I love Bellarmine basketball.
Being in Australia is amazing, but you have absolutely no idea how hard it has been for me not to be in Louisville for this basketball season. With a 16 hour time difference and an Australian internet that refuses to cooperate with almost all streaming websites, I was relegated to refreshing the statistics screen every 2 seconds while I did my best to follow the Knights’ March dancing. For the Elite Eight I was finally able to get a live video stream of the games and woke up an hour early to make sure my internet was working and computer was charged. My ability to watch the video may have done more harm than good though as it now enabled me to kick and bang anything in sight as I screamed at my computer screen for two hours. A spilled water bottle and concerned knock from my neighbor were more than worth watching the team play though.
As most of you are already aware, the Bellarmine men’s basketball team suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Final 4 of the NCAA Division II tournament just over 3 hours ago. The team had climbed back from losing in the GLVC tournament and had triumphed in four games to win their region (which they played at home in the glorious Knights Hall) and advance to the Final 4. Despite all the hype that was surrounding their tourney run and the ever-present possibility of repeating as National Champions the team remained focused and humble as they steadily moved through the bracket. But things don’t always work out the way we want them to. After erasing a 9 point deficit in their Elite 8 game against Alabama Huntsville and earning a return trip to the Final 4, the Knights fell to Montevallo 79-72. They played with all of the heart and determination that has become their trademark but it is very rare that a team can go 8 minutes without scoring and win the game. Those 8 minutes made for the most torturous stretch of basketball I have ever witnesses and it killed me to watch shot after shot bounce off the iron. But as they always do, the team managed to get out of their funk and stage a run that had me biting my nails and screaming at the computer. They cut a 12 point lead down to 5 but it was too little, too late. It was almost a relief to hear that buzzer go off. One could stop worrying about the next foul or whistle and simply applaud the effort the guys had given. One could accept defeat, as bitter as it may be. I’d like to think that everyone in Knights Hall North could hear me as I sang the fight song and clapped as the team huddled up for one last time before jogging off the court.
It seems that somehow someone in the PR department always does a beautiful job of finding a slogan right in time for tournament season. Because we all know that the two drawers we have full of Bellarmine shirts aren’t enough. Last year it was “Trust”, which came from our beloved Scotty D and was branded on the famous maroon shirts the Knight faithful touted as we cheered, screamed, and partied our team to victory in Massachusetts. The week we spent in that hotel is almost holy around Bellarmine, as are those shirts. To say “I went to Massachusetts” is a badge of honor and the ‘TRUST’ shirt is your proof. The slogan this year had a bit of a different feeling to it and was adopted after some Bellarmine talent created a song titled “We’re Back.” The video (link is here –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es2pTTiMg8k) and tagline spread like wildfire around campus, Louisville, and the nation as it was recognized by several sport websites. Now, I don’t know what clothing or souvenirs were emblazoned with the “We’re Back” motto but it was absolutely the theme for this year’s tournament run as it, and the video it came from, strongly suggested that the Knights would once again be crowned National Champions. I like the video and admit that “We’re Back” was a great hashtag for Bellarmine to respond with after NKU’s #BellarmineHateWeek and it is always nice to have a brand you can stamp on the team’s March games, but I don’t think that Bellarmine basketball is ‘back’ at all.
There, I said it. If anything can be said about Bellarmine basketball it would be that it is much more than the ‘W’ on the athletics website. Anyone who thinks it isn’t obviously hasn’t seen a game in Knights Hall. Bellarmine basketball is something much more than a statistics sheet, it is a community. I’m not saying that winning isn’t fun, exciting, or fulfilling but I am simply saying that to narrow Bellarmine basketball down to titles and trophies doesn’t do the program justice. At all. The community that surrounds Bellarmine has embraced basketball in a way that very few schools do for any sport. When basketball season comes to Bellarmine, everything else seems just a little bit less important. Home games are like holidays. Oh, you have a Thursday night class? Drop it. What? Your Mom is celebrating her birthday and you have to go home? Have Knights Hall celebrate her being 23 for the past 30 years. The preparation that go into the games are ridiculous as well. Contracts with chicken sandwich restaurants, the designing, ordering, and sorting of tshirts, volunteering for concession duty, and finding a way to get everyone who wants to get into Knights for the game a place to stand. But once you’re in there, you discover that Bellarmine basketball is more than 2011 National Champions.
