Coale: As Good as it Gets
|The Write Space and Time|
April 10, 2013 -- The membrane was just too thin. The stories were everywhere, and they were great stories. I just couldn't tell them. Not while they were happening anyway. I was afraid if I wrote, I'd prick what little protective covering we had left and we'd leak all around the room in a form too liquid to pick up. So I just trudged on trying not to think too much about any of it. "Right foot. Left foot. Breathe..." I just woke up every day and followed that drumbeat over the mountain and through the woods of this season.
And we wound up here in the land of as good as it gets.
In August, I thought we could become a great team. I loved our depth. I loved the competitive air in our gym every day. I marveled at our heartbeat. We had options; we had scorers; we had presence at every position on the floor. And we had Whitney Hand! We could do whatever we worked hard enough to earn. The Final Four, for us, was way more than a cool thing to talk about. It was a realistic target that we were bound and determined to land on. Nothing was out of the question for this collection of kids.
Then the world began to turn.
They say the dead time between stimulus and response is when decisions are made. Nanosecond after nanosecond we get to choose. And the choices we make, of course, define us. Therein lies the story of our year.
Our team won 24 games this season. We finished third in the Big 12 Conference, earned our 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and went to our program's 10th Sweet 16. We didn't win a championship -- the best in the land was crowned last night in New Orleans -- but I have never been more proud of a team in all my life.
Day after day, week after week, our kids just kept showing up. Injured players stayed immersed, despite their gaping emotional wounds. Healthy players gave themselves permission to be more than they once imagined they could be. And courage oozed at every turn. Sometimes we played scared. Sometimes we played tired. Sometimes we played numb. Sometimes we played inspired. And on occasion, in a wow sort of way that you feel in the marrow of your bones, we were great. Nobody can ever take that away.
Crazy thing is, you don't get there to THAT without the long and winding treacherous road.
In the movie "Lincoln," our country's 16th President said, "A compass will point to true north from where you're standing but it's got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms you'll encounter along the way." I remember watching that on pay per view in a random hotel somewhere along the journey of this year and saying aloud, "Could I get an `Amen,' please?"
Then I paused for a prayer of gratitude for the compass, the "why we do what we do" that would ultimately lead us out of the forest to this place that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Because here on the other side of the land mines stands a muddy, torn and tattered crew whose stature casts long shadows. Looking back I can see clearly how they all got so big so fast, their insides so developed, their substance so palpable.
They grew because the road demanded that they grow. Life provided a stimulus, they made a choice, and the response was substance.
We all got here to this remarkable place painstakingly, one scary, tough decision at a time. We are here because when we came to a chasm, Jas jumped and we all crawled across her back to the other side. And we are here because when the swamp threatened our progress, Jo dove in and pulled us one by one to dry ground. We are here because when the sun of the desert scorched us and there seemed to be no cover anywhere, Vegas would make it rain. And we stand here, a changed-for-the-better collection of ordinary people who became extraordinary together because four guys who would give anything to play but couldn't, kept holding the needle steady for us to see.
Getting here wasn't an accident. Getting here was a decision, a right decision made over and over and over again by a bunch of kids who kept following true north .
In the press room after our regional semifinal loss to Tennessee, Sharane Campbell sat at the dais and spoke about all she had learned. She spoke about how Whit had taught her to lead, and Lyns had taught her to show emotion, and Jas had taught her to guard, and Jo had taught her to fight. But it was how she said what she said that struck me. She knew who she was. She knew what she wanted. And she knew what she was going to do about it. She had become.
And so had every soul sitting in that locker room. Ahh...the land of as good as it gets. The place where you feel everything and it reminds you how lucky you are to be alive.
Funny how a season never turns out like you think it will. Sometimes it ends up better than you could have ever imagined.