A game at the Cintas Center used to be one of the highlights of the year for Joel (the other moderator of Banners) and I. As we both chose to pursue our dreams of playing college sports at a level more befitting our talent, we didn't have the opportunity to attend Xavier University. When we got the chance to attend a game then, it was an event. Something about walking in to the Cintas and seeing people doing the same thing that we did, but on a grander scale, produced goosebumps every time. Even now, from media row, it's difficult not to get sucked in to the spectacle that is a Xavier basketball game.
This originally started as an article about our favorite parts of the gameday experience. Unfortunately, the debacle of the last week has drained a bit of the impetus from that idea. Seeing this draft sitting here got me to thinking though. What will a game at Xavier be like now? Dez Wells is gone, The Fight is still fresh in the minds of everyone making decisions, and there is an unease surrounding the program right now.
Still, a game will surely still be a good time, won't it? The key elements are still there. Xavier basketball will always be my first love, and no amount of off court turmoil will change that. The atmosphere from the student section will still be unmatched anywhere this side of Utah State, there is a reason that the Cintas Center is one of the most difficult road venues in the nation. Production will still be top notch. Brian Hicks, Tom Eiser, and dozens of other people that no one ever sees work tirelessly to make sure that no one attends a Xavier game and walks away feeling like something was missing. Really, nothing ever is.
So why am I having such a hard time getting excited right now? Maybe I'm afraid that Dec 10 did change something. That the fans will be just that little bit more on edge, not wanting to be the people hammered for sparking off another incident. Maybe I'm just bummed that I won't get to see Dezmine Wells develop in person. I've not been that excited for a Xavier sophomore in a very long time. More than his talent, maybe I'm just going to miss the spirit with which he played the game, my game. Maybe I'm afraid that Xavier just won't be that good this year. Maybe I'm worried that some tiny part of me isn't excited because I know there isn't anything to be excited about.
Last year, when I walked in the tunnel hours early, Kenny Frease was the only player on the court. I stood there for a long time and just watched him shoot free throws. Each miss prompted a grimace, consecutive misses prompted a bit more. Occasionally the ball bounced away and I would tap it back to the big man. Neither of us said anything, we just stood there, one shooting, one watching. On that day, there was nowhere I would rather have been. Maybe I'm not excited because I'm not sure I can say that anymore. Maybe I'm not excited because a little piece of me, a little piece of that kid who loved nothing more than watching his favorite team live on gameday, finally had to grow up. Maybe I'm not excited because part of what made Xavier so unique, so amazing on those special days, just died. Maybe we're all afraid that this is the end.
But it isn't. That's the thing about sports, it's never the end. It wasn't the end for SMU when they got the death penalty, they're back. It wasn't the end for Loyola Marymount when Hank Gathers died playing ball. Instead, his best friend shot free throws left handed and a bunch of grown men all got dust in their eyes at the same time. No, this isn't the end. It isn't the end because Semaj Christon is electric, because I firmly believe Chris Mack will have his team convinced no one respects them. It isn't the end because Brad Redford didn't pout when Dez was officially gone, he just closed his workout by making 50 straight three pointers. It's not the end because too many people care too much for a closed minded few to ruin it. I'll be back at the Cintas Center this year. I'll be sitting in my seat with a bottle of water, the same way I have for years. Why? Because the best part of the gameday experience, to me, is hope.