My old alma mater, Wichita State University, (or is it my alma mater and I'm the one that's old) has defied all reasonable expectations and played its way into the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball tournament. Of course, I've got to mention this in my blog, because this isn't a regular occurrence in my life. The last time WSU made it to the Final Four, I was 12 years old, and it turned out to be a rather ugly affair as they played one of John Wooden's UCLA super teams in the semi-final, getting soundly trounced by a team that was just beginning the Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time) era.
The really cool thing about this present team is how they have faced so many obstacles that would have made it easy for them to go easier on themselves. First, last year's team was talent laden, but also filled with seniors. Of course, they all graduated and were gone this year. No one on this year's team was a regular player last year. Then a plethora of injuries hit this squad after about ten games. Three of their main players missed significant time this year, with one starter not able to return at all. And then, despite overcoming these problems, the team suffered what many teams do in a long season, a late season slump where things just aren't clicking as they should. This is when they dropped some games to far lesser opponents, which of course, caused many people to say the season was pretty much over, and that, considering all things, they had handled things fairly respectably. They were runners-up in the Missouri Valley Conference to a stellar Creighton University team with their stand-out candidate for college player of the year, Doug McDermott. Everyone would have been very happy with what they had achieved, and no one would have thought less of them if they had lost to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Just making the tournament this year was a great feat for this team.
But they did not see things this way! This group wanted to be more than just okay, more than just "pretty good considering the obstacles." They wanted to do great things, and still believed they could. They were not willing to settle for anything less than their very, very best. So they handled Pittsburgh, then upset mighty Gonzaga, stayed the course with beating Lasalle, and then shocked everyone by beating an Ohio State team that had been playing as well as anyone in college basketball over the last month. Now, it's on to play the current juggernaut of college basketball, the University of Louisville Cardinals, in the semi-final of the Final Four in Atlanta!
Even now, that they could beat Louisville seems extremely unlikely, but the WSU Shockers are the epitome of "unlikely" right now. My reasonable adult mind wonders if this is really possible, whereas my 9 year old son is not surprised by any of what's happened. He is a big fan of Toure Murry from last year's team, and a big fan of Demetric Williams and Tekele Cotton on this year's team. In his mind, victories over Gonzaga and Ohio State were quite natural and expected. Now he thinks the same regarding Louisville, and is looking forward to Wichita State playing in the championship game. Apparently, he is thinking on the same wave length as all the players on the WSU team, which is of course they can beat anybody anywhere.
Thanks for a great season, Wichita State, but thank you even more for showing what can happen when we challenge ourselves to be as great as we believe we can be, and not to settle for everyone else's expectations to be just good enough.
I like the way Carl Hall, nicknamed the "Beast," who plays the inside game for WSU, summed up everything about this team. In the West championship game, as Ohio State was making its furious comeback from 20 points down, with just a couple of minutes left on the clock, and the game's outcome no longer a sure thing for the Shockers, Carl Hall gathered his team mates together at the foul line and said, "No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you all." This is the mark of a team that is already a champion, a team that doesn't need a trophy to believe in itself and what can be accomplished! So, to all the players and coaches on the 2012-2013 Wichita State University basketball team, as you face the mighty Louisville Cardinals this next Saturday, "No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you all."