Ok, the 2005 NIT run. It was a great time because this was the second post season play I was a part of, and although it wasn’t the NCAA, it was still a tournament and just more time we would be able to travel and see more places. Starting with The NCAA selection night I think we all pretty much knew the loss to Auburn was the loss that was going to hurt us so we pretty much just waited around to get the call for the NIT.
When we found out we were going to Indiana there wasn’t much time to prepare for them, especially with not playing them that year. We played at IU my freshmen year and at home against them my Sophomore year. So going there my Junior year would just be another experience against them. That game I believe Coach used a different approach at playing against them. Although we had a very fundamentally sound team, If I remember correctly this would be a time throughout my college career we used a more “Athletic” five. Not taking anything away from JWerd because we all know he is VERY athletic. We went with Mario, Shan, Demarre, Corey, and myself. Also going in there with nothing to lose, we knew we could just experiment and see what happens. I think Corey (fittingly as the only senior) led us to that victory. I think he scored somewhere close to 30 and pretty much held us down. This also was during my Junior to Senior transition because I knew the next loss meant it would become time for me to “take over”.
Coming home playing Witchita St. would be one, if not the, most memorable game of my career. Our team knew we would have to play a tough game against them because I think they were also a young team playing in the same situation as us. Nothing to lose and on the road in a place that have never been. Mario carried us scoring this game and I was relentless on the boards. It was a very fun game because I see this one as the game were many of our players somewhat “let loose” and just played ball. We obviously followed the system, but if we were to break away from it, it was not completely out of line.
I remember ESPN doing a part on all of our players having something written on our shoes in memory to the late Kwane “DOT” Doster. I myself also had almost a complete poem written on my shoes which revolved around my mother. I could remember sitting on the bus on the trip to Memphis watching the part, and how they had to pretty much pause the camera just so you could have enough time to read what I wrote.
Anyway, the ending to the Wichita State game was crazy. I can remember being at the free throw line and only needing one box out to win the game. Now, because I am me, I will blame this on Corey, and if you ask him, he will blame it on me. Anyway, the player ON COREY’s side managed to get all the way around him and catch the rebound and put the ball back. I can take some blame because my guy did LUCKILY tip the ball to him, but it was an accident. Anyway, after going to the huddle we all thought they could possibly have the momentum in overtime because of what just happened. So Coach drew up the play. We go out to run it and I remember watching as Corey caught the ball and scored. In his words, “I was so open, I almost missed the shot”. Then the dog pile came and a road trip to Memphis.
I remember going into Memphis and watching them warm up before the actual warmups. You look down and see all these huge ass guys trying to break the rim with their dunks and I’m thinking to myself, “hhhhhh… here we go again”. Knowing throughout my career, not being a real 5, I’ve had to go up against a lot of guys that are a lot stronger than I am, although I definitely not about to back down. Anyway we get this game started and got off to a crazy start. I think we opened up with almost a 10 point lead in the first 4 minutes. The reason I say 4 if people don’t know is because TV timeouts are every 4 minutes which means an automatic break. Well then they come back and their crowd goes nuts and gets back behind them. They ended up winning, however I thought we played a very good game.
In the locker room after the game, this is when I had to switch into my “Senior” mentality. I knew I only had one more year. The next day when we got back to Vandy I began working out for the next year. In all, the NIT run was great because we got to see what we didn’t see all year from people and it was once again another fun time being around the same guys you’ve been with 4 or more years of my life.