The elevator door was starting to close, but I heard someone in hall so I hit the door open button.
“Hey thanks,” Korey Billbury said, just as a mom and her nine-year old son followed him into the car. “It’s about that time.”
We were all headed next door, the Chesapeake Energy Center, where in a few hours it would be that time, the time VCU knocked off Oregon State 75-67 to move into the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.
The youngest on the car broke the silence.
“I like your gold shoes,” said the nine-year old to Billbury.
Said Billbury: “Thanks. I usually wear black shoes but we lost, so I need to change it up.”
For all the emotion or stress or whatever may have been going on inside Billbury, he was as calm, humble, and pleasurable to be around on the outside. It was if he was riding the elevator for nothing more important than to get a bottle of water. It was a harbinger.
You know the Korey Billbury story. Graduate senior. Oklahoma kid. Came to VCU for one season to win, and go to the NCAA tournament. He wanted that from his college basketball experience.
“I told him, one, you’re going to get a chance to get a graduate degree. Two, you’re going to have a chance to win a conference championship, which he did in the regular season. And three, you’re going to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament,” said head coach Will Wade after the game. “So pretty much we can check all three boxes at this point, and that’s a successful year. He’s been really good for us.”
Wade continued: “Those fifth-year kids are either horror stories or they’re great stories, and he’s been great for us. He’s been really, really good for us. We’re happy to have him.”
The reason I’m spending time going over a known story, in the few hours after the rousing victory, is this: do you realize how insanely wonderful this story is?
Though he had every reason to, as Will Wade likes to say, have an out-of-body experience, Billbury played very controlled this afternoon. He did what Korey Billbury does—he fought. Billbury played in the exactly manner he said he needed to change in December—he let the other guys get the fanfare while he did “other things” like picking up Gary Payton II in screen situations and bodying him up. He guarded guys bigger than him and smaller than him. He served as a ballhandling outlet. He did not become a black hole.
Today was a microcosm of the entire reason Billbury came to VCU and the entire season. It’s fitting it occurred in the NCAA tournament.
This is the ultimate in the collegiate athletics experience. The things that Will Wade and Korey Billbury discussed last May have come to fruition.
Billbury had 80 people to see him today—80. Those 80 watched him pack his bags and move to Richmond last year. They got to see him again today, at the back end of this 10-month gamble. Billbury’s earned NCAA tournament experience is back home, where those who supported him–and those who may not have–got to see him play. They got to see his smile.
It’s almost eerie how this has played out, and the next chapter in this remarkable story was written today.
They will get to see him again on Sunday, because Korey Billbury got to experience an NCAA tournament win. On Sunday, he will suit up against the team he grew up cheering for—the Oklahoma Sooners.