The 11th Month and 14th Ranking…
October is a scam. It's the worst month on the calendar, and second place isn't close. Nice weather begins to cede control to the grumpy old man and his chill. Falling leaves are beautiful but you know what's next–barren trees that beg you to grab a rake and clear the dog a space to go to the bathroom.
At some point in this cruel month, you look into your closet and realize that flip-flops will rotate to the back. Daylight savings time, that concept that allows you to sit outside and feel the breeze and play games and sip your favorite beverage in your flip-flops under the sun's watchful eye and warming touch, nears the end of its annual shift.
October ends with the "holiday" where everybody dresses up as something else and eats candy like it's a food group. All of it is make-believe.
For college basketball fans it's the longest month. We are fed breadcrumbs via preview magazines and an erosion-paced increase in volume of social media activity. Rothstein is omnipresent, no longer a sleeper nor under-the-radar. We create stories and hopes and expectations and dare to dream. None of it is particularly useful because it exsits between our ears. It's fiction.
Oh, we got the Back-and-Gold game this October, but let's be honest. That was like giving a glass of water to the guy who had traversed half the Sahara, and still had the other half to go. Is it at all surprising that October is 31 days? Hell, I half-expect the NCAA to grant a waiver allowing October to expand to 70 days.
But that's all behind us now. It's November. Basketball begins in earnest, and the fiction begins rewriting itself as fact.
This is when we reconcile those October creations with reality, and I've got to say: there's just something a little different this year. I can't put my finger exactly on it, but the run-up is unlike any other season in VCU basketball history, which for me dates to 1986.
We've often written in this space about what can be, but that was generated from a starting point of that double-edged sword called hope. Now there's hope fueled by expectations. Fears. Wonder. Enthusiasm. Momentum. I admit this, too: I'm very proud that VCU is ranked #14 in the opening AP poll of the season, but I have no idea what that means. It's nothing, but it's something. Who really knows?
It boils down to one thing: excitement. There is a level of excitement in this basketball program that is undeniable. So I'm going to stop analyzing it and just enjoy it. Enjoy the games. The people. The camaraderie. The stats. The chatter. I won't enjoy the losses, and there will be some, but I will enjoy the rejuvenation and feeling the next game on the schedule brings.
Everything that occurs between Friday night and March will shape the meaning of that 14, and I cannot wait to surf it.
It's worth it, the constant state of glass-half-full. VCU has something perhaps only a handful of programs around the country can possibly understand. Butler is one. So, too, I believe, is Wichita State. There are others who can share what we have, but not many.
The VCU program came of age and became relevant in a time when college basketball exploded. There was Mississippi State and Wake Forest–mere morsels for VCU as the college basketball engine chugged forward in the decade that bridged the millenium. We built an on-campus facility. VCU hired one, then two, then a third, young and energetic coach.
There was winning. An avalanche of winning.
There was The Dagger, disappointment (UCLA), and then you-know-what. More NCAA tournament success and a new conference in the following two years that set the table for this well-deserved ranking.
But here's the rub. Here's the thing few programs have, and certainly not the blue bloods. We've done this together, connected. The powerful growth of social media, and the distributed nature of the internet and how information is shared and consumed, has detonated this growth bomb.
Whether Youtube videos, RamNation message boards, social media, or together at games and on the road, we've shared growth, success, losing, pain, more success, in a way few other programs have shared. We've grown together–fans, program, and basketball team. So when Shaka Smart talks about the bond between players and fans, this bond few others can match or understand, consider its source.
(Side note: Is it a coincidence that Twitter launched in March 2006? Probably, but I choose to believe otherwise.)
It's rare so protect it. Eat up the connection, the bond, the love that this program has created. It's why some national writer last year said that he was rooting for VCU, because we seem to have more fun doing everything. Enjoy every great and not-great moment for what it is. As Shaka likes to say: it's what we do.
All of that leads us to Friday night's opener. I can't wait for that night, nor any of the others that follow. It's quite the anticipation and I blame the month of October. Thankfully that terrible month is rearviewed and we can look forward.
Are you ready?
This video kind of sums it up. And by the way, if the older kid looks familiar: he played Joey in Airplane!. Tell your old man to drag Reddic and Shannon up and down the court for 48 minutes.