner and I don’t like to do stuff last minute, so early in the day as we’re waiting for the game, I’ll Google a few places.
“With superstition, I don’t want to try and look them up too early because then you’re like playing it for a win. But just as my personality, I try to have a few spots picked out and then go from there.
That planning came in handy earlier this season in Charlottesville, after the Wolfpack’s 53-51 win at Virginia.
Because Hackert knew that there was a Ben & Jerry’s store only a few blocks from John Paul Jones Arena and because he knew that it closed at 10 p.m., he was able to arrange for the team to get there on time.
And to get the VIP treatment from the staff as well.
“It was about 9:45 when we got on the bus, so I called ahead,” Hackert said. “They said they couldn’t serve us if we got there after 10. But if we got there at 9:59, they’ll serve us. We ended up getting there at like 9:55 and I’m glad I called ahead, because they got three or four extra people to come help.”
Another advance phone call in Syracuse last week tipped Hackert off that Insomnia Cookies – a franchise that, true to its name, stays open until 3 a.m. – also serves ice cream.
Things don’t always work out so well, particularly after late games. That was the case after a win at Miami a couple of seasons ago.
“It was late and there were no places open at 11 o’clock,” Hackert said. “So we had to stop at a gas station and get a few ice cream sandwiches.”
While gas station ice cream and fast food softserve were the norm at Wilmington, where the budget was considerably smaller than it is at State, that’s only a last resort for the Wolfpack.
Hackert’s job is becoming easier with each road win, as he builds up a catalogue of go-to ice cream spots.
“We try to stick to places we know,” he said. “There’s a place in Boston that we stopped last year that was kind of like an older, ’50s or ’60s themed diner. I’m sure if we win Sunday we’ll be going back there.”