Sorry for the dearth of correspondence since Portland. I promised I’d return to comment on the season that was, but had some family stuff to address.
I’m back now, and in my stead, I see that Mike Litos, as he often does, has succinctly summed up many of my own feelings on the 2014-15 season and the NCAA Tournament, but better:
The loss of Weber was a tectonic shift. Gone was the frenzied piranha havoc defense. Gone was the senior point guard. Factor in the number two scorer and number five rebounder in school history suffered a significant injury.
This was not November and we were not playing Bethune Cookman with months to figure it out. This was February in the A10, and they didn’t blink.
While Shaka kept us a preoccupied with coaching vagaries like the process and the plan, he and his staff was busily re-crafting where the chess pieces would go. Roles would change.
It got worse before it got better, but to the credit of the players they never lost focus. They believed.
And it came together over those four days in Brooklyn.
Before he dove into the underground, mid-major Pied Piper Kyle Whelliston used to tell us, “It always ends with a loss”, a cold reality for all but the national champion (or NIT/CBI, but even those are pretty hollow).
That last loss is always the toughest, and has the power to skew the impact of the previous 35 games. Although I would have selfishly loved to stay two more days in the Pacific Northwest because I love Portland and I love basketball, the legacy of this team is not one afternoon in Portland against Ohio State. No, it’s four days in Brooklyn.
I’m sure VCU’s 1996 and 2004 CAA Championships, which ended extended NCAA droughts, were emotional nights. Those who were there can feel free to share their stories. But I can’t imagine it approaching what we felt at Barclays this March, watching Briante Weber hop to center court in celebration, then climb that ladder. For me, it’s right there with Eric Maynor’s Dagger and the Final Four. Chills. All of it.
These guys are champions, and one overtime loss to a team with a lottery pick isn’t going to change how I feel about that.
As far as moving forward goes, I’ll get back to you in a week or so. That’s for April. I’m not ready to let go of that which happened just two weeks ago. I want to let that feeling marinate before I start shuffling potential starting lineups or bedazzling my airbrushed Tevin Mack t-shirt.
The frenetic schedule this March decided that we got approximately three hours to celebrate the conference championship – and what that meant – before turning wagons west for Oregon. Now that we’ve stopped accumulating airline miles, we can start to appreciate five mostly fantastic months.
This senior class, which won over 100 games and two conference championships, and reached four NCAA Tournaments, probably deserves at least that much. Treveon Graham is the No. 2 scorer in school history and Weber is probably the best defender we’ve ever seen. I think I’ll hang onto these clips playing over and over in my head, Weber’s steal and dunk against Butler, Weber’s other steals and other dunks against (insert opponent), Graham’s heroics at Virginia and Rhode Island and La Salle, three seniors hugging on the Barclays Center floor, a band of brothers that refused to go quietly. Nah, I’m good for now. Call me in April.