“T-Time” is a column by Trevor Denton about college and professional sports.
It was not supposed to end this way for the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team.
On March 7, senior forward Jack Boyle drained a buzzer-beater to send the Sagehends to their first NCAA Division III Sweet 16 appearance in school history. The moment went semi-viral on social media, amassing 163,000 views on the House of Highlights TikTok page.
“Probably the best moment of my life to be honest,” Boyle said. “As a basketball player, as a kid who grows up playing the sport, that’s something you dream about.”
Only a week later, Pimona-Pitzer was set to face Elmhurst in Chicago for a crack at the Elite Eight and more history for the program. Coronavirus had other plans.
“We were literally on our plane on the tarmac taxiing to the runway when we found out [the tournament was cancelled],” Boyle said. “We kept refreshing Twitter. Then of course, it popped up literally 90 seconds to two minutes before we would have taken off.”
Luckily, the team alerted the flight attendant before takeoff and never made the ill-fated trip to Chicago. Unluckily, Pimona-Pitzer’s dream season was over, depriving seniors like Boyle of the chance to play for a national championship.
“It took a couple of hours for it to set in that, ‘Wow, as a senior, my basketball career is over,’ when we felt like we were one of the best teams in the country and had a chance to win a national championship,” Boyle said. “Obviously, it’s absolutely brutal.”
As evidenced by the many people who have lost their jobs or loved ones during this calamity, the whole situation is unfair and out of anyone’s control. Boyle understands that the NCAA’s decision was made for the greater good.
However, the NCAA had the opportunity to make one thing right by granting winter-sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. Instead, they opted to only hand it out to spring-sport athletes, even though the winter seasons were never completed.
“It did catch me by surprise, just because there was no [NCAA] Tournament,” USC senior forward Nick Rakocevic said. “That’s what everyone wants to do when they’re in college, is just play in the NCAA [Tournament]. Obviously, they have a job to do, they had a decision to make. It just sucks that that was the outcome.”
Rakocevic wasn’t even planning on returning if the NCAA granted winter-sport athletes an extra year. He felt he had put in his four years and was ready to move on with his life. But he feels bad for some of the other seniors on the team who transferred to USC for the opportunity to play in the “Big Dance.”
“Guys on our team, like [graduate transfer guards] Daniel Utomi and Quinton Adlesh, they were cheated out of getting to the tournament,” Rakocevic said. “We had enough wins. We were going to be fine in the tournament.”
Even if the NCAA elected not to grant winter-sport athletes another full year of eligibility, they should have tried to postpone postseason tournaments until the fall. Right now, Major League Baseball is working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see if it can start the season in Arizona with no fans present. The NCAA could have waited and seen if a similar approach would work for March Madness.
For fans, there will be plenty more NCAA Tournaments to enjoy. But for senior athletes, this was their last chance to play at the pinnacle of their sport on a national stage. This was the culmination of two decades of grueling work and dedication to their craft.
Players are moving on, trying to accept the way their careers ended with no ending at all. But both Boyle and Rakocevic are content they at least went out on high notes. Both of their senior seasons were punctuated by buzzer-beaters (USC beat UCLA on a last-second 3-pointer from senior guard Jonah Mathews).
Still, there will always be the feeling that this season went unfinished. It will forever be an odd blemish in the college basketball history books.
But more than the game itself, Boyle will miss all of the special moments with his teammates.
“[I’ll miss] the camaraderie, the relationships that were built with our teammates,” said Boyle. “The bus rides before games, after games, the funny moments in practice. We had such a good group of guys who wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
It has been written that all good things must come to an end. But for winter athletes, that end came too early.
“T-Time” runs every other Wednesday.