...as we did for Vince, the BON authors wanted to put up some of our favorite memories over Kevin Durant. Like 54b did, I'm going to focus on a game--and a moment--that might not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about KD's time at Texas.
Forget the "ONLY ONE YEAR!" debate, forget the vitriol spewed by some over his departure, and forget anything other than the 35 games Kevin Durant donned the burnt orange. After the jump, we go back in time to a magical half of basketball in Oklahoma City...
As a military officer, I get frustrated when people throw out the label of "leader" or talk about "leadership" without any proper framework for its use. Leadership is an art form, and the subtleties involved in being a good leader can be lost upon the untrained eye. While I still have a long, long, long way to go in my professional development, I've never forgotten a phrase from my former ROTC instructor. Before our annual Military Skills Competition, he told me "anyone can look like a leader when things are going great. But when things get bad, real bad, you need to understand that everyone else is going to look to you. If you show trace of any weakness, hesitation, or doubt over winning this competition, there is nothing you can say or do to bring them back." He wasn't talking about clapping, he wasn't talking about gung-ho pep talks, he was talking about the confidence and surety that I needed to have about myself and my team, regardless of what happened.
Along the same line, it's really hard to gauge someone's character until you've seen how they respond to adversity. And, in his basketball career at Texas, Kevin Durant hadn't experienced much adversity leading up the Big XII Tournament. In a storybook season, Durant smashed all sorts of freshman records and was already penciled in as the National Player of the Year. Instead of fading down the regular season stretch, Durant seemed to be elevating his game in preparation for the postseason. Brushing off concerns over four consecutive "subpar" games against ISU/OSU/BU/Tech in which he hadn't scored over 21 points, KD turned in three straight OMG performances against OU, A&M, Kansas. The latter two were especially memorable, as he outgunned Acie Law IV in the best home game in my 6 years here, then went to Lawrence and scored 25 points in the first half. Longhorns fans had every right to feel optimistic heading into the Big XII Tournament.
Fully stricken by KD fever, I made plans with two other friends to head to Oklahoma City for the Big XII Tournament. Since the tournament rightly started on Thursday (instead of freaking Wednesday), I was able to attend all my Thursday classes, then hit the road on Thursday night to drive to OKC. It's always tough when you make travel plans for the Big XII tournament, since there is always the dreaded possibility of the early exit. More so than any previous year, we felt we had room to be optimistic--we were playing Baylor. The same Baylor we had beaten 19 times in a row. The same Baylor team where, you know, they have a furry mascot that holds a sign that says "Sic 'em." We had bigger fish (and Jayhawks) to fry and our itinerary was set for a full weekend.
After watching a full slate of games on Friday, we were ready for the UT-Baylor nightcap. One of the good things about the Big XII Tournament is that you can always get great seats for the second game in a session by asking for lower-level ticket stubs from fans of the losing team from the first game who are leaving the arena. This tried-and-true tactic netted us seats right behind the Baylor basket.
As you might know, the first half went very poorly for Texas. Twelve minutes into the game, we were down 34-16. Kevin Durant missed his first 12 shots and finished the first half with 5 points. His first basket came with 36 seconds left in the half. Baylor remained white hot from the field and a last-second put-back by Mamadou Diene staked Baylor to a 43-25 lead. If it wasn't for AJ Abrams' ten points on 4-6 shooting, it would have been even worse. My friends and I sat in silence during halftime. Things were bad. Right before the game picked back up, I turned to my friend and told him that this was a chance for KD to "add to his legend." I also wanted to watch how Durant responded to the worst half of his Texas career.
As you also might know, he responded like a leader. After Baylor extended their lead to 48-28 with 17 minutes left, the thought crossed my mind about where we should sell our tickets and when we should head home. I should have remembered the last line of "The Eyes of Texas." For the next 7 minutes, Kevin Durant put on an unforgettable offensive show. Effortlessly driving to the basket and swishing jumpers from all over the court, Durant quickly pulled Texas back into the game by scoring 19 points in 7 minutes. After being run out of the gym the first 23 minutes, Texas found itself down 60-54 with 9:48 to go. Durant would go on to score 25 points in the second half to finish with a line of 29 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, and 1 assist--all after having his worst half of the season.
But my favorite memory of Kevin Durant lies outside of the boxscore from this game. It also lies outside of his beautiful jumpshot or his chest-beating celebration. My favorite memory of KD involves Craig Winder, of all people. Despite the incredible comeback, Texas was still down 66-65 with two minutes to go. After backing down the defender, who tried to draw the charge, KD missed a wide-open short spinning lay-up. Flying through the lane, Craig Winder jumped up and laid in the rebound while being fouled by Diene. Before he could take another step, KD threw Winder in a bear-hug and looked like the happiest person on the planet as he issued a celebratory scream. I was right underneath the basket, and I'll never forget the sheer elation on Durant's face when he grabbed ahold of Winder. You can watch the clip at the 2:55 mark of this video.
Every time I hear someone talk about KD not caring about Texas, I immediately think of the Baylor game and his bear-hug of Winder. I cannot wait for the opportunity to shower Durant with praise, adulation, and even a tribute of beating of my chest on Wednesday night. Feel free to post your own memories of KD below...