By DEVERIN MUFF
The season for the basketball team came to a close in St. Louis, but not without a fight. We were selected to play Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
After selection Sunday, we began to prepare, in what were some of the toughest practices we’ve had in a while. Although the practices were tough, I think our team had the most fun of the practices because we all saw the light at the end of the tunnel–and it was on the biggest stage in college basketball.
On the Wednesday before we left for St. Louis, fans and journalists came out to meet and talk. President Benson even stopped by to wish us good luck and to take one of his signature selfies with the team.
We traveled by plane, one commissioned just for the players, band members, cheerleaders and sports administration employees. We players sat first class and had as much Gatorade as we wanted, which was pretty cool because Gatorade is usually handed-out sparsely on the road.
When we landed in St. Louis, a bus greeted us as soon as we got off of the plane. To make the bus ride to the hotel even more memorable, we watched videos of highlights from previous years’ NCAA tournaments.
Arriving at the hotel also was special because a group of elementary kids chanted “EKU! EKU!” over and over, just like the local fans did when we got back to Richmond after the OVC tournament.
The hotel room was one of the biggest I’ve stayed in since I’ve been in college. Directly outside our room was a view of the Gateway Arch that St. Louis is famous for.
We had two practices the next day. The first was closed to the public. The second practice, however, was open for the media and fans to attend. Police escorted us to the second practice in the Scottrade Center. We arrived at the arena early so that some of the players could handle media responsibilities. While Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden and Eric Stutz handled the press conference, other journalists and reporters came into the locker room to ask questions of some of the other players. I was actually interviewed by a student writer from Kansas University about this column, which was not something I ever expected to happen.
When it was time for the open practice, hundreds of fans came to watch the team shoot around (aka being dazzled by Marcus’ dunks). It seemed like photographers snapped every movement and every shot. At the end of the practice, we got together for a team picture and shortly after we hopped back on the bus and went to the hotel.
Game day felt like the longest day ever. I had been waiting on this day for two weeks. The anticipation was agonizing. We waited in the hotel for what seemed like days.
The atmosphere at the game was incredible. So many fans came out to support us. I know a lot of my teammates appreciated the fans who drove and traveled by bus to the game. Our fans were standing for the entire game and never quieted down until the last seconds had ticked off the clock.
Another cool part about the NCAA tournament is that fans from other teams, who are in that same city, also cheer for other teams they want to win. So while the game was going on, not only did we receive support from our fans, but also from fans from New Mexico and Stanford, who were awaiting their game.
The game’s result was not what we wanted, but all of us would agree that we played hard and competed to the best of our ability and left it all out on the court. The realization that this was the last time I will play with six of our seniors in an Eastern Kentucky uniform was tough to bear. But I wouldn’t want to go out any other way, competing and taking on a challenge the best we can.
From the moment we landed in St. Louis, we were treated like rock stars. And I will remember this weekend for the rest of my life.