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I can’t stop smiling

Last night was the most fun Xavier basketball has been in a long time.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Phoenix Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Xavier basketball hasn’t always been a ton of fun the last few years. That’s not anyone on the team’s fault, by the way, they’ve all gotten out there and gone at it hammer and tongs. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always ended in success. That started to change with Sean Miller being named coach again and then an incredible run through the NIT.

Last night felt like a cleansing. BJ Raymond for three and then a memorable run straight back off the court will be the crowning moment, but so many incredible things happened.

Dee Davis, at first underappreciated and then beloved while he was at Xavier, threw a no look alley oop to Kaiser Gates, who left school early and didn’t get that finish to his time at X. Dee has been all over recently, speaking out about racism in the country and marching with Paul Scruggs in Indiana. He also put this team together and the respect they clearly have for him is evident. I’ll admit to getting a bit misty seeing him out there again.

JP Macura was back and also throwing no look lobs. On the other end of his, but not dunking it, was Matt Stainbrook. Stainbrook came to Xavier carrying too much timber and a fantastic attitude. He started working hard and has since become notably slender but still with that same great attitude. Stainbrook’s work in the paint is still almost balletic. He’s big, strong, and graceful. His spin move in the second half was almost a Shammgod for big men. Seeing he and Dee back out there together was fantastic.

Kerem Kanter, who has led the Greek league in scoring, rebounding, and PIR, and led the Euro Cup in rebounding as well. was back and fit and firing. Trevon Bluiett has fought injury and added a bit more of himself to love, but his three point stroke remains pure at the Cintas. He and JP took pictures with a lot of fans afterward.

How about Justin Martin? He still looks like the world around him is moving a bit faster than he would care for it to, but he is trim and played some great defense (something not a lot of the team bothered with) last night. His shock blue tights and shirt would have fit in perfectly with the running man uniforms. His transition three up 30 fit in perfectly with the Zip Em Up attitude.

How many guys on this team can dunk anymore? Kaiser Gates definitely can. He spent large portions of the game well above the rim, cramming home lobs, alley oops, and just regular dunks. Gates has floated right on the edge of the NBA for some time, hopefully he finds a place soon.

All of the basketball and the stats and what actually happened doesn’t quite catch the vibe of last night, though. It was like catching up. The nice thing about close family and good friends is you can be apart for six months and instantly start talking again like you were together yesterday. This felt like that. Dee’s signature way of moving the ball up the floor, Tre hunting space, JP doing everything, Matt Stainbrook with an artisan’s approach in the paint, it all felt like home. Semaj Christon? He’s still caged lightning.

Maybe this all ends against a very good Sideline Cancer team, maybe Zip Em Up keeps riding that crowd all the way through the region. Regardless, we’ll always have last night, and that was about as good as it gets.