On Saturday night, the Colorado State Rams ran into a brick wall.
It all came crashing down against the Louisville Cardinals in Lexington, KY.
Everything the seniors worked for over the last three to five years – going from a joke to back-to-back NCAA Tournament participants – ended due to dominating defense and awesome offense by Louisville.
This group of seniors didn’t deserve their fate, they didn’t deserve to play the No. 1 overall seed in what was basically a home environment, and they didn’t deserve to look silly in a rare nationally televised contest.
But if anyone can tell you life isn’t fair, it’s these young men.
Look at Dorian Green, who grew up in Lawrence, KS and dreamed of playing for the Kansas Jayhawks as a kid, only to be completely ignored by his hometown school. How about Pierce Hornung, a big man trapped in a guard’s body? Colton Iverson transferred from the Minnesota Golden Gophers and enjoyed a dominant senior season. What could have been for him if he were given an opportunity to play big minutes for multiple years?
Jesse Carr will tell you life isn’t fair. He tore an ACL just before this special season tipped off and missed out on all the action.
It’s been even less fair for Greg Smith and brother Dwight Smith, who lost their father within the last year. Dwight had to redshirt due to an injury as well, being forced to watch the magic from the bench.
Four years ago, they all came together in Fort Collins, CO and started building a winner.
In their first season the Rams went 16-16, a nine-game improvement from the year before. In 2010-11, they finished 19-13, making it to the NIT and losing.
Last year the momentum kept building. They went 20-12 and found a way into the big dance for the first time in eight years, only if it meant losing handily to the Murray State Racers.
When Tim Miles left for the Nebraska Huskers following the tourney run, the players lost their mentor and the man that brought them to Colorado State. Everything was up in the air.
Larry Eustachy was hired and the team was transformed. They went from one of the worst rebounding teams in Division 1 to the best boarding team in the nation. They went from dying from three to living in the paint on Iverson’s broad shoulders. They went from a selfish group of individuals to a team-first squad.
This season, Colorado State set so many school records, it’s undoubtedly been their best season of basketball in the 110-year history of the sport at the school. First and foremost, their 26 wins were most ever, three more than a previous best. Their 27-game home winning streak that dated back to last season, a record. The 39-point blowout of the Air Force Falcons represents CSU’s biggest win over a Mountain West Conference opponent ever, and the four sellouts of Moby Arena were also a single-season best.
Sure, they were beaten by Louisville, but there’s no shame in that. The Cardinals have a legitimate shot at becoming National Champions and their basketball tradition is far richer than that of CSU’s. The Rams won their first round game over the Missouri Tigers, a huge accomplishment and another step in the right direction of building tradition all their own.
Even though it resulted in a loss, Colorado State and Eustachy were showcased on CBS Saturday during prime sports-watching time, and making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments signals something special happening at CSU.
Those seniors that devoted themselves to the team for years – diving on the floor for loose basketballs, giving it all their effort all the time – are the ones that can smile at the future success of Colorado State basketball; they laid the winning foundation.
Green, Eikmeier, Smith, Hornung and Iverson weren’t just great players, they were great young men as well. They stayed out of trouble and stayed in the classroom, all while dominating on the hardwood. They’ve been nothing short of model CSU student-athletes.
This may be the end of one era – possibly the best four years of CSU basketball – but it’s only the beginning of something even greater.