Hoop Dreams

The magical ride that was the men’s basketball season ended at around 10:00 on a warm spring night in Salem, Virginia, 670 miles away from where it started on November 19 at a tip-off tournament in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

The season ended with an unfamiliar feeling this year, one of sadness, which is not to be confused with disappointment. No, no reasonable person could claim they were disappointed that things had not worked out differently when Nolan Thompson’s three-point try fell just short, with :05 reading on the giant Salem Civic Center scoreboard in the Division III national semifinals, because to be disappointed would be to feel that the team had somehow failed to live up to a promise, to expectations. This is not that story, and this is not that team.

This team went 28-2, obliterating school records for wins, for season winning percentage, for success in the postseason, for smiles and cheers and hugs and, yes, tears, but until that night in Salem, those had been tears of joy all year long.

How can you disappoint when you barnstorm the regular season with a 22-1 record, when you play the type of defense—one that requires talent, yes, but would not be possible without heart and effort—that leads opponents to declare this Panther squad to be the most tenacious defensive team they have ever seen, when you cut down the nets in Williamstown after capturing the NESCAC tournament championship, when you do it again in Rochester, New York, after knocking off Western Connecticut State, Rochester, and St. Mary’s to advance to the Final Four?

How can you disappoint when individuals achieve personal bests (Ryan Sharry ’12: first-team All NESCAC, second-team All American; Andrew Locke ’11: NESCAC defensive player of the year, academic All American; Jeff Brown: NESCAC and regional coach of the year)? How can you disappoint when, to a person, every one of those individuals will say that those accolades don’t matter, that what matters is the team, that what matters is the man, the teammate next to him? How can you disappoint when this sentiment rings true?

No, there’s no disappointment associated with the men’s basketball team this year. Only a twinge of sadness that, as long as we’re being honest, would have surfaced in Salem, win or lose. It’s a feeling born of knowing that the ride has come to an end—that it will be a year before we see Thompson or Luis Alvarez ’13 play their smothering defense again; that pinpoint passes from Jake Wolfin ’13 or Joey Kizel ’14 will not find an open Sharry until next November; that the quartet of Locke, Ryan Wholey ’11, Jamal Davis ’11, and Andrew Plumley ’11 will never wear the blue and white again.

But that sadness? Well, it doesn’t last long, not really. It dissipates when a grandmother, who was watching the team for the very first time in Salem says to her four-year-old grandson, “That’s a pretty great team.”

It ends when he replies, “I know, we won way more than we lost. But you know what? We’re great when we lose, too.”

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