“Smile. Come on, smile!”
That is what a gentleman that sits in the south end of Allen Fieldhouse behind the photographers always yells at KU players. The man has yelled that for more years than I can remember. He always complains to me that KU players never seem to have fun. “They need to smile more,” he pleads with me.
That thought came to me yesterday as the KU team emerged from the Alamodome into the harsh reality of a season a week too short.
Long ago I realized just how little I know, or any fan knows, about the true realities of coaching a collegiate team. I cannot and will not critique the finer points of the game. My skills are about working hard and having fun. Win or lose, I think I agree with the pleading fan. I wish everyone would smile more.
Try to remember this KU team was not predicted to even win the Big 12, but win it they did – for the eighth year in a row. Add the post-season Big 12 Championship and a run to the Elite Eight. That was a season to celebrate often.
Yet, where were the smiles along the way from the players, the coaches and the fans? Jump for joy, tear it up, cut the nets from the shoulders of joyous players not from some sponsored ladder. Stand on the scorer’s table. Sit on the rim and wave that net for all the fans to see. It still is the journey over the destination. Celebrate every important game and every important moment with unbridled joy.
Expectations should always be high for KU or any major sports power, but those expectations should never supersede the importance of enjoying the significance of every step along the way. As KU found out yesterday, defining moments often arrive with shocking consequence.
KU fans certainly did turn out in great numbers in San Antonio. They filled all but one small section in the lower stands. Still, during a first-half timeout the estimated 1,000 VCU fans – so small in numbers compared to the Crimson and Blue throng – started rocking and roaring as their pep band killed “Jungle Boogie.” The noise might not have been deafening, but it certainly was overwhelming with dynamic enthusiasm.
Even then, I was personally convinced KU would come back and win, but at that moment, I had to smile. It felt so good. Maybe everyone should take more time along the way to smile and enjoy the moment.