First of all, I'd like to thank every person who e-mailed, tweeted, and suggested ideas in the comments. Also thank you to every person who commented, said they enjoyed the series, or sent along a correction to one of my posts. It was a pretty long 50 days and there were many nights I was feverishly working at about 2 AM wondering if I was going to have something for the next day.
But with the end of the preseason coverage comes the beginning of the regular season coverage. Granted tonight's game is just an exhibition, but it is still the tip off of a new year. While the expectations aren't going to be too high in Lawrence this year, it doesn't matter. College basketball is back.
My first year as a Jayhawks fan was when I was in 5th grade. I had always been a fan of the sport in general, but didn't really have a favorite team. That all changed when a short, skinny white kid from Valley City, North Dakota committed to play for the Jayhawks. From Jeff Boschee's first game, I was hooked. I remember in his Sophomore year when I taped the Great Alaska Shootout (as in on VHS. Remember those?) and would get up at about 7 AM over Thanksgiving break to watch the games. (fun fact: the 1999 Great Alaska Shootout won by Kansas is the only one in which the mens and womens winner were from the same school).
When I was in 8th grade, Kansas lost to Maryland in the final four. It was Boschee's last game of his career. I was crushed. I cried and slept in his jersey that night. Privately, I wondered how much of a fan I would be with Boschee gone. How silly I was back then. He had introduced me to Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, one of the most legendary combos in KU history. He introduced me to Allen Fieldhouse, one of the best arenas in all of sport. And eventually he introduced me to RCT and the Jayhawk family in general, a group I could not be more proud to be a part of. It wasn't the end of my KU journey; it was the beginning.
The next year I recorded the Elite 8 game against Arizona, and it is still the last sporting event I have recorded and then successfully avoided finding out the ending to it. In retrospect, I should have just looked up the score because I about had a heart attack. A week later, I sat in the same position while Kansas mounted a valiant comeback against Syracuse, hoping that I could will them to victory by not moving. Sadly, it was not meant to be. I then promptly told Roy Williams I don't give a shit about North Carolina either. Only one of us was telling the truth.
Then, Kansas basketball almost killed me. Not in the way that "oh those two first round losses are going to drive me to suicide hahahaha joke joke" kill me, but actually kill me. In the week before the NCAA tournament in 2007 I got my tonsils out. The procedure I got was designed to reduce pain in recovery, and reduce the recovery time. As part of my recovery, I wasn't supposed to exert myself, lest I increase blood flow to my head too much and cause a re-bleed. The next week, this game happened. To this day I'm not 100% sure if the game was the cause of it, but I do know that I was swearing and jumping up and down and eventually spitting up and then puking blood, requiring emergency surgery at 3 in the morning. I lost basically the maximum amount of blood that I could without being in real danger. Of course, it was all for naught as Kansas lost to UCLA in the Elite 8 anyways. (I am still peeved that they had to play a road game in the Elite 8 as the #1 seed. What a bunch of horseshit.)
Then, it was all worth it. 5 and 6 years after I had sat in the same position, not daring to move as KU attempted a furious comeback, and crying after the game, I did it again. But this time, as we all know, it was different. Only my three roommates my Sophomore year of college, but my reaction when Chalmers hit the tying three was to sit there in silence. I'm not sure if I was so surprised because I had flashed back to the Oklahoma State game when Kansas needed a three to win and didn't get it, or because I was so certain that if I jumped around and shouted, Dozier's half court heave would most assuredly had gone in the basket.
The one constant is that regardless of how the seasons have finished, the disappointment is short lived (or non-existent in one glorious year) and instead is merely replaced by a yearning for the following year. And so it will be when Kansas is eliminated from the NCAA tournament next March. And KU most assuredly will be eliminated next March. I'm not sure if it will be on the first, second, or if I am allowed to dream, third weekend, but it is about 99.9% probable that we won't be cheering on the national champions. My simple advice would be not to worry about that and instead listen to Bill Self. Enjoy the process. For the first time in a long time the Jayhawks aren't expected to mow down everyone in their path. An NCAA tournament loss won't be shocking.
The last year Kansas was supposed to be "down" was 2009. They lost to UMass (UMass!), and all hope looked to be lost as they fell out of the top 25. We all know what happened next, as Bill Self (with some help from Sherron and Cole) pulled a rabbit out of the hat and won the Big 12. Again. They ended up a play or two away from the Elite 8. They ended up losing by 5 to a Michigan State team that made the national championship game and had beaten the Jayhawks by 13 earlier in the year (and the game wasn't even that close, as they led by 18 before garbage time started). That was also the year I found RCT, and it ended up being one of my favorite years of Jayhawk fandom.
Tonight, it starts again.