I've always had a soft spot in my heart for basketball.
Something about the game has such a pureness to it. Not a lot of thinking, just reacting. Feeling. And I happen to be fortunate enough to live in a basketball state. People will try to say we hold our own in football, which can be a good argument. But if you've never been to the Big House on Championship Saturday, you've never experienced the true magic that inhabits an Oklahoma basketball game.
Kansas may be able to boast Dr. Naismith's name, and rightly so. But the state of Oklahoma has Bill Self, Eddie Sutton amd Henry Iba. You don't necessarily have to be from the Great OK to have influenced its basketball culture. So, I guess by that notion, Kevin Durant is another name to add to the list.
I've always been a student of the game. I'm short and fast, so I learned trickery and fundamentals to the letter in order for me to compete. As the basketball lover I am, my heart always grows heavy this time of year. I grew up with Oklahoma State basketball, so when January 27, 2001, came, my young world was shattered forever.
I wrote about my personal experience a few years ago. I wrote it not because I knew at least one of the Ten; I didn't know any of them. I wrote it because I know Oklahoma State and basketball. I witnessed the sorrow of all who were involved with the plane crash on November 17, 2011, so I finally completely understood the pain and hurt that came from 2001.
One thing that I've always said is "I can't imagine the anguish of those closest to those lost." But after I put my thoughts and feelings out there, I received the most heartfelt reception I have ever received from someone reading my ramblings. Will Hancock's brother, Nate, sent me just one short paragraph, but the message was clear.
Thank you for remembering, thank you for keeping their memories alive. And thank you for trying to make others understand. I was moved to tears from Nate's email. Not only was at least one family reading the words I wrote about their loved one, they were grateful someone remembered.
And that's the purpose we serve today. Ten lives were tragically cut short in Colorado. These sons, these brothers, these fathers, these friends. They didn't get to come home. But their memories remain. It's a cliché to say a piece of your soul is left somewhere, but hell. In Stillwater, it's true. You spend all your time there ready to get out into the world and start your life, but you spend the rest of your life wanting to go back.
These ten men never got to return to Oklahoma, a place unlike any other. But the least we can do is honor them. Remember them. Although the families lost them physically, they remain in their hearts. When someone tells a story, writes an anecdote or simply bows their head in reflection, it fills the families with sorrowed joy.
I only ask this: today, think about Nate Fleming, Dan Lawson, Bill Teegins, Will Hancock, Jared Weiberg, Denver Mills, Pat Noyes, Brian Luinstra, Bjorn Fahlstrom and Kendall Durfey. If you knew them, tell a story. Reminisce about the shenanigans and hijinks they may have pulled. But most of all, never forget them.