March 20, 2020 - by
Column: While Wondering ‘What If,’ Let’s Also Appreciate What Was

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The news broke at mid-day Thursday, but the reality didn’t set in until a day later.

After the ACC’s announcement that its men’s basketball tournament had been canceled due the coronavirus pandemic, there wasn’t much time to stop and reflect.

Moments after the Seminoles were awarded their trophy as ACC champions – in front of a few hundred fans in an otherwise cavernous Greensboro Coliseum – FSU’s operations team went into high gear, reworking travel plans, ensuring that everyone in the travel was accounted for and making dozens of logistical decisions on the fly.

By late Thursday night, just hours after going through pre-game warmups 500 miles north, the Seminoles were home.

It made for a whirlwind day, albeit just part of a surreal 24 hours across the globe.

Consider that between Wednesday and Thursday, we all collectively learned that pro basketball star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19, that the NBA had subsequently suspended its season, that actor Tom Hanks had contracted the virus, that other sports organizations around the world were either suspending or canceling events, and that, finally the NCAA tournament would be canceled.

At least for a time, the shattered fragments of FSU’s season felt like smaller pieces of a much bigger puzzle.

For me, that changed on Friday morning.

While trying to keep up to date through Twitter, I scrolled across a video put out by the @FSUHoops official account. If you haven’t seen it already, give it a look:

Seeing those highlights of the Seminoles’ two seniors, Dominik Olejniczak and Trent Forrest, hit like a ton of bricks.

At that moment, it became real: This team, which achieved so much and gave so many memories to its supporters, won’t ever again play together. Those seniors won’t ever again put on a Florida State uniform.

FSU’s best team in nearly 50 years, one that was cruising toward a high seed in the NCAA tournament and that had a no-doubt-about-it chance at the Final Four, is done.

Even now, a week later, it’s hard to comprehend.

Yes, it’s an uncertain time in the world and, as Leonard Hamilton has said often, there are far more important things than basketball.

But that fact does little to ease the pain of the players, coaches and fans who should have spent today or tomorrow enveloped in the first days of the Big Dance.

 

That devastation is shared by many, all of whom will be asking “What if?” for a long, long time.

But even as that question lingers in the back of our minds, let’s also take time – and, in the age of social distancing, we’ve got plenty of time – to remember and appreciate what was.

And when doing so, March 7 is a perfect place to start.

It feels like ages ago, but, in reality, it’s not even been two weeks since the Seminoles closed out their regular season with an 80-62 romp over Boston College at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

The victory polished off a 26-5 season, sealed a perfect record at home and clinched the program’s first ever first-place finish in the ACC standings.

And as soon as the clock hit zero, there was an arena-wide celebration befitting those feats.

Florida State unveiled a championship banner to hang from the arena rafters, hoisted a trophy to celebrate its regular-season title and took turns climbing ladders and cutting down the nets at each end of the floor.

At the time, the scene seemed like an appetizer. A preview of what could be coming at the end of March Madness.

It turned out to be the last time that this group of Seminoles would share the floor together.

Shocking and sad as it may be, it’s also possible, and maybe necessary, to look at that fact as a gift.

It’s easy to forget, but the NCAA tournament, exciting as it is, more often than not ends in heartbreak.

Of the 68 teams in the field, only one ever goes home happy.

Granted, every one of those 68 is more than willing to make that gamble, and plenty of teams will eventually look back at their tournament runs with fond memories despite disappointing endings.

Still, if there’s one thing that we know for sure, it’s that the 2019-20 Seminoles’ memories from their last game together will be good ones.

A lopsided win in front of an adoring, passionate crowd. Hugs and big grins as they celebrated an accomplishment never before seen around here. And the knowledge that they did it their way – with an “18 strong” mantra touting teamwork over star-power.

They might have been denied “One Shining Moment,” but, in that moment, they shined.

 

“That was an outstanding accomplishment for our team,” Hamilton said. “It’s not every day you can win and be the No. 1 seed going into the ACC tournament and win the regular-season race. That’s much more difficult than anything else, because it’s over a 20-game period.

“I was just glad to see all their hard work paying off.”

For anyone in need of a reminder, here’s some of what that work produced:

  • 26 wins, a school record for victories in the regular season, and just five losses – the program’s fewest since 1972
  • A No. 4 final ranking in the AP Top 25, the highest in school history
  • A 23-game winning streak at home, which includes a 16-0 mark this season
  • Two second-team All-ACC selections (Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell) and the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year (Patrick Williams)
  • ACC Coach of the Year honors for Hamilton, as well as a spot among four finalists for the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award. The winner will be announced on April 4.
Column: While Wondering ‘What If,’ Let’s Also Appreciate What Was

Forrest, meanwhile, will leave Tallahassee as the “winningest” player in program history, as well as one of just two Seminoles with at least 1,100 career points, 500 career rebounds, 400 career assists and 200 career steals.

Bob Sura, whose jersey hangs from the Tucker Center rafters, is the other.

There’s plenty of pain in the hearts of FSU hoops fans right now.

The “what if” will linger forever, like the last note of a song that never resolves.

But sometime between now and when the Seminoles next take the court, it might bring a smile – and who knows, maybe even a measure of therapy – to think back and appreciate all of what was.

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