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  • Michael

Nolo Contendere...

How do you accept finality when there is no end? That’s the question that has been bouncing around my head. It's not the way basketball works, and certainly not the NCAA tournament. There are winners and losers. Statistics. Always measurements. Some are obvious--points, rebounds, assists--and others are more esoteric and analytical. Regardless, there is calculation involved in this beautiful game we all love.

We revel in the highlights and the grace and the guts and the unscripted moments of wonder that pull us out of our chairs and bring tears to our eyes and we never want it to end, but the math tells us when it's over. The end. Five fouls and the Supreme Court cannot help you.

When the middle of the scoreboard shows quad zeroes you can stop counting. It is time for the reckoning. Score more points, play on. Fewer points, the end. The players and coaches are keenly aware of the acrid stench of that buzzer.

The Gonzaga/UCLA game proved that reality. It was 45 beautiful minutes of basketball. It was a perfect game, inclusive of its imperfections. It created an emotional investment with two teams of which we, unless you have a random direct connection, have no connection. But they weren't going to play forever, no matter how much we wished and no matter many times we glanced at the real world clock creeping ever later.

It was ending. There is always the moment of reckoning. This time we were treated to the electricity of the buzzer with the ball in midair, victory or five more minutes (!!!) clinging to the rotation of the orb and the physical marriage of arc, distance, and velocity.

Tonight brings us to the end of the college basketball season. There is always an end.

Except when there's not.

VCU didn't get the honor of the math nor the respect of the end. It's like finding a $100 gift certificate in your junk drawer to a store that is now out of business. You have something of value, but then again you don't. I could accept the season ending if VCU lost to Oregon by one point or by 31 points because things happen. Sometimes those things are very bad things.

It's a hollow feeling that rings loudly in our ears. Within every ending are the "what if" moments that lead to the end. A three that rattles out instead of in. A 50/50 charge/block call. A missed front end. We are deprived of both the end and the what if scenarios because nothing happened. Nolo contendere.

We're three weeks out and we're moving forward but I'm not yet willing to admit I've accepted the season ending. Maybe it's because the tournament has been so incredible. Maybe I get there tonight after Baylor or Gonzaga look for ladders and scissors. Maybe I'm already there and the UCLA/Gonzaga game is also our end. The First Four to Final Four team. The long-ago mid-major. A beautiful game with an end. The video of Bill Walton, watching that end sequence, standing, then an empty smile and slow clap. I loved that reaction, in all its finality and appreciation. It was every emotion we didn't get to share.

But the funny things is that it really it isn't even about us. We move on to the chicanery and mundanity of our lives. Summer is coming. There's hope in the health of the world. We hear the familiar pings of recruiting, and the unfamiliar ones brought about by the free year given to players by the NCAA that has caused transfer portal chaos. We love it and it's our passion but that group--mainly the players and coaches, but everyone in that VCU Tier 1 group--is where our thoughts should turn. They continue to make real life decisions with the same hollow in their hearts that they held no hand in their own joy and sorrow of this great tournament in this incredible sport.

I will say I've moved on that it happened. I don't know and I don't care how. It happened and the blame game is useless. I'm not an investigative reporter and besides, a month of phone calls and tracking and tracing and interviews and conformations would net us exactly what, other than being one month older and less happy? I don't need my feelings validated.

It's just weird. I'm prepared to celebrate the season--and what an incredible season. I'm very much anti-"best of" lists because nothing exists in its own vacuum. However I can safely say that in every conversation from this day forward about which VCU team did you love the most, this team gets the majority of the sentences.

And forget the "picked ninth place" and all that hoo-hah. I'm not talking about that. This team was a beacon, a light in a world that was shoving negativity down our throat with a backhoe. From covid to politics to zoom calls to dealing with aging parents to whatever else, discombobulation and internal malaise was never far.

Yet while all those things were against us, this team was for us. How they responded to each other and played for each other and the coaching staff. Hit-ahead passes and lob dunks and smiles and swagger. This was a vintage VCU vibe, a team, a love. They made us smile, at least for two hours and many times much longer.

I thank them for that; truly, if you are in that Tier 1 group and you've read this far I thank you. I will never forget their joy. Their love. And what they gave us.

And for all your emotion--the angst, anger, wistfulness, blame, sadness, joy--there's a final parallel to Jalen Suggs. Whether his shot banked in or glanced out, it didn't mar the 44:59 that preceded his rise and fire.

Nor should VCUs no contest mar what was a beautiful season that ended with a reached goal--the big dance. All of it. That's what I'll take forward.

Maybe I am ready to move on.


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