March 10, 2009
Greetings from Hinkle Fieldhouse!!
This all started on August 1st when the 10 Viking returners gathered for the first practice in preparation for Spain.
You could see it that day. The determination. The eagerness. The excitement.
The Vikings knew that that day was the start of something memorable, something that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. A journey that would stamp them as being special.
Two-hundred and twenty two days have passed since that moment.
Thirty-nine games. . . if you include the four that CSU played in Spain and the exhibition win over John Carroll.
Countless practices, film sessions, team talks, lectures and workouts.
Everything that the Vikings have done since August 1 has been in preparation for one night. Tonight.
With tip-off just eight hours away, the Vikings are going through their final walk through. They hardly need it. They are in the best shape of their lives and they know their opponent, Butler, perhaps as well as Butler knows themselves (and vica versa).
Just to get to this moment has been amazing. Who would have thought at even the start of last week that the Vikings would be able to overcome the tournament format and become the first team since the bracket changed, to advance to the championship game of the tournament without a benefit of at least one bye.
In the last six tourneys, the championship game was No. 1 vs. No. 2 five times and No. 1 and No. 3 once, but that was in a year when No. 3 received a first round bye.
Who also would have thought that when D'Aundray Brown went down last week that CSU would be able to overcome that injury and still win three straight to meet Butler for a rematch.
Having been with the team during championship week in each of the last two years, it is remarkable to see the difference. Last year, the guys were excited just to be there because it meant a lot to the program. This year the guys are focused on one thing. . . Butler. . . and getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Waters told the story in the press conference yesterday of how early in the season, the team got together and decided that their huddle cheer for the year would be "Champions" because that was their goal. When they lost the chance to win the regular season title, they kept the chant alive because tonight's game is what it is all about.
As Coach Waters pointed out, the guys said that even though we are playing Butler at Butler and they are the regular season champions, that this title belongs to CSU and they are going to have to take it from us.
That's the difference between last year and this year.
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I'm a historian of sorts. My job is to record for time the accomplishments of the CSU athletic teams. The majority of my time is spent on men's basketball so I have an understanding of what this program has gone through over the years.
My first year at CSU was 1986-87. The Run-N-Stun Vikings were coming off their lone NCAA Appearance and went on to go 25-8 and advance to the second round of the NIT.
I returned to CSU six years ago as Mike Garland was taking over as head coach. I don't have a bad thing to say about Mike Garland except that he didn't win enough basketball games and that maybe, he was destined for greatness as an assistant coach.
I endured the 25-game losing streak that first year. CSU lost my first four Horizon League Tournament games by an average of 24.5 points.
And then Gary Waters came along and everything changed.
From the first time I met with him, I knew that Gary was different. He has that aura about him. He also has a plan.
His staff is about as good as it gets. Associate coach Jayson Gee has been a head coach before and knows what it takes to win. He quietly goes about his job of supporting Coach Waters.
Larry DeSimpelare has been with Gary since Eastern Michigan so he knows The Waters Way inside and out. It is no coincidence that he has been the assistant responsible for putting the scouting report together for three of the four tourney games.
Jermaine Kimbrough is the young buck just, listening and learning and preparing for the day that he gets his chance to be a head coach. Until then, there is a lot of work to be done.
. . . And then there is Coach Waters.
To call him a coach seems odd. . . the title should almost be professor because he spends just about as much time talking and lecturing the team about what they are doing and why they are doing it because he knows that if they understand, it is easier to get them to respond.
From Day One at CSU, Coach Waters has taught his success class to the players, first using the teachings of legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden to get the players to understand that you can achieve success without winning some times.
The guys understood that first year and even though CSU went 10-21, there were few games that CSU did not have a chance to win.
The class moved on to John Maxwell's "Talent Is Never Enough" last year. The guys learned that all the talent in the world doesn't mean that you will be successful, that you have to work as a team and not be selfish. A heart-breaking loss in the title game sent CSU to the NIT and the Vikings ended up 21-13.
The textbook for this year has been former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Duny's book "Quiet Strength"
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I find the post-game comments from Green Bay head coach Tod Kawalczyk to be a testament to the Vikings this year.
In case you missed them, he said that the Vikings defense wore them out and that they simply ran out of gas in the second half.
Those are interesting comments coming from a program that hadn't played in a week and was facing a team playing its fifth game in 10 days.
Still. . . Coach Waters prides himself on the work ethic of his team, referring to it as the hardest working team in the country. And, despite all of those games along with brutal three-hour practices each day, when push came to shove in each of the last two games, CSU dug deep and found a way to win.
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That's all I have for now. Practice is just about over and we need to head back to the hotel.
Hopefully I will write some more from the NCAA's next week.
If you have any question, feel free to send them to me at email@example.com.