Many people also know that Coach is a great motivator. We had a team meeting at the start of every school year and I always came out of that meeting amped up and ready to go. Everybody has heard the story of Coach taking us to the Super Dome when we played at Tulane in 2003 so we could feel and experience where the Final Four was that year. That's a great story and one that I will tell my kids and grandkids but I am going to share a different one.
I was a senior when we entered the Big East in the 2005-06 season. Our experienced senior class had graduated and we were coming off an embarrassing home loss to Western Michigan in the NIT. We were just 2 years removed from the Final Four but it felt like a decade. The expectations for my senior year were low and many people thought that it was going to be a rebuilding year. Coach brought in a great recruiting class but they were young and inexperienced. I think we shook peoples opinions when we destroyed UCONN in our first Big East game.
We had our ups and downs that year. The game after we beat UCONN, we lost at home to Cincinnati. We also lost at Rutgers in front of 200 people because of a snow storm that hit the east coast. It seemed like we had hit rock bottom and we had a choice to make. To quote Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, "We heal as a team or we're gonna crumble." After the Rutgers game we beat #17 Georgetown and #18 Pittsburgh in a span of 3 days and then won at Notre Dame. We had hit our form and were playing well with a game at Louisville on the horizon.
Louisville is always a big game for Marquette. The games are well documented between the two teams. There have been buzzer beaters, blow outs and everything in between. The game in 2006 would be another classic Marquette vs Louisville game.
We did not have a good practice the day before the game. When I got married, people told me to never go to bed mad. Well, I think there should be a saying for a coach to never board a plane mad. Coach was not happy with practice and the only reason he ended it was because we had to leave and catch the plane. If it would have been a home game then we would have stayed until we got it right.
As usual, we had film that night at the hotel in Louisville. We usually watch player edits or clips from games to lock in mentally. Before film we were told to bring our running shoes and were handed practice equipment as we walked into the film room. That was unusual and seemed like a bad sign. Coach walked in the room and we watched a few clips before he told us to get our gear on to run through some things downstairs.
Our hotel in Louisville had a big open area next to the pool that was definitely big enough to run around and have a mini practice in. We all started walking to the open area but Coach made a bee line to the pool and screamed "last one in doesn't play tomorrow." I was shocked. Coach had just ran and jumped into the pool with all of his clothes on and glasses. None of us knew what to do. We were all on edge because we thought Coach was mad about practice. I can't remember who it was (I think it was Steve) but someone said screw it and ran and jumped in the pool too and the rest of us followed. We splashed around and acted like little kids until hotel security came.
I thought this was awesome. Sometimes teams do need that extra film session or those extra plays to run though. On this night we just needed to act like kids and chill out to prepare for the game.
We came into the game ready to go. It felt like 100 degrees inside Freedom Hall that night. The crowd in Freedom Hall was loud and obnoxious. It was a back and forth game with both teams giving their all. It was also senior night and Louisville wanted to send their seniors out on a high note. We were down 3 with a few seconds to go in regulation and had to take the ball full court. The ball was inbounded to Dominic James and he hit a 3 as time expired to send the game into overtime. We were going crazy and were confident heading into OT. Unfortunately we didn't have enough that night and lost the game 67-60.
The locker room was strange after that game. It felt like we had lost something more than a game. We had given everything we had and still came up short. That's one of the worst feelings you can have as a basketball player. Coach came in and gave a rousing speech to us but it still didn't help heal our pain.
We flew back to Milwaukee after the game and got in late. As we were leaving the coaches we heard the usual, "don't miss class tomorrow" from one of them. It was a sluggish day of classes that morning. We were tired and knew that we had practice immediately after. We also knew that practices after losses were usually tough and we were not looking forward to it.
We started out in the film room and watched the second half and overtime of the game. It was a great film session and we examined things we did right and things we did wrong. There was no yelling or screaming. It was just a learning session.
After film we made our way to the practice court. Coach put 60 minutes on the clock and we ran through some plays with no contact. The game took a lot out of us and I think my weight was down 5 pounds as a result. This type of practice was something Coach had never done before but it was just what we needed. We had a chance to sweat and run a little bit but not be overly exerted. At the end of practice we all had to hit a shot within a few seconds like Dominic had done the night before. It took some of us a few tries but we all did it eventually.
We all started to relax a little bit when we thought practice was over but Coach called us back up to the film room to watch some Providence edits. The beginning to Jamie Foxx's stand up special I Might Need Security started playing as Coach said, "Alright guys, really lock in." We all expected to see the usual beginning to our edits and didn't know what to think. We realized what Coach had done and then laughed for the next hour.
Coach shocked us twice in two days. This is one of my favorite stories from my playing days at Marquette. I think it really demonstrates how much the coaches cared for us as well as the family atmosphere in the program. Maybe we didn't get along all the time or agree with certain decisions, but Coach knew what was best for the team and I think he just did what he thought was best.