There comes a moment in the life of every amateur basketball player, from those who barely scrape together minutes in high school to those who play only for a year at UK, when the dream comes to an end. The horn sounds with a blaring finality that signals there are no second half comebacks, no miracles at the buzzer, no practice tomorrow. It is over. The thing that you so desperately love, that has defined your life for six months, or all year, or since your dad put a basketball into your crib, is done in two seconds of electronic noise. All of the sudden, there is only a hole.
It would be hard on any adult to suddenly yank away the one thing in life that they care deeply enough about to dedicate their every waking moment to, but consider for a moment that the guys who trudged tearfully off the court for Xavier last night are adults only in the legal sense of the word. To a lot of us, they are kids. Supremely talented kids, yes. Kids who are forced to grow up rapidly in the spotlight of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, yes, but kids nonetheless. Given everything that life in general throws at you between the ages of 18 and 22, it seems almost cruel that what can be the biggest jolt of all plays out in front of a national audience.
And that brings us to Trevon Bluiett. When the horn sounded yesterday the cameras caught Tre in the corner of the court. Undoubtedly exhausted emotionally as well as physically, he doubled over crying as the Bulldog celebration swarmed around him. While that’s an understandable reaction from a young man watching a large group of other young men get to live his dream, it’s a hard last image of Trevon to accept, because he deserves to be recognized for far more than that.
When Bluiett went down against Villanova, his team collapsed. As he tried desperately to rehab an ankle injury that required a walking boot and crutches, Xavier slid from a lock, to on the bubble, to needing to beat one of the nation’s top 25 teams to have any chance. Still noticeably hobbling at times, and playing on a leg even he described as only 80%, Tre went to work. He poured in 23, including the dagger, against Butler. Xavier fell to Creighton next, but a guy who couldn’t always walk without a limp gutted out 39 minutes. When Xavier was finally selected for the tournament, that meant Trevon had less than six days between elimination games to try to get right.
When Xavier stepped on the court as an #11 seed the recognized knowledge was that they would go as far as Tre carried them. He certainly got help, but Bluiett threw the team on his back and went to work. While everyone else shot 4-13 behind the arc against the Terps, Tre went 5-10 and scored 18 second half points to blow open a tight game. Against Florida St. almost no one gave the Musketeers much of a chance at all, and Trevon responded with 29/6/3 against a team that supposedly was going to be athletic enough to bully him out of his game. Instead, he torched them with jumpers and, once they started to close harder, baited them into fouling him. Xavier was making a run, and Trevon, essentially a month after not being able to walk on his own power, was the one keying it.
And then came Arizona. If The Seminoles couldn’t shut down Xavier and their one remaining NBA prospect, surely one of the kings of the Pac 12 could. That wasn’t the case. Xavier struggled out of the gate as a team, but Trevon here did his best work in this unlikely run, scoring 18 points on a perfect 7-7 from the floor in the opening half to keep X in touching distance. Before the game Trevon had written “we feel like we can compete with anybody,” and now he was the one proving it. His team rallied in the second half, but it was still Bluiett who keyed the incredible 9-0 run for the win with a three pointer from the corner.
Yesterday, Tre’s legs finally gave out on him. Harassed by a team possessed of increible length and still not even six weeks out from his injury, he never got things rolling. Even in defeat, he gave 38 minutes of all out effort and led the team in defensive rebounds. at the end, though, that didn’t matter to him. Alone, in the corner, he came to grips with the fact the dream had died. That’s not the way to remember this run though. Instead remember that, for two weeks on an injured leg, Trevon Bluiett played the kind of basketball that makes this the dream.