From chasing a championship to searching for closure: Men’s basketball’s final week, in the Bears’ own words, Part 3

| Senior Sports Editor

This is the final section of a three-part oral history of the Washington University men’s basketball team’s final week. Read the first and second parts.

The NCAA had just canceled all winter championships and all spring competitions. The season was over for the Washington University men’s basketball team as they congregated in the gym at North Central College. After Juckem and the players had debriefed at center court, the Bears had one last tradition: a final game of knockout, this time consisting of players, coaches and staff. Mitchell knocked out Juckem, and Dux collected his first victory all season. Then the Bears packed their bags and checked out of the hotel, making their way to Granite City, a restaurant with everything from hummus and naan to meatballs and wings. Nolan and Arenas, Chicago-area natives, were not going to make the trip back to St. Louis, so it would be the team’s last event together.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Members of the men’s basketball team smile as sophomore forward Justin Hardy makes his way onto the court in the Bears’ 56-55 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the Lopata Classic on Nov. 23.

Junior guard Jack Nolan: We had to plan things pretty quickly since it wasn’t one of those things that was on the itinerary to start. Coach felt that with some of us staying in Chicago, we should have one last meal together. I thought it was a great idea, really appropriate.

Senior center Hank Hunter: Coach Juckem upped [the food budget] by a pretty good number, and we all just ordered a bunch of food and talked and told stories and laughed. You can either sit there and be sorry or you can look to the future. It was a mix of both. Obviously, it was a terrible situation, but it was out of our control. And I think that it was a pretty positive vibe in the restaurant.

Sophomore guard Charlie Jacob: The last supper, man. We balled out.

Head coach Pat Juckem: I tried to float around and spend some time with all of our guys and treasure it. Fortunately, it was a long meal. It was during the happy hour, so there were some great happy hour discounts, and I think we elongated the meal as long as we could. There was so much appreciation and thankfulness from our guys during that time.

Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Chris Mitchell: There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugging, but dinner was great. One of the things Coach Juckem spoke about was how he wanted to make sure that, when the season ended, whether if it was in the national championship, Final Four, Elite Eight, Sweet 16, that his team would be together. And guess what? His team was together when the season ended. That’s all he could ask for.

Nolan: To be able to sit down at a table for dinner with these guys one more time was really, really special and definitely provided some sort of closure, at least. Not that complete closure, but it definitely provided some sort of closure to all of us on just what a great season we had had, what a great journey we had together.

Freshman forward Spencer Boehm: The only thing that was pretty weird was that school had ended too. A lot of the time when basketball ends, you can still go back and see the seniors, the juniors, the sophomores the rest of the year. This was super weird because this was actually the end.

Nolan and Arenas departed, and the rest of the team boarded the bus to St. Louis. Boehm controlled the music on the bus, playing a mix of funny songs (the players said that they danced to TikTok songs) and the older music that Juckem requested (ACDC). Even though the season was coming to a close, the players’ spirits were high.

Sophomore forward Justin Hardy: We kind of reminisced, just talking about all of the good moments that we’ve created that season and just how many random inside jokes that we had that no one is going to understand for the eternity of time. We just tried to give as much thought into our season as possible.

Jacob: We were just trying to enjoy each other’s company. No one really said it, but everybody knew that once we stepped off that bus, people were going to go their separate ways.

Hardy: Meanwhile, the coaches wanted to be a part of it, too. They normally sit at the front and are prepping for our next game as soon as we get done with the game, so when they came back, at first it was kind of weird. We were like ‘What do they do back here?’

Juckem: If you can picture it: I’ve got our coaching staff, our dudes, we were having a dance party, with a little ACDC blaring as we pulled into St. Louis, so another memory and you know, something we’ll never forget. I was just thankful to have more time with our guys.

Hardy: We realized that they just wanted to hang out with us. They give up so much to be with us. Like, we’re family for them. There’s so many Saturdays and Sundays where Coach Juckem is not with his kids, so we are his kids to an extent. He was losing us. He just wanted to be with his family, and that was us.

In the week since that bus arrived back in St. Louis, the Bears have had time to reflect on the season and their overall experience with Wash. U. men’s basketball. Each player phrases it differently, but they all tell the same story: They will miss more than just the time on the court together. They will miss the bonds they have forged and the memories that they have created.

Nolan: I’m not a sappy guy. I’m not very outwardly emotional. But I texted them last night. I said ‘It’s really hitting me for the first time. I miss you guys a lot already.’ It was something that took me a minute to really hit. It took me a few days, actually.

Jacob: [What’s important] is just understanding how rare this team was, like the leadership that we had and just the top-down selflessness. I had never been on a team with such little ego. I had never been on a team where people just genuinely wanted to win. And there was no selfish pursuit, there were no selfish desires. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve been able to witness and be a part of. I’m truly honored to be able to call those guys my friends, my brothers, my teammates. That’s something that can’t get lost in this. Like, yeah, we were a good team that had success on the court, but, man, those seniors are some of the most special people I’ve ever met in my whole life.

Boehm: I know that I won’t see a lot of these guys for a little bit, but I know that won’t be the last time I ever see them. Because the relationships that this team built and that Wash. U. basketball brings together is pretty crazy. I mean, I knew of it, everyone would say it, but you really don’t realize it until you experience it yourself.

 

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