Stan Bonewitz experienced the pinnacle of Texas Tech basketball.
The Red Raider program has visited the Sweet 16 several times, but there was something a little bit extra about the team that did it in 1995-1996.
Playing in the final season of the venerable Southwest Conference, the freshman Bonewitz and his elder basketball brethren blazed through the SWC undefeated, won the conference tournament and earned a number three seed in the NCAA tournament.
They had only one blemish on their record, a narrow defeat at the hands of Eastern Michigan, as they hit the Dance floor. And after squeaking past Northern Illinois, the Red Raiders trounced Dean Smith's North Carolina Tarheels, a victory punctuated by Darvin Ham's backboard-shattering jam.
The Red Raiders fell by eight to Georgetown in the Sweet 16, but by then the team had established itself as probably the most colorful and beloved of any in program history.
Bonewitz, who now has his Concordia basketball team one win away from the Division III Sweet 16, recalls the '95-6 team like it was yesterday, even though it is 17 years on.
"A combination of things made that team special," says Bonewitz.
"First of all the team was very talented. There were several guys on that team who would go on to have successful professional careers both in the NBA and overseas."
"The team also had great senior leadership. Guys like Jason Sasser, Koy Smith, Darvin Ham, and Jason Martin did a great job of making sure our team was ready to play every night."
"And of course the coaches did a great job of prepping us daily in practice and made sure we were prepared to play every opponent that we matched up with that season."
Given the team's talent, it was practically a given that incoming freshmen, even those as gifted as Bonewitz, wouldn't make a huge impact early. Bonewitz was Texas' High School Player of the Year in 1994-5, but playing on a Division I team that would prove to be one of the best in the nation, was a major step up. And the experience left its mark on the San Antonio native.
"It was very humbling as a player to be a part of that team," admits Bonewitz.
"I was coming off a season in which my high school team had experienced a 35-0 season, won a 5A state championship in the state of Texas, and I was the MVP of the tourney, and I couldn't get on the floor for any real significant minutes early in the season."
"It made me realize that I had a lot of work to do and that even though I had experienced some success as a player, there was still a ton of work I needed to do. I also came to understand what it took to be successful as a player at the collegiate level and have been able to communicate those ideas to the players I coach now."
Those days in Lubbock were heady ones for Bonewitz, and it is only natural that the Red Raider, and one of the greatest shooters in school history, maintains an interest in Tech basketball, even as he is busy running his own program and indeed, the entire Condordia athletic program as its Athletic Director.
Says Bonewitz, "I try to catch as many games on TV as I can. I have a hard time during the season following any team closely besides Concordia, but when I can catch a Tech game I do my best to try and watch them. I am always pulling for the Red Raiders to do well."
And those positive sentiments extend to the current Tech coaching staff, which is attempting to resurrect a program that for the last several years has been mired in misery.
"The staff that is there now is a great staff and I'm really hoping that they can get the program back on track," Bonewitz attests.
"I know that there is nothing better than being a part of a winning program in Lubbock and I really hope for the current players and coaches that they get the opportunity to know that feeling again."
Indeed, nobody knows better than Stan Bonewitz what Tech basketball can achieve and what the atmosphere surrounding a great Red Raider team is like. He was at the center of that frenzied, glorious starburst. And he knows it can happen again.