I love Auburn men's basketball. I always liked college basketball, and I grew up loving Georgetown. It wasn't until I was a student at Auburn that I fell hard for Auburn basketball as a Cliff Dweller. I worked a lot while I was in school - mostly waiting tables - and big money days were always home football games. Basketball always seemed to work better with my schedule so I got to go to those games. When I graduated from Auburn, my first job had me on the road Monday through Thursday. I haven't always been fortunate enough to be staffed on projects with large teams so I have spent more time than I care to admit holed up in hotel rooms with room service. A familiar and beloved friend has always been there for me -- Auburn basketball. So many times I have been so far from Toomer's lemonade and Momma's Love, but I could watch my guys on television and feel like I was back on the Plains. Sometimes it was the only real connection I had back to the Plains, especially when I was living and working all over the country - San Francisco, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Houston, Columbus (Ohio).
This is the first year since I graduated from Auburn that I have had the opportunity to own season tickets and actively attend. My basketball love can easily be described as intense, and I understand that I probably come across as a "sunshine pumper" type of fan. There have been plenty of times this year I could have tossed in the towel. I was at Vanderbilt with their fancy raised court when it rained 3's. I stared at the television in horror the night FSU seemed to pass and shoot without regard to laws of speed. I was in the stands when Bama hit shots they haven't made all season. One of my friends told me after that particular game that my dedication must be like loving someone that doesn't love me back. I thought about that for a long time, probably longer than I should have. I guess I love Auburn basketball the way some people love their kids. It's the only way I know how to explain it.
We have seen flashes of genius out of these guys throughout the season. Remember the Hawaii game (and the birth of one of my favorite AU basketball hashtags, #latenightchubb)? Recall the night Kenny Gabriel inked Auburn's first triple double against Bethune-Cookman? After the loss at Vandy, the Tigers roared back with the near win against Kentucky - did you watch that? What about seeing Frankie Sullivan get his shooting legs in time for the first OT game against Ole Miss? How about Varez Ward exploding against Georgia? Did you notice we are gaining depth that we haven't had before - the starters are not always set in stone. We are seeing grind-it-out grit from Allen Payne and Adrian Forbes. Chris Denson and Josh Wallace are bringing in energy. We are watching Willy Kouassi grow before our eyes. We are patiently waiting for Josh Langford, the enforcer, to return. Noel Johnson is making shots and getting rebounds. They are on the brink of something.
It is why I cannot properly express how excited I am about Saturday night's win over Mississippi State. Tickets sold out before gameday. Despite the miserable weather, the student section was full and loud. It is funny to me that as I sit and write, details of this game escape me. All I can tell you for sure is that I saw KG with a ridiculous reverse dunk. I witnessed Varez Ward and Josh Wallace direct the team with focus and determination. I saw Chubb brush off a mistake and battle it out for a rebound. I watched Frankie hit tough shots. I laughed when Rick Stansbury threw his usual temper tantrum. The most burning memory was seeing KG pull his teammates around him in the final minutes of the game to let them know they were winning this game. I could have gone home then*, because I knew the fate of the game was decided.
Saturday night's win was a sign of great things to come for Auburn on the hardwood. War Damn.
*I, of course, stayed until the end.