Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't Blink & Miss Life Pass You By

Thank you David Glenn for this small but oh so important little follow-up after Tech's loss to Duke:

In the final moments of the Yellow Jackets' quarterfinal loss to Duke, senior forward Jeremis Smith and senior guard Anthony Morrow had tears in their eyes as they came off the court for the last time as collegians. They briefly hugged Tech coach Paul Hewitt, then went down the line and embraced each of their assistant coaches, teammates and members of the support staff. At the end, Smith and Morrow turned to each other and came together in a tight, both-arms, full-bodied, tears-flowing bear-hug, holding it for maybe 20 seconds as the game's buzzer sounded.

Smith, a powerful 6-8, 236-pounder with spider-web shoulder tattoos and a gregarious personality, must have left quite an impression — beyond basketball — during his four-year career. As the game ended, ACC officials Mike Eades and Ray Natili approached Smith with smiles on their faces, offered him a few words, and hugged him. (Imagine the reaction if that had occurred with a Duke or UNC player!) In the two teams' postgame handshake line, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took extra time to speak with Smith.

On an otherwise sad day for Smith, did the details of the final moments of his college career offer him a silver lining?

"I'm glad you asked me that question, because it meant a lot to me," Smith said. "I know most people just see us as basketball players, but we're people first, and that's something I've always tried to keep in mind when I deal with other people, in every area of life. What you saw out there was four years of relationships, four years of fighting through adversity, four years of success and failure and everything in between. That's what life is all about, right? That's what was so emotional about it.

"I'm the type of guy who builds relationships. I love my coaches and teammates, and it's about more than basketball. I don't like every call the refs make, but I always try to remember that they're people, and they have a hard job to do, and I've built good relationships with them. I'm trying to beat those guys on the other team, but they're people, too. You can play hard and try to win and try to beat them and still remember that they're people.

"This is a hard day for me, sort of the end of a difficult but great chapter of my life. That's why you see my eyes are so red right now. But that stuff? The hugs? My teammates? Coach Hewitt? Coach K? The refs? That kind of stuff brings a smile to my face, even though it's a sad day, too."

The message for me - success is not strictly defined by wins and losses. I can't forget the student-athletes and their sacrifice. I shouldn't lament why we "missed" on some kids. Embrace the ones who chose to hook up their wagons to the Ramblin Wreck for four years. Appreciate the effort, the sacrifice, the relationships and don't define the era strictly by the record. This team lost 3 guys to the NBA. This team lost 2 others to transfers. This team lost their best inside player to a medical redshirt. Yet this team was a few key baskets away from an 18-20 wins season. They did well with tremendous adversity, finding within themselves how to translate effort into more consistent winning at the most important part of the season.

So kudos to the seniors, and we look forward to seeing those who remain. While we won't know what next year brings, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful. It will also be extremely easy to sit back and take pot-shots. It always is for us arm-chair generals.

Anyhow, thanks David Glenn, for reporting about the human side of the game, which most reporters have gotten too lazy to even care about.