The question grew rather tiresome throughout the course of the season. “Is this the last year you’ll be making all the games?”
I’d heard it each of the previous two seasons, but this year it came with a bit of assumption tied to that curly question mark. As if my friends and acquaintances simply expected the 2009-10 year to be the big finish.
And why not? When writing about a college team, four years feels like a natural length, a fitting time frame to follow one group of players around the country and document their trials and growths. Throw in the fact that this year was supposed to be magical, that this team could finally be The One……well, you could almost feel like my inquisitors hoped I’d be witness to a storybook ending.
Somewhere along the way, that all went to hell. It was certainly long after the team’s brief stay at No. 1 in the national rankings, but also well before they crashed and burned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But while those hopes and dreams were plummeting to Earth, that damned question changed, too. No longer were people asking me if I was going to end things at a natural stopping point. Now people were asking the question as if they thought I needed to be put out of my misery.
It seemed a bit fitting that the season ended with a buzzer-beater loss that left me staring blankly at the court in New Orleans Arena. After all, the third contest in this crazy 150-game journey ended with Kenton Paulino‘s three-pointer at the horn in the 2006 Sweet Sixteen. So while that buzzer-beating win and this buzzer-beating loss weren’t quite perfectly-mirrored bookends to a four-year quest, they were certainly close enough.
Standing in that ugly arena, with absolutely nothing to look forward to, I suddenly started to laugh. I couldn’t help but picture Rick Barnes as a poor, beleaguered soul, helplessly bailing water out of a tiny rowboat that kept springing leaks. For whatever reason, my mind latched on to this image as the metaphor for the season, and the interminable nine-hour drive back to Austin gave me ample opportunity to flesh it out.
Peter Bean of the fabulous Burnt Orange Nation tried pinning down the team’s troubles sometime in mid-February. I remember reading it on a tiny cell phone screen in the wee hours of the morning as I traveled to Missouri, back from Lubbock, or on the way to some other equally-thrilling locale. The details are murky, as this Season of Suck eventually blended together into one bloody mess.
The thrust of that rambling paragraph, however, was supposed to be that Peter tried to chronologically chart the different problems Texas had faced and he couldn’t even make it past November before his fingers fell off. As he tried to document, the Longhorns were simply unable to play two consecutive games without having something go wrong. Fix one issue, and something else would crop up. Remedy that problem, and an older one would enter the picture again.
This constant juggling act was the storyline of the season, and it left fans with little confidence and little optimism. When the team finally started making free throws, the offense was otherwise useless. They would play good defense, and suddenly the team couldn’t rebound. Sometimes, all the issues even came together to make a beautiful disaster like the 732-0 run the Longhorns allowed Kansas to piece together on February 8th.
It’s been nearly impossible for me to sit down and get any words written that have any flow whatsoever. I’d even make the case that this exercise in summation is failing miserably, as well. Now, more than a week since the bitter pill of 2009-10 was finally crammed down our throats for the last time, I still haven’t been able to swallow the damned thing. How can one possibly be expected to encapsulate such a messy, enigmatic season in 1,000 words or less?
The confounding nature of this season has led to hundreds of theories from fans and pundits across the country. Texas fans — always known for bellowing loudly anytime their team isn’t playing for championships — immediately latched on to the “Fire Rick Barnes” bandwagon. Others blamed an overwhelmed freshman class and its alleged “me-first” attitude. Still others laid it at the feet of senior leaders Damion James and Dexter Pittman. The only people who seemed to escape the barbs and vitriol were Shawn Williams and Varez Ward, who spent most of the season in sweatshirts and jumpsuits.
That uncertainty is spilling into the offseason, and it leaves the outlook cloudy and questionable. Which of the freshmen will return to the team? Is Dogus Balbay going back to Turkey after another knee injury? Will Texas actually land point-guard prospect Cory Joseph? Add in the restless fanbase with its itchy trigger finger, and 2010-11 seems like it will be a bellwether year for the Longhorn program.
So that brings us back to The Question. The damned, incessant question that I’ve had to hear for the last three years. And to be quite honest, I still don’t have an answer. I’m planning on making it to L.A. and New York for the games in November and December. I wouldn’t miss another trip to Allen Fieldhouse. And if the road game at the Breslin Center actually happens, it would take an act of God to keep me out of the arena.
But the truth of the matter is that I’m getting older, the bank account is getting smaller, and it gets a little harder each time I see a random Wednesday trip to the middle of a cornfield in Iowa or Nebraska. I’ve got designs on spinning this site into something with a little more national appeal, but funding issues and “real world” concerns are but a few of the hurdles standing in my way.
So, go ahead. Ask me that question one more time. We both know that my heart will always belong in the gym. We’ll just have to see how much longer I travel down this burnt-orange road.
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