There is nothing I hate more in sports than after a season ending loss by a great team, fans console each other by saying, ‘we’ll get ‘em next year.’ Of course, in sports there can only be one champion and this means that virtually every fan in the world sees their season end the same way; without a championship. The one thing all fans have in common is the faith that next year will end better. While the hope and promise of a new year is certainly a comforting thought, the reality is that when your team is one of the very few teams actually good enough to win a championship, you have to strike while the iron is hot and in 2015, that iron is red-hot for Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats.
The simple truth is that you never know when you will have a truly great team again and you never actually know how long you will stay great for. Contenders come and go faster than you would ever imagine and would-be dynasty’s come crumbling down for unforeseen reasons all the time. After Amare torched the Spurs for 37 per game in the 2005 Western Conference Finals and Steve Nash accepted the first of his two MVP awards, I would have bet my life that my beloved D’Antoni-led Suns were going to win a championship or two at some point in the next few years. Amare, Nash and Marion were all entering their primes simultaneously and the supporting cast and coaching was absolutely top-notch. Fast forward to 2014 and we all know what happened. An amazing amount of bad luck, bad timing, bad officiating, bad Will Smith impersonators, bad decisions from commissioners, bad 3 point shooters hitting clutch 3’s, bad flops from balding foreigners, bad looking noses and bad looking alien life-forms growing on a bad-ass dude with a bad back all conspired to keep the Seven Seconds or Less Suns from ever winning a title. My point here, besides the fact that I’m still clearly depressed about that era ending, is that no matter how good you think you are, and no matter how long you think the good times will last, you have to win a championship when the window is open and you simply don’t know how long that window will stay open for.
Last year, Arizona got bit by bad luck in the form of Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury but what is just as important to remember is that even without Ashley, Arizona came within one bucket of making the Final Four. Last year, without Ashley, we were still a national championship contender and with him back in the fold, Stan the Man on-board, and all of our other absolute studs one year older and one year wiser, this team is on the very exclusive shortlist of actual contenders. Unfortunately, history does not remember contenders, history only remembers those that capitalized on their opportunity.
I have no doubt Sean Miller will keep Arizona not just nationally relevant but also really freaking good at basketball every year but you know what? I thought the same thing about Jim Harbaugh and the Niners and his era could be over by the end of the year. Notre Dame fans thought the same thing about Charlie Weis and OKC Thunder fans absolutely took their future success for granted when nothing is ever guaranteed. If your team is a feel good, coming out of nowhere story like the Kansas City Royals this year then it’s ok to hold your head up high and say you had a great season, but when expectations are sky-high there should be no comfort in failing to accomplish your goal. The sporting landscape is filled with disappointed fans of teams that kept coming close but never could get over the hump like the San Jose Sharks or the Detroit Tigers and I don't want Arizona Basketball becoming a part of that category. I’m incredibly optimistic about our future but I know one thing for sure, you never know what the future holds.
I will follow recruiting closely, I will keep tabs on how our young guys are developing throughout the season and I don’t intend on abandoning my plan to name all of my sons Sean Miller Krell, but the fact is that I don’t want to talk about the future at all this year. This is the year of now and expectations are and should be 'Final Four or bust'. Sean Miller is absolutely the best coach to have never made the Final Four and I believe, and fully expect, that this is the year it finally happens. No more waiting for next year, no more ‘get ready to see our next top-recruiting class’, no more moral victories and most importantly, no more agonizing losses at the buzzer in March.
Watching that final five minute stretch of the first half when we absolutely blitzed Mt. St. Mary's got me so excited I took a cold shower at halftime. With our swarming D, our ridiculous athleticism, our massive size, our great leadership and a perfect mix of youth and experience we have every piece needed to win it all and when you have all the pieces in place you have to capitalize. This team may have some small flaws like a lack of shooters and potentially not as much depth as we thought, but the fact remains that the Cats have every single thing needed to win it all this season and that intro video at McKale has been stuck at ‘Four Final Fours’ for far too long. This is the year we officially climb back onto the top pedestal with the other premiere college basketball programs in the country and I can’t wait to be along for the ride with you all. It’s ShowTime.