Three falls ago, in 2008, I studied abroad for a semester in the UK. It was a fantastic term, except for one minor issue: I'd miss the beginning of basketball season. Come November, I found myself huddled in my desk chair at midnight multiple times a week, listening to a gravelly Carolina voice float over an ocean into a sleepy Norfolk, England. Before I left, my friend Zach had joked that my flatmates would wonder why constant swear words were suddenly piercing the walls so late at night (for the record, I never got any complaints). My favorite moment may have been when Becca and I got back to the flat in time to hear Kilgo proclaim Stephen's epic 3-pointer to seal the NC State win, and in the midst of our shrieking, we got a Skype call from Elizabeth and Michele in Florence, who connected us to Chris in Geneva, and suddenly "Sweet Caroline" was being sung in three cities across Europe.
Now, it's Jessie's turn for the transatlantic view of Davidson basketball. It was strange for me to walk into Belk on Saturday and not see her, or Carrie, or David, or the majority of the people that I grew into this with. (But thankfully, I do still get to yell down to Morgan in the front row for one more season, and he will smile and wave, lobster claws and all). And I know it was strange for her not to be there. This time 'round, since it was only an exhibition, she couldn't even have Kilgo or the video stream to get her through. "ACK. SO FAR AWAY," she wrote me earlier in the day.
It's funny, the little things you notice when the season comes back. The smells and sounds. How you hand out your ticket to be scanned. The opening chords of "Welcome to the Jungle." And it's funny what becomes normal again, so quickly. The people, the fight song, even the voice of the announcer. ("I just noticed the squeak their shoes make," Benjamin said about halfway through the first half.)
Things change, too. The players' years: I'm sorry, but these seniors can't be seniors, they were just freshmen! And the law firm -- I mean, the juniors? Wasn't I just pointing them out to David on his return from Peru? (cochrankuhlmancohen cohencochrankuhlman and if you don't think they sound like a law firm, slow down and add "LLP" to the end.) Each year, a new class listens to the cheers echo as they take the court.
People -- and by people I mean the media, and by the media I mean those who make predictions before ANY shoes have touched wood -- are saying we'll be good this year. There's a number next to our name in quite a lot of magazines that hasn't been there for awhile, which is exciting but also means absolutely nothing. Regardless, I can't wait to see what this team does. It's fascinating, as always, to see where a class begins and where they end up. These seniors: Frank, A.J. and Will. These freshmen: Tyler, Yousef and Mason. The stories are just starting.
Jessie and I chatted via Skype and smartphone for the entirety of Davidson vs. Lenoir-Rhyne. I told her about the new Pope in the endzone, a tribute to JPK. She shrieked (if you can shriek through typing) that in a photo someone had posted on DCats, she could spot her empty endzone seat. (And mine, and Carrie's, and David's, and Pierce and Joe's, and people we have never met...) When it hit the 8-minute media timeout, I pulled her up on video for "Sweet Caroline." We couldn't really talk, my speakers suck, but she could hear it, and see it, and she was smiling all the way in Berlin at 2:30 a.m.
"I miss it," she wrote afterwards, "I miss it a lot."
Over the last week, a phrase has been stuck in my head. My thoughts are with you. I keep repeating it -- for the family of David Burns, a '99 Wildcat who passed away suddenly leaving his wife and three boys. For Dr. Robert Whitton and his family as he begins a long recovery after being struck by a car. My thoughts are with you. I think it carries more weight than I sometimes realize: the concept of MY THOUGHTS being focused on you/he/it/them/there. Centering your heart and mind, directing it towards hope and good. My mind, during these games, always seems to center on what brought me here and what keeps me here. It's the same thing I consider when we hold a moment of Belk Arena silence for David Burns, knowing that his wife is only a few rows back with their children. It's what I think of during a sun-splashed vigil for Dr. Whitton, hearing his daughters speak with strong voices, and then his wife. What brought us here? What keeps us here?
It's a big reason, explained in little moments. Here we go.