Don’t let CSU basketball’s loss to Louisville define the season

grabowskiMugGreg Smith sat down at the podium and put his head in his hands. He shook it back and forth, running his fingers over his tight, buzzed haircut.

Colton Iverson entered the interview room shortly after, a towel wrapped around his neck and his eyes still red from crying.

Both of their faces fixed in disbelief.

How could this season end?

Why did their careers have to end like this? In gut-wrenching fashion against the number one of number one seeds in the NCAA tournament?

When Larry Eustachy talked to his players in the locker room after CSU’s 82-56 loss in the third round, he couldn’t get the words out.

He bawled because of the bond he formed with his team and this group of seniors.

Eustachy often categorized his team as a group of misfits coming together under a misfit coach and that the two understood each other.

Don’t consider that an insult. Consider it a compliment and a badge of honor.

Of the five seniors, three started their careers at CSU while Iverson and Wes Eikmeier played at power-conference programs Minnesota and Iowa State, respectively.

Eikmeier and Iverson were 3-star prospects. The rest didn’t receive any stars from national recruiting services.

Everything all five of them achieved is due to effort and perseverance, the will to improve and be better than the day before.

Some of that comes from the attitude Eustachy instilled. Most of it comes from their own heart and desire.

That much effort and that kind of connection made this basketball season special.

It shouldn’t be defined by one loss in one game to the number one team in the country.

It should be defined by a school-record 26 wins.

It should be defined by a second straight berth in the NCAA tournament.

It should be defined by CSU’s transformation into a basketball school.

During this current group of seniors’ freshman season in 2009, the team lost in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (the third-tier postseason college basketball tournament) to a Kenneth Faried-lead Morehead State team by 14.

Now they comfortably made the NCAA tournament field, won their first round game against a Missouri team that had been ranked in the top ten earlier in the season and received praise from Louisville coach Rick Pitino in the second round.

In 2009 CSU averaged 3,257 fans per game in Moby Arena. This year Rams fans filled the joint with 8,745 screaming fans for three consecutive games against Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico.

Former forward Andy Ogide made the 2009-10 All-Mountain West Second Team in 2009.

Four Rams represented CSU on the 2012-13 all-conference team while the conference named Colton Iverson its Newcomer of the Year and its first-team center.

This team and this program underwent a miraculous transformation over the course of the last half-decade. Former coach Tim Miles deserves a lot of credit for building this team and recruiting from the ground up. Current coach Larry Eustachy deserves a lot of credit for shaping those pieces into one of the most dangerous teams in the Mountain West and one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

The most credit goes to the players for changing the culture of CSU basketball from apathetic to fanatic. They weathered the storms of empty home arenas and disappointing finishes early on and exited that storm a hardened, veteran team that any CSU fan can be proud to have represent them.

Losing to Louisville by 26 hurts, especially after how incredible this past season was and how well the Rams played in their opening game against Missouri.

As the clock ticked down closer to zero in that game, I realized I needed to savor every last minute despite how out of control the score had become. Pierce Hornung, Colton Iverson, Wes Eikmeier, Greg Smith and Dorian Green were playing their last game together, and every second was more valuable than the last.

Nobody will ever forget this group of seniors, what they accomplished during their careers and their magical last season.

Don’t let one red night in Lexington ruin the memories.