Knights Hall isn’t the biggest, prettiest, or nicest court in the world. Far from it, actually. But I like it that way. Gives the place character. It has been compared to high school gyms, called many things other than beautiful, and even I still wonder if I’ll be the lucky person a ceiling tile decides to collapse on. But the question you’re asking to yourself shouldn’t be how the ceiling would collapse on me. It should be why. Why should your question be why? Because Knights Hall gets fucking rowdy. And when I say rowdy I mean stand-on-your-feet-and-scream-your-voice-into-oblivion rowdy. My record for not having a voice from cheering is 3 days but I am sure there are others who have had longer. We jump, stomp, and run (but not across the yellow line!) as we cheer the Knights on. When Chris Dowe throws down NBA-worthy dunks on unsuspecting defenses, the place erupts like Mt. Vesuvius and the away teams’ fan section is Pompeii. They just don’t stand a chance. But this can be said about a lot of student sections. What makes Knights’ Hall and Bellarmine basketball so unique is that it isn’t just the students who come back every Thursday and Saturday from December to February; it is the entire Bellarmine community. While you are red-faced screaming at the referee about your prowess in killing zebras the professors who you spend four years called Dr. Last Name are standing four seats over doing the EXACT SAME THING. Maybe not about zebras, but you get the point. Professors, faculty, administrators, alumni, and students’ families are all packed into the yellow-brick building like a can of sardines. Swing your arms in a circle when you are in the line to get in and you will hit at least one person from three of those groups. You can argue that a massive football stadium is more intense than Knights’ Hall but outside of the fact that your comparing two completely different things you would also be completely wrong. Sheer numbers don’t make for better fans, die hard fans make for better fans. For those still focused on the falling ceiling, it would fall on me because the noise from a Knights Hall home crowd would literally bring it crashing down. But only after we got our chicken sandwich.
I keep saying that there is something better than what I just said but I promise this is the last time. The only thing that beats watching Bellarmine basketball play in Knights Hall is the fact that we don’t care about the result. I have already admitted to loving it when the team wins because its fun and I love to see the guys succeed. Not to mention that it gives us the opportunity to go to places like Massachusetts and Knights Hall North when the team starts to dance in March. But we just lost a few hours ago and, while I wasn’t there due to obvious circumstances, I heard our fans until the very end of that buzzer and beyond. BUZZ LIGHTYEAR! The point is that when we win we rally around our team for winning and when we lose we rally around our team for playing with all their heart. A Knights bucket will bring cheers whether it is extending a lead, tying a game, or hopelessly fighting a deficit and we stand behind the team no matter what. In fact, I think we rose up even MORE for the guys after this loss than we did when we won the championship. To see the looks on their faces as they gazed up at the score board, to watch the body language as their season came to a close, and to listen as the announcer listed off the day and time of the championship game we wouldn’t be in knowing that they were hearing the same thing… all of that was unbearable. So Knights’ Nation did what any self respecting fan base would do. We sang out fight song, gave the guys a standing ovation, and called out optimism and love as our Knights disappeared into the locker room. We took to social networking sites to let the players know how grateful we are for them giving us such a great season and to let them know that they have nothing to be ashamed about. We showed them that no matter what, we are proud to be their fans and will always be proud to be called a Knight.
In an effort to make a positive out of everything, we also won’t feel obligated to spend all of our money on National Championship gear for the next 12 months. Although I could use another Bellarmine shirt…
Bellarmine basketball is not being able to decide which black shirt you want to wear to the Black Out even though you will get a new one at the game. Bellarmine basketball is the walk through the Quad jumping up and down as you and your friends make your way to Knights Hall. Bellarmine basketball is seeing your family come down to Louisville just to see one game. Bellarmine basketball is seeing your History teacher throwing his hands up for free throws. Bellarmine basketball is watching as everyone in Knights Hall, from the toddlers who can barely stand to Grandpa with his cane, jumps to their feet during a close game. Bellarmine basketball is wishing for just… one… more… point… so you can get that beloved Chik-Fila sandwich. Bellarmine basketball is Knights’ Nation punching the ground, win or lose, as the Pep Band descends into the last stretch of the fight song. Bellarmine basketball isn’t back.
We never left.