...as I wrote last year in my Greensboro Trip Recap, I've always been blessed to have my birthday intertwine with the first weekend of March Madness. Usually, with only a handful of exceptions, my birthday also occurs during Spring Break. This year, the two aligned perfectly. In what turned out to be a fortunate draw (for me), the Longhorns were scheduled to play in New Orleans on my birthday during my penultimate Spring Break. Even with our lower-than-expected seed, as soon as I saw we were matched up against Wake Forest and Kentucky, I knew I had to go.
But explaining to others--and my parents--about why I *had* to go turned out to be difficult. Everyone wanted to know the answer to one question, phrased in several different forms: WHY? These inquiries were often phrased in an equally hostile and incredulous tone. I dont think I had a single conversation about my trip that didnt involve some variation of this question. Have you SEEN this team play the last month? You dont actually think they have a shot against Kentucky, do you? Do you realize that you're going to drive all the way to New Orleans to just watch them lose?
My answers to these questions eventually settled into an acceptable narrative. I had to go because this tournament--and especially this draw--represented a complete opportunity for vindication and redemption. As y'all know, I've been dreaming and writing about this team since early September. The early season rise, mid-season fall, and late-season collapse completely tore me apart. But, thanks to the committee, we were given a golden opportunity to rewrite the entire narrative for the season. If Texas could simply win two--TWO--games, then the entire narrative for the season would change. Put more simply, 80 minutes of basketball could wipe away two months worth of disappointments. And, with that remote possibility on the table, I wanted to be there. More than anything, I wanted to see Texas take their best crack at Kentucky in attempt to justify all the expectations placed on the roster.
Did it happen? No, it didnt. Not even close. We lost in a spectacular collapse to an inferior team in front of a national TV audience. But, after the jump, I want to try to wrap a bow around this season, which includes a further justification for taking the trip.
Like many of you, the 2005 National Championship for the UT football team remains the watershed moment in my lifelong obsession with sports. As shown by my avatar, I watched as Vince Young scored a touchdown that no one on this site will ever forget. But, as I was leaving the Rose Bowl, I was haunted by the question that seems to eventually settle in after certain championships--can this feeling ever be topped? The thought that I'd never see such an incredible performance, victory, or championship again during my lifetime was an unwelcome accompaniment to the feeling of total and complete euphoria from the victory.
And, ever since that moment, I've daydreamed rather obsessively about whether or not I could see that with UT Basketball in the near-future. In several years, I *could* see the future potential for a storybook and dominant season, but these fantasies involved needing a certain superstar (or two) to turn down NBA-money to return to school. As you all know, that's never really happened. Until this year. Once Damion and Dexter both came back, it seemed like the stars were aligned for a National Title run. It seemed like the stars were aligned for a team--and a memory--to make an indelible stamp into our memories.
And then it all fell apart. And, in it falling apart, a new and even more frightening possibility emerged. The team appeared not only to be losing the possibility for winning this season, but also losing the entire core for the NEXT several few seasons. In the midst of our collapse, questions started arising over whether Balbay would return next season (instead of playing professionally overseas) and whether any of our talented freshmen would make it back to campus. Coupled with the non-development of Hill/Wangmene/Chapman, there appeared to be the possibility of next year's team being an absolute disaster. If Balbay went back overseas, Hamilton and Bradley left for the NBA, and Brown transferred, we were looking at the following roster:
PG: Jai Lucas, Cory Joseph (maybe)
SG: Varez Ward
SF: Shawn Williams
PF: Gary Johnson, Clint Chapman
C: Tristan Thompson, Alexis Wangmene, Matt Hill
So, with this possibility floating in the back of my head, it seemingly became even more important to clutch onto the potential resurgence of this year's team. It was this feeling that led me to travel to back-to-back road games at College Station and Waco. And if law school wouldnt have interfered with the Wednesday-Thursday games, then I also would have gone to Kansas City. Even though we got clowned--badly--in both College Station and Waco, I was still hoping to see some spark of anything resembling the team we expected. It was pitiful, perhaps, but it was something I felt like I had to do, especially in my last year as a student before serving my country in the military.
This mindset was the backdrop of my roadtrip to New Orleans. While my Greensboro Recap talked about the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of both the trip and arena, I'm really left without much to give. I've got several little anecdotes and nuggets from the trip (they sell beer from a cooler on the sidewalk outside the arena (!!!); East Tennessee State had some ugly cheerleaders (!!!); I talked to Deloss Dodds (!!!!)), but none of them feel noteworthy in the overall context of what happened on the court. I have pictures, but who really needs to see half-blurry photos from an ugly and relatively empty arena? Unlike last year, my aforementioned reasons for going to New Orleans turned out to be the most important aspect of the trip itself.
As it turns out, I was only in New Orleans for about 19 hours, about 7 of which were spent futilely trying to recover from my first encounter with Bourbon Street before we left town. Happy birthday to me, indeed.
The Big Conclusion: This season will be remembered for the historic collapse, but I'll remember it for the feeling of total numbness following J'Covan's desperation heave at the final buzzer. I just slumped to the railing in front of me and just hung there for several minutes. It was just one of those moments that seemed to be entirely separate from my own existence. I didnt want to stay, I didnt want to leave, and I just shut my eyes to try to separate myself from the finality of the moment.
While everyone has said the Wake Forest game was the perfect microcosm of the entire season, I think that's only half-right. The loss to Wake Forest has to be understood in its greatest context, which is that it prevented us from having our chance at Kentucky. I'm not saying we would have won that game--or even been competitive--but it would have at least given this team a chance (a chance) to win the biggest game on the biggest weekend of the season. I drove to New Orleans because of that chance (just a chance), and it just wasn't meant to be.
We'll find out a lot about our future roster and team in the upcoming weeks, but, for now, all we're left with is the resounding idea of a missed opportunity in what turned out to be a lost season. My only solace from this trip is that--hopefully--it will make the gravity of the moment that much more important if we're ever able to reach the perpetually unreachable. This program is still defined what is hasn't accomplished as much as what it has accomplished, and, for at least another season, that's not gonna change. We wont be cutting down the nets this season, but I'll remember this season, these players, and this trip to New Orleans when (and if) we ever do.