When the season ends, it always hurts. From November until April, we immerse ourselves in college hoops, specifically Shocker basketball, and when the season ends, well, it’s painful. The oomph to the solar plexus, the slight confusion, the reality check of everyday life. During basketball season, we live game day to game day, with each moment in between filled with scouting reports, Sports Center, newspaper and magazine articles, the usual workplace pre-meeting chat of last night’s game or the upcoming contest this weekend. Then, it ends. And, it hurts.
Even more so, this season. Not because of the one loss, not because of that final shot, not because it was Kentucky, and not because we knew the Shockers had so much more in them, that this team could’ve won a National Championship, but because this incredible, thrilling, almost surreal ride has come to an end. Forget the oomph to the solar plexus, this is like a kick to the windpipe. And why is it so painful? Why do I and numerous other Shocker fans feel lethargic and sad? As I said, I’m used to dealing with the aftermath of the close of a season, I know what to expect, I know it will take me a week or two to get my bearings, to finally stop clinging to the remnants of the season by watching highlight reels, reading past articles, viewing Facebook photos of games.
But, this year is different and I’m starting to understand why the pain is so unique. The season never truly ended, last year. The euphoria that swept campus and the city during the 2013 run to the Final Four never subsided even after the Shockers loss to Louisville in the semi-final. The validation that came from that game, that run, only sustained the buzz of anticipation and expectation for the next season, like the drone of a million bees it kept us all suspended until November where it settled inside Koch Arena and hummed louder with each victory. Eventually, it seeped out to campus and throughout the city until you could almost feel the buzzing from within, or at least I could, like a warm vibration of the soul urging you to carry the team mantra into everyday life by working, playing and living a little angrier.
We knew the season would be good, that what happened in Atlanta was only a glimpse of what was to come, but never did we expect our beloved Shockers to go undefeated, to stand upon the precipice of college basketball history. Even my father, whom I steadily rely upon for basketball guidance admitted he “never saw this coming.” Our expectation of a winning season, an MVC conference title, the hope of eliminating the St. Louis curse and an MVC tournament championship was not just realized, it was slammed home on a platter of perfection. The buzz had become deafening.
And yet, we could still hear the naysayers. Sure, they had to shout long and hard to be heard, but we could still hear their whining, their dismissals, their bullying and desperate responses after every win. Their battle cry against Wichita State became redundant and embarrassing, especially when it became apparent those who cried the loudest and longest knew nothing of college basketball. Nada. These were the ones I speculated as young kids had picked the teams they thought were safe bets. Picking a power house or blue blood team guarantees a happy March, right? What I figured was a lot of these people were actually more angry at themselves or their teams mediocre seasons than they were at the Shockers. It was just easier to take it out on the Shockers and their schedule rather than admit after all these years they’d possibly picked the wrong school. Ironically, their mean-spirited attacks only stirred the nest, increasing and uniting the hum of Shocker Nation.
From Selection Sunday to Sunday afternoons showdown with Kentucky, the excitement and pride of Wichita and Shocker Nation was near crescendo. I could feel it like a hundred cold and prickly goose bumps across my flesh every time a complete stranger said “Go Shox” to me in response to my ever-present Shocker gear. I could hear it in the flapping of a Wushock flag outside a business or earnestly from the window of a passing car. I could see it in the eyes of my father every time he shared a newspaper article or I brought him the latest Sports Illustrated featuring the Shockers or printed online article. And call me crazy, I could even taste it, like that first sip of a beer snatched from the bottom of an icy cooler after a long, hot day.
But as with any deafening roar, there is always imminent silence. I wasn’t there in the Scottrade Center or the local Emerson Biggins, but when the final buzzer sounded and our boys walked off the court, the silence fell upon our city like an invisible snowfall. It wasn’t that the world actually fell silent, but the buzz that had carried us for an entire year had suddenly stopped. And with the quiet came the pain.
That’s why this one hurts so differently. This pain is not from a five-month season, but a twelve-month season, a season that began when the Shockers defeated Ohio State to head to the Final Four. So, I’m preparing myself for a lengthy recovery, one that may take a month or two. I’ll reread the articles, watch the videos, view the photos, and know much of our patio and deck conversations over beer this summer will be spent reminiscing the season.
I’ll continue to follow the journeys of these incredible young men, those whose paths are changing, those who will stay to carry the weighty torch of what is now Shocker basketball, and the new players just arriving to become one of the family. Shaq Morris recently tweeted, “The red shirt is off,” to which many followers responded with their hopes and urgings for the next season and his successful beginnings.
Wait, there it is. That sound. Can you hear it? I feel better already.