A year ago, Christian Watford drained a three pointer against Kentucky to help cement the return of the Indiana basketball program. We had no idea what it would mean for the lacrosse program.
Last year at this time I was holed up in a Lexington, Virginia hotel watching the IU Kentucky basketball game. The previous day I had driven down from Pittsburgh to attend a recruiting camp at Washington & Lee University. As Indiana began to lose their lead, I was reminded of the car ride and the hours spent on the field at the camp earlier that day. When Kentucky took the lead, I sat quietly in the room ready to turn off the television. But then, a funny thing happened. Goalie Ward Weber (Dallas, Texas) appeared on the screen. The camera didn’t immediately cut, but instead cruelly held on Ward capturing his anxiety and no doubt the tension of the entire Indiana University fanbase.
Moments later, Verdell Jones, arguably the worst dribbler of the basketball on the team, was sprinting up the court, aided by the use of a pick set by Cody Zeller, the young man responsible for making IU hoops cool again. Jones gained the three point line but was fading away from the net. Instead of pumping a jumper, he turned and found junior Christian Watford.
Did you spot Ward again at the 0:44 mark?
In this particular fan made video, Ward appears at the 1:18 mark. Watch the whole video. It will give you chills.
Typically at recruiting camps, college coaches spend their evenings at a local watering hole trading war stories. I locked myself in my hotel room watching the game so by the time I made it out the majority of the coaches were already at the staff social. Everyone congratulated me and went about their night. I spent maybe thirty minutes there before I realized I needed to capitalize on the momentum of the game.
Indiana University had just defeated the #1 ranked team in the country on a last second buzzer beater.
Even if you’re not a huge college basketball fan, you heard about that shot. We needed the kids on our watch list to connect the excitement surrounding the basketball team and the school to our lacrosse program. I spent the rest of the evening emailing our recruits telling them about what had transpired that evening, in case they missed it live, and how they could apply to IU.
At the time I was pleased with myself for choosing to spend a couple hours emailing recruits rather than being out socializing. I didn’t understand just how important the basketball victory really was until the next morning.
Before the first session of games, the camp held a Q&A session for all the parents. I was the only MCLA coach working the camp. After the panel answered questions about the recruiting process, a parent asked, “What can an MCLA team do for my son?”
My go-to pitch revolved around IU being a D3 lacrosse experience at a D1 university. But, that morning I answered a question with a question.
“Did you see the game last night? My guys were on the court last night.” No one else in the country had that experience but Indiana students including IU lacrosse players that evening. Sure, we can’t promise there will be an upset victory at home every season. But, we can promise Big Ten athletics, Big Ten social life, Big Ten academics, and a serious lacrosse experience for four years. NCAA D1 , D2, and D3 teams can’t offer what IU can and I didn’t fully grasp that concept until saying it out loud that morning.
As the day went on, parents walking around the camp were congratulating me. A high school player from Kentucky who had chirped me the day before asked bashfully if I had watched the game. It was a constant reminder that Indiana University was different than every school in attendance that weekend and we needed to share that with recruits.
My sense of school pride changed that weekend too. If you took the greatest moments I had at the D3 school and Big East school I attended and combined them, they would still pale in comparison to my feelings for IU after that weekend and I didn’t even go to Indiana. There’s nothing like being an IU student. I’m jealous everyday of the guys on our team that get to spend four years as students here. I love this school more and more everyday.
This is my third year as the head coach at Indiana. Our 2012 incoming class is the best group we’ve had to date. If the basketball team doesn’t win that game, we don’t get some of the student athletes that we got. On a spring campus visit, an all star at the Lars Tiffany 300 camp said, “Indiana would be perfect if it wasn’t an adidas school.” He decided to come anyway. The lacrosse team isn’t wearing adidas clothing anymore.
We expect the 2013 incoming class to be even better. We’re a club team sure, but you’re not going to get the IU experience anywhere else and we’ve become very honest and aggressive in recruiting since December 2011.
That game changed everything for us.
Thank you Coach Crean. Thank you Christian Watford. Thank you Ward Weber.