The End of a Long, Enjoyable Ride
So, this is how it ends for our four seniors.
12:05 A.M. FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 2009
Our coldest shooting night since February coupled with the opportunistic play of Penn State's guards and some questionable officiating were too much Thursday night.
Penn State 69, Baylor 63. CJ, Dugat, Kevin and Mamadou do not get to ride off into the sunset with one last W. Their careers at Baylor are over.
Yet after five months of following this team day in and day out, they left me wanting more.
I wanna see a few more of those jaw dropping reverse layups from Henry like I did Thursday night. I wanna see CJ blow by another guy off the dribble on his way to the rim, I wanna see another split-screen allowing Kevin to finish with a thunderous dunk and I wanna see Mamadou's infectous smile on the way back up the court.
These four guys are all over BU basketball record books now. They're the winningest group of seniors in the program's history. They're the group that ended our 20-year NCAA drought and finished their career with the most enjoyable month of basketball I've ever witnessed.
Yet, that's only the tip of the iceberg with this group.
We all know the story, we all know what these guys had to persevere through in their first two years playing under NCAA sanctions that they didn't deserve. They took us through two historic seasons in the backstretch of their careers that will likely change the landscape of this program forever.
Let me put it this way, Baylor played 39 games this year. How many of those were you able to watch on television? How many times did our guys compete on national television? How many times this year has a coworker or a friend mentioned something to you about Baylor basketball? How many times this year has this team made your day?
Thanks to this group and in particular the seniors who really took a chance when choosing to come here, Baylor basketball is at a place it has never (in my lifetime) been: completely identifiable. People everywhere know we wear green and gold, that our head coach is Scott Drew and that we have guys on our team named Tweety and Lacedarius. They know the story of Baylor basketball. They know what happened in 2003 and now they know what happened in 2008 and 2009.
So our guys came up short Thursday night. It's a tough pill to swallow. It was tough losing to Wake in the tourney final way back in November and it was depressing to see them upended by Mizzou and left out of the tourney on Selection Sunday. Tonight was tough too, but this group has given us, as fans, way too much for it to ever be looked as a disappointing season.
What a season it's been. I'll never forget it. It started the night our football team dismantled A&M. Yeah, THAT'S how long these guys have been in the gym on a daily basis. Crazy, huh?
It's been a blast covering these guys. From opening night against Paul Quinn to our national TV wins against Centenary, Providence, Arizona State and Kansas State to the payback tour in Oklahoma City to the NIT game in Waco to the night we ruled the floor in MSG. It's a shame it's over for this group.
But, make no mistake, our reward for their service will be felt for years to come.
One (More) Shining Moment
5:15 P.M. WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1, 2009
So, by a show of hands, who thought it would be game 38 when this team would play its best game of the year?
BU again silenced the now-dwindling list of critics and delivered a memorable, dominant and enjoyable win in the NIT semifinals against San Diego State.
CJ played up to his NBA-ready potential, K-Rog had another highlight reel dunk and Lace...well, Lace was Lace.
The Bears again shot over 50% from the field, above 50% from behind the arc and above 68% at the foul line and put the game in cruise control before the final media timeout, allowing the many BU faithful that made the trip to the Big Apple to relish in this team yet again.
It was a rather fitting way to close out March, arguably the greatest month in Baylor basketball history.
A month ago at this time I was struggling to find words (and optimism) for this team as it approached what (let's be honest) we all thought would be the final two to three games of the season.
Seven (yes, SEVEN) wins later, the program has been transformed, critics of Drew's Xs and Os have been silenced and the handful of seniors who appeared to be inevitably haunted by their final season at BU are now remembered and glorified for being the winningest class in the program's history.
Not bad for one month, huh?
In taking down Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Georgetown, Virginia Tech, Auburn and San Diego State in the span of three weeks, the final stop for this group is now set and it, again, will be the biggest game of their lives.
So bring on Penn State. Heck, the Bears have managed to knock off at least one team in every other major conference this year. A win over a Big Ten team seems to be a fitting last obstacle for this team anyway.
Almost three weeks ago, BU got to play for something it had previously been unable to for nearly fifty years.
A gritty Mizzou team prevented Baylor from the Big 12 Tourney championship that night. We get another shot, a final shot, Thursday night against Penn State.
Baylor, one of nine Big 12 teams that qualified for postseason play, is now the conference's only dog left in the fight. We have center stage for one more night, one more chance to tell the world the amazing story of this group, one more night to validate this team as one the program's greatest.
What will game No. 39 show us that we haven't seen yet? If Tuesday night was any indication, this Cinderella story is about to have a fitting finish.