Sports fans like comparisons. It’s a way of making sense and applying literary fortitude to an activity that essentially is 10 men playing with a rubber ball.
It’s easy to compare this team to our 2011 victors. An experienced, Cousy-winning point guard carried his team on his back as a lanky swingman found his rhythm at the right time. A freshman point guard played valuable minutes. UConn ended up playing a No. 8 seed in the finals that happened beat a good Wisconsin team on their way there. The parallels write themselves.
But that’s not fair.
Around 9 p.m. on Monday night, the 2014 team took the floor for the last time. Shabazz Napier played his last game in the white-and-blue jersey with red trim, as did Tyler, Tor and Niels. We’ll probably say goodbye to DeAndre too.
We owe it to each of them to celebrate this team singularly.
This was a team that beat even the loftiest of expectations from every other UConn fan out there, including myself. This was a team that beat the No. 2 seed, the No. 3 seed, the No. 4 seed that beat a No. 1 seed, and then the overall No. 1 seed – in a row. They then held off a young, massive Kentucky team that more resembled the MonStars than a team of freshmen.
This was a team lead by, until this March, an untested and young coach in Kevin Ollie. A team that was banned from the playoffs last year. That was left in the dust by conference realignment. Abandoned by some of its players. Weakened.
But this team won. And it won like no other team before it ever had.
I’m not a numbers guy. I can’t tell you why these six wins are unlike the six that preceded it in an infographic or an excel spreadsheet. Words are even failing me at this instance, still emotionally buzzed from running around my house screaming like Khalid in ‘99. But any UConn fan could tell you, there was something special about the way this team united.
Their belief in brotherhood and oneness, a philosophy our coach pontificated about endlessly, was palpable. When Shabazz shoved Ryan Boatright during a confusion on an offensive set, it wasn’t out of anger or frustration, it was a demanding of the best from one Husky to another. Whenever Kentucky, Michigan State, or Florida clawed back, someone would step up when his number was called to pull away.
In a time when a lot was cloudy for UConn fans, and in time where weaker men would question and falter, these players came together and dedicated themselves to the University.
And we should celebrate them for that.