By Sean Steven Spiece
What I am about to say is highly personal, completely biased, and could even be considered blasphemous by many U of A fans. It’s not a fact or even a majority opinion, just one guy’s two cents. It has to do with my age, my living situation, and my entire appreciation of basketball as a whole.
This all being said, last year’s U of A basketball team was my favorite team of all-time.
Before people start freaking out and submitting their own favorite team, complete with pages of notes, comprehensive stats, and hate mail for me, allow me to explain. I was only six years old when the 1997 team won the national championship, which means the prospect of staying up late was equally exciting as the prospect of U of A winning it all. Likewise, I was in fifth grade and living in Kansas when the 2001 team lost to Duke in the championship, though I am forever grateful to this team because it taught me a valuable lesson–never root for Duke. The 2005 team, which as we all remember lost to Illinois in the game I have dubbed “The Broken Remote Game”, occurred while I lived in Tucson but is forever tainted by the bitter taste of vomit I get in the back of my mouth whenever I remember that WE WERE UP 15 WITH THREE MINUTES TO GO. Finally, I was a freshman in college when the Nic Wise/Jordan Hill/Chase Budinger team made it to the Sweet 16 as a 12 seed, only to be blown out by Louisville with the entire nation watching, though I doubt any team not coached by Lute Olson or Sean Miller could be considered my favorite team.
For these reasons almost completely based on the year of my birth and the circumstances in which the teams lost, the 2010-2011 Arizona Basketball team feels like the natural choice as my favorite team of all-time, though this isn’t some choice by default. Because I loved that team. I loved them because no one on a national level talked about them, because I was there for the walk-off block by Derrick Williams in the white-out versus Washington, because our team had the swagger that separates merely talented teams from talented and winning teams, because we had one of the deepest teams in the nation, because no one predicted us to go deep into the tourney, because of Derrick Williams’s second walk-off block versus Memphis, because of the game winning play in Texas, because of the indescribably satisfying second half blowout of Duke that almost vindicated the 2001 team (notice: almost), and because of the new era that this team ushered in–the era my kids someday will still be a part of.
But it was more than that. It was because I saw these players on campus. I played basketball with Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill at the rec center the summer before their freshman year (Derrick Williams dunked on my buddy, though he isn’t too upset now in retrospect). I had classes with them. I saw them at parties. I followed them on twitter. I saw their hash tag, #swagswag, and even tweeted it myself. I knew these guys, even if I didn’t actually know them.
But still, it was even more than that. It was that buzz. It was the uniting of the campus into one collective diehard fan base for the first time in years. It was the moment when I heard the guy ahead of me talking on his cell phone and breaking down the Duke game the same way I did with my friends. It was the athletically clueless girl who told me she wanted Derrick Williams to (in polite terms) “date” her. It was the blatant interruption of class for important U of A basketball announcements. It was everything that defined the campus for that March Madness run.
Then, they lost. In a game they could have won. Versus the eventual champs.
I didn’t yell like the way I thought I would, merely slumping in my chair as if a sniper took me out through my living room window. I didn’t even speak. I just waited to wake up because it had to be a dream, one of those dreams where you’re falling toward the ground and you know the inevitable and life-ending crunch is coming, except you wake up before it happens. I was waiting to wake up, but it never came. Instead, I felt the crunch that ended this team’s life because in all reality, that’s what this loss was–the dismantling of my favorite team–because we will never see that same group of athletes play together again.
And I’m going to miss them.
Jamelle Horne, a guy who I watched mature before my very eyes from the stupid crunch-time fouler to the man who posterized Kyle Singler, would be graduating. Momo Jones, our constant spark and our big shot maker (at times), would be transferring, though I didn’t know it at the time. And of course, Derrick Williams, the best player in the nation, was a sure bet to leave for the NBA. The team, while mostly still intact, would never be this exact team that I cherished so much.
It was like losing a friend. And I wanted him back.
Yet, this is the beauty of college of basketball–the way it mirrors the real world in some weird, clichéd, circle of life way. The beauty is that basketball doesn’t operate in a strict linear fashion but somehow simultaneously lives in a place in time where the past meets the future, where we can look at the 2011-2012 squad and suffer nostalgia for a team of old and also look forward to an unknown future. Here at the University of Arizona, we live in a place saturated in basketball history, resonating of players and teams of the past, and yet, we know that the future has the potential to be even brighter.
There is no better example of this than the upcoming Red-Blue game on October 22. It’s a memorial service to last year’s team (Derrick Williams will be there). It’s a tribute to the players of old (8-10 former players will be there, as well). It’s a chance to stare into the distance and take a glance at the next potential Arizona superstars on the horizon (recruits will be in attendance and the venue will also serve as a chance for the freshman to showcase their talents).
But it’s also more than that. I just want to thank last year’s team. I want to let them know how much joy (and anxiety) they brought me. I want to know these guys again. I want to feel that buzz that consumed the campus. I want the Red-Blue game to be everything.
I’ll see you there.