The Voice: Season ends quickly but leaves lasting memories

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt happens every season, but it remains a jolt. Unless a team goes the distance, the basketball season ends suddenly. A player is in the routine of practices, scouting reports, road trips and all the rest. This time of year is especially hectic. The road trips are longer. The stage is bigger. The lights are brighter.

Then it is over. No more practices. No more scouting reports. No more road trips.

Even for someone who just announces games, it is a jolt. As someone who has seen more practices than I can count, at times it can seem like Groundhog Day. Then I miss it. Imagine how a player feels.

There are years when a team's final game is ugly, when you know that group simply did not have it. Sometimes a team loses because it runs out of gas. This Wisconsin team appeared to have plenty in the tank. It just ran out of time. At least this year's Badgers know they went down swinging against talent-rich Syracuse. One could argue that last Thursday's Sweet 16 game in Boston was the best game of the tournament so far.

For that reason, I left TD Garden feeling both good and lousy for the players, coaches and support staff. Good because the Badgers did nearly everything right. Sure, they could have made a couple of more free throws, or finished another play or two near the basket. That happens with every team nearly every game. The Badgers proved to be the toughest of outs, and there is no shame in that.

I felt lousy because I thought they deserved better. Yeah, I am a touch biased. I wanted to see Jordan Taylor nail one more big shot. Then again, if his final attempt is just another quarter of an inch short, it is an airball, and Mike Bruesewitz is in position to recreate the ending of the NC State-Houston NCAA title game of 1983. If the final attempt is a hair longer, the ball caroms off the rim better, and Bruesewitz probably is still in good position for the board.

So it goes.

That is not how I choose to remember the season.

There are the obvious moments that can make Badger fans smile, such as the thrilling victory at Ohio State, Rob Wilson's 30 point outing against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, and the NCAA tournament nail-biter with Vanderbilt.

All of that works fine, but for the last few days, I was thinking about other things. Such as the night before a road game in January. The team was on the bus, returning to the hotel after a practice. On the radio was the 1983 Lionel Ritchie hit "All Night Long," and the players were singing along.

Gotta love it when players less than half my age know a tune that was big when I was in college.

I think about the routine on the airplane before road trips. The radio crew, athletic communications director for basketball Patrick Herb and some others usually are on board before the team arrives. When the rest of the travel party boards the plane, assistant coach Gary Close always acknowledges everyone with "Gentlemen," and then he looks at me and says "Matt." OK, maybe you need to be there, but it is always good for a chuckle.

Then strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach will chime in with his usual wisecracks, leaving those within earshot laughing helplessly, and another trip officially begins.

Finally, I will think about those seemingly endless practices, and how I believe the Badgers have a chance to be pretty good again next year. George Marshall, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach Bohannon are players you have yet to see. My guess is you will like them.

Those three, plus the continued development of the other returning players and the additions of Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, should make for quite the battle for minutes.

As for Taylor and Wilson, Bo Ryan put it best when he told the CBS crew that followed the team during the tournament, "They will be able to step away from here, once the sting of this eases up a little bit, they will realize what they have accomplished, and also how well they played for the name on the front of the jersey."

Perhaps that is the best memory of all. Their love of the game, and their love of the school they have represented so well. It was a pleasure watching them in a Wisconsin uniform.

Now, what time does practice start?