I'll never forget where I was that day. I sat with Ryan Cameron, the SID for women's basketball, as he told me.
"Coach won't be here today. He's recruiting in Arkansas."
No big deal, I thought. I'll catch him when he gets back. Still, I needed quotes. I sat in the near-darkness of Gallagher-Iba and conducted my interview with Vicky McIntyre. After the interview, we just started chatting between the three of us, that is until they threatened to lock the arena on us.
In that moment, everything was normal. We didn't know how the world was about to change.
The next morning, I received a call from my mother asking if I had heard the news. I turned on the television and just hung up the phone. There it was all over SportsCenter.
I got up, and just started walking around campus. No destination in mind, just shock. After being interviewed in the student union (I was a sobbing mess. Don't look it up), I made my way to the newsroom in the Paul-Miller Building. The only thing on my mind was, "What can I do to help?"
Let me tell you, that was one of the longest days of my life. Phone calls after phone calls, trying to sort out between fact and internet rumor. Run across campus, get some coffee, get back on the phone. I distinctly remember the fearless Editor-in-Chief at the time, Kyle Fredrickson, sitting down with the rest of us at the end of the day and saying, "I just want to cry."
Fast forward through the season, because everyone knows the story by now. Jim Littell, Budke's right-hand man, was named head coach and helped guide the Cowgirls to the program's first WNIT Tournament title. Coach Littell remained very closed about the events of November 17, and deservedly so. He lost his best friend.
As that season rolled on, Littell and I began a friendly relationship. Every day, I received a hand shake, a pat on the back and a "How ya doin?" Even to this day, I still get the same response. But I always wondered how Littell kept himself composed and together. Thanks to an interview in 2012 with Gary Blair of Texas A&M, I got my answer.
You just try to find your way through life and just hope the tragedies don't follow you...Littell was the perfect fit because him and Kurt were best friends, in each other's weddings, and they know exactly what they each would have done if it would have happened to the other.
After that interview, I completely understood. Now, when I see Littell with that warm smile and receive that strong handshake, I know that a piece of that is Budke. The Cowgirl basketball program was picked up after that tragedy three years ago and brought right to where Budke envisioned it: a conference contender and a brilliantly exciting team for fans to follow and support.
In the rafters of the GIA, the banner with the number "4" proudly watches over what the women's basketball program has become at Oklahoma State. And although Budke may be gone, his legacy lives on.