Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Love for KU, as forged by playing in Basketball Band

There are 4 things that I truly love in this world:

My Family
The University of Kansas, most notably KU Basketball

I don't expect anybody to ever understand the last one on that list. There's a bond that was forged back in 1995 that continues as strong--if not stronger--to this day.

You see, every year I was @ KU I was in the Men's Basketball Band. I played at every home basketball game and traveled with the band to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournaments each year. I was spoiled. I came to expect that we would go to The Dance and with the exception of maybe 1 year KU was one of the 3-4 teams that the experts had picked to make a run to the Final Four. We never made the Final Four. In fact, in all but 1 year, KU was bounced in the round of 8 or earlier. So, you might say that the entire basketball experience was a disappointment but it was anything but. I'm a big "enjoy the journey, not the destination" sort of guy and the journey was filled with some pretty incredible moments that solidified my love for the University and the tradition of KU Basketball.

After a stinging loss to Rhode Island, their band had just finished playing some song and were celebrating wildly and we began to play our Alma Mater. About 3/4 through the song Rhode Island's band began playing some song (you're supposed to alternate playing songs); a shitty arrangement of an even shittier 70's or 80's uptempo tune, like Celebrate by Kool and the Gang. When we had finished and began packing our stuff I stormed to the other side of the court and got in the director's face and said "you're a f*cking no class asshole and you, your band and your University can go to hell..." He barked back at me and didn't think it was such a big deal to interrupt us during our alma mater and said I was out of line and their interruption showed no disrespect, which pretty much proved my point. After a generous middle finger and a few more pleasantries exchanged with him and other Rhode Island band folk I went back to mourn the loss and disappointment.

After that same loss I was standing with the rest of the band in the tunnel underneath the stands and Roy Williams exited the press room, tears flowing (as had become a common fixture of Roy Williams in the NCAA Tournament) and he walked towards us and shook our hands and as he shook my hand he looked me straight in the eyes with extreme sorrow and said "I'm sorry I let you down..." Jesus. Here's this guy who I looked up to as one of the greatest college coaches ever and he's sorry he let me down? Ugh...that was heavy.

Several years later when Roy bailed on KU to leave for UNC days after our loss in the national championship game to Syracuse, I wrote him a letter and told him that this time I was sorry he let me down. That's the kind of love and passion I have for Kansas Basketball...

In some way--large or small--I felt like a part of the tradition of the excellence that is KU Basketball and the University. I played a role in making the basketball experience a memorable one for each and every one of those players, coaches and fans. Allen Fieldhouse is a sort of place of worship for me. There were some incredible memories in that building, some tears of joy and sorrow and a lot of love shared by the rest of the people that were a part of that tradition both on and off the court, especially the countless friendships forged through playing in bball band.

When KU won the National Championship in 2008 I cried my brains out. Why? Because I was a part of that tradition. I helped make KU what it was in 2008 (however minuscule my impact may have been) and all my love and devotion to KU that had gone unfulfilled with a National Championship while I was there had finally come to fruition. I'd love to win that thing every year but even just winning it that 1 time was unbelievably special.

For all those reasons and hundreds more to list, I take anything KU very personally. Their loss in the 2nd round this past weekend was extremely difficult to handle. They were so good. They were hands down the best team @ KU in the past 15 years I've been a Jayhawk and head and shoulders better than any other team in the NCAA. Are they any worse of a team now? No way. The NCAA Tournament proves that the "best" team rarely wins. I'm extremely disappointed with their effort and that's what hurts. Had they played like they did in all but maybe 2 or 3 games this year there's not a team in the NCAA that can touch them. Sadly, they were out-hustled and outplayed by a team with nothing to lose and an incredible amount of luck on their side, which scrappy teams like UNI need to win games and I applaud them for their efforts; they deserved to win. It wasn't KU's day, plain and simple, and it came at the most inopportune time.

So, for all the KU haters out there... Ya know what: you're right that KU totally screwed the pooch; have your fun. But realize in the process that you're proving you're no different than Rhode Island's band: classless. Oh don't get me wrong, I loathe MU but I save that for when we meet. I'll talk all the shit I can when KU/MU meet or we play some other rival but any other time I'll keep my mouth shut, save for the funny harmless little joke here and there...but no hate. Hell, every year during the NCAA's I root for ALL Big 12 teams and their success until we meet (including MU); then I'm ready to kick your ass. We're all on the same team (Big 12) and what's the point in rooting for some other team's demise if you're not playing them?

I guess maybe I hold KU to a higher standard; one that's respectful of rivals, that doesn't engage in pointless mockery and hate for the purpose of being...well, hateful. KU always has and always will be the good guy and the good guy knows when his opponent is defeated and let's them stew in their misery, alone. I root FOR KU not against MU or some other team; that's a big distinction of school pride that I think is lost on many people out there and that's too bad. There's a finite amount of energy out there, so why waste it on all the negativity?

In the end, I'm proud to be a Jayhawk; to be part of a tradition of excellence that's enviable enough that rivals and jealous folks feel it necessary to point out at every misstep that you failed, whilst ignoring their own traditions of mediocrity, jealousy and hate. It was a really fun season to watch with an extremely disappointing ending but that's how it goes sometimes. I'm excited for next year and every year of KU Basketball, no matter the expectations or outcome, because KU Basketball is more than just X's and O's...it's all about LOVE.



Rick said...

Mills...Great read... I am forwarding this to a few of my MU friends, because they just don't get it. They don't understand the respect and graciousness that comes with being one of the best. Treating others as you want to be treated doesn't seem to be included in the "MU guide to fandom".

I miss it so terribly much. Many wish they could go back in time to meet someone famous or be present at some historic event...I would use my time machine ticket to return to the KU Men's Basketball Band.

Rock Chalk!


Anonymous said...

"I am Jayhawk born and Jayhawk bred, and when I'm gone I'll be Jayhawk dead." Nothing makes those words ring true quite like being in the basketball band. Great read. Rock Chalk!

Ann Reed '98

Sarah N said...

Wonderfully written, Bryan. Few people understand the way I feel about KU and KU Basketball. It's always great to know I'm part of a special group that feels the way I do.