Monday, March 31, 2008

Hope That Knows That Davidson Will Be Back

Walking out of Ford Field after Davidson's 57-59 loss to top-seeded Kansas in the Elite 8, I felt every single emotion imaginable: pain at watching my friend and classmate sit at center court after missing the game-winning shot...happiness that these Wildcats had advanced so far and fought so valiantly...numbness in realizing that I would never again watch a Davidson basketball game as a Davidson student...shattered hope that these Wildcats could fulfill some sort of destiny that seemed right there for the taking.

But the whirl of thoughts and feelings were quickly brought to a singular head when I stepped out onto the street. Mobs of reporters and locals flocked to the exodus of Davidson red, looking for interviews and offering consolation.

"Don't worry, we will see you back here in the Final Four next year!" they shouted.

What? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Davidson had not made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament for 39 years. And they just had a shot to make it to the Final Four! This opportunity does not happen every year for a team from a one-bid league with an enrollment of 1,700 students and rigorous admission standards. This year was a miracle, and it may never be replicated in my lifetime.

Those were my immediate responses. That was the pain talking, but I realized that it was also my selfishness talking. I wanted my senior year to end in miracles from the national semifinals.

On the morning after the game, I realized that despite all of the games, practices and interviews that I've seen with this team over the last four years, those strangers in Detroit actually had a better perspective on Davidson right now than I did.

This run, while magical, was certainly not miraculous. Davidson was not and is not a Cinderella and didn't need the help of a fairy godmother to knock off Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin.

The NCAA Tournament accomplishments of Davidson reflected the lump sum of a rational set of terms more than some sort of discovery of a magic glass slipper. When you add exceptional talent to unceasing hard work to faith in one's teammates to trust in outstanding coaching to the uplifting support of a passionate army of followers, you get the type of performance that Davidson demonstrated in the NCAA Tournament. I guess I just underestimated the absolute value of each term.

Over the past two weeks, this team showed the world, and us locals, that it is a part of one of the elite programs in college basketball. Bob McKillop might only coach in the Southern Conference, Belk Arena might only hold 5,700 people and Stephen Curry might have only gotten scholarship offers from mid-major programs, but Davidson's Basketball program, the sum of all its parts, is undeniably elite.

So maybe those Detroit locals were right that we'd be back in Detroit this time next March. Maybe my Mom was right in suggesting that since Kansas was graduating so many players, we'd be able to knock them off next year. Maybe Jason Richards, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno will get to join the elite company of all of the great Davidson basketball alums before them as they move to the front row of the cheering section and marvel at the continuation of a very special and successful basketball program.

This is a program of trust, commitment and care. But there is also hope. Hope that can never be shattered like the glass of Cinderella's slipper. Hope that knows that Davidson will return next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

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