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.