On May 2, 2022, Gradient spun its final thread and departed this Earth.
Gradient entered our lives before the 2016-17 season, where it quickly enjoyed success (literally) on the backs of players like Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier. The very next season wasn’t bad either, with players like Deandre Ayton leading the way.
And yet, for all the on-court success Gradient experienced it suffered away from the hardwood. Gradient’s life outside of the public’s view was challenging, with many in the public questioning its every move. Gradient could hardly go anywhere without someone commenting on how disappointing it was, or even wondering when it would go away.
This took a toll on Gradient, which only wanted to look good and impress people, specifically those who would be asked to wear it. Within that context it would be difficult to call Gradient’s life a failure. Many great talents chose to put it on, proudly displaying it whenever they got the chance. Likewise, Gradient was always overjoyed to be there for its players.
In fact, Gradient always said its greatest pleasure was seeing its players smile after a win.
Gradient confided in friends it felt if the Wildcats could have experienced even greater success, such as a Final Four or even a national championship, people would have felt different about it.
Perhaps that was true.
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They were fine
Never reaching those heights weighed on Gradient. Despite consistently putting on a brave face, Gradient understood haters were always lurking around the corner. Never was that more clear to Gradient than after difficult season-ending losses, such as in the 2017 Sweet 16 loss to Xavier or the first-round defeat at the hands of Buffalo the following year.
Gradient always felt it would have a chance at NCAA Tournament redemption, but unfortunately it never got the opportunity. There was no dance for Arizona in any of the next three seasons, and this past year—when the Wildcats returned—they chose to leave Gradient behind and wore its clean white uniforms with a single red stripe down each side.
Publicly, Gradient put on a strong face and understood that its job was to be ready if called upon, but privately Gradient told friends it always felt it could have given the players the edge they needed to get past a tough Houston squad. Gradient told everyone who would listen it would be ready for next season, if there was a next season.
Gradient had heard the rumors about change coming, even if it didn’t want to believe them. It was a survivor, after all. Where other uniforms crumbled under calls for its removal, Gradient persevered, finding its way onto the court year-after-year. It had long hoped that improvements in televisions would allow for its best self to shine through, but sadly that technology may be decades, or even centuries, away.
That was time Gradient did not have.
Gradient leaves behind a program on the rise. In lieu of flowers, it is asked that Nike and the University of Arizona don’t overthink this.