Not every team gets a storybook ending. For those who do, there may not even be a logical explanation as to why the basketball gods have chosen them to be the emblem of hope everywhere. They receive their grim prognosis, are encouraged to make plans for the NIT Tournament, which essentially is like coffin shopping for those who are cruelly teased with the false hope that they could actually be busting brackets in March. Then they suddenly show signs of life, and wheels are set in motion for the magical ride to commence. Everything on paper and all of the analytics ceases to matter as the stars align well enough for Goliath to be knocked off its perch. Sometimes the inexplicable does happen, and when it does we are all remembered why it’s more than just a game.
But what about the scrappy underdogs who don’t get over the wall. The ones who give fans a memory or two, steal the national spotlight for a couple of weeks but are ultimately sent home packing before the ride can really take off. Their story does not get to be told on ESPN’s 30 for 30. The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball season is a double-edged sword, as the Rams know both of these emotions very well following a historic run into the NCAA Tournament that came crashing to a halt in stomach-dropping loss.
One cannot help but grimace when juxtaposing the images of Hassan Martin collapsed on the ground, first in celebration of victory after the Rams won the Atlantic 10 Championship, and then in inconsolable heartbreak following the loss to the University of Oregon. The sight of the distraught big man following an outing in which he failed to make an imprint on the stat sheet and subsequently the game, will leave Rhody fans tending to wounds they thought would never open up again after climbing over the proverbial wall in Pittsburgh. It was a chance to show that they were not the latest March Madness flash-in-the-pan but a team with legitimate Final Four prospects. Now, in the aftermath of a truly remarkable season that surpassed the expectations of even the most self-righteous members of the Rhody Ruckus, one cannot help but ponder what could have been. But that is just part of the package deal in Kingston. Success and suffering tend to go hand in hand.
And really, would you have it any other way? Their narrative over these last few seasons have been one of a team who consistently fell short of realizing their dreams of national prominence whenever they were faced with a truly meaningful challenge. Time after time they faltered in marquee match-ups, the kind that can alter the perceptions of programs. Then just when all hope was lost, as if it was being written right out of a superhero comic book, the Rams turned everything around, saved their season, and delivered the community an endless supply of memories. Would the payoff have been this fulfilling if not for the Ben Bentil tip-in or the pair of Dayton 3-pointers in successive years? This is their identity. Their road has always been the one less traveled. They made it hard on themselves, but now that the year is over it would be hard not to believe in the top 25 ranking that was bestowed upon the team in the beginning of the year.
The Rams may have botched the ending a bit, but the team’s transformation from team-to-watch to team that has officially arrived was the stuff of fairytale in and of itself. The players grew up over the span of just a couple of weeks, improving upon all of the little things that had held them back up to this point. Now, they must retool for next season. They will be losing a key component of their defensive identity in Martin and frontcourt mate Kuran Iverson, size and offensive production that will be difficult to replace. There is no guarantee that the team will be able to duplicate this year’s success, but one thing that should be a fixture for years to come is the rabid fan base. And that more than the A-10 title and the crushing defeat to Oregon is the legacy of this group. Dan Hurley and his Rams have made URI basketball a thrill ride that, regardless of the turbulence, is one no one is ready to get off of anytime soon. Now, the rest of the country can experience all of the heart palpitations and Hurley tirades the Rhody Ruckus has enjoyed for years. Mission accomplished.