Cougar fans frequently ask me about the shot I missed in the waning seconds of regulation against Vanderbilt in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. A make would have sent us to the Sweet 16. I say "us" because victory would have carried everyone wearing crimson and gray to the Sweet 16. Not just me. Not just Kyle, Derrick, Rob, Ivory, Taylor, Aron, and the rest of the crew. Not just Tony Bennett. Not just our families, but EVERYONE who is proud to say they're a Coug.
And the answer to the question is yes -- I think about that shot a lot. In fact, I think about it everyday. The pain of that miss is hard to shake.
It feels impossible to write words that could at best give only a trivial understanding of what I feel when I think about it.
So perhaps I should state a few things that I know are true and go from there.
First, when Tony subbed me in for that possession, I knew I was going to get the last shot.
Second, I wanted to take the last shot.
Third, I was completely relaxed. To this day, as I look back on it, it is eerie how calm I was given point No. 1.
As soon as Kyle Weaver's man left to go double-team Taylor Rochestie at the point and force the ball out of his hands, my eyes lit up because I knew that Kyle would kick it to me as soon as it touched his hands. And I knew that once the ball touched my hands, I would get the chance to live my childhood dream of making the shot to put my team in the Sweet 16.
Coincidentally, that was the spot I practiced from most often as a kid growing up. And coincidentally, that was the spot were I made the 4-point play with 30 seconds left to help us beat Boise St. earlier that year. And coincidentally, the ball felt perfect on the release.
I understand that this sounds like a cliché, but it seemed like that ball was in the air forever. I can remember thinking about how quiet the gym was. I can remember thinking about how excited my family, especially my brother, was going to be when the ball went in and that was his lil' bro out there. And I can remember thinking about how loud ARCO Arena was about to become once that ball made it through the net.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the bucket: The ball didn't find the net. Instead, it glanced the back iron. I can remember being confused about why there wasn't an explosion of Cougar cheers in the gym. And as I saw the ball carom off, it was clear: I missed. For the next few seconds, it didn't seem real. And to be honest, it still doesn't seem real.
With the buzzer sounding and the score still tied, reality permeated my body. I felt something I never have felt before, on or off the court. I guess many would describe it as a "sick to your stomach feel," but that wouldn't begin to scratch the surface of the disappointment.
I can say with no reservations that refocusing after that miss for the rest of the game (two nail-biting overtimes) was single-handedly the hardest thing I have ever had to do mentally. Although I was able to make my last attempt of the game -- a 3-pointer with about 40 seconds left in the second OT that drew us within two -- it did nothing in the way of dulling the pain once the final buzzer sounded and our magical season was over.
I am thankful for many things in my life. At the top of list is the unconditional love and support I received from my family and close friends throughout my career. And let me be the first to tell you that without that support and my Christian faith that keeps me standing, the weight of the shot would crush me to this very day. And I believe without those things I would have made some very bad decisions following that game.
However, more than anything else, I am thankful that I got to take that shot. One of the five pillars of the Bennett family's coaching philosophy is thankfulness. I can remember my freshman year when Dick Bennett explained what that really meant -- and it cast a new light on the word. Obviously, it is easy to be thankful when you experience success and things are going well. But what does thankfulness mean in the face of failure?
I will never forget Dick's words, earlier in my career, as he looked us in the eye after a particularly devastating defeat and said, "Men, do not forget to be thankful. Thankful that we have the opportunity to learn from our past and our mistakes. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity, and don't be foolish enough to disregard this failure as unbeneficial."
So what have I learned from this experience? Even though I've had over 2 1/2 years to reflect on this question, I still don't have the perfect answer. But I can say with confidence that I have learned that one would be foolish to find his/her identify in their performance on the basketball court or any athletic endeavor. I know missing that shot does not define me for who I am; neither would it define me as a person if it had gone in.
In case you're wondering, I have retaken that Vanderbilt shot hundreds of times in the gym by myself. No matter how many of those solitary shots have gone in, the game tape from 3/17/07 will still show that it didn't. And until the results change, I guess I'll keep having to be thankful and searching for other lessons to be learned. I'd be a fool not too, right Dick?
But if you happen to be watching the Vanderbilt game and that shot does happen to go in, go ahead and let me know.
I'm sure I'd be able to learn from that too!
|MARCH MADNESS 2007: Harmeling goes toe-to-toe with Vandy's Jermaine Beal in NCAA Tourney double-overtime classic.|