With Julius Hodge back in town today, I couldn't help but reminisce.
Winter 2002. I don't remember the score, but it was bad; we'd been crushed by Duke in Cameron. Back then, the bus always dropped the team off at Reynolds Coliseum following a road game. A group of students would always greet the players there. When we won, the crowds were big. When we lost, well, you can imagine. On this night, I think there were about 15 of us.
I shook Julius's hand after he walked off the bus. "What's up, man," he said, sounding like both his parents had just died. That exemplified what I loved about him. He always wore his emotions on his sleeve, and that made it easy to relate to him. With Julius, you never worried that he might not care as much as you do. Anyway, after he said that to me, I froze up, offering a weak "sorry about the game." To this day, I feel a tinge of embarrassment about it. I couldn't find the appropriate words. I don't think there were any.
(Hodge is my favorite player ever; he's the defining player of the last 15 years. Anthony Grundy is a close second. When Grundy walked off the bus that night, he dropped his CD player, and it shattered on the bricks outside Reynolds. I don't remember what he said, just that he cracked a joke, like, man, it's just one of those days, and everyone laughed. I was impressed by his ability to keep things in perspective and move on. Quite the contrast to Julius, but totally understandable considering Grundy had seen it all before while Hodge was in his first season.)
The memories aren't all bad, though, not even close. I happened to be sitting/standing in the first row of the SWPC section behind the State bench during the crotch punch game, and I'll never forget Hodge turning to the Wake bench as he walked back towards us and saying, "I will FUCK you up!" That was directed at Chris Paul, I'm assuming. A great, purely Hodge moment on a heartbreaking night. I endured countless depressing soccer and volleyball games for that kind of moment.
Then, of course, there was the play that sent NC State to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in a long time. That was something I'd never experienced. There were hundreds of students waiting to meet the players at Weisiger-Brown after that win. It was so cool to be able to savor everything over the next week. The Final Four felt so close. Hard to explain, but you know what I mean. That year made the last five extra tough, but it reminds me why I put myself through this, why I keep the faith. We're going to get there again, and to check out now--or at any point in the future--would be to cheat myself of that feeling.