William & Mary lost to Delaware last night in the CAA Finals. Marcus Thornton, their exceedingly-likeable star guard who may also have just scored again on VCU, had a game-winner bounce off the back iron at the buzzer.
It was a heartbreaking moment, especially considering the Tribe fought back from 12 down in the second half to get to the precipice of the NCAA tournament. I have a lot of friends that follow the Tribe, and their administrators, players, and head coach are top notch people you want to see succeed.
This morning brought little relief from cursing at the result. However when I realized former VCU assistant coach Jamion Christian (and video coordinator Donny Lind, as well as–ironically–W&M assistant Ben Wilkens) will lead Mount St. Mary's in the NEC Final tonight against Robert Morris for a berth in the NCAA tournament, the lesson hit me.
Don't ever–EVER–take VCUs sucess and recent climb into national prominence for granted. Appreciate where we are and be thankful for it and respectful to it. This place isn't a right. It's a gift, and it can be lost as quickly as it was earned.
Appreciate–hell you can marvel at–50 straight sellouts. Appreciate building a $25 million practice facility. Appreciate the fact that Brooklyn is about playing for an NCAA tournament seed that probably ranges from a five to a seven.
Appreciate that we aren't far removed from gobbling up every nugget of national coverage we could muster and savoring it, forwarding it through email and social media like widlfire, but these days it's impossible to keep up. Appreciate that a rally cry used to be "yay, we got an ESPN Bracketbusters game" and now national TV appears on the schedule multiple times.
Appreciate the leadership of this program, and I'm not just talking about Shaka Smart. I'm talking about administrators and people you don't read about, people like director of basketball operations Jesse Bopp and his cadre of managers and graduate assistants. In order to win at a high level, you have to manage at a high level and organize at a high level. Don't take these folks for granted.
Appreciate that we are only four years removed from holding a death grip on the conference tournament–play well for three days or hope beyond hope that the NCAA tournament selection committee takes the same biased view and equivocation as we do of our resume worthiness.
Appreciate that we aren't sweating other conference tournaments for bid theives. Appreciate that we aren't on the other end–hoping for lightning in a one-weekend bottle to cure a two-month deathmarch like Alabama or NC State or Purdue. Hope can be a dangerous thing.
Appreciate Spike Lee in an Ed Nixon jersey.
Appreciate everything that just came to your mind about VCU basketball that I didn't write.
Don't ever forget any of that.
We can learn from WIlliam & Mary head coach Tony Shaver, who said after last night's loss:
"The thing I get angry about is people trying to define whether or not you made the NCAA Tournament as whether you had a good year. If our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament, we can move into a conference that has the same academic restrictions we have. We choose to play at a higher level. I think that's admirable to be honest. We're not going to let the NCAA Tournament define our team."
Appreciate that we were bold enough to move to the higher level A10 but that the decision was not as simple as you would think.
Don't misunderstand me. I want to win in Brooklyn and they could slot us in the Jupiter pod and I'd be there sweating through my clothes and grinding away my dentin layer for a VCU victory. I want to win every effing game VCU plays straight through to April. Badly. Winning is fun, and it is undoubtedly the most important aspect for all of this.
But the absence of winning does not mean losing, not in the broader sense. You're a fool if you think differently. It's why getting blitzed by Michigan last season didn't make Troy Daniels less a basketball player, Shaka Smart less a coach nor role model, and it certainly didn't make VCU less a program.
On one afternoon last March we got beat, and badly. But that didn't change the trajectory of this program. And please don't take the "another Final Four would've changed the trajectory" approach. That trivializes the efforts of the entire VCU program to get to this place, and it is blind to the fact that the other 350 NCAA division one basketball teams are trying for the same thing. If that's your opinion, I'm betting you also stand in front of the microwave and scream for it to cook faster.
It's why the beauty lies in the journey. Separate one night's result from everything else that you accomplished and you can see it. That's the line between entitlement and appreciation.
The point is that yes it's about winning but it's about the shared experience of VCU basketball. Michigan kicked our ass last year but I still get a kick out of Al Roker pumping his head atop a NYC bus. I still smile and remember long road trips in a gold Volvo.
But I would like nothing more than to see Michigan in our bracket next week.
Honestly, I don't even know what to say to my friends from William & Mary today but I know how to take that forward. Don't ever forget how you felt the day Laimis Kisielius beat us, or the day Robert Battle beat us, or the two-hour deathmarch that was the Davidson NIT game.
It wasn't that long ago. Don't ever forget that, and take time this week to appreciate where you are. Look around KBH if you're in Brooklyn or around Richmond if you're home. Notice the vibe surrounding VCU. Appreciate it. We are not entitled to this, but we sure can embrace it and make it grow.
Last year during the A10 tournament at a media timeout, I took my earphones off. I turned over my right shoulder and saw the Barclays Center awash in gold. The Peppas were pumping and the symphonic hum leading up to the "it's havoc you fear" refrain echoed. We were headed to the NCAA tournament no matter what happened that night but it didn't matter to the thousands of people oozing VCU from their pores at that moment. I'm not afraid to admit I teared up.
I owe Tony Shaver and William & Mary thanks for reminding me of that moment. So appreciate this week in your own way but don't be that guy. I'm thinking you cheer louder, and with more passion.
No, I guarantee it.