Every night since we spit, cried, and clawed our way into the Final Four, I’ve been texting my friends ad nauseum, the topics varied, but similar: travel plans for Houston, nerves and anxiety over the upcoming game (“I’m just going to be crying the entire time”), did you see Arch’s ‘gram?, did you read that Inquirer article?, holy shit I love our team, wow I really love our team, oh man…I love our team. Our hearts keep swelling, and we just can’t stop them. I’ve watched the highlights from our win against Kansas every night since it happened–it’s this weird ritual I’ve developed before falling asleep (gotta see Josh Hart make that catch at the end or else I’ll have nightmares, obviously). Something about this specific moment in time, this deep, dizzying, thrilling tournament run, already feels immortal. It already feels timeless. We can all already tell how special this is, and what it will mean to us in the future, no matter what happens this weekend in Houston.
But because I’m not a normal human who can just have a thought and move on, I started obsessing over the “why” behind this intensity of emotion, this outpouring of love and pride I’m feeling, my friends are feeling, and everyone and anyone tied to Villanova seems to be feeling. I had to write to sort it out, and here we are. Because here’s the thing, and here’s what the commentators who consistently, literally always pick against us in any sort of even matchup (here’s looking at you Charles Barkley, you turncoat) don’t understand, what all the pundits and the journalists and ESPN writers and people looking at this from the outside will never–can never–understand: This is different for us. This isn’t just another team making it to the Final Four. This means a lot more to us. Because when we talk about Villanova basketball, we’re talking about a lot more than basketball; we’re talking about each other, and we’re talking about love.
Being a Villanovan (past, present, or future) is simply different than being an Oklahoma student, or a Syracuse student, or a UNC student. I wrote about this specificity of experience in a post after our epic flame-out of the tournament last year, but the same emotions feel even more developed and potent this time around. This tournament run is about our community, and what it means to each of us. We’re by far the smallest school in the Final Four, and that feels special, and I need that to be recognized. This basketball team is our team in a way that it just can’t be at a big state school; we see these players around campus. Often, you’ll have classes with them. You see them in the Pit. It’s just a thing. Someone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. Does that happen at UNC? (No shade.) It just can’t be the same; our little patch of land on Lancaster Ave ties us all together, ties this whole experience together, in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I only know that it’s special.
My obsession with our team and this moment, this feeling that’s happening right now that I just wish I could bottle and carry around with me forever and ever, is entirely due to the fact that the team and the basketball program itself are so reflective of Villanova as a whole and what we all love about it. As commentators and ESPN likes to remind us, we are a “starless” team. We don’t have a Buddy Hield or a Perry Ellis (how’d that latter work out for you, Kansas?). Our points are normally distributed fairly evenly among our players, and we have a deep bench. Our team is the prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, and that’s how I feel about Villanova. It’s a privilege to watch our team take the court and see that alchemy happen in a scrappy symphony of chased balls, 3-pointers, and steals. We’re not the biggest team, nor are we the flashiest team. We’re scrappy. We fight so hard in every game. We shoot ’em up and sleep in the streets, after all, don’t we?
In press conferences, our players are humble in victory, consistently talking about how much they love our program and how much they love each other. That humility, that commitment, that love doesn’t just come from anywhere; it’s built into our basketball program because it’s built into our university. Jay loves his players not just as means to some sort of end, but as if they were his own sons; his motto is to make the last first in victory. That is Villanova, and it is our program, and it is all everything. When watching these players and our beloved coach, you get the sense that these people get it, that they love Villanova like all of us fans do, and to have that indescribable bond with a basketball team can only be described as pure grace. Ask your friends if they burst into tears when Arch’s first statement to the press after making the Final Four (other than a “thank you” for the Happy Birthday wishes…what a guy) was: “I just love everything about this university.” So do we, bud. So do we.
This is a team led by seniors who have given their guts to our school and our program, who exemplify leadership in a way that–again–just feels special. As a university, Villanova cares about tradition and legacy, and so does the team. When Daniel Ochefu spoke in the press conference following the Kansas win, one of the first things he did was not only give props to players who have come before, but name them and thank them for making the upperclassmen the men they are today. When have you EVER heard that happen before? You just know that when our players put on that Villanova jersey, they get it. They understand. They know that our program isn’t about feeding players to the NBA after a year, or funneling money (though that it I’m sure it certainly does), or a thinly veiled professional league or whatever. That Villanova jersey is for all of us, it’s for our values and for all of the legacy, love, and context behind the name emblazoned on the front. It’s for our community. It’s for what it means to share a common home.
And so here we are, in the midst of this magic that may end too soon, but I am comforted in my sense that the legacy of this run can not be tarnished, no matter what the outcome is. I chose Villanova six years ago (Class of 2014, woop). I chose it reluctantly, to be honest, and largely because of a scholarship I received, but I remember the day I chose to attend, visiting campus on a sunny day and sensing that yes, I could be happy here. This place could become some version of home. Christ. Little did I know–I just had no idea, just no way to foresee–how totally, completely, and entirely that place and those people would shape me as a person, and how it would continue to shape the rest of my life. Sure, I have problems with Villanova. I have many. But none of those matter right now, not in the midst of this deep, captivating, magical feeling that makes me kind of want to burst into tears all day and has me watching highlights as my daily devotion. There are so many things I am proud to be, but damn. I am most proud, I think I will always be most proud to be a Villanovan. Could my 17-year-old self have even comprehended the enormity of what I was choosing?
I’m off to Houston this weekend to reunite with my friends as we watch in person (with the aid of binoculars) what felt so impossible, what felt like a pipe dream just a year or two ago. During senior year, basketball games were our constant, the thing that we all went to and came together over, unspoken. And I know that my heart and my pride will swell and bubble and erupt a thousand times over in the crazy swirl of emotions I anticipate as I sink into the comfort of being among Villanovans, of being there in support of this team that means more to us than any commentator, pundit, or journalist will ever understand. And I will relish in how blessed we are all, because what a beautiful, special, unique, stunning thing it is to be able to call a community “home.”
This team is for all of us. We are all for this team. Go Cats.