"Okay Nate, which one do you want?"

"Okay Nate, which one do you want?" my dad asked.

Now, at this time, I had no concept of winning and losing. I didn't know what a Final Four was, and I had no interest in dominating an athletic conference. Names like Danny Manning, Phog Allen, and James Naismith weren't in my vocabulary. Yet, for whatever reason, I pointed to the basketball with the Jayhawk, and one of the principal paths of my life was set in motion. Talk to any Kansas basketball fan, and you'll see that we all have these moments; a kind of unofficial initiation into a crimson and blue family. For some, it's their first game in Allen Fieldhouse. For others, it's when they got their acceptance letter in the mail, officially making them a student at the University of Kansas. And for one little boy a quarter of a century ago, it was a trip to the store with his dad.

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In the course of my lifetime, Kansas has been to seven Final Fours and won two NCAA Championships (not counting the 1986 Final Four, that took place about 7 months before I was born). They have dominated their conference regular seasons and conference tournaments, and produced household names like Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Wayne Simien, and Mario Chalmers. More than anything, the Jayhawks have provided countless memories of winning. As a Missouri fan explained to me once, "The greatest 26-year period of Kansas basketball has been the last 26 years." It's difficult to admit, but the Missouri fan is right. I have the distinct memory of seeing my team win one NCAA Championship, which is exactly one more than most college basketball fans will get to see in a lifetime.

On Friday night, Kansas fans we're forced to experience the opposite perspective, as a senior-led KU team collapsed in the final three minutes of regulation and let the game slip away in overtime. It was something we have seen several times in the past few years, but in those games it was always the Jayhawks storming back from behind. In 2008, we watched as Kansas erased a 9-point deficit in the closing minutes of the title game to force overtime with Mario Chalmers' three-pointer. Last year, we saw them come back from a 19-point deficit in Allen Fieldhouse to force overtime against Missouri, eventually defeating our former conference rivals in the final game the two programs would play against each other (for now). Just this season, freshman-phenom Ben McLemore sent another game into overtime against Iowa State with a banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer. Many times, we've watched this team rise to the occasion from unthinkable depths. On Friday night, the basketball gods flipped the karma switch, and we got a taste of our own medicine.

When you're young, it's difficult to watch them lose, because Kansas basketball is all you know and all you care about. As we get older, and our own college years fade into the past, we find ourselves more aware that they really are just kids. You feel awful, not for yourself anymore, but for the kids who work so hard and deserve to win. In the coming days, criticisms will be hurled at certain players who made silly mistakes down the stretch and weren't able to close the game out. What we shouldn't forget is that these players, particularly the seniors, have carried this program through the shadow of a recent national championship with unthinkable expectations placed on their backs. They've played every game knowing that they're getting the opposing team's best shot, because that's the pressure you face when you have "Kansas" written on the front of your jersey. Win or lose at the end of the season, I couldn't be more proud of the young men who have represented the University of Kansas.

"Where do we go from here?"

As I watched Naadir Tharpe's last second three point shot bounce off the rim, I asked myself this question. In the end, it's a silly question to ask. We may be losing all five starters, but new players will emerge just as they have before. They'll pull the same jersey over their head, and the word "Kansas" will still mean something. We'll go to the same places we always go. We'll be competing for another conference title next year. We'll try to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Someday, down the road, we'll be back to a Final Four, possibly with some of the players we have now. In a few months, Allen Fieldhouse will be full again, and the "Rock, Chalk," chant will emanate from the building and flow with the wind over Mt. Oread, past the grave of Dr. James Naismith himself.

I still have the basketball my dad purchased for me so many years ago. The colors are darker, and the Jayhawk has faded with time, but I keep it prominently displayed in my apartment. It's a reminder of a time when I was innocent, and winning meant nothing to me. I wanted to be a Jayhawk because it's what my family is. It's the people we love. It's the people we we're sitting next to on Friday when Kansas lost. And it's the people who will still be there next season at grandpa's house, waiting for the game to start, waiting for the next memory to emerge. Because that moment is still in our hearts; the moment we became Jayhawks. And for an instant, we'll have our heaven on Earth, and winning and losing won't matter. And the game will start, and we'll wait for the next miracle to happen.

"Where do we go from here?"

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